20 February, 2021

Issue 72 of SHAPE Journal: Is the Universe Electric?


What is the Electric Universe? 

This edition examines the controversial Electric Universe group of physicists and their ideas, comparing them to the consensus position in Cosmology, and attempting to reveal both of their inadequacies, regarding a shared basis in Pluralist thinking. 

If we were to judge Electric Universe solely by their representation in the mainstream media and in popular science writing, we would quickly discard their contribution entriely, as pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories, lacking in any evidence or even brand it a dubious cult. Have a little read of this article from Vice magazine for a flavour of the discourse in question. Electric Universe adherents are called believers, rather than investigators, in the writing, and the substance of their ideas is written-off as total crackpottery. 

SHAPE Journal takes a more nuanced position to these matters. There are certainly major problems with much of what falls under the Electric Universe banner - but the project seems to be a surprisngly broad church - and one that welcomes many outsider scientists and non-conformist thinkers in Physics, that actually have something worthwhile to say. Some of the research undertaken by people affiliated or associated with the Electric Universe, is actually rather good indeed - but doesn’t seem to benefit in terms of credibility, from their link with EU. 

The Electric Universe was established by Wallace Thornhill in 1994, and now has a fervant worldwide following and annual conference. In 2007, Thornhill published a book with David Talbott under the same name, and this became something of a bible for the movement, alongside the film they made, Thunderbolts of the Gods. The guiding principal, is that electricity is the most important force in the Universe and Plasma is the dominant form of matter. 

Jim Schofield first became aware of Thornhill on Youtube, during the early stages of his research into Substrate Theory, as Thornhill also seemed to insinuate the presence of some hidden substrate - a sort of reformulated Aether theory being necessary to explain the propogation of Electromagnetic radiation across the Universe. He also seemed to reject the mathematical reductionism in Physics that Schofield was pushing against in his own research. Unfortunately, Thornhill went no further down this road - and it quickly became apparent that the leader of this movement had no coherent integrated basis for these ideas, no over-arching theory at all in fact - and that he and his closest followers were worryingly prone to fishy mythological references and conjecture, relying on rhetoric rather than evidence to support their arguments. Despite all of the gaps, the absence of evidence for many of their ideas and lack of quality control on the research that falls under the EU umbrella, there is some interesting stuff to be found there - Gareth Samuel’s “See the Pattern” videos being one such example.

Plasma research and Plasma Cosmology theories seem to be the source of the best contributions the extended Electric Universe family has to offer. Work on plasma filaments, the Structured Atomic Model and various hints at some electrical medium pervading space, all have potential with verifiable ideas being postulated. 

Both Plasma Cosmology and Jim Schofield’s Substrate Universe, attempt somewhat similar things - reexplaining physical phenomena in space, using only known particles of matter (Leptons) in various different arrangements and states, linking up the Universe in various ways, allowing the propagation of EM radiation and the construction of vast electrical and magnetic fields, if not gravitational ones too. Both offer materialist solutions without recourse to the mathematical idealism we see in the mainstream - spooky action at a distance, Quantum Entanglement or Uncertainty, for example. 

It certainly seems possible that these nascent sciences could end up supporting one another, or even combining, to construct a new view of the physical Universe grounded solidly in material reality, and its observable electromagnetic properties. For this reason, and others, Jim Schofield has given the Electric Universe gang a little more time than most theoretical physicists would, with particular interest in the front line of Plasma research. 

Digging deeper reveals other important connections. For Schofield, Eric Lerner’s research into Plasma and Fusion Reaction, is some of most exciting happening today - certainly pointing towards a much more holistic way of conducting Physics research, and scientific experiments, more broadly. 

Although not directly associated with Electric Universe, in the video below we see Lerner talking with Gareth Samuel about Fusion Energy, Plasma and Cosmology. The unacknowledged role that Plasma plays in the Universe is of key concern to both Lerner and the wider Electric Universe crowd, who see plasma filaments as vital to linking up their electrical stars and galaxies. 

Whether or not all these ideas have much merit, Lerner has certainly shown both the importance of Plasma in understanding the Universe, and that much of the received wisdom in Cosmology is not settled at all - the Electric nature of the Universe is still open to question.

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