Tom Van Flandern ideas and writings
Dr. Thomas Charles Van Flandern, an expert in celestial mechanics and cosmology, died January 9, 2009 in
Seattle, Washington. Van Flandern was an astronomer at the U.S. Naval Observatory from 1963 to 1983.
Tom obtained a B.S. in mathematics from Xavier in 1962 and a PhD in astronomy from Yale
University in 1969.
Comments in brackets are mine.
excerpts from PHYSICS HAS ITS PRINCIPLES
"...physics has given up its principles. It has too long consorted with mathematicians, who have
no such principles. Mathematics obviously has considerable value as a tool for describing the
world. However, a strength of physics historically has been the discipline it brings to mathematics by
relating directly to nature. Forgetting this has surely been to the detriment of progress in physics."
THE CAUSALITY PRINCIPLE
"Every effect has an antecedent, proximate cause."
NO TIME REVERSAL
"It follows that time travel into the past is not possible ... [If a] person appears in a time where
he did not previously exist, that instantly violates any hope for conservation of matter or energy
in the universe. Not only has more of both just been added to the past (displacing any substance
that existed in that place previously), but the universe continues to have this supplmental mass
and energy until their progenitors disappear from the present.
Another problem is that time travel must also involve travel through space. For example, the Earth
is continuously traveling through space in its orbit around the Sun, in the Sun's orbit around the
Galaxy ... If one could suddenly pop into the universe at a past time, how could one expect
to find the Earth in space at that time? Time travel is therefore disallowed by the principles of physics."
NO TRUE "ACTION AT A DISTANCE"
""Proximate" means "physically in contact with". An effect can have many remote causes, but must
have at least one proximate cause. The alternative would be a condition that one thing be able to affect
another without the passabe of anything between the two ... this would be the logical equivalent of magic,
a miracle, or the supernatural. This condition is called "action at a distance", and is forbidden by the
causality principle because it is logically impossible.
Isaac Newton, whose Universal Law of Gravitation is implicitly based on action at a distance, left no
doubt that he considered this a pragmatic approximation of reality when he said:
"That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of any thing else,
by and through with their action and force may be conveyed from one to the other, is to me so great an
absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever
fall into it."--Isaac Newton
"So reality requires that any action be conveyed from a remote cause to a target by means of some sort of action-
carriers. It does not require that the carriers be visible or even detectable. But exist they must, and they,
or some surrogate carriers, must come into contact with the target to transmit the action."
"Fields are not a form of action at a distance ... in any rigid body when one part of it is pushed a pressure
wave propagates through it, conveying the push to all parts of the rigid body."
NO "CREATION EX NIHILO" [Big Bang prohibited]
"Something cannot come into existence out of nothing. In a sense, it is another manifestation of the causality
principle because such creation would represent and effect without a cause ... the Big Bang begins with the
ultimate creation-fron-nothing scenario - the mass, space, and time of the entire universe from nothing -
as its first step. Creation ex nihilo is forbidden in physics because it requires a miracle. Everything that
exists comes from something that existed before, that has grown, or fragmented, or changed form.
So-called spontaneous particle creation from vacuum need not violate this principle because the vacuum
is not empty ... the vacuum is occupied by substance on a scale too small for us to yet detect in any form
other than in Casimir-type experiments. The principle only requires that the ingredients from which something
is made pre-exist, but not that we can discover them yet."
NO "DEMISE AD NIHIL"
"The counterpart of not allowing the creation of something from nothing is ... something cannot become
nothing. [but it can change] its appearance or form."
THE FININTE CANNOT BECOME INFINITE and vice versa
"No matter how many finite things we may collect, their total number and total substance remain finite. Likewise,
if something is truly infinite (such as the set of all integers), then no matter how we divide it, at least
one piece must remain infinite. And no matter how many equal-sized pieces we divide it into, each will still
have an infinite number of components.
A singularity is a point where something has become infinite. In astrophysics, it is a point where matter
has collapsed into infinite density and infinitesimal volume. Singularities occur routinely in mathematics.
But up to now, whenever a singularity occurs in an equation, some constraint always prevents a singularity
from arising in nature."
"The mathematicians who have taken over the province of general relativity have ... advocated the existence of
real singularities in nature at the centers of 'black holes'. Einstein himself, as a good physicist, never
accepted the concept of black holes, and held that some new constraint would modify his equations in the
"... objects such as the 'black holes' presently attributed to GR are forbidden to exist by the principles
TANGIBLE, MATERIAL ENTITIES CANNOT OCCUPY THE SAME SPACE AT THE SAME TIME
"One property that distinguishes particles from waves is the ability of waves to pass through one another
without any effect on each other. However, when a wave passes, the constituents comprising the medium that carries
the wave do not travel with it, but rather just bob up-and-down or back-and-forth in place. The wave is
transmitted by consituent collisions, which occur without co-location of constituents ever occurring."
COROLLARIES OF PRINCIPLES
"...nature has no singularities. If it did, matter could disappear from the universe ..."
"... there are no black holes in the traditional relativity sense of event horizons centered on a singularity."
"There was no Big Bang at the origin of the universe. The Big Bang also violates several physical
principles: an effect with no antecedent, proximate cause; no singularities in nature; and no creation
ex nihilo. If the universe really is expanding - an assumption very much in doubt - then something must
limit how far back that expansion can be projected."
DEFINITIONS OF DIMENSIONS
"Mathematicians, lacking physical constraints, are free to imagine or invent unlimited numbers of dimensions,
and to ascribe any properties to them they wish. So one hears often of parallel dimensions, hyper-dimensions,
multiple time dimensions, more than three space dimensions, etc. It is easy to forget that such ideas are
fictional concepts. We have not a single observation or experiment that cannot fully and completely be
explained with three dimensions of space, one of time and one of mass or scale ... Occam's Razor then
requires that we not invent extra physical dimensions unless and until some necessity arises - not convenience,
"... dimensions [are] scales for the measurement of intervals."
"Moreover, scales for measurement are insubstantial; i.e., they have no substance. Therefore, a dimension
cannot be affected by matter or by a force. There is clearly no necessity for having curved space.
"The term "space" should continue to be used with its classical meaning, the dimension for measuring
separations. If we have a theory in which we might like "space" to expand or contract, we must choose a
different word, because the meaning of the word "space" is reserved for a useful concept that can have no
distortions. For example, we might then have to say that "a space-filling medium" expands or contracts. That
grounds the discussion in reality, and eliminates the fantastic."
"Similar remarks apply to time ... time is simply a measure of change ... if time is not a physical thing that
slows down with speed and stops for things moving at the speed of light,
then it follows that the speed of light is not a speed limit for the universe."
"The five ordinary dimensions are always uniform, linear, and universal."
REPEALING PHYSICAL PRINCIPLES
"If we saw physical principles being violated, we could conclude with some certitude that we were experiencing
a virtual reality. This raises an interesting philosophical challenge: How do we know our present reality is
not a virtual one? Ultimately we are forced to act pragmatically and behave as if this reality is non-virtual
because the consequences of doing otherwise are painful and catastrophic, to the best of our ability to predict
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