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I got a physics degree nearly 30 years ago. My goal was to understand general relativity and quantum field theory, but at graduation I still could not understand them. I then embarked on a career as a software developer.

About 10 years ago, I was reading an article and got an idea. I found my idea really helpful. Major swaths of physics that previously hadn't made any sense, suddenly did. For the first time I felt I had wrapped my head around relativity and quantum mechanics and many other aspects of physics.

I was excited about the concept and wanted to discuss it with someone: "Hey... I have an idea and want to hear what you think about it." Something, I had done countless times as a University of Chicago student hanging out in the C-Shop. However, I was totally taken by surprise by what happened next. I totally did not expect the barriers, the hostility, the ridicule and scorn I was about to encounter in trying to chat with someone about the concept.

Over the last 10 years I've attempted the following:

  • Discuss the concept online: Any such post placed online is immediately removed / ridiculed / banned / shadow-banned. It is with great fear and trepidation that I post this here.
  • Chat with former professors: I tried to talk to my former professors, but they were retired (or worse).
  • Chat with new professors: I tried to talk to new professors at the U of Chicago or at UW-Madison (where I had gone my freshman year), but no one was willing to chat with me for even 5 minutes. I once offered a professor at UC-Berkeley $400 to chat with me for an hour; he refused.
  • Try to publish: Trying to publish something or even posting it to arXiv is absolutely impossible.
  • Tried to signup for Sabine Hossenfelder's help desk: They mention I was 35th in line and they couldn't estimate if they would be able to get to me in weeks, months or years. Which I took to indicate that it is now defunct.
  • Create an iOS / macOS App: I quickly realized that in Physics the phrase "hey... I have an idea" is an instant nonstarter. So, I shifted to the formation of an imaginary universe I call 'Universe X' and ask people to imagine what the physics of this universe might look like. I wrote an entire app that concisely explains the concept and includes numerous qualitative simulations. Unfortunately, this hasn't been any more successful in starting a conversation than anything else I've done.

A serious issue here is that the number of people that exist in the world that can actually give useful push back on this stuff is incredibly small; are there even 10,000 world wide? I have had to work on this in a vacuum for 10 years; I've had no-one who rides math rails or anyone else to discuss it with in that time. Science is littered with examples of people outside of academia making contributions to it. Given the current state of things how would that remotely still be possible?

I have an idea; perhaps that makes me a bad person; perhaps it indicates I have a mental illness and certainly, there is an excellent chance the my idea is wrong. But I think the idea is promising: it allows specific, correct calculations and is falsifiable. I am not looking for universal acclaim, I'd just like someone to seriously look at my idea and give me a reality check. How can I make this happen?

For those who asked, the app is here and my GitHub, which inclides a 6-minute description of the concept, is here.

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    "Trying to publish something or even posting it to ArXiv is absolutely impossible." Why? If you have endorsement issue, please read How to find an arXiv endorser and related questions.
    – Nobody
    Feb 27, 2023 at 4:36
  • Consider what your end-goal is. For example, had the Berkeley prof accepted your $400 offer and then told you your idea was Just Plain Wrong, what would you have done? Feb 27, 2023 at 23:05
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    @thegreatemu rejoiced. I would finally be free of it.
    – aepryus
    Feb 27, 2023 at 23:07
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Academia Meta, or in Academia Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – cag51
    Mar 1, 2023 at 6:54
  • backreaction.blogspot.com/p/talk-to-physicist_27.html sounds like it could be useful? Kinda pricey though
    – OrangeMan
    Mar 2, 2023 at 18:18

7 Answers 7

64

Let me start by saying that I read your readme page and watched your YouTube videos, and I think they're very interesting. I'll give you some more details of what I think shortly.

My advice to you is: try not to think about what your idea might be, and focus on what your idea is.

Your idea might be a great tool for understanding relativity and quantum mechanics. Your idea might be a more or less accurate description of our universe. Your idea might allow us to make new accurate predictions that we weren't able to make before. Frankly, I don't think that your idea is any of these things, but it might be.

Well, as you've discovered through painful experience, it's extremely difficult to get anyone else to be interested in something that might be wonderful. I've had the exact same experience. I've come up with lots of wonderful ideas and told them to lots of people... and nobody cared about any of them at all. I've found that it's pretty much impossible to get anyone to see the same potential that I saw. (And looking back, I think none of my ideas were all that wonderful after all.)

From the perspective of the people around you, what you have is not something useful; it's not something interesting.

But the thing is, what you have is, at the very least, something. You have a computational model, which you call "Universe X." You have a pretty app which demonstrates some of the properties of Universe X. You've done some explorations into Universe X and you've found that it seems to obey the laws of special relativity (at least approximately). You've found that its behavior matches general relativity in some respects and differs from general relativity in some respects. I find your Universe X really interesting—not interesting in the sense that I think it shows promise as a model of real-world physics, but interesting in the sense that I would have a lot of fun playing with it and thinking about it.

So, my suggestion is that you don't go around telling people "I have this idea that I think might be a really great model of the physical world," but instead go around telling people "I have this cellular automaton that's inspired by general relativity and simulates expanding and contracting space." Lots of people are interested in cellular automata, and some of them are likely to be interested in yours too. And most importantly, if you say "I have this cool cellular automaton," people will actually believe you, because the claim that you're making is very modest, and people can easily see that it's correct just by watching a video.

(And let's suppose that Universe X really is a wonderful model of the real world. You don't need to try to convince anyone that it's a good physical model. All you have to do is get people interested in your cool little cellular automaton, and they'll explore it and find out what its strengths and weaknesses are. If—and I must warn you that I think this is very, very unlikely—but if it's a great model of the universe, then the people who are fans of it will start to notice.)

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    It's also important to note that a paper about the cellular automaton will not begin with an autobiographical preface, which is also likely to turn off physics researchers. Feb 28, 2023 at 2:22
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    Are there really that many people interested in cellular automata theories of physics right now?
    – Tom
    Feb 28, 2023 at 14:21
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    @Tom In academia, I don't know. Outside of academia, judging by the popularity of things like the Game of Life Wiki, it seems like there are hundreds of people who are interested in cellular automata in general, and I would guess that a large fraction of those would find ones inspired by physics interesting. Feb 28, 2023 at 15:30
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    As someone who's published on cellular automata and relativity (from traditional academic channels, mind you), I feel this is the best approach. Just write a short paper about your automaton and what it does. You can submit it to peer-reviewed journals and hopefully get some relevant feedback that way. Or submit a poster to computer science conferences.
    – Alexbib
    Feb 28, 2023 at 20:55
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This is not exactly an answer, but it got too long for a comment. Please don't take it the wrong way, I just want to try and give some context to help you understand why physicists may be reluctant to discuss with you.

As a cosmologist I get spam/crackpot emails about "new theories" on average once a month. I'm not remotely well known or senior, and I hate to think what the inboxes of my more established colleagues look like. I've even received physical letters in the post with crackpot theories. They are invariably from retired engineers or computer scientists who claim to have "disproven Einstein" or something similar, and want my opinion on it. These theories are almost never couched in mathematical terms which is a huge communications barrier; the authors are not even trying to speak the same language that physicists use on a daily basis.

Furthermore, it's hard enough to keep up with the "legitimate" literature in cosmology; there are around 20 new papers a day posted to arXiv which bear at least some relevance to my work and perhaps one or two a week which merit a close read (i.e. a few hours to go through the calculations and figures). You can see why it's nearly impossible to make time for reading about and discussing unestablished theories.

Some people see this as the scientific establishment's desire to ignore or suppress alternative ideas. I don't think that is the case; it's just more sensible to trust the work of someone with a PhD in physics and who has been teaching general relativity for twenty years than someone with an undergraduate degree in physics which they openly admit left them with an incomplete understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics.

Think of it this way: would you be able to compose a beautiful and powerful symphony after only having listened to Beethoven's 5th a few times on the radio? Or would you need to undertake years of study in melody, harmony and instrumentation in order to achieve it, making many mistakes and writing many bad pieces of music along the way?

It's also important to realise that science does not progress via outsiders making some huge, paradigm-shifting leap once every few years. Progress is instead made in very small increments worked on by tens or hundreds of people over tens or hundreds of years. You need to ask yourself if you are truly trying to contribute to physics research, or if your greater motivation is the fame and fortune that would come with the acceptance and propagation of your theory. If the former, then the way forward for you is very clear: try to get a Master's degree and a PhD in physics. If the latter, I'm sorry to tell you that it is simply not going to happen.

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    3. The field of Physics like many things has many filters for aspiring Physicists. Are these the correct filters? Do they prevent false negatives; do they prevent false positives? Would Faraday or Maxwell survive the filter these days? 4. Are you sure the only motivation of people trying to understand our universe is fame? It's not possible people are motivated by a genuine desire to know the truth?
    – aepryus
    Feb 27, 2023 at 13:03
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    @aepryus I've written some answers to your comments in chat. Feb 27, 2023 at 14:12
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    Simple answer is (if you can afford the time commitment and can support yourself while doing this) to go to your local university's physics school, propose your idea as a hypothesis for evaluation in a MS program. Have you done any literature searches on the essence of this idea, at all ? It would be so much better of the literature on universe dilation said little to contradict your concept and better still if it showed experimental evidence in support of it.
    – Trunk
    Feb 27, 2023 at 17:12
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    @aepryus The chances of you being right are bigger than zero. However, there's a signal-to-noise ratio problem. Even if you're correct, your suggestions drown in the noise because your background doesn't put enough power behind the idea to get heard. This is as expected. How should someone see the difference between your idea and a crackpot idea without having to read multiple pages (for which they don't have the time)?
    – Mast
    Feb 28, 2023 at 6:21
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    I might add a lot of the “crackpot” people can act in hostile ways if you engage in any way. E.g. hat least that used to be a thing), some people trying to disprove Einstein were basically just antisemites. If you make such an experience even just once, you might ignore an E-mail on “unofficial” channels the next time. Feb 28, 2023 at 16:23
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Let me pick up on the points made by @astronat.

First, I'm even less well known than they are as I only get crackpot letters every 6 months. The common thread to these letters is the authors don't even know that they don't know. Too often, these people don't even realize their understanding of a particular phrase or concept was entirely incorrect.

I have myself lectured to students who had their pet theory of quantum mechanics. Well actually their pet theory wasn't about quantum mechanics, but about some extremely narrow subproblem for which they claim to propose a solution. It's great to come up with a theory that reproduces the spectrum of hydrogen, but does this still work when you include perturbations? Does this work for the 3D harmonic oscillator? Does it predict the correct degeneracies and transition rates? etc etc etc. The reason a particular paradigm has survived the passage of time is not that it solves one problem but that the weight of accumulated evidence makes it clear it applies to a huge number of situations. No progress is made if your solution to one specific problem immediately causes a plethora of other problems, so you need to be aware of what these other problems could be.

Any communication with a specialist should demonstrate that you have an accurate, profound (beyond Wikipedia) and clear understanding of mainstream ideas in the field, not just the specific area of the problem you're trying to solve. To be taken seriously, you must be able to convincingly convey your idea accurately and clearly using the jargon of the field.

To rephrase this in the software language: if someone comes up to you with an idea for a new routine to diagonalize a special type of matrices, but cannot clearly explain how variables are assigned, would you seriously consider investing your time to check if this method works in general?

Mastering the jargon is very difficult to do unless you have quite deep background, so the first order of business is start spending your evenings and weekends seriously studying the classic references of the field, not at the dilettante level but at the professional level. We're talking here Misner, Thorne and Wheeler (or equivalent) as a starting point, moving up from there. This will likely require 1000s of hours and would be similar to a self-study MSc degree in this area.

The hard reality is if you don't have time to do this, nobody will have time for you.

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    @Trunk The downside is that self-study is likely going to take much more time than formal university education. (Post)graduate programs aren't primarily meant to keep all the lecturers employed, but to cover a given amount of material in a reasonably efficient manner. It's simply easier to take the guided tour instead of exploring a given field completely on your own.
    – TooTea
    Feb 27, 2023 at 17:52
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    @TooTea true enough but stopping work for a couple of years (and apparently not work at entry-level salary) to investigate what could be a fringe idea is a huge gamble. Elementary caution would dictate a lot of prep work to justify this decision. Feb 27, 2023 at 18:03
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    @ZeroTheHero Right, I really don't think OP should quit their job to pursue a full-time university programme. However, at least in those EU countries that I'm familiar with, universities also offer distance or blended learning programmes. Those are typically perfectly doable next to a full time job (with some dedication).
    – TooTea
    Feb 27, 2023 at 21:06
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    In short: "If you think you can contribute, get back into academia and work your way up the ladder". Blunt and probably true, but particularly cruel to a man who probably by now has professional and family responsibilities which he can't walk away from.. and even if he could get onto a distance learning program he'd need to follow that with 20 years of research and publication before being taken seriously. The truth is that there are far too many of us software developers who think we understand the Universe, and having chosen that path in our youth our old age would be better spent fishing. Feb 27, 2023 at 21:28
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    @MarkMorganLloyd it’s more like: “If you think you can contribute, first make sure nobody can dismiss your idea in 30seconds (or less)”. Getting an idea is easy. Getting an idea that works is much much harder, which is why most ideas that work are due to professionals. Feb 27, 2023 at 22:04
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First off, I endorse the idea suggested by @Nobody, in the comments, of seeking a way to publish a preprint paper on arXiv. However, I think that there is a greater problem that is exemplified by your overall discussion and presentation. It is simply that the impression you convey, and I doubt that this impression is actually correct, is that out of the blue you had an extraordinary vision of a way to revolutionize a well-developed area of physics and that your revolutionary idea is so radically different from everything that precedes it, that the history and context are unimportant.

Once again, I would stress that I am unsure whether that is your experience of the development of the idea, but I do think that it is the impression conveyed, and I doubt that it is true.

Most revolutionary ideas in physics and cosmology (think Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein) are actually deeply embedded in the history of what preceded them and can be shown to be a logical progression from them, albeit with a component revolutionary idea. To get other people to attend to you, even if you manage to publish on arXiv, you will most likely need to show that you understand what has gone before, and how your idea is both logical and transformational.

And now, on a completely different note (and beware that this comment comes from a non-physicist), your remarks about a checkerboard metaphor bring to mind the cellular automata ideas developed by Stephen Wolfram in A New Kind of Science. It might be worth your while to at least read a (kindly, if you can find it) review of A New Kind of Science and see whether your ideas do indeed have a similar flavour. If they do, that might give you at least one entry point from introducing your own ideas.

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There is no conspiracy in the physics community to ignore laymen's contributions. It just extremely unlikely that such contributions are really important. However, every single good idea will be picked up eventually.

So, set up a website where you explain your idea. Then use social media to make people aware of it. If your idea has any value, it will be picked up.

Approaching physics professionals directly has a close to zero chance of success because they don't have time to waste on people who might be crackpots.

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    Or write a book. That forces you to lay everything out for others and re-evaluate your ideas more rigourously and fill in holes. If you can overcome that hurdle it will also persist after you're gone if it's any good. It won't mean it's not crackpot book...I've seen some, but at least it will have passed some measure and will have indicated you have some skin in the game. Yes, it's a lot of work but that's what it increases credibility.
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 27, 2023 at 16:50
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    I doubt if this book proposal would be good use of time because: (1) technical publishers always go for "big name" professors or highly successful inventors; and (2) self-published books are ten a penny and hard to get people to take seriously even if - or maybe because - they are free. It would be better to check his hypothesis' predictions against existing evidence. If it stands up then there should be no issue getting it published in physics journals on its own merits.
    – Trunk
    Feb 27, 2023 at 17:27
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    The asker is most likely a crackpot and thus this website idea will not "work" and will languish alongside every other crackpot website. Most likely.
    – user253751
    Feb 28, 2023 at 15:20
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    I retract my "most likely" claim as it seems the asker seems to have created something (still dunno if it's useful to physics or not). The accepted answer's advice to "focus on what it is" seems appropriate.
    – user253751
    Feb 28, 2023 at 16:29
  • The notion that "every good idea will be picked up eventually" has so little empirical evidence. The very best that we have available if evidence of good ideas that took a very long time to be picked up. Horribly censored data, as a statistician would say. Feb 28, 2023 at 23:35
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Have you considered going to a conference (such as APS March Meeting) to present your work as a poster or oral presentation? This would give you a venue to discuss your ideas with working physicists in both formal and informal settings and might provide some valuable feedback.

One word of advice based on your post and comments: In my view, you can't really blame anyone for not understanding (or not being interested) in your ideas. As @astronat explained in their answer, there are hundreds of papers published every day which people worked very hard on (myself included), and you will have to compete against them. You will have to speak the language of your intended audience and respond convincingly to their questions and criticisms if you want their attention. If you can't pass their personal "bullshit" test, then they will quickly move on. It is simply too risky to spend time on speculative theories which may not pay off.

At the end of the day, research is a free-market of ideas. Why should people invest their time in your ideas rather than their own (or someone else's)? It is great that you created a professional-looking iPhone app, but this is not the currency of working physicists. They are more likely to care about the mathematical foundations of your idea, how it fits in with other accepted theories, and whether it can accurately predict the outcomes of previous experiments. Until you can provide these answers (or create a track record which will make others more likely to take a gamble on you), then you may have an uphill battle to fight. Good luck!

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At least you are not alone

Gregor Mendel: Known as the father of modern genetics for his experiments with pea plants, which established the laws of inheritance, was not widely accepted as such until many years after his death.

Nikola Tesla: Struggled to gain recognition for his work during his lifetime. It was only after his death that his contributions to the field of electrical engineering became widely acknowledged.

Ignaz Semmelweis: Discovered the importance of hand hygiene in preventing the spread of disease. However he was ridiculed by many of his colleagues. It was only after his death that his work was recognized as a significant contribution to the field of medicine.

Ludwig Boltzmann spent a great deal of effort in his final years defending his theories. He did not always get along with his colleagues in Vienna. In the end he committed suicide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Boltzmann

Stephen Wolfram who wrote three books by the time he was 14 and had a PhD by the time he was 20, was friends with Richard Feynman and has the Wolfram programming language to his name has tried on more than one occasion to get physicists interested in his theories. He is still struggling to win their approval. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/physicists-criticize-stephen-wolframs-theory-of-everything/

On a personal note, I have severe misgivings about analogies with checkerboards. I would have to read more but basically there is a problem with directionality.

So what should you do?

One possible idea is to create your own YouTube channel and explain your ideas bit-by-bit from the ground up. Make it a series. As always, the problem is to find viewers. Unfortunately, you have to find suitable click-bait to attract attention. Look at your favourite channels and see how they do it.

You mention Sabine Hossenfelder. I've seen a couple of her things. If you review some of her output, simply mentioning her name as the title of one of your videos is likely to attract attention. Once you have any kind of following, you have an audience. By showing that you appreciate the ideas of others, you may find that they reciprocate. If you steadfastly ignore the output of others in favour of your own, then you can't blame them for doing likewise.

I would consider reviewing many ideas that are out of the mainstream and treating them critically but impartially.

Good luck in your endeavours!

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    Wolfram's "books" ? stephenwolfram.com/publications/early-books If he had a smart children's cyclopedia editor, he could have made them up to How and Why Wonder standard. "Friends" with Feynman ? Feynman had a lot of off-beat "friends" - it's all in a day's work in LA ! Wolfram pilfered a lot of the foundations of Mathematica from the REDUCE Algebra package used by pure math postgrads across the 70s and 80s. Wolfram is said to have a net worth of ~ $200 million. Enough said about Wolfram's science.
    – Trunk
    Feb 28, 2023 at 11:18
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    @Trunk - My mention of Wolfram was not a defence of him as a person. It was intended to point out that even someone with lots of qualifications, awards, money, and famous friends can have difficulty promoting their non-standard ideas about physics. This, unfortunately, makes it even tougher for the OP to get their ideas known. Feb 28, 2023 at 13:44
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    The question was, essentially, "how do I get someone to consider my idea and give me some feedback." I'm not sure how this provides an answer -- can you clarify?
    – cag51
    Feb 28, 2023 at 15:01
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    @Eric - I have no idea if the OP is a crank or not, I'm just answering the question. Some people labelled as cranks turn out to be right in the end, some are just cranks all the way down. I'm not here to judge either way. Feb 28, 2023 at 21:27
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    @Eric - Okay, I'm not 'just' answering the question. I have put in some background thoughts as well. In a way it is answering the question because it shows there is not a simple answer when past geniuses have had tough times. It is a caution before I proceed to my actual answer. The fact that I didn't insult the OP by saying "No chance - you're not as good as this lot" is my choice and my point of view. Feb 28, 2023 at 21:36

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