Magical Thinking

One of the things that bothers me about current scaremongering is that it always seems to be a very small influence that is supposed to cause a very large effect. So trace amounts of tobacco smoke in the atmosphere are supposed to pose a sufficiently dire threat to health to warrant it being banned almost everywhere. And trace amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are supposed to cause catastrophic global warming. And (my subject for today) the HAARP radio transmitter in Alaska is supposed by some people to be able to cause earthquakes.

And to my mind all these involve some degree of magical thinking, where by ‘magic’ I mean some sort of small influence (the waving of a wand and saying the words “Hey Presto!”) is supposed to have a large consequence (a rabbit comes out of the hat). And to my mind, weak, things like radio transmitters simply can’t cause earthquakes, because their influence is too small, and the supposed effect too great.

But then, I don’t know anything much about radio transmitters, and I don’t know much about seismology either. So maybe it actually is possible? Who am I to say that it can’t be done if I don’t know anything about either of these things?

Well, I might not understand radio transmitters or earthquake science, but I do understand simple physics, and so I’m going to try to use some simple physics to think about earthquakes and radio transmitters. And the little bit of physics I’m going to use is the formula for the work done (or energy expended) in lifting a mass M by a height H at the surface of the earth. And that amount of work is M.g.H – where g is the gravitational acceleration at the surface of the earth, 9.81 m/s^2. It’s called Potential Energy and it’s measured in Joules or Calories.

Now, I read somewhere that the earthquake in Virginia a few days back took place a kilometre underground, and so it must have lifted up something like a cubic kilometre of rock by some distance, because when people feel vibrations it’s because the ground is going up and down or side to side. And earthquakes don’t seem to lift things up and down by large distances, and so maybe the ground went up and down by one centimetre. How much work is needed to lift a cubic kilometre of rock one centimetre? Well, the density of granite is about 2,750 kg per cubic metre, and there are 109 cubic metres in a cubic kilometre, so plugging these values into the M.g.H formula gives 2750 x 109 x 9.81 x 0.01, which works out at 2.75 x 1011 Joules. And if the earthquake is doing this amount of work every second, that’s 2.75 x 1011 Joules/second. A joule/second is a Watt, and so this theoretical earthquake expends energy at the rate of 275 GW (gigawatts) . If it lasted for 20 seconds (like some people said it did), that works out at a total of 5.5 x 1012 Joules of energy expended.

So for the HAARP radio station in Alaska to cause an earthquake in Virginia, it would have to transmit a 275 gigawatt radio signal. Now I have no idea what the power of the HAARP transmitter might be (actually it’s given as 3,600 kW, and I’ve read that the BBC Radio 1 transmitter uses 1,250 kW), but I do know that the total installed electrical generating capacity of the USA is 995 GW (and the whole world is 4500 GW). So, supposing that the HAARP transmitter actually could beam that amount of energy somewhere, it would have used over a quarter of US capacity, and caused a brown-out across the USA.

And I’m only considering a small earthquake that lifts a cubic kilometre of rock by one centimetre. The March 11 Japan earthquake occurred at a depth of 35 km, and caused damage over a much larger area, and so was most likely over a million times more energetic than the Virginia one – about 275 million megawatts. But some people seem to think HAARP caused that one too.

Most likely, someone will say that the HAARP signals simply trigger earthquakes, and don’t actually do all the work themselves. A small signal somehow gets amplified (and funnily enough, it’s the same with carbon dioxide). But even if only a thousandth of its released energy is needed to trigger an earthquake, there are still colossal amounts of energy required, which are beyond the capacity of entire countries to generate, and even the entire world. And if it’s said that only trace amounts of energy are needed to trigger earthquakes, then I must cause a few whenever I get out of bed in the morning.

So I’d say that my intuition that HAARP radio signals can’t be being used to cause earthquakes is supported by a bit of simple science: the amounts of energy needed are simply far too large. And that’s without even asking how these huge amounts of energy can be beamed from Alaska to Virginia or Japan or wherever.

The amounts of energy used in natural processes like earthquakes are truly stupendous. Even something like a hurricane uses 200 times the world-wide electrical generating capacity.

Nevertheless plenty of people seem to be able to believe that it’s possible to use the 3.6 megawatt HAARP transmitter to generate 275 gigawatt (and larger) earthquakes. That’s a something-for-nothing power gain of about a million watts for every watt invested. It’s like winning a million quid on the lottery with a £1 ticket. The believers include infowars Alex Jones, among others.

But I think they’re engaging in magical thinking.

P.S. (As a check, the Virginia earthquake registered as 5.8 on the Richter scale, which is about 3 x 1013 Joules of energy released, so my figure of 5.5 x 1012 J wasn’t far out. The March 11 Japan quake was 9 on the Richter scale, which is 1018 J, and so indeed nearly a million times more energetic than the Virginia one.) 

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20 Responses to Magical Thinking

  1. Mr. Davis, you should learn to leave the science to the scientists.

    All good scientists know that the HAARP program really refers to the HAARPs being played by the assembled heavenly choir of angels led by Mitch Miller and the Rev. Falwell. Their power output is difficult to quantify, but we have it on good authority from Dr. Stanton Glantz (the kardiologist) and the esteemed Health BioPhysicist (aka “The goofy X-Ray Tech” from the ’60s) James Repace that their total output is somewhere in the range of 6.66 yoctowatts to 6.66 yottawatts (Confidence Interval > .95%)

    Just a word to the wise from Science Central.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains” — expert in the use of yoctoscoptic analysis

    • Junican says:

      Well, Mr McFadden, you may say that if you wish, but i would be careful if I was you. Such thoughts are dangerous – they can be transmitted.

      Seriously, though…I am surprised that you are not aware of the aliens. It is perfectly obvious that there is a co-relation between radio signals and earthquakes. Studies conducted by the organisation known as QUACKS have shown it to be true. QUACKS (Quaint Unattributable Activities) has measured stuff (see paywall protected stats) and found traces of biological stuff of alien origin – otherwise known as ‘meteorites’. Studies conducted by QUACKS associates (who shall be nameless) show that there is a greater proliferation of meteorites around earthquake sites. This amounts to 0.0000001% – BUT THERE IS NO SAFE LEVEL OF METEORITES! Think of the children of the future!

      The science is settled.

      • Junican,

        It is refreshing to see a fellow colleague here amidst the usual rabble. Yes, I have long been familiar with QUACKS as well as its sister antismoking organization, DUCKS (Diligently Undermining Concrete Knowledge ‘n Science). I fully agree and the science is unequivocal on the matter: there is indeed no safe level of meteorites. HOWEVER: their risk, and the danger to ones chldren, can be significantly reduced simply by relocating one’s abode to the polar regions (either North or South — we believe in freedom!) in order to avoid legal action over child neglect.

        – MJM

  2. Junican says:

    Seriously, though, there are some cracking maths in there Frank. Has anyone applied such maths to the expected rise in sea levels as a result of global warming? Atmospheric warming can only influence the oceans via the surface of the oceans. There is an awful lot of cold water under the surface of the oceans which will draw heat from the surface, and this heat will have to transmit deeper and deeper. Also, surface heat must affect the land. So the land is not unlikely to ‘rise’ more than the oceans. Thus, global warming might have the opposite effect – the land will rise and the the oceans appear to fall. Who knows? Has any physicist work it out, or are only the quasi-scientists known as climatologists (aka fakirs) involved? Or is it a question of funds?

    Jesus wept!

  3. morgan toal says:

    Hi Frank,

    I used to live in Alaska about 20 miles from the HAARP array. I was friends with a guy who worked there, and I toured the facility on two occasions during the annual (or maybe bi-annual?) open houses they would have. It certainly is an impressive feat of engineering in the middle of nowhere. They had a diesel train locomotive connected to the on site power systems to provide peak power for some of their experiments when local utility power was not enough, though I have no idea of the power output of such a thing.

    Based on some of the literature I saw when I toured the facility during their open house I suspect the most likely military applications for the HAARP were either some sort of over the horizon radar system, or VLF communication for submarines, or possibly some sort of ground penetrating radar. It was also extensively used for non-military astronomical research.

    I do not know what the “real” purpose is, as I do not think there is a secret “real” purpose, but it is certainly not some sort of mind control beam or death ray. My friend did not disclose any secrets to me, because I do not think he was privy to any. He said they would receive the parameters for different experimental programs from off-site, and the staff would execute them as directed and report the results.

  4. Tim says:

    Here are additional theories on the unusual EQ in VA the other day.

    One is a scientific paper showing that certain astronomical alignments of the planets can be noted during periods when 6.0 and larger EQs have been happened:

    Click to access 1104.2036v3.pdf

    (I don’t know if anything was aligned during the VA event.)

    Another shows the seismographic chart of the VA event compared to a normal EQ event, where-in first a P-Primary compression wave (similar to FM) is produced, followed later by the S-Secondary surface modulation wave (similar to AM) and the timing between the two waves is how one can determine the distance to the epicenter – but in the case of the VA event, the seismographic chart displayed shows no P-wave and just shows a -boom – huge start-up, more akin to a nuclear blast.

    http://presscore.ca/2011/?p=4009

    Meantime, a fault line suspected to exist a few decades back has been confirmed to exist, stretching from AL in the south to NY in the north, a distance of hundreds of miles – and not the New Madrid Fault, which is something different entirely, following the course of the Mississippi River from north to south.

    http://seeker401.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/new-fault-stretches-from-n-y-to-alabama-and-could-cause-an-earthquake-with-the-right-mix-of-ingredients/

    So in addition to HAARP being said the cause, all these other causes are being cited now too.

    There was also a couple of 3.6 EQs in the SF area of CA Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, after the VA and CO quakes had already occurred, but no damage as 3.6 is too minor to be concerned about.

    • Frank Davis says:

      certain astronomical alignments of the planets

      It’s called Astrology. And it’s perhaps the original form of magical thinking. The minute influences of the planets are somehow or other amplified, and become more important than anything else..

      Homeopathy has a similar principle. The extreme dilution of compounds is supposed to make them stronger or more effective treatments.

      • Tim says:

        True, but in this type of case, I think they are trying to imply there is gravitational pull being amplified by having one or more nearby large bodies within the solar system lined up in a way to create an extra tug on the earth’s surface, similar to the moon causing the oceans to bulge and create tides. For astrology, my mind goes to things beyond the solar system but into stars and other solar systems and galaxies further out in addition to planets and moons within the solar system proper.

        Your astrology reference did make an old song lyric pop up in my mind quite clearly though, “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets and love, love will guide the stars – this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius, Aquarius – dah, dah, dah, dah.”

    • The gravitational pulls of the planets, even if they were all lined up and tipping their hats at us, really does get down almost to the homeopathic level compared to the moon and the sun.

      I don’t really know geophysics ( Well, there was a cute gal next door named Geo a while back, but I doubt her last name was Physics.) but the “unusual” nature of the quake when lumped in with the sheer number of seemingly unusually large quakes over the last 15 years or so (or is that just misperception???) could indicate either something very good, or something very bad.

      The bad side would be along the lines of “All those underground plates ‘n thangs are slip slidin’ around in a way that could set up something REALLY unstable and we’ll see the UK sinking into the sea when the BIG ONE hits next year!”

      The good side would be: “All these ‘relatively minor’ corrections underground simply assure us that we AIN’T gonna get hit by any ‘BIG ONE’ for quite a while into the future.”

      Take yer pick ‘n lay yer bets!

      Me? I’m heading out for a beer and a smoke.

      – MJM

      • Frank Davis says:

        The gravitational pulls of the planets, even if they were all lined up and tipping their hats at us, really does get down almost to the homeopathic level compared to the moon and the sun.

        That is exactly so.

  5. Mr A says:

    Frank, these people don’t do science. What is the passive smoking fraud, except the Mediaeval belief in “miasma”?

    From Wikipedia – “The miasma theory (also called the miasmatic theory) held that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by a miasma (ancient Greek: “pollution”), a noxious form of “bad air”.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      What is the passive smoking fraud, except the Mediaeval belief in “miasma”?

      You’re perfectly correct.

      • Tim says:

        But unfortunately for anyone living a normal human life span, that irrational belief stuck around as dogma for hundreds of years. The irrational SHS belief system could do the same and then everyone will be screwed for many generations to come.

  6. Tapestry says:

    Tesla demonstrated that a large building could be collapsed from a tiny eccentric motor setting up a vibration that resonated at the right pitch. The missing link in your expo is resonance, which builds up and up.

    Imagine a swing with a child being pushed until the swing goes right around 360 degrees. Only a small push each time the swing rotates will keep it accelerating faster and faster. A tiny amount of push can have devastating consequences if repeated over and over.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’ve never heard of the Tesla experiment. It sounds like a thought experiment. But in the case of the swing, which is a pendulum, the impulse from each extra push (at the right point in the swing) adds to the energy stored in it (also m.g.h, where h is the height the swing rises). No more energy is stored in the pendulum than is added by this series of small impulses. There is no energy amplification or feedback effect. No more energy comes out of the system than is put into it. If this is how HAARP-induced earthquakes are being explained, then HAARP’s 3.6 MW transmitter would have to generate the whole 3 x 10^13 Joules expended in the Virginia earthquake. That would take 10^7 seconds, or about 4 months of patient tapping. In the case of the Japan earthquake, which was a million times stronger, it would have taken 4 million months (or several millennia).

      So, sorry, but it’s still magical thinking.

  7. Rose says:

    I’m a great believer in the butterfly effect, in fact I’m counting on it.

  8. Pingback: Magical Thinking 2 | Frank Davis

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