Free Energy Crankery and Negative Mass Nonsense

Dec 01 2011 Published by under Bad Physics

I've got a couple of pet peeves.

As the author of this blog, the obvious one is bad math. And as I always say, the worst math is no math.

Another pet peeve of mine is free energy. Energy is, obviously, a hugely important thing to our society. And how we're going to get the energy we need is a really serious problem - almost certainly the biggest problem that we face. Even if you've convinced yourself that global warming isn't an issue, energy is a major problem. There's only so much coal and oil that we can dig up - someday, we're going to run out.

But there are tons of frauds out there who've created fake machines that they claim you can magically get energy from. And there are tons of cranks who are all-too-ready to believe them.

Take, for example, Bob Koontz.

Koontz is a guy with an actual physics background - he got his PhD at the University of Maryland. I'm very skeptical that he's actually stupid enough to believe in what he's selling - but nonetheless, he's made a donation-based business out of selling his "free energy" theory.

So what's his supposed theory?

It sounds impossible, but it isn't. It is possible to obtain an unlimited amount of energy from devices which essentially only require that they be charged up with negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons. Any physicist should be able to convince himself of this in a matter of minutes. It really is simple: While ordinary positive mass electrons in a circuit consume power, negative mass electrons generate power. Why is that? For negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons, Newton's second law, F = ma becomes F = -ma.

But acquiring negative mass electrons and negative mass electrons is not quite as simple as it sounds. They are exotic particles that many physicists may even doubt exist. But they do exist. I am convinced of this -- for good reasons.

The Law of Energy Conservation

The law of energy conservation tells us that the total energy of a closed system is constant. Therefore, if such a system has an increase in positive energy, there must be an increase in negative energy. The total energy stays constant.

When you drop an object in the earth's gravitational field, the object gains negative gravitational potential energy as it falls -- with that increase in negative energy being balanced by an increase of positive energy of motion. But the object does not lose or gain total energy as it falls. It gains kinetic energy while it gains an equal amount of negative gravitational energy.

How could we have free energy? If we gain positive energy, we must also generate negative energy in exactly the same amount. That will "conserve energy," as physicists say. In application, in the field of "free energy," that means generating negative energy photons and other negative energy particles while we get the positive energy we are seeking. What is the problem, then? The problem involves generating the negative energy particles.

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So... there are, supposedly, "negative energy" particles that correspond to electrons and positrons. These particles have never been observed, and under normal circumstances, they have no effect on any observable phenomenon.

But, we're supposed to believe, it really exists. And it means that we can get free energy without violating the conservation of energy - because the creation of an equal amount of invisible, undetectable, effectless negative energy balances out whatever positive energy we create.

So what is negative energy?

That's where the bad math comes in. Here's his explanation:

When Paul Dirac, the Nobel prize-winning physicist was developing the first form of relativistic quantum mechanics he found it necessary to introduce the concept of negative mass electrons. This subsequently led Dirac to develop the idea that a hole in a sea of negative mass electrons corresponded to a positron, otherwise known as an antielectron. Some years later the positron was observed and Dirac won the Nobel prize.

Subsequent to the above, there appears to have been no experimental search for these negative mass particles. Whether or not negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons exist is thus a question to which we do not yet have an answer. However, if these particles do exist, their unusual properties could be exploited to produce unlimited amounts of energy -- as negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons, when employed in a circuit, produce energy rather than consume it. Newton's 2nd law F = ma becomes F = - ma and that explains why negative mass electrons and negative mass positrons produce energy rather than consume it. I believe that any good physicist should be able to see this quite quickly.

The following paragraph is actually wrong. There is such a thing as relativistic quantum mechanics. QM and special relativity are compatible, and the relativistic QM fits is at that intersection. General relativity and QM remains an unsolved problem, as discussed below. I'm leaving the original paragraph, because it seems dishonest to just delete it, like I was pretending that I never screwed up.

There is no such thing as relativistic quantum mechanics. One of the great research areas of modern physics is the attempt to figure out how to unify quantum mechanics and relativity. Many people have tried to find a unifying formulation, but no one has yet succeeded. There is no theory of relativistic QM.

It's actually a fascinating subject. General relativity seems to be true: every test that we can dream up confirms GR. And quantum mechanics also appears to be true: every test that we can dream up confirms the theory of quantum mechanics. And yet, the two are not compatible.

No one has been able to solve this problem - not Dirac, not anyone.

Even within the Dirac bit... there is a clever bit of slight-of-hand. He starts by saying that Dirac proposed that there were "negative mass" electrons. Dirac did propose something like that - but the proposal was within the frame of mathematics. Without knowing about the existence of the positron, he worked through the implications of relativity, and would up with a model which could be interpreted as a sea of "negative mass" electrons with holes in it. The holes are positrons.

To get a sense of what this means, it's useful to pull out a metaphor. In semiconductor physics, when you're trying to describe the behavior of semiconductors, it's often useful to talk about things backwards. Instead of talking about how the electrons move through a semiconductor, you can talk about how electron holes move. An electron hole is a "gap" where an electron could move. Instead of an electron moving from A to B, you can talk about an electron hole moving from B to A.

The Dirac derivation is a similar thing. The real particle is the positron. But for some purposes, it's easier to discuss it backwards: assume that all of space is packed, saturated, with "negative mass" electrons. But there are holes moving through that space. A hole in a "negative mass", negatively charged field is equivalent to a particle with positive mass and positive charge in an empty, uncharged space - a positron.

The catch is that you need to pick your abstraction. If you want to use the space-saturated-with-negative-mass model, then the positron doesn't exist. You're looking at a model in which there is no positron - there is just a gap in the space of negative-mass particles. If you want to use the model with a particle called a positron, then the negative mass particles don't exist.

So why haven't we been searching for negative-mass particles? Because they don't exist. That is, we've chosen the model of reality which says that the positron is a real particle. Or to be slightly more precise: we have a very good mathematical model of many aspects of reality. In that model, we can choose to interpret it as either a model in which the positive-mass particles really exist and the negative-mass particles exist only as an absence of particles; or we can interpret it as saying that the negative-mass particles exist, and the positive mass ones exist only as an absence of negative-mass particles. In either case, that model provides an extremely good description of what we observe about reality. But that model does not predict that both the positive and negative mass particles both really exist in any meaningful sense. By observing and calculating the properties of the positive mass particles, we adopt the interpretation that positive mass particles really exist. Every observation that we make of the properties of positive mass particles is implicitly an observation of the properties of negative-mass particles. The two interpretations are mathematical duals.

Looking at his background and at at other things on his site, I think that Koontz is, probably, a fraud. He's not dumb enough to believe this. But he's smart enough to realize that there are lots of other people who are dumb enough to believe it. Koontz has no problem with pandering to them in the name of his own profit. What finally convinced me of that was his UFO-sighting claim here. Absolutely pathetic.

29 responses so far

  • Shadonis says:

    Negative mass, also typically referred to as exotic matter, is one of those things that allow for a lot of interesting things (time travel, wormhole throat stabilization, etc)... if it actually existed.

  • Blaise Pascal says:

    It's a bit disingenuous to claim there is no such thing as relativistic QM. While it's true that there has been little success in unifying QM and *general* relativity, Dirac's success was in unifying QM and *special* relativity. QM since then has been relativistic -- assuming a Minkowski space-time, c as a maximum velocity, etc -- but with a flat geometry.

    Despite the ludicrousness of Koontz's claims (negative mass? really?) his description of Dirac's work as "relativistic QM" is accurate.

  • Robert says:

    Now I know a lot of physicists with a very strange sense of humor, could this be a joke thats just run out of hand? What is he actually selling, a bucket-full of negative-mass electrons?

  • woci says:

    Actually.. there's also bad physics :-) The positrons do not have "negative mass", they have positive charge (and "positive" mass). They do have mass, the same as the electron (but as stated, the opposite charge) so Newton's equation still holds the exact same form. Period :-)

    In other news, in our world, anti-matter collides with matter and produces energy and thus cannot exist in a stable form (oh sorry Marc, can I borrow some positrons? I forgot to charge my iPod). Matter would also not be stable in an anti-world. Creating "anti-matter" is also costly, so I wouldn't propose it! :-)

    These are my 2c!

    • MarkCC says:

      He's not arguing that positrons are negative mass. But the Dirac theory that proposed the existence of the positron did it by showing a "hole" in the sea of negative-mass electrons.

  • Jason Dick says:

    Blaise Pascal already mentioned the nitpick with your post, so I won't go into that. Instead I'd just like to point out that this idea of negative mass particles has a more fundamental problem: if negative mass particles existed in such a way that you could create free energy, then nature would do it all the time. And what happens when nature creates huge amounts of free energy? That's right: explosion. Free energy means reality explodes. So yeah, that doesn't happen, so it isn't possible.

    • Koontz Hutchison says:

      Does nature also create the I.E.D that blew my friends leg off? You ppl are so convinced that you know all there is to know. Step out of your box of I'm the smartest nerd in the world and actually think for yourself. There are 7 laws not 4. 2 words, BOYD BUSHMAN. Lame ass jerks!!!!!!!

      • MarkCC says:

        What on earth does this have to do with the subject of this post?

        In terms of science and thermodynamics, yes, nature explains IEDs and why they hurt people. IEDs are explosives - substances with a large quantity of energy trapped in unstable chemical bonds. Under the right conditions, all of that energy gets released in an extremely short period of time. There's no mystery about it, and no need to try to refer to some supposedly missing set of pseudo-scientific rules.

        The only mystery about IEDs is why people want to use them on each other. But that's not a question of math.

        In addition, one of the wonderful things about science is that it never claims to know all there is to know. That's pretty much the realm of religion. Science is always open to new data, new evidence, new observations, and new explanations of the data, evidence, and observations.

        The catch to that is that to convince science and scientists to change their minds about how things work, you need to actually have evidence that conflicts with the best current explanations.

        When it comes to all of the free energy crackpottery, the problem is that there is no new evidence to support the claims. People have been trying to get energy out of nothing forever, and it's never worked. In literally millions of experiments, in situations as varied as a workbench to the vacuum of space, from airplanes to the core of an exploding nuclear bomb, from bicycles to supercolliders, there's not one piece of data that suggests that there's something wrong or missing from the laws of thermodynamics.

  • Deen says:

    Even if these negative mass particles existed, what makes him think that he could extract useful energy from them, without having to put some energy in first? Wouldn't creating these particles require a lot of energy? Just like producing the "negative energy" of the falling object required you to put that object higher up in the gravity field, requiring normal, positive energy? I don't see how negative energy particles, if they exist, would allow violating energy conversation.

  • Shadonis says:

    From the wiki:

    Negative mass would possess some strange properties, such as accelerating in the direction opposite of applied force. For example, an object with negative inertial mass and positive electric charge would accelerate away from objects with negative charge, and towards objects with positive charge, the opposite of the normal rule that like charges repel and opposite charges attract. This behaviour can produce bizarre results: for instance, a gas containing a mixture of positive and negative matter particles will have the positive matter portion increase in temperature without bound. However, the negative matter portion gains negative temperature at the same rate, again balancing out.

    Despite being completely inconsistent with a common-sense approach and the expected behavior of "normal" matter, negative mass is completely mathematically consistent and introduces no violation of conservation of momentum or energy. It is used in certain speculative theories, such as on the construction of wormholes. The closest known real representative of such exotic matter is the region of pseudo-negative pressure density produced by the Casimir effect.

  • Sue says:

    Well, I do hope you fix this a bit; physics graduate programs all around the country are going to be rather surprised to find that there is no such thing as relativistic quantum mechanics. As has already been pointed out, there is a big difference between special relativity and general relativity.

  • B says:

    Another voice on relativistic QM: we do have a remarkably successful theory of relativistic quantum mechanics - it's called the standard model! The discussion of this point in your article is incorrect, and distracting from the main point.

  • Shadonis says:

    I should also note that the string theorists HAVE unified GR and QM, at least on paper -- but testing it is another issue.

    • william e emba says:

      It's not as simple as you state. String theory has miles to go before it's ready to make anything beyond the most crude predictions (like the existence of supersymmetry or three generations of leptons). Then again, physicists have not solved the periodic table from scratch either, but do claim that QM "explains" chemistry anyway.

  • lily says:

    Hey MarkCC, you need to make posts more often because the posts on this blog make my life.

  • sentient agent says:

    Crystal electrons in extremely high electric fields exhibit odd behavior and their mass even becomes negative:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100412084525.htm

    Zero-point energy is the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical physical system may have; it is the energy of its ground state.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-point_energy

    It possibly could be associated with Einstein's cosmological constant and the dark energy of an accelerated-expanding universe. The only way to tap into ZPE is by establishing an asymmetry condition, where energy can move from a higher potential to a lower potential but that could be extremely difficult since ZPE is already at the lowest potential, the ground state.

  • Peter Gerdes says:

    This actually raises an interesting point.

    There are actually two different formulations of the principle of conservation of energy (note this is a thought experiment to separate two concepts not a suggestion that such things are actual).

    The first is the every day notion. We can keep generating unlimited amounts of work for free.

    The second is the more abstract view of conservation of energy that corresponds to the temporal symmetry of our laws of nature.

    ---

    To illustrate the difference we can satisfy the formal principle of conservation of energy even if we had black boxes we could stick in our cars that allowed us to drive forever without refueling. The black boxes would just accumulate arbitrary amounts of negative energy. The second sense of conservation of energy would be satisfied because you couldn't return the internal state of the black boxes to their initial state without imputing energy from the environment.

    This is an important point because I suspect many of our interpretations of out physical laws implicitly assume that one can't achieve arbitrarily large negative energy density. For instance even with black boxes that build up arbitrary energy density one could still have the law that entropy always increases. However it would no longer have the same practical import because the entropy would just accumulate inside these black boxes and be of no import to the rest of the world (the world absent the black boxes would be an open system).

    ---

    Of course there are all sorts of reasons to believe such things couldn't exist but it is important to differentiate between the two assumptions
    1) Energy is conserved
    2) Energy is conserved and no finite region of space time can accommodate arbitrarily large negative values of energy (the infinity here means it doesn't matter where you set your baseline).

    • Peter Gerdes says:

      In other words the nature of infinity means that alot of these principles don't have the usual practical use if we start admitting infinite (or unbounded) amounts of energy.

  • Robert says:

    Assuming the negative mass particles do exist, and he does manage to extract positive energy from them, due to conservation of energy we're gonna have a lot of negative mass particles with negative energy floating around. Containing this might be a worse waste-management problem than radioactive waste, considering that these particles will suck all the energy out of whatever containment vessel we may build!!!

  • _Arthur says:

    ...What about hydrinos ?

  • eric says:

    AIUI, this part is also wrong, or at least stupidly double-negative:

    When you drop an object in the earth's gravitational field, the object gains negative gravitational potential energy as it falls

    When something falls, its gravitational potential energy is converted into kinetic energy. Calling this a gain in negative gravitational potential energy is like calling my weight loss a gain in negative mass.

  • What negative gravitational potential energy did you mean when we drop and objectin earths gravitational field? Just curious, I really want to know it.

  • sentient agent says:

    The Thrive movement has an interesting cast of characters with some of the major players from the conspiracy and free energy crank theories:

    thrivemovement.com

    They claim that the torus is the shape that allows for abundant free energy to be obtained from the universe; that the "powers that be" have been successfully snuffing out this discovery for many years, keeping us in the dark ages under the thumbs of an elite group of masterminds.

  • lim tzi khang says:

    search for exotic matter and there are many steps ways including "many many" aspect to prove negative mass but it is not directly understood by (negative mass) these 2 words. don't use f=ma in this case but use e=mc(square), m=delta m which is m1-m2 and they do posses negative mass, for more accurate result scientist compare result by table using 2 formulae included

  • lim tzi khang says:

    everything have to follow principle of conservation of energy. If there is a massive object then there must be an "antiparticle" to oppose the massive object so that the total
    energy(=mass) is conserved. mass is just another form of energy. mass=antimass in fully work equation not just from experimental tabulated data such that e=mc square is just a concept for easier understanding. yet there are others formulae to calculate the different case such as e=mc square/(square root(1-v square/c square) )

  • Scienceminded says:

    I know SentientAgent already posted this but:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100412084525.htm

    Either something went wrong here, or you have pie on your face.

    I think time-reversible physical interactions conform very well to conventional physics, as long is energy conservation is satisfied I'm quite happy to entertain the idea of reversing entropy to get very efficient energy from my surroundings.

    Perhaps we can get a reply from the author as to what this means? He seems to make a living on not being a dispassionate and objective individual, but as I think science, as in the scientific method, should be rigorously and passionately defended, I too think that any current model should be scrutinized and questioned as much as any new claims.

    Never put your world into a black box, or you'll never be able to make the changes necessary to move on. Science has fallen into this hole before every paradigm shift, and it will again, but it helps prevent undue credulity at the expense of fast changes.

  • Arcane Gale says:

    Check out this site that describes matter as cavitation in the space space time continuum:
    http://www.dcgeorge.com/TheMeaningOfMatter.html

    Also this site describing particles mas as a closed volume:
    http://www.spacetime-model.com/higgsboson/mass.htm

  • Arcane Gale says:

    Oops in my first statement above remove the extra space in space time continuum & in the second I meant to say particle mass (not particles mas).

  • lily says:

    Sweet jesus.

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