Crazy Ideas in Physics


Time travel. Cold fusion. Tesla’s death ray. Free energy. Variable speed of light. A nuclear reactor at the Earth’s core. These are all exotic concepts that contradict conventional scientific theories; those who assert their existence are making truly extraordinary claims. But, as Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” This course will examine radical physical theories by asking students to distinguish potentially revolutionary scientific ideas from the work of crackpots and frauds. Students will be asked to choose a “crazy” idea of this type and try to convince the class that it is scientifically plausible. The class will then try to evaluate just how unscientific the theory is. For conference projects, students could construct a nonsense theory and present it as science or take an established scientific theory and disguise it as the ravings of a madman.