Sunday, March 23, 2008

Remembering Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008


Graham Collins reflects on meeting the famous author in New York City


By Graham P. Collins


He wore pajamas and a bathrobe, and a swollen bare foot was propped up on an ottoman. That was the figure cut by the revered science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke the one time that I, along with a few other Scientific American editors, met him. It was October 1999, and he was in New York City for a few days while on an extremely rare trip outside of his adopted home country, Sri Lanka, for medical reasons.

He had invited us to come over for a chat at his hotel, which happened to be the historic Hotel Chelsea, where he had stayed in the mid-1960s while working on his best known work, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (In the 1993 edition of the book, he wrote of "months of brainstorming with [director] Stanley [Kubrick]—followed by (fairly) lonely hours in Room 1008... where most of the novel was written.")

Clarke gently berated us for not taking cold fusion seriously enough. Most researchers had dismissed it a decade earlier, but he still believed that a revolutionary discovery could come from the experiments of the smattering of remaining devotees.

He may have even repeated the first of "Clarke’s Laws": "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong." For physicists and mathematicians, "elderly" means over 30. (His two other famous laws were that discovering the limits of the possible requires venturing a bit into the impossible, and that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.)

When Clarke was not yet elderly, 27 in fact, he wrote an article in the magazine Wireless World describing how a satellite in an equatorial orbit with a radius of 42,000 kilometers (26,000 miles) would remain over the same location of the earth, and how three spaced around the orbit could relay radio signals to anywhere on the globe. The concept was not new with Clarke, but he popularized the idea. Nearly two decades later, the first such geostationary communications satellite was launched (it relayed television signals of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo to the U.S.) at the same time Clarke was at work on 2001 at the Hotel Chelsea.

Clarke suffered from post-polio syndrome and reportedly had trouble breathing before his death at 90 on Tuesday. During his lifetime, he wrote or co-wrote scores of books, both fiction and nonfiction, and won numerous awards. Spacecraft have been named in honor of his work, and entities including an asteroid, an orbit, a species of dinosaur and several awards have been named after him. Many scientists, astronauts and writers have credited him with inspiring them to take up their own careers.

His impact, you might say, was indistinguishable from magic.

14 comments:

Jed said...

You wrote:

"Clarke gently berated us for not taking cold fusion seriously enough. Most researchers had dismissed it a decade earlier, but he still believed that a revolutionary discovery could come from the experiments of the smattering of remaining devotees."

How many researchers constitute a "smattering." Roughly 2,000 professional researchers from well over 200 universities and corporations have published positive, peer-reviewed replications of cold fusion. They include many distinguished scientists such as two Nobel laureates, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin; the director of BARC and later became the chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission; three editors of major plasma fusion and physics journals, a Distinguished Fellow of China Lake, a Distinguished Professor at TAMU, etc., etc.

Would that be a "smattering" of "devotees" or a large crowd of world class scientists? And what qualifies you to contradict them? I do not think you have published any peer-reviewed papers showing errors in the cold fusion experiments.

Obviously, Clarke knew a lot more about cold fusion than you do.

You will find a bibliography of 3,000 papers on cold fusion, and the full text of 500 papers at our web site:

http://lenr-canr.org

These include papers by all of the authors mentioned above, and by Clarke himself. We have also uploaded a memorial photo of Clarke with his pet Tyrannosaurus rex, here:

http://http://lenr-canr.org/News.htm

- Jed Rothwell
Librarian, LENR-CANR.org

capt said...

jed,

You wrote:

No Sciam wrote, click on the title?

I personally know very little about the subject, I posted a personal experience with Clarke:

If you read for comprehension:

Graham Collins reflects on meeting the famous author in New York City

A smart guy such as yourself should know that much, eh?

capt said...

How many were working on cold fusion in 1999?

"Obviously, Clarke knew a lot more about cold fusion than you do,"

"Clarke gently berated us for not taking cold fusion seriously enough."

That's be Clarke doing the berating not me. The author used the term smattering but was paraphrasing Clarke? So WTF?

Odd such a seemingly eductaed chap such as jed could be so off base?

Now I could say Clarke knows a bit more than others, certainly more than I do. I, for one, would not assume anything about you sir, that is by way of my civility and consideration. Maybe you should study up on personal blog interaction because you have not achieved simple mutual respect by your over-the-top post.

Why a personal attack on me? Take your petty insults and ad hominem and direct them to Graham Collins?

Thanks!

Jed said...

You wrote:

"No Sciam wrote, click on the title?"

Ah, SciAm. Right. I saw that article was in SciAm, but I thought you were the author. I did not realize you copied it from them.


"Take your petty insults and ad hominem and direct them to Graham Collins?"

Please consider my comments redirected to the SciAm!


"How many were working on cold fusion in 1999?"

Hmmm . . . ~180 authors published paper in ICCF8 that year. There were others who did not attend. Nearly all were over 60 years old, I would guess. See these photos from 2002:

http://lenr-canr.org/Collections/ICCF09.htm

Most of the ~2,000 authors are retired or dead by now.


"The author used the term smattering but was paraphrasing Clarke?"

No. Clarke was well aware of how many researchers there are.


"Now I could say Clarke knows a bit more than others, certainly more than I do. I, for one, would not assume anything about you sir . . ."

You should never assume anything about anyone's technical knowledge. The only way to gauge this is to read a technical paper by the person in question. You can read Clarke's paper at the link I listed previously; you can read some of my papers in the library; and you can judge the technical knowledge of the SciAm editors here:

http://lenr-canr.org/News.htm#SciAmSlam

- Jed Rothwell

capt said...

"You should never assume anything about anyone's technical knowledge. "

That was my advice to you my friend.

I always liked Clarke and his writing.

He will be missed.

Jed said...

Capt wrote:

"'You should never assume anything about anyone's technical knowledge.'

That was my advice to you my friend."

Well, as it happens I know a great deal about the level of cold fusion-related technical knowledge at the SciAm. I know more about that than I wish I knew, because I and other people in the field have had extensive interactions with the editors and writers at SciAm. You will see that in the link I provided.

As I said, you should take all of my first statements as directed to the SciAm author.


"I always liked Clarke and his writing.

He will be missed."

I miss him a great deal. He was a loyal friend to cold fusion and to many researchers. I worked with him on cold fusion related stuff and on the revised edition of "Profiles of the Future," which I regard as the best book ever written about the future of technology. It was an honor working with him, and always a pleasure. He was a strange & wonderful person, and more complex and nuanced than people realized, or than he let on.

- Jed Rothwell

capt said...

Being knowledgeable in any measure does not give license for condescension.

I am not educated nor make any claim to being knowledgeable in any respect but I do know civility and manners. Even a lowly pedestrian such as myself knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over.

I never questioned the quantity nor the quality of your knowledge (skills or abilities)

Just your uncivil and ill mannered take about a single word “smattering?” You admit to not even knowing what the author meant by that?

Substitute collection and all of the issue is moot, no?

I didn’t think smattering necessarily meant a small number. FWIW


Ergo my advice to you still stands. Maybe book learnin ain't all it's cracked up to be if you cannot communicate like a civilized and cultured person even when you disagree?

I have historically given more educated people less slack - not more. Kind of like the education brings a responsibility to not just facts and figures but quality of interaction and efficacy of message.

Just a thought. I am likely more wrong than right.

Jed said...

capt wrote:

"Just your uncivil and ill mannered take about a single word 'smattering?' You admit to not even knowing what the author meant by that?"

I know exactly what the author meant by "a smattering of remaining devotees." "A smattering" is "a small, scattered amount or number" (American Heritage Dictionary). A "devotee" is "An ardent or fanatical adherent of a religion." (Ibid). The author was trying to portray a group of ~2,000 professional scientists as a small, scattered number of religious fanatics. I am sure that is what he had in mind because the columnists and editors at SciAm have often portrayed the researchers this way. I am well acquainted with their views.

I do not think that my response to the SciAm author (the person I thought I was addressing) was uncivil. It was certainly no worse than the aspersions he cast upon cold fusion. I also think he was patronizing Clarke, who supported cold fusion and who knew far more about the subject than anyone at SciAm.

- Jed Rothwell

capt said...

I'm certain you are right. My opinion is on little or no consequence.

Thanks!

capt said...

Not to mention, 200 would be only a slight smattering of the total number of scientists.

I guess it is a matter of perspective.

The bottom line is the post was an homage to Clarke not really meant as anything more. I doubt the author intended any slight - if he did I didn't get it.

A poor use of the word is more like it.

The piece was a remeberance of his meeting Clarke and certainly not a serious discussion of cold fusion.

capt said...

make that 2000 - still a smattering in the eyes of some simpletons.

How may scientists are there are the planet?

I hope 2000 is a very small percentage of the total for all of our sakes.

Jed said...

capt wrote:

"Not to mention, 200 would be only a slight smattering of the total number of scientists."

You are off by an order of magnitude. The number is ~2000, and it is a large fraction of the total set of scientist who have relevant expertise in electrochemistry or materials. Furthermore, these are mostly experienced, prestigious scientists, such as the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Gov't of India. If they were not prestigious they would not have allowed to do the research, because it is controversial.


"I doubt the author intended any slight - if he did I didn't get it."

I know the people at Sci. Am. well, and I am sure it was a slight. Calling professional scientists "devotees" is insulting. If you do not "get that" then perhaps you have not dealt with scientists much. Let me advise you not to call them that, unless you want to pick a fight.


"The piece was a remeberance of his meeting Clarke and certainly not a serious discussion of cold fusion."

True! Sci. Am. has never published a serious discussion of cold fusion.


"How may scientists are there are the planet?"

I wouldn't know, but I know who the world's top 50 electrochemists are (or were in 1989). It isn't hard to figure out: they are the ones who wrote the major textbooks on the subject, and who were appointed president of the electrochemical society, Fellow of the Royal Society and so on. Most members of this elite group replicated cold fusion.


"I hope 2000 is a very small percentage of the total for all of our sakes."

When you say "for our sakes" you seem to be implying that these people are deluded or wrong. I suggest you read the literature before jumping to this conclusion. I do not think that you are qualified to judge whether this good, or bad for our sakes. If cold fusion is real, as these experts assert, then it would better if a much larger number of scientist would believe it.

In any case, based on the visits, correspondence and activity at LENR-CANR, I believe that a much larger number of scientists believe that cold fusion is real, and that they are deeply interested in the subject. Readers have visited 1.4 million times and downloaded 961,000 papers. These are difficult technical papers that would only be of interest to a scientist in some relevant field. No one reads them or downloads them for fun. Believe me, I have edited and translated hundreds of them, and they are dull as dishwater.

- Jed Rothwell

capt said...

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke's first law

No offense sir, but you are wrong.

Consider the possibility and you are wise, continue to dismiss the possibility and you are not.

"For our sake" was just wishing there are millions of scientists in all fields moving the base of knowledge forward for all of humanity. (not the narrow implication you assume)

So - once again - you are just wrong.

"It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull."
~ H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

How sure are you? I sense very - apply the above quote liberally until cured.

It doesn't matter how smart or how much you have already learned - either you are still learning or you are not alive (IMHO)

Jed said...

Capt said:

"'When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.'

Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke's first law"

Arthur Clarke himself was a distinguished, elderly scientist, and so are most of the cold fusion researchers. They all say cold fusion is possible. Ergo, it probably is possible, according this standard.

Not only do they say it is possible, they proved it is, with rigorous experiments. You must address these experiments and with equal rigor show that they are mistaken, or you are wrong. You cannot disprove experimental science by quoting Clarke or Mencken in this fashion. Their writing has nothing to do with electrochemistry.


"No offense sir, but you are wrong."

According to your own argument, YOU are wrong.


"Consider the possibility and you are wise, continue to dismiss the possibility and you are not."

My wisdom or foolishness has nothing to do with this subject. I am not the issue here. This is about replicated, peer-reviewed experiments performed by professional scientists -- not by me. You must address this body of literature if you wish to disprove the claims. Talking about me does not advance your claims.


"It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull."
~ H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

Whether I am dull or interesting has no bearing on this discussion. This is not about me, as I said. It is about excess heat, tritium, x-rays and thousands of experimental runs in hundreds of laboratories. If you will not address the content of these experiments then you lose this debate. If you are not capable of addressing the experiments than there is no debate, and you are pontificating about a subject that you know nothing about, and that you have no qualifications to discuss.

For some strange reason, you and a few thousand other people feel you are magically qualified to denigrate cold fusion even though you would not think of making such fatuous statements about other areas of electrochemistry or solid state materials research.

If you will not address the technical issues I shall ignore any further messages from you. I am not interested in your opinion of me.

- Jed Rothwell