Sunday, April 6, 2008

Attiyah and His Theories

I guess when you're an astronomer, you have to expect to be the target of the occasional crackpot with their personal theory of the universe. My antagonist is Attiyah Zahdeh. I don't know where he's from (although devious research indicates he's on central time, so my current theory is Chicago), or how he got my email, but for a couple of years now I have been getting emails of which the following is the most recent example:

Attiyah's Planetary Motion

I introduce this hypothesis in order to be discussed by scientists. I do not claim that I now have any mathematical proof or practical model to support Attiyah's Planetary Motion. I consider that the Kepler's second and third laws themselves support my hypothesis. It seems to me that Kepler failed to conclude that, relative to the Sun, the motion of the planets is the same as of the pendulum.Thus, he coined his second and third laws as alternative statements to express the laws of the simple harmonic motion of the planets. I'm inclined to say that Kepler (1571-1630 A.D.) was not aware of the work of Galileo (1564.1642 A.D.) on the pendulum and the laws of its motion he discovered.

The hypothesis of Attiyah's Planetary Motion is four propositions:
1. The planets move not around the Sun but in front of it.
2. The planetary motion in front of the Sun is of the simple harmonic type.
3. The planet (the bob), gravitational force (the length, the line between the Earth's gravity center and the solar gravity center) and the Sun (the solar gravity center as the pivot point), altogether form a pendulum.
4. The planet oscillates in front of the Sun in a hemiellipse.

1. This hypothesis is an alternative of Kepler's first law only.
2. This hypothesis does not apply to the motion of the satellites.

I have also been spammed with Attiyah's Sun Theory, which I think says that daylight is caused by charged particles (or X-rays, or whatever) hitting our atmosphere--much the same as the mechanism causing the northern and southern lights, and with Attiyah's Hologeomagnetosphere, which asserts that the northern and southern lights are generated by electrical currents in the earth's molten core turning our ionosphere into a giant CRT monitor.

I once thought that these were created as jokes--that "Attiyah" was just the psuedonym of a humorist. Dozens of emails (and several years) later, I'm convinced that Attiyah is real and in earnest. In fact, I've discovered that he visits his theories upon astronomy message boards with some regularity, where he has revealed complete ignorance about how the scientific process works by demanding that others attempt to disprove his theories (the burden of evidence is on the newcoming theory) and by flatly ignoring the evidence that was provided against them. Two years ago, I myself was duped into providing a detailed refutation of Attiyah's Sun Theory, only to have my response disappear into the abyss of cyberspace.

But I'm not bitter. In some ways, Attiyah's doing a lot for science education by getting amateur scientists to review how we know what we know--reminding everyone that the reason we have such a widely adopted set of theories is that they are testably confirmed and mutually consistent. If only intelligent design, creationism, and young-earth hypotheses met with half the ridicule that Attiyah's theories meet on the message boards. Attiyah's only mistake, really, was failing to incorporate a little theology into the mix.


  1. Migrating comments from my old blog, this one is from Annie Z:

    Your guitar songs are fabulous. These are all the songs I used to play and couldn't remember half the words never mind the chords. Thank you sooooo much. I need to come back to your site. All I saw was Ireland and astronomy and guitars--everything I'm interested in. Back to work for now then guitar playing tonight.

    Thanks again AZ

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Dear sir,
    I am a physicist who has been recieving emails from this Attiyah person as well. It seems from your post that you want to lump all of religion into the same laughable category as that guy. If I am wrong about that implication, I apologize. Please do not think that the methodological naturalism of natural science somehow demands philosophical naturalism. When done properly, theology can be much more respectable than the pseudoscientific theories of intelligent design or young earth creationism.

  4. Dear Philip,

    Thanks for your post. I agree with your statement that "when done properly, theology can be much more respectable than ... psuedoscientific theories". Certainly what I've pulled up here are some shining examples of theology improperly done. But do any of the dominant religions of the world meet this standard?

    To me, the "respectability" of theologies centers chiefly around their establishment of moral codes. People commonly assume that all morality must have a grounding in theology.
    We don't have to have a naturalistic moral philosophy simply because we demand empirical evidence, but neither is theology is necessary for establishing a non-naturalistic morality. There are many secular ways of talking about right and wrong based on principles of equality and empathy.

    In fact, I think theology does a disservice to moral philosophy by lumping it into a complex framework with many objectionable qualities. To the extent that nearly every major religion groups morality with unprovable or demonstrably false assertions, I stand by my implication that Attiyah's theories, properly cloaked in a theological framework, would not be dissimilar to mainstream theology.