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In the Washington Post, I have an essay about outsider science, making parallels and distinctions with outsider art. The essay is inspired by the publication of Lawrence Weschler's delightful new book Waves Passing in the Night, about legendary Hollywood film-and-sound editor Walter Murch, who has his own cosmological theory. Weschler's book is an important addition to the growing body of literature on physics outside the box.

 

Excerpt from Margaret Wertheim's Washington Post essay:

"For the past 30 years, I’ve been collecting ideas [from physics mavericks] and have on my shelves about 300 alternative theories of the universe, each of which claims to revolutionize our understanding of the world. The Internet now is teeming with would-be Corpernicuses and Newtons proffering radical ideas about the cosmos, particle physics, matter, energy, space and time. In “Physics on the Fringe,” I embarked on a sociological study of these “outsider scientists,” a subculture on the margins of academic physics that stands as a parallel to the “outsider artists” who populate the peripheries of the institutional art world. 

... [ ] ...

As a point of reference, outsider art stands as an interesting case study. A hundred years ago, when Jean Dubuffet first championed what he termed “art brut” — paintings and sculptures by untrained amateurs, which has since been called “folk art,” “vernacular art” and “naive art” — many in the art academy dismissed the work. Yet today, there are galleries, journals, scholarly centers and academic courses devoted to outsider art, while some of its practitioners have been incorporated into canon, Martin Ramirez and Adolf Wolfli most famously. 

Might outsider science undergo a similar transformation? Is it possible that any amateur physicist today may in the future be accepted as a legitimate contributor and taught at universities?"

Margaret Wertheim's Washington Post essay - 03/17/2017.

Lawrence Weschlers book, Waves Passing in the Night, Bloomsbury, Feb. 2017, Purchase here on Amazon.

video piece about Physics on the Fringe has been posted on the website of ABC Australia's radio program, The Science Show. Here I am interviewed by Australia's Robyn Williams about the sociology and philosophy of outsider physics. The interview is intercut with sections from the film "It's Jim's World ... We just Live in It", which I co-produced and directed with Cameron Allan. The film, a documentary about the life and work of Physics on the Fringe hero, Jim Carter, may be purchased here:

Thanks to Cameron for his beautiful camerawork and music on the film.

Tragically, on June 25 2013 Cameron passed away. The film remains as a tribute to his talent and skill as a composer and photographer.

Cameron Allan: 1955 - 2013, composer and filmmaker.

Pangolins and Fringe Physics

-This week my article on the philosophy of physics is published in Aeon Magazine, the terrific new UK online forum for thoughftul journalism and critical thinking. The piece - titled Physics Pangolin - looks at how physicists describe the world through mathematical equations and asks if there are any limits on this way of knowing.

-A video piece about Physics on the Fringe has also been posted on the website of ABC Australia's radio program, The Science Show. Here I am interviewed by Australia's Robyn Williams about the sociology and philosophy of outsider physics. The interview is intercut with sections from the film "It's Jim's World ... We just Live in It", which I co-produced and directed with Cameron Allan. The film, a documentary about the life and work of Physics on the Fringe hero, Jim Carter, may be purchased here:

Thanks to Cameron for his beautiful camerawork and music. And thanks to Roi Huberman who produced the Science Show piece.

A chapter from Physics on the Fringe is included in the volume Best Australian Science Writing 2012, edited by Elizabeth Finkel, an accomplished science writer herself and an editor at Cosmos magazine. BASW has been reviewed widely and well, with the Physics on the Fringe chapter singled out for praise. 

See here for  Canberra Times review, Cosmos review, and a beauty (below) from the Australian Review of Books by beloved ABC science radio commentator Robyn Williams. Congratulations also to Elizabeth for the publication of her own fine book this year The Genome Generation.

                                

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Physics World has announced it's list of the Top Ten physics books for 2012. Physics on the Fringe is on the list.

Says the magazine's editors:

"Margaret Wertheim’s sociological study of physics crackpots is one of the year’s most thought-provoking books. Well argued and suffused with dry wit, this book asks important questions about what constitutes science and who gets to participate in it."

Please go online here and Vote for the Book to be No. 1. It's up against some awesome competition, including David Kaiser's How the Hippies Saved Physics, a literally fantastical account of a group of San Francisco-based physicists in the 1970's who dropped acid and reconcieved the foundations of quantum science.

Here's the lovely review of Physics on the Fringe that ran in Physics World earlier this year.