A reader emails to ask about a new-to-me theory of physics, called “Quantum Space Theory” being promoted by a fellow named Thad Roberts. I wouldn’t usually bother with this, but Roberts was one of the speakers at TEDx Boulder. this is disappointing, to put it mildly– TED is a respected organization, and I don’t like seeing them lend their support to something that is just dripping with kook signifiers. The key paragraph of the overview of the theory is:

To start grasping this higher-dimensional intu­itive pic­ture check out the book excerpts in the book excerpts sec­tion. If you are more ana­lyt­i­cally inclined you may desire to skip ahead to the con­stants of Nature sec­tion where you will dis­cover how 27 con­stants are pre­cisely deter­mined by the eleven-dimensional geom­etry of qst. Or you could visit the pre­dic­tions sec­tion where over 20 pre­dic­tions of this new geom­etry are laid out. Or you can examine the for­malism sec­tion where the foun­da­tional math­e­matics from which qst extends is explained. The full geo­metric expla­na­tion is cur­rently avail­able only by spe­cial request as it is the thrust of the forth­coming book titled ‘Einstein’s Intuition’ by Thad Roberts.

First and foremost, “I can’t show you my theory until my book comes out” is a red flag big enough to cover Delaware. It’s like writing “Fraud” on your forehead in magic marker, wearing a “Fraud” shirt, and doing the fraud dance on Fraud Mountain. Real work in theoretical physics is done via the arxiv, and I don’t find anything about this stuff there (lots of papers by Roberts, T and containing the words quantum, space, and theory there, which is why you should always give your kook theories generic names).

More importantly, none of the linked pages provide anything useful in support of the claims. The “formalism” section is a Wikipedia-level description of Bohmian mechanics, with nothing at all about eleven dimensions. The “predictions” page is a bulleted list of assertions that the theory predicts something or another, and the “physical constants” page is a large table asserting that various physical constants can be written in terms of a new arbitrary number. Neither includes any description of how the theory leads to these predictions.

I did not attempt to wade through all the book excerpts provided, but skipped right to Chapter 4, guessing that it would be the most likely to contain some mathematical explanation of the theory. Alas, it’s more of the same– long on bulleted lists and personal narrative, and almost entirely devoid of real physics. Also, it opens with a quote from The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav, a classic work of New Age pseudo-physics. This does not build confidence.

I will give Roberts credit for two things: he has a really slick web page, and a great bio, including this gem:

Thad was handed 100 months in fed­eral prison for his out-of-the-box thinking (some­thing not all that rare at NASA). Prison gave him time to focus his ener­gies on the hidden struc­ture of Nature and to wrestle with the mys­teries that plague modern physics. qst was the result. Though there were things that Thad wouldn’t repeat, he says that he doesn’t regret how things turned out. Despite the iso­la­tion and the lone­li­ness that defined those years, Thad notes that without that time of intense ded­i­ca­tion and con­stant focus he may have never been lead to the dis­cov­eries he has made. It all cul­mi­nated with an insight that enabled him to com­pletely rewrite the geom­etry of phys­ical reality.

(Thad also enjoys writing about himself in the third person.)

Another view of the events leading to his incarceration is provided by a nice article from the LA Times magazine. This is, as you might imagine, somewhat less flattering than the way he presents it on his own site.

I fully expect that Roberts or some adherent of his theories will turn up in the comments or my email inbox to complain that I’m being unfair to his theory by not working through all the details, but, you know, life is just too short. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, especially when they come from somebody with a criminal conviction in his past, and there’s not even ordinary evidence to be found on that web site.

TED should be embarrassed to have sponsored a talk by this guy (or to have had some independent organizer invite this guy to give a talk under their name). I hope in the future they’ll be a little more discriminating about inviting people who plan to talk about physics.

Comments

  1. #1 Chris Granade
    August 10, 2010

    Not that this makes it right, but the TEDx conferences are not official TED events, but rather locally-organized conferences with logistical support from TED. It still reflects poorly on TED that they attach their name to this kind of kookiness, but it’s at least not quite as bad as making a direct decision to seek it out.

  2. #2 MRW
    August 10, 2010

    I wonder whether these “TEDx” things are such a good idea for TED to get involved in. For those who don’t know, TED has to approve people wanting to host a TEDx, and they provide rules for the event, but as far as I can tell they don’t get involved with approving individual speakers.

    I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt by assuming they wouldn’t approve this speaker directly. If that’s the case, I don’t think it’s a good idea to lend their name to events where they can’t prevent talks like this.

  3. #3 onymous
    August 10, 2010

    I thought TED had a pretty high fraction of kooks anyway. Garrett Lisi has given a TED talk, for instance, as has Kary Mullis. And they seem very fond of people who once did interesting things but now just like to pontificate about their own brilliance, like Stephen Wolfram and Freeman Dyson.

  4. #4 Russell
    August 10, 2010

    There are a lot of people who have never studied enough science to know what science is. They know what science looks like. And some of them think if they do something that looks similar enough to them, it is science.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    August 10, 2010

    From Mr. Roberts’ bio: Thad was handed 100 months in federal prison for his out-of-the-box thinking (some­thing not all that rare at NASA).

    I know more than a few NASA employees, and I’m not aware of any other cases of NASA people getting 100 month prison sentences for out-of-the-box thinking (which is a rather generous description of the moon rock caper described in the LA Times link).

    At least he doesn’t seem to be asking for money (yet). Watch your wallet when he does.

  6. #6 Chad Orzel
    August 10, 2010

    I thought TED had a pretty high fraction of kooks anyway. Garrett Lisi has given a TED talk, for instance, as has Kary Mullis. And they seem very fond of people who once did interesting things but now just like to pontificate about their own brilliance, like Stephen Wolfram and Freeman Dyson.

    I wouldn’t put those people in the same class, though. Well, maybe Mullis in some of his less lucid moments– it would really depend on what he was invited to talk about. Mullis on PCR could be really good, Mullis on HIV would be a travesty.

    All of those people, though, have made legitimate contributions to science via the normal process. You can argue about whether Lisi’s contribution has been valuable, but he does at least post his work on the arxiv, collaborate with other legitimate scientists (he had a recent paper with Smolin as a co-author, for example), and engage with the community. Wolfram has descended into self-parody in some areas, but Mathematica is legitimately a great achievement. And Dyson is perhaps a bit too fond of his contrarian image, but no-one would argue that he didn’t do good physics back in the day.

    Those people have earned the right to speak at TED through what they have done in the normal course of science. Roberts, on the other hand, hasn’t done anything but time in federal prison.

  7. #7 Oikoman
    August 10, 2010

    I’m guessing out-of-the-box thinking isn’t too hard if you have several hours in a hotel room with a cutting torch.

    Seriously though, this is not a good advertisement for prison rehabilitation….

  8. #8 Matt Leifer
    August 10, 2010

    As far as I have seen, all TEDx conferences have been of dubiously low quality.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say that even TED itself is mostly pseudo-intellectual self-congratulation of a Malcolm Gladwellesuqe level of rigor. They do have some good speakers mixed in amongst the hordes of self-proclaimed “thought leaders”, but they make them dumb their talks down into media-friendly soundbites. You can’t really present anything worthwhile in 10 or 20 minutes to people who know nothing at all about a subject. It is really just about helping all the wealthy people in the audience overcome their intellectual insecurities by putting them in the presence of “refined intellectual ideas”, without having the balls to suggest to them that they might have to do some actual hard work in order to grasp the substance of those ideas. And we’re supposed to thank them for unleashing this torrent of rubbish for free onto the internet once it is already several months out of date. Don’t get me wrong, TED talks are a lot of fun to watch on the internet, but then so is porn and the whole point is that TED is the intellectual equivalent of porn.

  9. #9 Mike Olson
    August 10, 2010

    Moving from theft to fraud would seem to be a step up. Although the gullible may not think so.

  10. #10 Anonymous Coward
    August 10, 2010

    According to physics legend, Landau did some of his best work while incarcerated! I’m sure this Roberts dude is like some sort of second Landau!

    Sarcastic remarks aside, I agree that TED should be embarrassed to be associated with this dude, but I think Matt Leifer’s comment mostly nails what TED is about. I especially like his last sentence.

  11. #11 Mamamia
    August 10, 2010

    To Chad, aka Boring Man part timer troll.

    TROLL

    1b. Noun
    A person who, on a message forum of some type, attacks and flames other members of the forum for any of a number of reasons such as rank, previous disagreements, sex, status, ect.
    A troll usually flames threads without staying on topic, unlike a “Flamer” who flames a thread because he/she disagrees with the content of the thread.

    1c. Noun
    Someone with nothing worthwhile to add to a certain conversation, but rather continually threadjacks or changes the subject.

    For more descriptors of our fellow kook Troll Chad Orzel.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=troll

    But if you are looking for other descriptions that will make Chad’s “feels bads” to make them “feels betters”
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/troll

    And since Chad Orzel likes equations.

    x + y + z = H

    x= Having to purchase a wife outside of the US due to no USA girls wanting him.

    y = Craziest thing he did in his 20′s was Getting drunk and passing out in some school party without getting laid.

    z = Supposedly being educated, but taking his rants on others because he can’t come up with his own. (troll)

    H = Hater

    Meaning of Hater (for the layman)
    One who either verbally and/or physically inhibits another individual’s game or mode of operation primarily due to jealousy, envy, animosity, bitterness, resentment, and contempt. A hater will exhibit either one or all of the aforementioned traits. A hater will usually smile in your face and hate behind your back.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hater

    Thanks

  12. #12 Mamamia
    August 10, 2010

    To Chad, aka Boring Man part timer troll.

    TROLL

    1b. Noun
    A person who, on a message forum of some type, attacks and flames other members of the forum for any of a number of reasons such as rank, previous disagreements, sex, status, ect.
    A troll usually flames threads without staying on topic, unlike a “Flamer” who flames a thread because he/she disagrees with the content of the thread.

    1c. Noun
    Someone with nothing worthwhile to add to a certain conversation, but rather continually threadjacks or changes the subject.

    For more descriptors of our fellow kook Troll Chad Orzel.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=troll

    But if you are looking for other descriptions that will make Chad’s “feels bads” to make them “feels betters”
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/troll

    And since Chad Orzel likes equations.

    x + y + z = H

    x= Having to purchase a wife outside of the US due to no USA girls wanting him.

    y = Craziest thing he did in his 20′s was Getting drunk and passing out in some school party without getting laid.

    z = Supposedly being educated, but taking his rants on others because he can’t come up with his own. (troll)

    H = Hater

    Meaning of Hater (for the layman)
    One who either verbally and/or physically inhibits another individual’s game or mode of operation primarily due to jealousy, envy, animosity, bitterness, resentment, and contempt. A hater will exhibit either one or all of the aforementioned traits. A hater will usually smile in your face and hate behind your back.
    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hater

    Thanks

  13. #13 Eric James
    August 10, 2010

    Doubt the science all you want, but new theories are always good for everyone no matter where they come from or what that person has done in the rest of their life. If anything Mr. Roberts time at NASA makes me think “this guy just might have the passion to figure this all out”.

    So then, on to the science… What are your opinions on the idea of quantized space?

  14. #14 an actual physicist
    August 10, 2010

    Perhaps it would be of use to scientifically analyse what is presented as a scientific concept. It is all fair and good to have an opinion of anyone, and certainly anyone may judge Mr. Roberts as no more than a felon, but it may be useful to analyse Roberts’ (and his scientific team’s) theory seriously before discrediting it based on pure rhetoric or opinion.
    The rhetorical arguments concerning Mr. Roberts credibility are of no concern in the scientific world. The only important question as to Thad Roberts in the scientific world is, ‘is he a capable scientist.’ It is meaningless to simply call him a kook, that is only an opinion. Moreover, even if Mr. Roberts is in anyone’s opinion, a kook, the real question is, ‘is his theory kooky?’
    Quantum Space Theory may sound strange but most new ideas do and even if it is proven to be eventually false that in itself is still a scientific achievement. I would not forget that most of what is done in science is the disproving of theories; the discovering of truths is extremely rare. Ergo, no matter Mr. Roberts’ credibility as an individual outside of physics, he is at the least doing something useful (as opposed to simply spewing his opinions).
    I would focus on the science, not so much the man, and when considering the man I would not make an arbitrary judgement call and label him a ‘kook’ without taking the simple effort to gather information concerning him from multiple sources. I for one would not want to be one who unjustifiably decides to attack someone’s credibility when the ideas that someone are presenting are derived from multiple scientific sources. Personalities and egos aside, Robert’s ideas are what are important and what TEDx thought were important. For example, I found it interesting that the eleven dimensional model is something predicted in string theory via observations Roberts addressed in detail (such as quantum tunnelling). Also, it is interesting that he was capable of deriving all the constants of nature from the plank constants and the geometric function with limits of Pi and what he calls Zhe. It was moreover extremely interesting that his theory seemed concise with all other physical theories I have learned and it was refreshing to see a scientist present differing theories which hope to explain the Dark Matter problem and Dark Energy problem. I think most people take it for granted that scientists always know what they are doing and at this point everyone seems sold on the idea that Dark Matter is some kind of particle and Dark Energy is acceptable as just some exotic phenomena. So far as I know, these are both still questionable topics, and that is the way everything is in science. Nothing is every known absolutely and everything is questionable.
    Thad Robers’ personality and past may be questionable, just like any given scientific ideas, but his kook or not, his work is attracting a great deal of attention and I think is worth looking into.

  15. #15 Andrew Hyde
    August 10, 2010

    I have to peep in to point out that TED has very, very little control over TEDx events. They are as much to ‘blame’ as you are for letting anyone read this post.

    As an organizer of TEDxBoulder I found his talk very interesting. No idea about the theory (I’m an events geek, not a science pro) but his setup was a basic question of ‘are we missing something by just looking at the horizon?’

    HIs point and takeaway message were far from being kookie. He was a very engaged, interesting and kind person with a lot of respected folks surrounding him.

    We are processing all the videos, will send it to you when they are online.

  16. #16 scramton
    August 10, 2010

    So “out of the box” thinking is being really dumb and trying to sell moon rocks to the feds. I’m so glad this clown is continuing to show his brilliance with physics theories that are garbage and the entertainment value of this dude is large.

  17. #17 Chad Orzel
    August 10, 2010

    Perhaps it would be of use to scientifically analyse what is presented as a scientific concept.

    If it were presented as a scientific idea, I would be happy to treat it as such. That’s the thing, though: it’s not presented as a scientific idea. It’s a bunch of blatant assertions and colorful anecdotes.

    If you want a scientific idea to be taken seriously, it needs to be presented in a scientific manner. Which means putting it on the arxiv, submitting it to journals, and most importantly showing your work.

    You can’t merely assert that your theory explains constants of nature in terms of some new squiggly symbol– you need to show how that happens. Where does this magic new number come from? How does having it allow you to derive the values of the fundamental constants (without assuming those values at the start)?

    At the very least, a site claiming to have unified all of physics through eleven-dimensional hocus-pocus should have some equations on it that, you know, involve eleven-dimensional geometry in some way. When the only math found on the site is a discussion of Bohmian mechanics that you could find in a dozen different places with Google, there’s something deeply wrong.

    Yeah, it promises details in a forthcoming book, but that’s not how science is done. In fact, it’s pretty much the hallmark of a scammer, not a scientist– charging people money for your new theory of everything goes against pretty much every accepted norm of the scientific community. Serious scientists put their work in scientific journals, or distribute it through other academic channels, to be evaluated by other scientists. If the work is found to be valid, the fame and money will come later.

    It’s conceivable, barely, that Roberts is really on to something, and just horribly misinformed about how science works. Given his history, though, and the fact that his current trajectory is more or less identical to that followed by every other flim-flam artist trying to make a buck off a collection of quantum buzzwords, though, I’m not inclined to bet that way.

    As an organizer of TEDxBoulder I found his talk very interesting. No idea about the theory (I’m an events geek, not a science pro) but his setup was a basic question of ‘are we missing something by just looking at the horizon?’

    HIs point and takeaway message were far from being kookie. He was a very engaged, interesting and kind person with a lot of respected folks surrounding him.

    There are tons of engaged, interesting, and kind people who are also doing genuine research in legitimate parts of academia. Many of them are also excellent speakers. Several of them are even based in Boulder.

    The scientific plausibility and acceptability of the ideas being pushed by the speaker are not some trivial side issue. They’re absolutely essential to the credibility of any enterprise like this. Without some check on the quality of the ideas promoted by the speakers, the result is, as Matt Leifer said in comment #8, “the intellectual equivalent of porn.”

  18. #18 Jeremy Darling
    August 10, 2010

    Extremely well-said, Chad.

    The ad hominem arguments (both pro and con) are irrelevant.

    A scientific theory must: (1) agree with all current observations and evidence, and (2) make testable predictions, including clear paths to invalidate the theory. Roberts fails on both. His is not a scientific theory.

    Those who propose new theories need to be their own harshest critics, trying to make them break. Boosterism is a big red flag. Roberts is practicing what Feynman called Cargo Cult Science.

    I’ve been wasting a lot of time poking holes in Roberts’ theory, and the basic problem is that it’s not a scientific theory because it is not specific, it makes a lot of bold claims without proof, and it has not been peer-reviewed. I believe that it would fail on simple things like the equivalence principle and energy conservation, but there is no way to demonstrate this because there is nothing behind the curtain. His treatment of fundamental constants is nonsense (eg, he redefines the fine structure constant — the gauge of the strength of electromagnetism — as “Zhe”, but it’s still just the fine structure constant!).

    A TED talk is intended to inform the audience, but Roberts’ talk simply confused and sowed doubt about decades of peer-reviewed data-supported research on basic physics, the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, cosmology, dark matter, and dark energy.

    To address an earlier comment, there is indeed evidence for the quantum nature of spacetime (the “quantum foam”), recently supported by observations of a gamma-ray burst. But this has nothing to do with Roberts’ theory.

    Full disclosure: I attended and spoke at the TEDx Boulder event. I am on the astrophysics faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder and teach quantum mechanics, relativity, and cosmology.

  19. #19 Jake
    August 10, 2010

    I attended TEDx as well and believe Jeremy was a little piqued about his talk’s receivership and the majority of the other speakers :) Floating h20 in space or something…”what is the point..”

    Intentional ad hominem on my part, though that was just a small portion of this article, it’s what I really disagree with.

    Since I couldn’t keep up with even understanding the general talk on up to three (out of however many) points Thad touched on, which was the majority of the feedback I heard from the audience, I would be curious as to the details of the exact problems with the speech..or is this based on the website?

    Thads talk at least was engaging and had people Talking and Thinking after the speech (which was very well received by the lead organizer and many others). This article seems to focus pretty heavily on “oh how could TEDx let this quack in!” The book should be published next year I heard, and this is probably a great opportunity to galvanize discussion..he didn’t ask for donations 

    From your article “..comments or my email inbox to complain that I’m being unfair to his theory by not working through all the details, but, you know, life is just too short.” This is the same argument you use against the speaker however…

    –Jake

  20. #20 Jen Yu
    August 11, 2010

    Jake – Jeremy was addressing the science and the science only. But you felt it necessary to attack him? You drag this through the mud. How utterly small of you. It is about the integrity of the science. Science is not a popularity contest contrary to what you may think. You don’t get a democratic vote. It is based on fact. Nature doesn’t care if you like it. And that’s a fact.

  21. #21 Wyman
    August 11, 2010

    I’m surprised people are actually defending this guy. You can’t honestly claim to have a Theory of Everything without evidence, and this crank has provided zero evidence.

  22. #22 Jeff, an unapologetic booster.
    August 11, 2010

    Wow… tough crowd. So, if I’m to distill down the posts here to a couple of bullet points, they would be:

    1. Thad is a crazy con artist whose theory is not really a theory at all.

    2. TEDx is evil and should be destroyed, TED is guilty by association.

    3. Ad hominem attacks are a legitimate form of rebuttal.

    Did I miss anything?

    Let’s address each in turn:

    1a. Thad is crazy. Maybe. So what? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…

    1b. Thad is a con artist. Because he is trying to sell a book he has written? Because he has not published on Arxiv? Can anyone say non sequitur.

    1c. I believe the theory both (as Darling puts it) (1) agrees with current observation and (2) makes testable predictions. Admittedly some of those predictions are fairly abstract, nevertheless, they are testable.

    (BTW, Mr. Darling, he does not define the fine structure constant as simply Zhe. He defines the fine structure constant as zhe^2/4pi. Furthermore, the value of Zhe is something that wasn’t just plucked out of thin air; it’s the ratio of circumference to diameter under maximum spatial curvature. Anyhow, I digress.)

    While his “bold claims” are not mathematically rigorous, that does not, by default, make them invalid. I would assert that his theory, strictly speaking, is still in the hypothesis phase and that his ventures out into the world at large with it are at the most nontraditional attempts to get feedback from the community-I don’t know that for sure. I suspect if you all were to actually call him on some part of the actual theory, he would respond. Many of you claim to be “poking holes” in the theory, but I really have not seen a single one of those pokes elaborated upon.

    2. Um… so by what criteria would you have TEDx’s vetted by TED? I suppose TED does have a set of criteria already, perhaps they have thought about this. Along those lines, against what criteria would you have TEDxBoulder vet its speakers? I’d like to see some concrete, constructive suggestions here rather than the sophomoric “they suck” (I paraphrase the above comments of course, but only just.) If you think TEDx and/or TED are so horrible, vote with your time and your dollar/pound/euro/etc. and don’t attend or watch. Since you all seem to be the cream of the intelligentsia, I’m sure your presence will be missed and TED will mend their evil ways.

    3. I think we should build a VERY, VERY large bonfire, get our pitchforks and torches out and hunt Mr. Roberts down, drag him to the pyre and burn him! Burn him in the righteous cleansing fire!

    Anyhow, just my two cents. Bon appétit.

  23. #23 Amjith
    August 11, 2010

    @Jen was right to point out that personal attacks are unnecessary when speaking about science. Which is why I’m disappointed by the author’s remarks about Mr.Roberts’ past personal faults.

    In the essence of keeping this conversation only scientific, I’d like to explore the misgivings about Mr. Roberts’ theory. I still haven’t seen any invalidating arguments from Mr. Darling. If you’ve already wasted so much time poking holes in Mr. Roberts’ theory, can you please elaborate them or perhaps take it up with Mr. Roberts (I’m sure TEDx people gave each other their contact info). How about having an intelligent debate about this instead of slinging mud.

    It might be true that Mr.Roberts hasn’t published his work in a peer reviewed journal, but at the same time he is not withholding his theory from the public. He has expressed interest in disclosing his full geometric explanation on special request and he has clearly stated that he will be publishing work as a book.

    I attended the TEDx conference and I was actually able to understand his model for visualizing the eleven dimensions. His explanation for gravity was the first one that painted a clear picture of why space-time is curved due to gravity and why it appears that time slows down near a black-hole (for an external observer).

    Even if we manage to poke holes in his theory, isn’t that what science is all about. Exploring a theory to gain a better understanding of the universe? I was glad to come out of the talk with the satisfaction of having a better understanding towards some elusive concepts.

    Dismissing his theory solely on the basis that he hasn’t published it in a journal seems very premature.

    Disclosure: I’m a Physics hobbyist, I do not hold an advanced degree in Physics. I have a Master’s in Computer Science and I have taken enough Physics classes to understand the basics.

  24. #24 Jeff, an unapologetic booster
    August 11, 2010

    I feel I need to say just one more thing…

    Mr. Darling, if you cannot see that the definition of the fine structure constant as zhe^2/4pi is qualitatively different from the currently established definitions then I suspect you and Mr. Roberts have very little to discuss. I, for one, find the geometrically derived definition much more profound and epistemologically satisfying, likewise for the other constants Mr. Roberts defines this way.

    If for no other reason than this, his conjectures merit investigation.

  25. #25 Yoshi
    August 11, 2010

    I shall address two issues. (1)TEDxBoulder, and (2) Thad Roberts.

    (1) The mission of TED:

    “Our mission: Spreading ideas.
    We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other… Have an idea? We want to hear from you.”   www.ted.com

    I attended the TEDxBoulder Conference expecting to hear new ideas, thoughts that broaden my perspective of the world, and to be inspired. Unfortunately, a few talks were not incredibly original or inspiring. On the other hand, Thad Roberts’ talk was definitely inspiring and thought-provoking. His ideas have broadened my perspective – understanding eleven dimensions (and all the concepts that can be explained though this) is truly is an eye-opening experience. By saying this, I’m not saying that this is the ultimate truth, but at the least, a stepping stone towards a greater understanding of the universe we live in. I think TEDxBoulder did a great job in asking him to come and talk.

    (2) So Thad Roberts served time in prison, should we turn our noses to his theory simply because of it? I find it amazing that he focused his energies on learning, creating, challenging himself, and discovering new universal connections while he was in prison. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone in prison were so intellectually curious! The author of the article complains that Roberts states

    “I can’t show you my theory until my book comes out”

    However, he does share his theory with you if you talk to him (which I have done). 18 minutes is barely enough time to cover the basics. I look forward to hearing more talks from him.

  26. #26 Paul
    August 11, 2010

    Haha, Thad party has arrived. I bet Thad Roberts is behind most of the comments supporting him above and his friends behind the others. You could check IPs just in case though he would have to be really dumb to keep posting from the same IP.

    In any case everyone who claims he has a scientific theory of everything but will provide the details in a paid book later on deserves all the ad hominem he will get. It’s a blatant scheme to extort money from the gullible public and coming from a convicted felon no less.

    And to top it off he is exploiting poor Einstein (Einstein’s intuition is his book title) to sell his crackpot theory which couldn’t be farther from Einsteins ideas as both general relativity and his attempts at unified field theory were of course based on continuous 4 dimensional spacetime.

  27. #27 scramton
    August 11, 2010

    Yes, science is meant to be changed and expanded upon by smart people. This can be easily abused by people that have huge egos and are not willing to go through the peer review that the scientific method requires. It really annoys me when people try to skate around peer review. Its not a good example to set for science research.

  28. #28 William
    August 11, 2010

    I attended the TEDxBoulder Conference expecting to hear new ideas, thoughts that broaden my perspective of the world, and to be inspired. Unfortunately, a few talks were not incredibly original or inspiring. On the other hand, Thad Roberts’ talk was definitely inspiring and thought-provoking. His ideas have broadened my perspective…

    I’m genuinely glad to hear that—how nice for you. While you’re here, perhaps you could also tell us a little bit about your recent Mediterranean cruise, show us some pictures of your beautiful grand kids, or go on at length about your trip to Target last weekend.

  29. #29 Setar
    August 11, 2010

    After having read the entirety of the article and all of the comments, I find it quite convenient that all of Roberts’ supporters have complained about the attacks on Roberts himself yet have not ONCE addressed the key sticking points that many of the “attackers” are also bringing up:
    1. That Roberts has seemingly not attempted to submit his “theory” to a scientific journal where it can undergo peer review.

    2. That Roberts has not provided any sort of mathematics or evidence to support his “theory”.

    Can any of Roberts’ supporters address these, or do I need to bring up his criminal record in order to get attention from them?

  30. #30 yogi-one
    August 12, 2010

    Thad Roberts, new-age guru du jour, has ARRIVED! Finally tired of forking over thousands of $$ to travel to exotic locations and paying the pricey ticket price for Deepak Chopra? No fear, now you can fork over your $1000s of $$ to Thad Roberts instead, who will propel you to the next level of enlightenment.

    What’s really unique is the way Thad totally reverses 500 years of the Copernican Revolution, in which the center of existence has gradually, as our knowledge has increased, moved away from the Earth to the Sun, to the galactic center to who-knows-where in the vastness of existence?

    Forget all that! We now know that at the Center of the Universe is none other than Thad Roberts himself! It really is all about Thad!

    Who needs traditional peer-reviewed journals anyway? Thad’s audience knows that Modern Science and Medicine is just a secret corporate conspiracy to kill the Soul of Man.

    Plus the guy has done serious jail-time. Dude, does that speak of cajones, or what?

    Not only that, but Thad gets the girls. He’s totally hot!

    And the horned-rimmed glasses crowd is worried about the science.

    Science? – come on, you nerds…there’s money to be made! And lots of it!

    Thad has the STARS in his eyes…
    Come on, Jedd, get that old Jalopy, we’re headed for the Hills…of Beverly that is, swimming pools…movie stars!
    We gots us a new Theory of The Universe, and the sky’s the limit!

    Hahahaha! Pass that bong over here! Meet us in Bali with all the STARZ at the big New Age Bazaar! $50 off the regular ticket price if you sign up six months ahead!

    Now Thad’s finally thinking like the Big Boys…this scam will be TOTALLY LEGAL! You can’t go wrong!

  31. #31 Kosal Heng
    August 12, 2010

    As a university professor, I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of new discoveries a few times in my professional career. A particular pattern emerges among thoughts, ideas, and theories that are of merit – specifically, crowds of support and opposition quickly arise. Having skimmed the dialogue above, it is evident that Mr. Roberts is a “mover” in the scientific world. I doubt that his theories would draw so much support and antagonism without the semblance of scientific progress. I salute someone that can openly admit mistakes and make an effort to contribute to this world in such a bold way. Perhaps all of the “haters” should focus their attention on something that actually deserves their negative attention; like child molesters, rapists, or people who sap off welfare. Comments about the potential of these ideas to make Mr. Roberts a buck or two are actually quite funny. Maybe those writing these comments are perturbed that someone who used to be sitting in Federal Prison is actually doing something with their time in this world – and making money not on welfare. Whenever conversations surrounding a potential scientific breakthrough turn into personal stabs – it becomes evident that jealousy is being worn by those making the stabs. Suggestion – make note of the world around you and come up with a scientific theory that trumps that of Mr. Roberts. Attempts to make him look bad in the above dialogue have only done the opposite in my professional opinion.
    To Discovery…….

  32. #32 Joseph
    August 12, 2010

    “A particular pattern emerges among thoughts, ideas, and theories that are of merit – specifically, crowds of support and opposition quickly arise.”

    Support and opposition arise everywhere, whether an idea is new or not, is valid or not, etc.

    “Having skimmed the dialogue above, it is evident that Mr. Roberts is a “mover” in the scientific world.”

    I don’t think so. Rather, he’s a move *outside* of the scientific world, but he has no published papers, no presentations at scientific conferences (this is the scientific world–papers, presentations, visits).

    “I doubt that his theories would draw so much support and antagonism without the semblance of scientific progress.”

    This is a logical fallacy. Assuming your argument that all progress is accompanied by conflict is completely valid, you’re making the argument that because there’s conflict, there’s progress. I.e. A => B; B is true, therefore A must be true.

  33. #33 Joseph
    August 12, 2010

    “make note of the world around you and come up with a scientific theory that trumps that of Mr. Roberts”

    One of the core problems here is that he doesn’t have a *hypothesis* let alone a theory. He has a set of assertions and nothing else.

  34. #34 Mu
    August 12, 2010

    At least we will learn if TR has learned from past mistakes and has arranged for his sock-puppets to speak through different proxies.

  35. #35 EJ
    August 14, 2010

    Science, as a way to approach understanding the natural world, and its methods have proved to be so productive that many people long for the credibility of science without actually doing science. It’s a problem you see. There’s this tedious education required. You have to learn stuff. It is terribly, terribly time consuming.

    And so there have always been people who desired the credibility of science, without the heavy lifting. It’s a helluva brand, science. So you get your equivalent of Gucci knock offs. Not that this is new. You’ve got your Christian Scientists, your Scientologists.

    If it is any comfort to the physics community, the biologists now have to endure this sort of hooey. Do a search for “Evolutionary Awakening” to open the flowing taps of ipecac.

    In a twisted way, the hijacking of scientific language is a compliment. Alas, it is on a par with having a jealous enemy who wants to eat your vital organs (brains for smarts, heart for courage) in the hopes of stealing your powers and as such, it is repellent on many levels.

  36. #36 Jonathan Hall
    October 10, 2010

    I am not a physicist. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Washington studying Neurobiology. However, I started at the University of Utah for my first two years of education, and there I met Thad Roberts. He was a graduate student and my TA for a general physics course. He actually made me, a biologist, love and appreciate physics. He also ran the observatory at the University of Utah. Every Wednesday night I would climb to the top of the Physics building and look at the stars in the freezing cold, and he would point out cool things to look at.

    Getting to the point: I have a very limited understanding of advanced physics. However, I just wanted to say that “EJ” is totally wrong. Thad IS (or was) getting a formal education in physics, at an actual university. To say he isn’t is an ad hominem attack.

    People complain about wasting time reviewing his theory- however they seem more than happy to waste their time pointing at things he did when he was younger. Looking at his website, it seems like he is working on publishing his theory in journals, while presumably still working on a graduate degree in Physics (unless he is done yet). Give the guy a break. He was invited to speak at a convention and he did so.

    Anyways, I actually met the guy and knew him for several months, so I thought I would come in and post a long post with little discussion on the science (did I mention I wasn’t a physicist?) about some positive things about his character. If this makes me a fanboy, so be it.

  37. #37 Jimmy, amateur scientist
    February 19, 2011

    Just because he made a mistake (and paid for it dearly) does not disqualify Thad Roberts from coming up with an original theory. Nobody is perfect, Einstein was a bad husband and father. For whatever it’s worth, this stuff makes sense because it is so simple, just like Einstein’s Relativity but without the math… It is up to the scientific community to accept it, dissect it and try to disprove it.

  38. #38 A Real Physicist
    July 9, 2011

    Umm… sorry to drag up a year-old post, but I also have known Thad – not for months, but for 15 YEARS. I was his physics TA back when his scamming was limited to: (1) stealing fossils from the Natural History museum, and (2) bragging about banging his ex-wife in one of the classrooms. Sorry to rain on everybody’s parade, but he was seriously mediocre even in introductory physics.

    Nowadays the guy is a complete crackpot. He’s an ongoing joke around the department (although I must admit that he is entertaining, which is why I’m here looking at this blog). I’m not sure who’s ass he kissed to get back into the department after his prison sentence, but he quickly flunked out again (within months of starting his first year of grad school). This is not surprising since he doesn’t seem to understand even basic mathematical concepts.

    His “theories” are not theories at all (“theory” means a detailed and careful explanation of some phenomenon – usually mathematical, and offering precise predictions or AT LEAST some solid qualitative predictions). As the real physicists correctly pointed out above (yes, I’m a REAL physicist), his ideas are totally void of content. There’s no “theory” there, so there’s nothing to prove or disprove. Don’t waste your money on his silly book. If you want some real science books for the masses, try Feynman’s stuff. Now THERE was a real physicist who had truly original ideas.

    Thad is as UNskilled as they come in the science game. His powers of self-promotion, however, are quite well-developed. In that respect I’m jealous of him. BTW, if he had taken some well-developed and correct theories (that have been developed by the big boys and girls) and then offered outreach material explaining it to the layman then I would applaud his efforts. Outreach = important. Crackpot contentless “theories” = waste of time (except for its laughable entertainment value).

  39. #39 scramton
    July 12, 2011

    This guy will be able to buy physics theories with the money he gets from his movie deal.

  40. #40 Jeff
    July 22, 2011

    To: A Real Physicist.

    Wow, you must really hate Thad.

  41. #41 VikingMoose
    February 1, 2012

    tedx…

    you mean these people:
    http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxIowaCity-Dr-Terry-Wahls-Min

    where she “cured her MS” using the paleo diet?

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