Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dissent

You do not become a "dissident" just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. — Václav Havel, (Living in Truth, 1986)

This reminds me of my work on the Bussard Fusion Project.

I found Dr. Bussard interesting and credible - in so far as this engineer was able to judge. I have been labeled every thing. An idiot. A fool. Asked how I could possibly believe such clap trap. Stationary plasmas. Every one knows they are a physical impossibility. Non Maxwellian plasmas. Everyone knows you can't maintain such a state without huge energy inputs. Mono-energetic beam fusion? Every one knows you have to make things really hot to get atoms to fuse. Hot means the energy is distributed. Some particles go fast. Some slow. Some in between. Containing that mass is hard. To get net energy out you have to make reactors the size and weight of aircraft carriers. Those dinky little things you are looking at will never work. Big men do big fusion. The rest are just dabblers.

And it is true. I didn't start out to be a dissident. Hot fusion seemed perfectly reasonable. After all. That was how the sun did it. Why not repeat on earth what we know works on the sun? And then I saw Dr. Bussard's video. And everything changed. I was no longer a member of accepted reality. Just another crazy man with a stupid dream.

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. —T. E. Lawrence from "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

It looks like the dream is about to come true.

WB-7 First Plasma

However, let me caution that dissent for the sake of dissent is just night dreaming. You must do reasoned dissent. You must be absolutely brutal with yourself because the easiest person to fool is yourself. You must weigh the pros and cons. Not just the pros and pros. Or the cons and cons. Out of this will come truth. If you are lucky you will also get something useful.

2 comments:

Jcarlton said...

Simon:
I have been told directly,in response to a direct question, by the head of plasma physics at Princeton that tokamaks will probably never produce net energy. He said fifty years, but by my thinking that means to me that after fifty odd years of playing with ever bigger tokes we still have no real handle on actually making one work.
I first read about Farnsworth Hirsch machines in 1985 in heppenhiemer's excellent book and thought that the principles behind them and the scaling factor made a lot of sense. The thing I like most about these machines is that engineering problems can be solved without having to build huge machines and the empire building that goes with them.

RavingDave said...

MSimon said:

"And it is true. I didn't start out to be a dissident. Hot fusion seemed perfectly reasonable. After all. That was how the sun did it. Why not repeat on earth what we know works on the sun?"


This was exactly the thinking when aviation was being pioneered. Birds flap their wings, but mankind figured out a better way for man to fly.