|Style over substance|
The Reciprocal System is a Theory of Everything presented by its proponents as an alternative to everything that every physicist has ever said about the nature of reality. A flyer for the 30th conference of the International Society of Unified Science (the society set up to worship its inventor, Dewey Larson) describes the reciprocal system as follows:
Conventional science considers space and time to be a framework in which the drama of the universe is played out, in manifest form. The thesis of the Reciprocal System, however, is that the universe is not a universe of matter, but a universe of motion, one in which the basic reality is motion, and all entities—photons, particles, atoms, fields, forces, and all forms of energy—are merely manifestations of motion.
Space and time are the two reciprocal aspects of this motion, and cannot exist independently. They have no significance except to establish a common reference in describing phenomena. Velocity is a relation of space per unit time; with energy being the inverse relation of time per unit space. We observe space as being 3-dimensional, but space does not exist without time, therefore time must be 3-dimensional as well. It is this discovery that opened the door to the quantum world, and the configuration space inside the atom, as a direct result of the basic postulates of the Reciprocal System of theory:
- The physical universe is composed of one component, motion, existing in three dimensions, in discrete units, and with two reciprocal aspects, space and time.
- The physical universe conforms to the relations of ordinary commutative mathematics, its primary magnitudes are absolute, and its geometry is Euclidean.
By developing the natural consequences of these postulates, Larson creates a theoretical universe that bears an uncanny resemblance to the universe we observe around us.
The theory is wrong in every detail, and is trivially proven so with simple and obvious experiments. This has, of course, not given its proponents the slightest pause.
Dewey Bernard Larson
Dewey Bernard Larson (1898-1990) was the creator of Reciprocal Theory, and an otherwise irrelevant American engineer. While he was writing only a few years before the Standard Model of physics came along to more fully refute his claims, he seems to very casually ignore how successful quantum mechanics has been in, among other things, explaining the physics of the electron and in providing fundamental explanations for essentially all of chemistry, even by the 1950s and 1960s. However, Larson still maintains a strong and passionate following among a few cranks who think that they've stumbled upon some great secret body of knowledge.
Larson's 1963 book (self-published, from what anyone can tell of the origins of "North Pacific Publishing, Portland"[note 1]) entitled The Case Against the Nuclear Atom proposes that the Rutherford model of the atom is wrong, and that the conclusions brought about by the Marsden-Geiger experiment were equally consistent with an atom the size of the atomic nucleus that is surrounded by energetic force-fields. In the book he actually dismisses quantum mechanics as an attempt to change previously established laws of nature, namely classical physics, to fit with a concept that was unfounded to begin with (the Rutherford model). The short version is that Larson would be absolutely correct if the Marsden-Geiger experiment was all we knew about the atom and subatomic particles, but it isn't. The book itself is mostly a tl;dr rant about critical thinking, and in fact doesn't postulate any experiments, equations, or testable ideas of any kind to back up his own model — he simply asserts that it fits equally with the evidence (except where it doesn't) and if you "think critically" it should come out as self-evident.
None of Larson's work was ever published in any peer-reviewed scientific journal.[note 2] The only evaluations of Larson's work were performed by known supporters of the Reciprocal System, and have an alarming tendency to use the word "published" when they really mean "uploaded to a WordPress blog".
Because Larson was nothing more than a lone crank, his "Dewey B. Larson" Wikipedia page was deleted in 2011 for the non-notability of the subject, but cranks resurrected a page for him anyway under Dewey Bernard Larson in 2014. The pre-2011 article in question was entirely a piece of fancruft, based largely on a biography of Larson hosted by his supporters. The newer Wikipedia article was also deleted for non-notability on 1 April 2018.
One of the most striking features of Larson's work, and the source of tremendous criticism, is the almost total lack of any mathematics anywhere to be found amongst his books. This is particularly galling to most mainstream physicists who view equations as essential for making the numeric predictions required to match theory with experiment — experiments that tend to punch out numbers, such as transition frequencies, absorption coefficients, energy ratings in particle accelerators and so on. Yet Larson avoids doing any rigorous mathematical analysis at all. It's not entirely clear if he just sucked at the subject (though his biographies claim that he had a "gift" for mathematics) or genuinely thought it wasn't needed. Certainly, the lack of it in his main reciprocal system theory causes a lot of scientists to scratch their heads when figuring out exactly what observations he's saying to expect for the theory to be right. As a practicing engineer though, it would be particularly odd if he did not at least have a good working knowledge of calculus.
Mark Chu-Carroll of the Good Math/Bad Math blog has a catchphrase: "the worst math is no math." When it comes to physics, the lack of a formal mathematical explanation is a huge red flag.
The Case Against the Nuclear Atom briefly got some attention in the 1960s in a couple of review columns of engineering news journals. It even came to the attention of Isaac Asimov. Often cited by Larson's advocates is Asimov's praise for the book's ability to act as a critical thinking exercise:
“”As an iconoclastic work, Larson's book is refreshing. The scientific community requires stirring up now and then; cherished assumptions must be questioned and the foundations of science must be strenuously inspected for possible cracks. It is not a popular service and Mr. Larson will probably not be thanked for doing this for nuclear physics, though he does it in a reasonably quiet and tolerant manner and with a display of a good knowledge of the field.
|—Dr Isaac Asimov, Chemical and Engineering News, July 29, 1963|
Less often quoted, however, is Asimov's conclusion with the book, and its rebuttal to many of its points regarding the nature of electrons, although a full copy is hosted on reciprocalsystem.com. Asimov concludes:
“”If no electrons exist within the atom, as Larson suggests, I do not see how the photoelectric effect can be explained. From this I conclude that however stimulating Larson's book might be as an intellectual exercise, it need not be taken seriously as anything more than that.
|—Dr Isaac Asimov, Chemical and Engineering News, July 29, 1963|
The main current torch-bearer for the Reciprocal System is Ron Satz, who runs the blog transpower.wordpress.com (not that kind of trans power). Satz extended and computerised Larson's "System" and even produced equations that might lead to predictions — none of which Satz seems keen to actually use. While Larson's publications are long text walls, Satz's work often features pages upon pages of badly formatted equations. This usually renders his work completely unreadable because of the ambiguity in what constants he's using and how these equations fit together — at worst, some of them fall off the page so can't be read even if you can somehow translate it all into something recognisable to a mathematician or engineer.
Tests of Reciprocal Theory
In late 2011, Ron Satz appeared on the Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forums (BAUT) to discuss the theory and doubts about modern physics. While initially met with an understandable "not another theory-of-everything crank" response, the discussion settled into what the Reciprocal System would predict in the behaviour of electronic devices. With such a testable statement then satisfied, one enterprising member of the forum actually tested it with easily obtainable equipment — something Satz seemed at a loss to try himself. The situation is best summed up by the final post in the thread:
While we're waiting for the end times, it's probably worth summarizing the plot so far, for future readers happening upon this thread. Transpower/Ronald Satz gave us a specific, easily tested prediction of RST. In short, RST (hereafter called "Wrong Theory") says that the time constant of a resistor-capacitor circuit depends on charging voltage. Conventional theory (hereafter referred to as "Correct Theory") says that the time constant is voltage-independent. RST's prediction was based on the erroneous solving of a non-existent energy conservation paradox stemming from Satz's ignorance of Correct Theory.
Cutting through the haze of word salad, cjameshuff ran a simple, dispositive experiment that falsified RST. He did in a few minutes what Transpower never bothered to do, what RST adherents never did in 30 years of working on Wrong Theory. The effort to carry out the experiment was certainly much, much less than Ronald Satz himself expended in writing the paper on capacitors that Papageno somewhat unkindly, but accurately, dismissed.
Simply put, RST is a failed theory. Satz introduced fundamental errors based on a misunderstanding of Correct Theory. Now scientists make mistakes all the time, but Satz absurdly never bothered to test the predictions of his Wrong Theory, despite having worked on RST for approximately three decades. He did not recognize that essentially the entirety of electronic devices would simply not function if he were correct. The able functioning of multiple billions of computers, cellphones, radios, televisions, clocks and the like show us that Satz and RST are not only wrong, but overwhelmingly so. Cjameshuff's experiment puts the exclamation point on that conclusion. Anyone with an open, critically thinking mind must come to the same conclusion.
Not too long after, a BoN appeared on RationalWiki to assert that, because they were electrolytic capacitors, the experiment totally didn't count. Quite why seems to be curiously absent — such a specification wasn't cited by Satz and cannot be found in the (like Larson's work, extremely long) paper proposing how the Reciprocal System would predict capacitors to act but it did magically appear after the BAUT forum tore into Satz's work. By June 2012, Satz had finally got around to doing some experiments that showed RS theory to be wrong, though despite his mentor Larson constantly insisting throughout his books that you should abandon ideas if they don't match experiments, Satz didn't give up on RS theory, and seemed more intent than ever to hammer it into reality in any way possible.
Flip-flopping and non-falsifiability
While Satz's rapid goalpost moving over capacitors highlights his attitude, perhaps the most striking involves faster-than-light neutrinos. In 2011, neutrinos were spotted traveling faster than light by the OPERA experiment, which fired the particles between Geneva, Switzerland and Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy. Satz had this to say on the subject, jumping on the story pretty quick:
News Flash (10/01/2011): Dr. Satz’s new paper, "Theory of Faster Than Light Neutrinos," is now available–this solves the conundrum of the recently-reported CERN[note 3] experiment which shows that neutrinos can move faster than light. Only the Reciprocal System is capable of providing the solution! (emphasis added)
So, the reciprocal system explains the observation — so evidence for Larson's work, and something that would make even quantum mechanics and the Standard Model tumble to nothing. Shame that, not long after, the results failed to be replicated and, after several other ideas tried and failed to rewrite physics, it was revealed to be most likely due to faulty wiring providing the timing equipment with a bit more of a delay than expected, hence the results. So, were Satz's equations and the Reciprocal System suddenly made redundant because of these new observations? After all, if his theory predicted this, and it turned out to be not true, then the theory was wrong. Hell no, the only things travelling faster than light were Satz's goalposts:
Update: Another experiment has shown no such effect–however, again the Reciprocal System provides the answer – the retest, material neutrinos, rather than cosmic neutrinos, were used, and these cannot go faster than c in the material sector. (emphasis added)
Needless to say, this is not how evidence works. If experimental data D is evidence for hypothesis H, then the opposite experimental outcome, not-D, is necessarily evidence for not-H.
Larson's works include The Structure of the Physical Universe (1959), The Case Against the Nuclear Atom (1963), Beyond Newton (1964), New Light on Space and Time (1965), Quasars and Pulsars (1971), Nothing But Motion (1979), The Neglected Facts of Science (1982), The Universe of Motion (1984), and Basic Properties of Matter (1988).
Ronald W. Satz summarises Reciprocal Theory in The Unmysterious Universe (1971).
- Is Dewey B. Larson for real?, MadSci Network
- Review: Dewey B. Larson's Reciprocal System, PESWiki
- the International Society of Unified Science. ( mentioned RW)
- The Reciprocal System: Microcosmos Database
- Google it.
- A search of ISI Web of Knowledge for "Larson, DB" produces plenty of results, but mostly by other people. Refining by other terms known to be associated with him produces nothing. None of the websites dedicated to the man and his work support his published papers, either.
- Satz repeats the same error most people make with this story. The experiment was "Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus" OPERA, which is a collaboration between CERN and LNGS — Presumably the latter is forgotten because of the fame the Large Hadron Collider has provided to CERN in recent years.
- ISUS conference flyer, rstheory.org
- Reciprocal System Database
- Dewey B. Larson, Wikipedia Articles For Deletion discussion.
- RSThoery.org — Dewey Larson, about
- Kids.Net.Au — Dewey B. Larson.
- Dewey Bernard Larson, Wikipedia Articles For Deletion discussion.
- Testimonials to Dewey B Larson
- Reciprocal System — reviews
- Doubts About "Modern Physics", thread at the BAUT Forum
- RationalWiki, Dewey Larson — Revision as of 20:05, 16 May 2012
- Theory of Dielectrics, Diamagnets, Paramagnets, and Ferromagnets, including Calculation of Electric and Magnetic Susceptibilities
- Equations for electrolytic capacitors
- BAUT Forum — Doubts about modern physics (2)