March 22, 2000

Crackpot Inventions

Coincidences do happen. Sometimes remarkable ones. But, as I've often said before, if coincidences did not happen, that would be most remarkable so we should not look upon coincidences as anything more than the universe at work, as usual. I planned this change to deal with crackpot inventions, and just as I was about to relate to you the saga of Joseph Westley Newman, I was inundated by notices about yet another ridiculous decision on the part of the US Patent Office. This one almost outdoes the "ESP Clapper" that was awarded a patent by that very same office just last year. Part of the description of this newest wonder, a new radio antenna, and an excellent example of New Age pseudoscience, says:


All known radio transmissions use known models of time and space dimensions for sending the RF [radio-frequency] signal. The present invention has discovered the apparent existence of a new dimension capable of acting as a medium for RF signals. Initial benefits of penetrating this new dimension include sending RF signals faster than the speed of light, extending the effective distance of RF transmitters at the same power radiated, penetrating known RF shielding devices, and accelerating plant growth exposed to the by-product energy of the RF transmissions.

The following describes, in simple terms, what the present invention actually does. The present invention takes a transmission of energy, and instead of sending it through normal time and space, it pokes a small hole into another dimension, thus, sending the energy through a place which allows transmission of energy to exceed the speed of light. The following is a description of how the communications medium converter functions. First, you need to create a hot surface that is more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, it requires a strong magnetic field. Then, you need an accelerator, followed by an electromagnetic injection point. For communications or data communication, you need 2 devices. Each device is connected to a transmitter and receiver. This allows electromagnetic energy to enter a dimension and to travel at speeds faster than the speed of light. The magnetic fields are focused onto the heat generating device. The electromagnetic injection point is the plane generated by the two opposing magnetic fields.

It has been observed by the inventor and witnesses that accelerated plant growth can occur using the present invention. For accelerated plant growth, first, you need to create a hot surface that is more than 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, you need a strong magnetic field. Only one device is needed for this function. This allows energy from another dimension to influence plant growth.

Hey! Guess what? That last part of this claim, the bit about "accelerated plant growth," is something that we can actually test! And as we all know, the JREF million-dollar prize is available for just such a miracle! As we also all know, the inventor of this claptrap idea will not contact us, nor will he or she make any acknowledgement of the prize. One can only wonder about this reluctance to become a millionaire -- since that seems to be the most popular subject on TV these days.

One of the most popular delusions of amateur inventors is the very old notion known as "perpetual motion," or as we referred to it at the JREF, "perpetually emotion." Looking through the extensive files that we have on this subject, we find that a prominent and quite recent entry into the field is one Joseph Newman. In 1984, this self-educated man, then 48 years old, launched a campaign to get his "free-energy" machine patented. It seems evident that if he were to try now, he would have no problem at all in that quest.

(Newman is adamant in referring to his "invention" as a free-energy device, and not a perpetual-motion machine. Though I discussed with him at length the subtle differences between the two designations, I was never able to resolve his reasoning, and I simply agree to call it whenever he prefers. A rose by any other name . . .) Click for full-size version

I reproduce here Mr. Newman's colorful business card. The diagram, he told me, explains how he has resurrected the early theories of the brilliant theoretician James Clerk Maxwell (1831 1879) who Newman claims had his ideas suppressed by the early energy-barons and jealous colleagues. Maxwell had developed an idea about "magnetic vortices" a notion that he later retracted, but not under any pressure except his own personal convictions. Mr. Newman likes to believe that he is honoring Maxwell's memory by recalling and perpetuating his errors. A strange notion indeed!

Back in 1984, I investigated this matter for Omni Magazine, traveling to the wilds of Mississippi, where I found Joseph Newman quite willing to show me his mechanisms but not their inner workings, because he had not yet patented the machines. Since I suspected what he might have re-invented, on the way to Lucedale I paused to purchase a simple direction-finding compass. It was a wise purchase. After Newman showed us the first prototype of his machine, which appeared to me to be a simple DC motor, he explained to us that both that model and the one he was about to show us a huge construction in a shed near his home had unfortunately "burned-out" during previous demonstrations, and were not actually working. Bummer!

However, what I saw on that visit was quite revealing. As we left his house, I removed the compass from my pocket and saw that the needle was firmly pointing West, rather than North! And, not by coincidence, the shed in which the monstrous machine was concealed lay to the West. Refer to the illustrations and you will see the size of this DC motor, which it appears to be, and you will see Joseph Newman holding one of the scores of boxes containing six-volt batteries connected both in series and parallel modes. The inventor claimed that the huge cylinder consisted of more than 200 miles of copper wire, and he estimated the weight of the rotor which can be seen in the center of the cylinder as about 600 pounds. That rotor was made of a highly magnetic material, so strongly magnetized that it had been capable of drawing my compass needle 90 degrees away from North when I was located some 20 feet from the shed!

Newman told me that he would normally had the machine been working start it spinning by means of the 100 or so six-volt batteries, and then he would measure the output from a secondary coil, and that output would exceed the input. If so, of course, he would have a free-energy device. However, in my simple way, I inquired why he could not then switch the output to replace the input, and have a device which would move on its own power the "perpetual motion" that so many people had been seeking for so many centuries. That oft-asked question seemed to fluster Mr. Newman a bit, and he gave me a long theoretical dissertation on why he preferred not to do that. I suspected that I knew the reason, and it had nothing to do with theory.

One other impressive thing occurred during that meeting. Under Newman's watchful eye, I reached in and turned the rotor through 180 degrees. I was startled to see that the fluorescent lights on the ceiling of the shed, though they were not connected in any way that I could see, to the Newman invention, gave a quick flash of light in response. I realized that what I was seeing was evidence that when a strong magnet is moved in the presence of a coil of wire, electricity is generated in this case, a sufficiently high voltage to reach out and activate the fluorescent tubes. That was one hell of a magnet!

I have no doubt that Joseph Newman is sincere in his belief that he has come upon the solution to the free-energy problem. But he is only one in a long parade of failed inventors who have insufficient knowledge of how the real world works, and apply their talents to a futile search. The situation is much sadder than it is funny, and you can depend on Newman pursuing his chimera until his dying day. I have investigated several such machines and ideas over the years, and I've never failed to feel sorry for those who are so self-deluded that they have invested everything they have in the notion that they have the solution to some great problem. Newman obtained the signatures of more than 30 scientists and engineers who visited him from all over the world to observe his invention. He proudly exhibited those testimonials, glossing over the modifiers such as, "apparently," and "possibly," and we can be sure that none of those who signed his prepared document we'll ever wished to revisit Newman or his invention.

Finally, as I was leaving Newman's property, he trotted alongside the car and insisted on adding to his comments that the theory of "vortices" also explained water dowsing, hurricanes, earthquakes, prophecy (Jeanne Dixon, Nostradamus, and the rest), ESP, and psychokinesis. It is a significant indicator, in all crackpot theories, that the inventor claims he has explained most mysteries of mankind all in one unified notion.

The presently incredible attitude and practices of the U.S. Patent Office in granting validation to really incredible claims, and thus lending them validity, must make us pause and wonder about what has happened to our federal agencies, and I can only hope that the rest of the world does not pay too much attention to this lapse of common sense.