From Enthusiasm To Zealotry

I get enthusiastic about ideas.

When, on 15 February 2013, a small asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, and on the same day the larger asteroid 2012 DA14 passed within 28,000 km of the Earth, and NASA immediately declared that the two events were unrelated, I got out the orbital simulation model I’d written some 10 years earlier to see if there was any way in which they could be related.

Preliminary calculations rapidly showed that the object was unrelated to the long-predicted close approach of the asteroid 367943 Duende, that flew by Earth 16 hours later at a distance of 27,700 km. The Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, Russian sources, the European Space Agency, NASA[ and the Royal Astronomical Society all indicated the two objects could not have been related because the two asteroids had widely different trajectories.

Two or three years later, I came to the conclusion that the Chelyabinsk rock was very likely a companion of DA14, following some 20 million km behind it in its orbit, and passing very close to the Earth on 15 February 2009. I’m probably the only person in the world who believes this, aside from my co-conspirator Andrew Cooper. I continue to remain interested in asteroids, and often use my simulation model to reconstruct the orbits of newly discovered asteroids.

I also got interested in how biological cells divide, coming up with a geometrical explanation, whereby cells maintain a constant ratio of their volumes and surface areas as they grow. It was an idea that worked with cubic and spherical and circular cells, but the mathematics of more complex cells defeated me, and I was forced to abandon the idea.

And then I had the idea that cancer cells were like fast-growing weeds multiplying in forest clearings where trees had fallen, and built a computer simulation model of the process.

About 10 years ago I had the idea that Iron Age hill forts used their sloping ramparts to project rolling stones down onto enemies below.

I’m always enthusiastic about something. It’s like falling in love.

And my latest enthusiasm is my new Theory of Ice Ages, which is that the effect of several kilometres of ice being deposited on the surface of the Earth would be to act as an insulator, and warm the earth beneath the ice, to the point where the ice above the heated surface rocks would melt. And, needless to say, I’ve been constructing a computer simulation model of that too.

And Idle Theory is by far the oldest and greatest enthusiasm of mine. I’ve been developing that idea since it first occurred to me one morning in the spring of 1975, 43 years ago, and it now occupies its own website, courtesy of my brother.

Anyone who looks at any of my ideas will immediately notice that they are all mathematical-physical ideas, and they are all accompanied with computer simulation models of one sort or other. They might also note that once I’ve sunk my teeth into any of these ideas, I never let go. I’m remarkably tenacious in this respect. And there are ideas from my teenage years which I have never let go of, and to which I still periodically return.

And I was thinking this morning that, of course, other people have similar ideas. And they become enthusiasts as well. One might say that in 1950 Richard Doll and Bradford Hill were enthusiasts about the idea that smoking causes lung cancer, and much of the medical profession has become equally enthusiastic in subsequent years. And the same has happened with global warming alarmism, with enthusiasts like James Hansen promoting the idea that small amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can cause (and have caused) catastrophic global warming. This also is an idea that has gripped the world’s imagination, with governments working on legislation to reduce carbon dioxide production.

But it seems that these enthusiasms often metamorphose into zealotry. And indeed this is exactly what has happened with both the idea that smoking causes lung cancer and the idea that carbon dioxide causes global warming. Doubt and dissent become intolerable. All must believe the new doctrine. Heretics must be expelled. And so now we have millions and millions of smokers exiled to the outdoors, almost everywhere in the world. And there are calls for the prosecution of global warming “deniers”.

And perhaps it has always been like this. I was wondering this morning whether the Council of Nicaea called by the emperor Constantine in 325 AD was the 1997 Kyoto climate conference of its day. One of the questions that needed to be resolved at Nicaea was:

The Arian question regarding the relationship between God the Father and the Son (not only in his incarnate form as Jesus, but also in his nature before the creation of the world)

It’s rather hard to imagine such a conference now being called, perhaps by the President of the United States, with the President of the European Commission in attendance, to resolve such a theological question. But clearly back in 325 AD it was a matter of sufficient urgency to require the presence of the Roman emperor and dignitaries from  all over the known world. I dare say that, in a century or two, people will wonder why everyone was so worried about carbon dioxide in the final decades of the 20th century. What were they all so het up about?

Back then there were true believers in one doctrine or other current at the time, and it’s exactly the same today. There are people on one side, and there are people on the other. And those on one side are always pressing those on the other side to set aside their foolish doubts, and accept whole-heartedly the new doctrine, whatever it happens to be. And so the nuclear physicist Niels Bohr would sit at the bedside of an unwell Erwin Schrödinger, and continue to press him to adopt his latest ideas about the structure of the atom.

The problem, perhaps, is that any new hypothesis – whether it be about the nature of God, or atoms, or cancer, or climate change – will always contain uncertainties: things that the hypothesis can’t quite explain. And zealotry is what happens when any attempt to dispel uncertainty is made, by for example condemning and burning heretics. In another century or so, we’ll probably see people being fired, exiled, imprisoned, and maybe even executed for refusing to believe in the existence of quarks, or muons, or neutrinos, or any of the other angelic particles that are now believed (by some people) to be found inside atoms.

Anyway, I have become a true believer in my theory of ice ages. And at the current rate of progress, I look set to become a zealot by the end of the year. I will regard any disagreement or dissent intolerable. And that will be all because my theory doesn’t quite explain absolutely everything, and I will have felt obliged to frog-march it to a conclusion, in much the same way as cigarettes and carbon dioxide are currently being tortured to confess today .

About Frank Davis

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13 Responses to From Enthusiasm To Zealotry

  1. garyk30 says:

    Perhaps, it is more accurate to say that you have ‘passions’.
    Being ‘passionate’ about something is good.
    Without grand passions, there would be no great paintings, music, or scientific discoveries.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think that “passion” implies emotion of some sort. Love, hate, desire, anger, and so forth. And while I think great paintings and music may be passionate, I think science is rather dispassionate, and to the degree it becomes impassioned it ceases to be science.

      So I think that “enthusiasm” – which derived from “en theos” (in God) – is the better word

      • Joe L. says:

        I think that “passion” implies emotion of some sort. Love, hate, desire, anger, and so forth.

        And in your post you, yourself, claimed (emphasis mine):

        I’m always enthusiastic about something. It’s like falling in love.

        Thus, by your own definition, you admit that you feel passion for your “enthusiasms.” :-)

        And while I agree that science should be dispassionate in the sense that a scientist should never become emotionally attached to expected results (and risk biasing the experiment), I think scientists can (and should) feel passion for their work. We wouldn’t have great paintings and music without passionate artists and musicians, and likewise, we wouldn’t have great scientific discoveries if not for impassioned scientists.

  2. Tony says:

    Just came across this on twitter by a “Global Health Lawyer ” called Alexandra Jones. Her recommendations. It doesn’t appear to be a spoof.

    “Solid recs for what a ‘responsible’ food co could do:
    ✅Reformulate all products
    ✅Market responsibility to all kids 0-18yrs, via all media-no exceptions
    ✅No lobbying against diet related public health measures for which there is scientific consensus
    Accountability would be key.

    Of course the ‘consensus’ will as always be whatever the fanatics say it is.
    It is a small step from here to persuading politicians to “close the loophole” and make dissent illegal.
    These people are mad, bad and dangerous. And not in a nice way.

  3. Rose says:

    A luxury smoking lounge and cigar shop has opened at the Ritz
    24 May 2018

    “Buyers will be able to try their purchases in an art deco-style “sampling lounge” which is exempt from the ban on smoking in public places, and get advice from a cigar sommelier.”

    “London has seen a huge increase in luxurious cigar lounges and terraces that can side-step the smoking ban which came into force in 2007. Indoor smoking lounges are allowed so long as smokers are “sampling” cigars bought at a shop”

    “One of the most lavish is the cigar salon at the new Annabel’s nightclub on Berkeley Square in Mayfair. There are also cigar rooms or terraces at exclusive private members’ clubs such as the Arts Club, Mark’s Club and 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair and Ten Trinity Square in the City, as well as at luxury hotels such as The Wellesley and the Bulgari.”

    JAMES, by the Grace of God &c. to our right Trustie and right Welbeloved Cousen and Counsellor, Thomas Earle of Dorset our High Treasourer of Englande, Greetinge.

    Whereas Tabacco being a Drugge of late Yeres found out, and by Merchants, as well Denizens as Strangers, brought from forreign Partes in small quantitie into this Realm of England and other our Dominions, was used and taken by the better sort both then and nowe onelye as Phisicke to preserve Healthe

    And is now at this Day, through evell Custome and the Toleration thereof, excessivelie taken by a nomber of ryotous and disordered Persons of meane and base Condition, whoe, contrarie to the use which Persons of good Callinge and Qualitye make thereof

    We conceave might in great part be restrayned by some good Imposition to be laid uppon it,

    and yet sufficient store to serve for their necessarie use who are of the better sort,

  4. Frank Davis says:

    How they used to play snooker:

  5. For those who don’t read over on Grandad’s -and you really should you know- he has just announced he has spoken with Nis’s widow and Nisaki’s site will remain up as a memorial.

  6. Dunno if you’ve seen this, but it’s kinda interesting. :-)

    ^WTF Did I capture passing the Moon? @1:18^

    When you talked about companion rocks, it got me to thinking about the celestial dynamics involved in reducing the size of a particular rock from one size to another. Much in a similar fashion that gyroscopic rock crushers are use to crush rocks, except in these cases, we’ve got bodies floating out in space that can be directed here and there to let celestial dynamics do the work for us.

    EX: A rock (asteroid/etc.) wanders into your neck of the woods, threatens to impact the planet on which you live and/or is too big or has too much mass to effectively slow and stop it using another planetoid. But you also don’t want to just hurl it out into space because you’ve no idea what the long-term effects of that will be, who else it might effect. So, redirect it here and there until the rock is a more manageable size. With enough time, and enough iterations, you could grind a rather large body into dust.

    Properly managed, this would likely also be a good timekeeping method for projecting the movements of all kinds of celestial bodies. An offset of sorts…like a seondary second hand on a watch, that operates within the watch, but also independent of it. (if that makes any sense)

  7. beobrigitte says:

    I’m always enthusiastic about something. It’s like falling in love.
    This is REALLY strange…. Today as I claimed my window seat at Heathrowf%#&%ingairport a young lad had to take the seat next to me. His face caved in when he saw whom he had to spend the next few hours with. Another somewhat different-numerous-times-29-year-old… :)
    So I cracked a joke: “Sorry, you pulled up 2s today”.
    But we did get chatting and he turned out out be an American maths geek. And he was interested in many different things. He was also pretty apologetic when an American woman 2 seats down was bitching about Germany and the Germans. I laughed.
    We ended up talking for hours about Mars missions, maths (finally someone could explain the concept of inverse to me), Physics (Your space transport tower theory he actually had heard about, Frank!) and time flew.
    We both were saying that we seem to be enthusiastic about something all the time; it’s a passion other people cut us off for; with one exception; he is succumbing to the anti-smokers and plans to give up smoking. I told him that hell will freeze over before I give up smoking!!
    Nevertheless, despite disagreeing on the smoking part (I gave him food for thought by giving him the number of times I have been 29 and told him that, if smoking makes men impotent and affects fertility in women where all we baby-boomers could possibly come from and why we live longer as my state pension age has been raised to 67) we had an invigorating discussion about things that don’t crop up in day-to-day life.
    Mission accomplished, I think.

    For amusement: I saw a sign at Heathrow airport today that made me laugh. On a purple background there were big white letters, saying: “Heathrow welcomes smokers”. It was the entrance to the smoking cage at terminal 3. No seats, no coffee offers, in a draughty place.
    Gonna miss that miserable airport in future.

  8. Smoking Lamp says:

    Now they are starting outdoor bans in Wales. This at The Guardian: “Wales to ban smoking outside hospitals and schools in UK first” The South Wales Argus all has a report (more of a propaganda piece with comments dominated by antismokers) at Smoking to be banned in hospital and school grounds and playgrounds in Wales “

  9. Pingback: Wonderful Fiction | Frank Davis

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