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Perpetual motion is an attractive impossibility

Unlike other fields of pseudo-science, such as pyramidology or ufology, the perpetual motion crowd constitutes a genuine wonder. Anyone can be obsessive and delusional; but what if you’re obsessive, delusional, and you happen to be a functioning engineer, physicist, or master artisan? Then you have a good chance of inventing a perpetual motion machine. Like these guys.

Claims of perpetual motion have been around a long time, and if you read the history, you’ll notice some commonalities among the inventors:

  • Absolute, unshakable confidence in themselves and their devices
  • Extreme paranoia about their idea being stolen
  • Conspiracy thinking, such as “if they knew I was talking to you they would kill me”

The patent office has rejected perpetual motion patents out of hand for a long time, except if the inventor submits a working device demonstrating his idea. There are lots of angry perpetual motion inventors, like the ones in the video, convinced there’s a conspiracy in the patent office, orchestrated by the “status quo” (often the oil industry), to keep their ideas unknown. Many of these same inventors are unwilling to share their ideas with anyone — after all, they haven’t gotten them patented yet! You might steal them!

It’s incredible to me that people who are so manifestly brilliant and talented could be so bonkers crazy at the same time. Take the Seattle inventor, interviewed with his “over unity” motor, a device that outputs more energy than it takes to run. He’s running an electric motor to spin a magnet, then using the motion of that magnet as a generator to produce electricity, which he uses to charge a battery. He talks about running the device for 50 hours non stop, swapping the batteries back and forth. It doesn’t seem to bother him that each time he cycles the batteries he loses a fraction of the original charge, or that he’s never experimented
with attaching a load to the engine.

Then there’s Reidar Finsrud, who is either a fraud or the creator of a near perfectly efficient machine. His plan seems to be to combine as many different elements from other perpetual motion machines as possible — magnets, springs, inclines, pendulums, precise timing — in order to completely frustrate any attempt on the part of an examiner to sort out how it works. So far, he’s been successful.

In the long run, though, we’ll find that he’s just taken a very circuitous route to reproducing existing very efficient machines, such as flywheels that have a zero-load rundown time measured in years. The laws of motion and thermodynamics just don’t have any exceptions for adding enough pendulums and magnets. There’s simply no evidence that these laws can be violated, and anyone trying to do so, to get something for nothing, is either going to end up disappointed or overturn a century of scientific theory. Which do you suppose is more likely to happen?

Posted in Science.

4 Responses

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  1. Bryan says

    Really interesting post.

    Here’s an apparent truism: if an event is possible at all, then it should also be possible if every event in the universe were translated forward in time by 1 second. That’s called time translation symmetry. But a shocking theorem by Emmy Noether proves that if this is true, then there’s a conserved quantity that (in everday circumstances) is exactly energy. So, local energy conservation is actually built into the symmetries of the Universe.

    Two hesitations.

    First, this only rules out perpetual motion of the first kind. Perpetual motion of the second kind is not strictly impossible, just very unlikely (by the 2nd law of thermodynamics). And perpetual motion of the third kind remains both possible and viable! (I assume the rolling ball video is something close to that.)

    Second, even perpetual motion of the first kind is possible on a large scale, where time-translation symmetry fails. For example: in standard big-bang models of cosmology, the Universe is expanding, while the total amount of matter-energy remains fixed. Obviously, this implies energy density is decreasing. And if the Universe were on its way to a big crunch, then total energy would be increasing — giving us energy “for free.” Maybe all those smart, crazy people were onto something….

  2. Pete Michaud says

    I think smart people tend to get excited about whatever they’re working on, then try to take short cuts through the boring bits, like actually learning the necessary physics. Combine that with a little sunk cost fallacy, perhaps a little cynical opportunism, and you have a crackpot.

  3. Possibly the anti-christ says

    Im a crackpot ^_^, I want to test 1 idea that I had but if it doesn’t work I will surrender to the laws of thermodynamics everyone seems to enjoy. I understand your and the worlds understanding of physics may seem infallible. I can understand why you would scrutinize anything that isn’t within your realm of understanding but that doesn’t mean that things that seem impossible and improbable can’t actually happen. If you close your mind you are destined to fail. In my opinion we have been beating our heads against the wall time and time again to come up with a free energy apparatus. People always make the same mistakes; as stated in the comment section above, they do not take the time to learn the physics which is necessary to understand what would work and what wouldn’t. As Einstein said, if an answer seems obstructed or impossible you are not looking at the problem in a fashion which would warrant the answer you are looking for. In actuality I am probably just a crackpot. But what good scientist isn’t?

    Put a man on the moon? impossible!, Mind control pilot a wheelchair? Impossible! Create a bomb that can surpass the force of 10 million tons of TNT? Impossible? The list goes on and on. Don’t be isolated by the confines of normal thinking!

    All been done. Perhaps for free energy, the right people have not been thinking about it.

    P.S. I don’t think the oil companies are out to get me.

  4. Oldrich Nos says

    The trouble with both the pro and con is that they do not speak from personal knowledge, only whay they hea on fish market, however exalted. As good as lies.
    Here is one from personal knowledge; perhaps inadequate may it be. section “perpetuum”, BOOK 3 – if you desire to skip the rhetorics.

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