I received an email last week from Victor Senchenko (website: VictorSenchenko.com). He has written the book Revelations of a Human Space Navigator that appears to make some pretty bold claims, such as:
- Proves that god – any god – does not physically exist.
- Proves that “time” does not physically exist.
- Reveals who and what humans are, and why they behave as they do.
- Reveals of what everything that is physical is physically made of.
- Reveals why there are human male and female homosexuals.
- Explains what gravity actually is.
- Explains the “meaning of life”.
- Provides an equation for “everything”.
- Explains the ONLY method by which “happiness” can be experienced.
- Reveals many other factors that are currently unknown or misunderstood.
Wow - the meaning of life and an equation for everything. Everything! I say again – wow!
Generally speaking, we should be wary of anyone making grandiose claims, especially ones that appear to contradict much of established science. In addition, such grandiose claims presented in a book rather than in peer reviewed scientific journals, should be subject to extra skepticism. The scientific method, with its critical questioning, peer review and replication, tends to weed out nonsense before it gets taken too seriously. There are exceptions, of course, but even so, most false ideas get found out reasonably soon. By contrast, the lone iconoclast, working in isolation, rarely has his ideas questioned seriously before publication the way real scientists do. This means that errors are more likely to be built into the theories that are developed, and therefore they are more difficult to dislodge from the mind of their inventor when he has finished. The above problems don’t necessarily mean the ideas presented are wrong, but they should at the very least make you skeptical of what you are being told. Victor’s website and email had all the outward signs of the crank, especially the grandiose claims, and I did wonder whether it was worth trying to discuss it with him. But I decided in the end to give it a try, to see if there really was anything behind what Victor was selling. The email exchange below shows the result, and I think you’ll find they say quite a lot about Victor and his “theories”. In any case, I hope you’ll find it entertaining. I know I did.
In what follows, I have edited Victor’s emails down considerably. In total, his emails amounted to over 5,000 words, most of which didn’t add anything of substance, and I thought I’d lose most of you if I published the lot. (I’m trying to make this interesting.) However, to be fair to Victor, I have published the full email exchange on a separate page: Email exchange with Victor Senchenko. If you have the time, I encourage you to read Victor’s complete emails and my complete replies and form your own opinion about whether I have been unfair to Victor in what I left out of this main post.
Here goes then. From Victor’s initial email, I decided to focus on his claim that time doesn’t exist, and an experiment that he said would prove it.
1) Original email from Victor’s “Media Team”
[Snipped 1,000 plus word preamble.]
Were ‘time’ to physically exist, then, a simple experiment would have long ago provided physical proof to physical existence of ‘time’. That experiment would consist of a refrigerating unit standing exposed to the Sun and the elements of the weather, and of two leaves being removed from the same branch of a tree. One of the two leaves would be placed on top of the refrigerating unit, exposed to the Sun and the elements. The other leaf would be placed inside the refrigerating unit. Were ‘time’ to exist, then the two leaves, few centimeters or inches apart (one on the outside and one on the inside) would be affected at a similar rate by the surrounding-them same speed of ‘time’. As ‘time’ does not exist, but the physical process of change does, the exposed leaf on top of the refrigerating unit would soon disintegrate – disperse – while the leaf incased in the refrigerating unit would remain virtually unchanged indefinitely, for as long as the refrigerating unit continues to function, despite that the refrigerating unit itself is exposed to the Sun and the elements.
[Snipped 500 words on the flaws and delusions of science and sales patter for book.]
2) Skeptico’s reply #1 (In full)
Were ‘time’ to exist, then the two leaves, few centimeters or inches apart (one on the outside and one on the inside) would be affected at a similar rate by the surrounding-them same speed of ‘time’.
Surely this doesn't show that time doesn't exist? Surely this just shows that organic matter takes less time to rot in sunlight than it does in the fridge?
Richard aka Skeptico
3) Victor’s reply #1
According to Einstein’s “theory of relativity”:
A. nothing, supposedly, moves faster than light.
B. A body or an object is supposedly experiencing a slowing down of “time” with increase of speed
Now then, if the speed of light is a benchmark to “time”, then light itself must be the point of the slowest “time”. Therefore, if light is a physical entity with the point of slowest “time”, then, were “time” to exist, anything that light would physically cover with itself would be subject to experiencing slower “time”. To experience slower “time” would mean to retain its contents for a longer duration without loss (that is, not to age). After all, if each and every physical atomic particle, chemical, nerve, muscle, organ and tissue of a human body is supposedly dependent on “time”, and if the region of slowest “time” is the physical light itself, then light - as THE source of slowest “time” - would need to physically slow down the process of growing and aging of all life forms it shines upon. That would mean that all that the sunlight contacted on Earth during daylight hours would be slowed down in growth and deterioration during that period, and accelerate their growth and deterioration only at night.
Let that sink in for a minute. Now, I’ve noticed before that when debating cranks, woos and pseudoscientists, they frequently don’t define their terms. Quite often, certain words or phrases they use can have specific meanings to them that are not obvious to others, and these definitions can often be self serving and/or circular. Part of the skill in trying to discuss things with people like this is in getting them to define their terms in ways that do not assume their conclusions and cannot be subsequently shifted with a bit of equivocation. In any case, it’s certainly a good idea not to assume you know what special definition that are using in their argument. With this in mind, I needed clarification of a couple of terms Victor was using, so I wrote back:
4) Skeptico’s reply #2 (in full)
What does “the speed of light is a benchmark to time” mean?
And what does “light itself must be the point of the slowest time” mean?
Admittedly short, but not, I thought, rude. Victor’s reply was quite telling about how familiar he is with being questioned on his work:
5) Victor’s reply #2 (in full)
Oh, yes! Richard by name; skeptic by self-presumption; child by choice with a typical childish behavior: anything explained to be questioned "why?", without any conscious intent to work out for oneself the information presented. Simply continue to ask "why", or "what does that mean?", as a substitute for reasoning.
Well, Richard, I shall quickly indulge your whim for questioning. But after this assistence from me you may have to read the book to obtain all the answers to your questions.
Your question 1: What does “the speed of light is a benchmark to time” mean?
A. "speed of light" - relates to the presumed speed at which light travels. If I were you, I would have hundreds of critical questions - and I do - as to current understanding of light, such as:
all that physically moves in space and vacuum space has an impetus of physical casting off - which is a cause for an instant of acceleration. In vacuum space this acceleration is ongoing and neverending, as vacuum space has no physical restrictions of any kind, by being a nothingness. So then, why does light not accelerate from a standing start: that is: incrementally increase its velocity, rather that being always constant at its speed?
(This is explained in the book).
B. "benchmark" represents a standard or point of reference against which things or functions may be compared or assessed.
C. "time" represents averything that humans currently relate to an unexplainable entity that supposedly has a physical effect on all that physically exists.
Ergo: "What does 'the speed of light is a benchmark to time' mean?" means that according to the 'theory of relativity' light is the standard or point of reference of speed, against whose speed speeding objects and bodies are presumably affected by experiencing the slowing down of 'time'.
Your question 2: And what does “light itself must be the point of the slowest time” mean?
Well, Richard, let's reason out this question together. If in trying to reach the speed of light supposedly means experiencing slower 'time' then that would equate to: the faster the speed the slower the 'time'. So if the fastest physical entity is light, then light, by all reason, should be expected to possess the slowest 'time' from possessing the fastest speed.
Quite a meltdown. Remember the context: I hadn’t contacted Victor and questioned his book or his website; he had contacted me, out of the blue and with no solicitation on my part. And yet he blew up at only the second, mildly questioning, email from me. Any real scientist reading this will probably be shaking his or her head in amazement now, considering the questioning that they have to endure every step of the way in their work. Also, Victor’s protestations that I would have to “read the book” if this explanation wasn’t enough was as lame as it was disingenuous – he had started this communication with me, and if he was incapable of explaining the basic concepts in his email then I see no reason his book would be any better. He wrote, in total, over 5,000 words in these emails remember? If he had concentrated some of these words instead into explaining his ideas rather than in blowing up and insulting me, perhaps he would have been able to actually answer my questions. Or perhaps not.
Also, I began to see where his argument was coming from. He had started from Einstein’s insight that for objects traveling at light speed, time stands still, and (I think) concluded that somehow light “possesses” the property of stopping time. Therefore, anything bathed in light must be experiencing stopped time. Therefore time doesn’t exist. Or something. It’s hard to be sure, and if he hadn’t made it clear that no more questions were to be allowed, I might have prodded him further. However, I realized based on this initial meltdown, that further discussion would not elicit any rational response. I replied:
6) Skeptico’s reply #3 (In full)
Oh dear. I guess you're not used to being questioned on your brilliant, new, earth shattering theory then? Of course, a mark of the crank is that he develops his ideas in isolation, away from critics or anyone who would ask awkward questions, and so his theory, untested, is usually garbage. As I am afraid yours is. In asking my two questions, I thought maybe I was missing some profound point that would justify the conclusions that followed, and so instead of dismissing your wording as sophistic drivel, I asked you to explain what you actually meant. In other words, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. But your petulant response showed my instinct was right - your words are just empty drivel. All you were doing, in the bits I questioned, was restating a conclusion of relativity, namely that time slows down as speed approaches light speed. That you were unable or unwilling to do this in clear and unambiguous language is hardly my fault. But even then, you misstate relativity. What you should have said is that for objects traveling at light speed, time stands still. (Or, the objects experience the slowest time, if you like.) But saying this is the "point" of slowest time is meaningless. Time is not a point. Nor is light. Of course, an open minded person would ask you what the "point" of time means, to see what you really meant by that, but as that would probably elicit another meltdown from you, I'll content myself by just saying it means nothing.
I also see now the error in the rest of your logic. You think that if light "covers" an object then that object is somehow speeded up to near light speed and experiences slower time. But that is nonsense. Light bounces off us or is absorbed, and we stay at the same speed. (Well, with no measurable difference, anyway.) Light is not the source of the slowest time, does not "possess the essence of the slowest time" (which is more meaningless sophistic drivel anyway), nor does light slow things down. Time just slows down for things that approach the speed of light. And that would be true even if there were no light present. Light doesn't make it happen. And unfortunately this rather obvious blunder you have made invalidates everything else that follows.
And you found a publisher for this drivel? I hope for your sake it sells well and you make enough money to purchase the psychological help you so obviously need. If not though, it hasn't been a complete waste of time - your flawed arguments and spectacular meltdown will at least provide me with material for one new blog post.
Victor sent me a further two emails, totaling nearly an additional 2,000 words. In those emails he complained about skeptics, called me an intellectual coward, indignant, abusive and threatening, and wrote that I only want to listen to myself and that I did not have the ability to apply logic. In the process he also managed to compare himself to Copernicus, Galileo and Columbus, while comparing me to Mugabe. (A new one, even for me.) He called Nobel Prizes “bullshit”. He also accused me of savaging his book without reading it, although I had in fact just pointed out the errors in his emails to me, and had not referenced his book at all. However, in all of those 2,000 words, there was nothing to clarify or justify any of his claims. Although he found the time to repeat many of them. There was a frantic and barely comprehensible defense of his “point of slowest time” wording, but that was it. Again, please read the full Email exchange with Victor Senchenko for the verbatim account, to see if you think I missed anything of value.
I was reminded of some common characteristics of cranks, who generally:
- Overestimate their own knowledge and ability, and underestimate that of acknowledged experts,
- Insist that their alleged discoveries are urgently important,
- Rarely if ever acknowledge any error, no matter how trivial,
- Seriously misunderstand the mainstream opinion to which they believe that they are objecting,
- Compare themselves with (sic) Galileo or Copernicus, implying that the mere unpopularity of some belief is in itself evidence of plausibility,
- Claim that their ideas are being suppressed by […] groups which, they allege, are terrified by the possibility of their allegedly revolutionary insights becoming widely known,
- Misunderstand or fail to use standard notation and terminology,
- Ignore fine distinctions which are essential to correctly understanding mainstream belief.
We saw all of those from Victor, even the Galileo and Copernicus comparisons.
One more thing. As I wrote in Why I won’t read your book, I don’t have to read every book someone tells me about if I don’t think the book’s premise makes sense. Victor had his chance. In over 5,000 words he was incapable of expressing in any coherent fashion, any reason why his book would be worth considering. On the contrary, he exhibited virtually all the signs of the crank with nothing worthwhile to offer. It is not intellectual cowardice to refuse to waste any more time investigating further what is clearly worthless. But don’t take my word for it – read the book if you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’ll end with a delicious quote from Ben Goldacre, who wasn’t writing about Victor, but who could just as easily have been:
We should be glad that there are individuals out there with such esoteric views. We should respect and admire their tenacity and self-belief, if not their ability to provide us with actual data.