Catt on "Modern Physics"


Ivor Catt 7 January 1988



Sclerosis in Academia

Accountability in Science


Modern Physics

Ivor Catt


Recently, I have been trying yet again to grasp the content of "Modern Physics", a large inter-related array of ideas spawned by the "Solvay Mafia", who met in Brussels in 1927 [crucially, but also in other years]. Generally, I have tended to think that my failure to understand what these men say (about Quantum Mechanics, Relativity etc.) resulted from my ignorance of certain facets of their world-view. However, it might be useful to invert this idea, and suggest that my failure results from their ignorance of certain facets of today's body of knowledge in Physics. Further, I would suggest that today's disciples of "Modern Physics" also retain an ignorance of certain key advances in physics, which ignorance makes them suitable acolytes of "Modern Physics".


My discussion might be clarified if I say at this point that "Modern Physics" is not modern [Note 1] . It is a throwback to the State of the Art in Physics in around 1920. So the term is confusing, but we will have to retain it because such a horde of dinosaurs insist on describing their Universe of Discourse as "modern". [Note 2]



I shall give two examples to show that paradoxically, too much knowledge is debilitating and also too little knowledge is debilitating.


In the sixth form [for 16-18 year olds in school], my maths master Sam Richardson thought that it was risky for his students to take no examinations during the long two year gap between Olevels and A levels, so he entered us for a single paper, O Level Mechanics, half way through the sixth. I had great difficulty with one question, which asked me to define a system which was in equilibrium, because I suspected that O Level students were limited to thinking in two dimensions, whereas I could think in three dimensions. My extra knowledge debilitated me, and I did not know what was expected. I have this problem with "Modern Physics". I do not know which portion of my set of knowledge I should "not know" in order that Imight relate on equal terms with a "Modern Physicist".


The debilitating effect of too little knowledge, on the other hand, is illustrated by the sad case of O'Rahilley, the greatest contributor to electromagnetic theory for the near-century following Oliver Heaviside. O'Rahilley published his book, sometimes called "Electromagnetic Theory" (pub. Longmans) in the 1930s. The first part of his book, a hatchet job on Maxwell's electromagnetism, is brilliant. However, the second part, where he puts forward his own theory, of Retarded Potentials, is useless. The reason for this is that he failed to read Heaviside, and so never heard of Heaviside's concept of "energy current". This puts O'Rahilley outside the mainstream of electromagnetic theory development from Heaviside to Catt. I would think that he gave up on Heaviside because Heaviside wrote of "the heaven-sent Maxwell", whom O'Rahilley abjured. The O'R case demonstrates the brittleness of true science. One single error, or failure to learn about energy current, relegated O'Rahilley to a footnote in the advance of electromagnetic theory. By contrast, "Modern Physics" is ductile, and can withstand the effect of error or ignorance within its confines. This is why "Modern Physics" is not true science. In January I quoted T S Kuhn as saying, correctly; "It is hard to see how new theories could arise without these destructive changes in beliefs about nature." Aliong with Kuhn and Popper, I see true science as brittle, vulnerable to shipwreck on the rocks of experience.


We will gain understanding as to why "Modern Physics" is so peculiar and incomprehensible to us if we research into which features of our world view are not known by the "modern physicist".



Impedance of free space.

[IERE Publication No. 60 contains the contents of the IERE International Conference on Electromagnetic Compatibility] [In association with the IEE, IEEE, IME, IQA and RAC] At Surrey University. I gave a paper, which I published simultaneously in "Electronics and Wireless World" [EWW] September 1984. They contain this extract;

"It is noteworthy that Einstein himself and the whole post-Einstein community who call themselves "Modern Mhysics" never mention the impedance of free space 1/(sq.rt.{permeability x permittivity}) [ =377 ohms], although it is one of the key Primitives on which digital electronic engineering is based. The reader is encouraged to look for reference to it in the literature of modern physics."

I discussed this further in EWW last January.

[Again in EWW in November 1985, I republished the extract, and added that "Since then, no one has pointed out any case where it is mentioned in the literature [of Modern Physics]. (During the next 20 years, nobody has cited a case where this value 377 ohms is mentioned in the literature of "Modern Physics". The one exception is that the late Tom Ivall, Editor of "Wireless World" [=EWW], sent me a copy of Wireless World of around 1940 where the wrong value - 477 ohms - is mentioned in Wireless World by one of the Grand Old Men of Solvay 1927.)]


The time has come for us to demand that someone or other in the coterie of "Modern Physics" explain how they can do any physics without using this essential Primitive. If it is shown, or even asserted, that Zo [377] is of no significance in "Modern Physics", then possibly well and good. What is totally unacceptable is for a key factor in Digital Electronics [seen clearly with a sampling oscilloscope] to be totally ignored. If Ibuilt a car without steering column, or without an engine, I would be expected at the least, to assert that my car did not need one. I myself would be even more courteous, and indulge in some explanation as to why my car did not need one. Is it too much to ask for some such from the "Modern Physics" community? (Sadly, it is, if, as I expect, no "modern physicist" has heard of Zo!)



When electricity enters the plate of a capacitor, it first has to spread out across the capacitor plate , which it does very slowly .



A capacitor is a ransmission line



The Catt Catt, or Contrapuntal , model for a charged capacitor.



The Catt Question



Theory C ]


Oliver Heaviside.

At the recent meeting at the Royal Institution to celebrate the centenary of the Michelson-Morley experiment I criticised an attender for mentioning Oliver Heaviside on the grounds that Heaviside did not come into "Modern Physics", but was in another, totally separate tradition. No one among the 50 attenders disagreed with me. Later I told him that I had done this in order to try to flush out some evidence that Modern Physics did [after all] recognise Oliver Heaviside. (I refer here to Heaviside's physics, not to his operational calculus, which is recognised.) Many years ago in a letter in Physics Letters, I asked if there was any evidence that Einstein read Heaviside (and had heard of Heaviside's concept of "energy current"). There was no reply, and we can safely conclude that Heaviside [1850-1925] is not part of "Modern Physics".


Energy Current.

I am certain that no "Modern Physicist" has heard of Energy Current, which Oliver Heaviside himself only mentioned twice in his early writings. (See index in I Catt, Electromagnetic Theory [ vol 1 and vol 2 ],1980.) [Mike Gibson says that the truth is that OH mentioned Energy Current more than twice. However, on checking his citations, I find that these are mentions before Heaviside himself firmed up the definition of his "Energy Current". Once he had done so, he mentioned it only twice.] When a "Modern Physicist" mentions the Poynting Vector, it is unclear what he means, and he probably means some sort of obscure mathematical construct. Certianly, he does not have a clear comprehension of the Transverse Electromagnetic Wave [TEM Wave]. (See for instance B L van der Waerdon, "Sources of Quantum Mechanics", pub. Dover 1967, page 12.) I know that within modern physics there is a failure to grasp the fact that the velocity of light is fixed at one exact, unvarying value. For instance, Heitler writes; " .... the velocity is not sharp ...." (Catt, op. cit. p304). As electronic engineers, we know that if the velocity is not sharp, valued at 1/ [sq.rt. (permeability x permittivity)] , then our whole theoretical structure collapses. Our perception, as electronic engineers, is, as Heaviside put it; "It depends essentially upon the speed with which the medium can carry away from the source the induction supplied there." - O Heaviside, Electromagnetic Theory vol. 3, art. 453, 1912.


The fixed velocity drops straight out of the maths. Also, it is clearly prescribed by Maxwell's Equations .


If "Modern Physicists" want to relate to us, they must discuss these subjects clearly, and not just throw lots of fancy maths and verbose waffle at each other and at us. They, not I must do the talking, since it is they who contradict Maxwell and Heaviside if, with Heitler, they assert that the velocity is not sharp.


Ivor Catt, 7 January 1988.

Typed up by Catt on 1 December 2006.


Note 1. "Modern Physics" is not new. It is a throw-back to the physics on the 1920s. This asserton makes it much easier to grasp what has happened. Academia shut out digital electronics, totemised by the sampling scope, and so blocked the reporting of further advance within academia. Meanwhile, high speed digital electronics proceeded at high speed outside academia and outaside the text books. However, lacking any support from academics and from publishers (who defer to academics), it has now ground to a halt.


Note 2. The key issue which separates the sheep from the goats is the use of a sampling scope to look at high speed electronic signals. "Modern Physics" makes no concessions whatsoever to anything that has been learned by the use of a modern "Sampling Oscilloscope", first developed in around 1960, long after "Modern Physics" had been codified into dogma in the 1927 Solway Coinference. No Professor, text book writer or devotee of "Modern Physics" will ever have used a sampling scope. It is likely that the only users in the multi-billion dollar CERN "atom smasher" will be bemused electronic engineers outside the mainstream of the local prevailing "modern physics".

Even when they do use high speed scopes, it is to look at high speed sine waves, for the following reason. Whatever text book they read when they first studied electromagnetic theory broght in omega and the sine wave without giving any reason on page 2. Thus, today's professors and text book writers have been socialised into the limited world of sinusoidal electromagnetic theory, which by definition is steady state. When confronted by a step or impulse, they respond by saying that it is a combinatiion of sine ways, using FourierAnalysis. This is clearly a false analogy. But when for the first time (which is very rare) they give themselves the chance to look at a high speed pulse or step, they do not see a pulse or step. They only see a combination of sine waves. Howie, head of the Cavendish, went so far as to say to me that physical reality was composed of sine waves!

- Ivor Catt, 1 and 5dec2006


Sampling Oscilloscope " .... However, it was not until the advent of the sampling oscilloscope (Hewlett-Packard c.1962) and the development of techniques for subnanosecond (baseband) pulse generation, to provide suitable approximations to an impulse excitation, .... ...."


Homepage | Electromagnetism1 | Old Website