In The New York Review of Books (“Science on the Rampage,”April 5, 2012) , Freemon Dyson reviews Margaret Wertheim’s Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything,
Physics on the Fringe describes work done by amateurs, people rejected by the academic establishment and rejecting orthodox academic beliefs. They are often self-taught and ignorant of higher mathematics. Mathematics is the language spoken by the professionals. The amateurs offer an alternative set of visions. Their imagined worlds are concrete rather than abstract, physical rather than mathematical. Many of them belong to the Natural Philosophy Alliance, an informal organization known to its friends as the NPA.
Margaret Wertheim’s book discusses her encounters with the natural philosophers. She is interested in them as characters in a human tragedy, with the seriousness and dignity that tragedy imposes. Her leading character is Jim Carter, and her main theme is the story of his life and work. Unlike most of the philosophical dreamers, Carter is a capable engineer and does real experiments to test his ideas. He runs a successful business that gives him leisure to pursue his dreams. He is a man of many talents, with one fatal flaw.
Carter’s flaw is his unshakable belief in a theory of the universe based on endless hierarchies of circlons. Circlons are mechanical objects of circular shape. …
Surely, it is relevant that Darwinism has always been in conflict with mathematics. It’s one of the few instances of a completely accepted crank view of the universe.