Crackpots in my inbox

Often people ask me why I’m not more open-minded about ideas that defy the scientific consensus. Maybe global warming is just a conspiracy? Maybe Bell’s theorem is in fact wrong? Maybe the EmDrive does provide thrust without using propellant? Maybe the E-Cat can make cold fusion? I mean, it is not logically impossible for some outsider to be correct while the entire scientific community is wrong. Wasn’t Galileo burned at the stake (sic) for defying the scientific consensus? Why should I then dismiss this nonsense outright, without reading it through and considering it carefully?

Well, for starters the scientific method has advanced a lot since the time of Galileo. Instead of asserting dogma we are busy looking at every tiny way experiment can deviate from theory. And if you do prove the theory wrong, you do not get burned at the stake (sic), but get a Nobel Prize (like the prize gave for the discovery of neutrino oscillations in 2015). So I’m naturally very suspicious of outsiders claiming to have found glaring mistakes in the theory.

But the real problem is the sheer amount of would-be Galileos incessantly spamming researchers about their revolutionary theories (despite not being exactly famous, I get to join the fun because they usually write to every academic email address they find online. I can only wonder how Stephen Hawking’s inbox looks like). It is already a lot of work to keep me up-to-date with the serious papers in my field. Imagine if I also had to read every email that proved Einstein wrong?

Without further ado, I’d like to illustrate this point by showing here the most entertaining crackpots that have spammed me:

Probably the most well-known is Gabor Fekete, who has a truly amazing website to expound his theories (don’t forget to press Ctrl or click with the right button of the mouse while you’re there! this used to show some hilarious gifs, but now it bans your IP from the website instead). Apparently he doesn’t like the square root in the Lorentz factor, and has a nice animation showing it being erased. If you do that I guess you’ll be able to explain all of physics with eight digits accuracy. He has recently taken to spoofing his emails to make it look like they were sent by Nobel laureates, probably thinking that his theories would be accepted if they came from a famous source. While the forgery itself was well-made (one needs to look carefully at the source code of the email to detect it), the content of the email kind of gives it away. Maybe if he had spend his time studying physics instead of the SMTP protocol…

Another persistent spammer is Sorin Cosofret, who started a newsletter about his theories to unwilling subscribers. They are about classical electromagnetism, relativity, quantum mechanics, planetary dynamics, cosmology, chemistry… apparently everything is wrong, but he knows how to correct it. He also has a website, that if not as flashy as Gabor Fekete’s, is at least available in Romenian, English, French, German, and Spanish.

A more aggressive one is stefan:sattler, who has a problem with the known laws of planetary mechanics, and wants the scientific community to help in publicising his “Sattler’s Law of planetary mechanics”. After sending 5 emails in one month he lost his patience, and gave us 48 hours to do it, threatening to publish all our names and email addresses if we don’t (you know, the name and email addresses that are publicly available). He told us

Go now and REPENT – go now and try to offer redemption for the guilt and responsibility you all have loaded upon your shoulders.

Time is ticking – you have 48 hours – the JUDGEMENTS ARE BEING WRITTEN RIGHT NOW…..

I haven’t heard from him since.

More recently, I got an email from an anonymous crackpot who maintains a prolific YouTube channel in Croatian dedicated to showing that the Earth is flat. It was entertaining to see that the crackpot sent me emails to both my University of Vienna address and to my University of Cologne address, each signed as a different person pretending to be interested in whether the videos were correct.

If you want to defy the scientific consensus, first study it for a few years. Then publish a peer-reviewed paper (Reputable journals do accept some pretty outlandish stuff). Then I’ll listen to you.

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55 Responses to Crackpots in my inbox

  1. David Brown says:

    “… would-be Galileos incessantly spamming …” All of my ideas on the foundations of physics might be crackpot rubbish except for this: MILGROM IS THE KEPLER OF CONTEMPORARY COSMOLOGY. Google “kroupa milgrom” and study the empirical evidence.

  2. Mateus Araújo says:

    Are you talking about Mordehai Milgrom, the father of MOND? He is clearly not a crackpot, as he has actually studied physics and publishes peer-reviewed papers in reputable journals.

    This does not mean, of course, that MOND is right. My opinion is that it is not, due to its ad-hoc nature and difficulty with the Bullet Cluster.

  3. David Brown says:

    Consider 3 questions: Is Milgrom the Kepler of contemporary cosmology? What is relativistic MOND? What is the meaning of MOND in terms of the foundations of physics? I suggest that MOND is empirically valid beyond a reasonable doubt (at least in the domain of its applicability). My point of view can be found by googling “witten milgrom”.

  4. Mateus Araújo says:

    David, you can simply post a link, there is no need to tell people to search stuff. As for your questions, maybe you should answer them yourself.

  5. David Brown says:

    I have attempted to answer the 3 questions but I might be on the wrong track. I welcome any criticisms — no matter how harsh and sarcastic — of the following:
    Consider 3 conjectures: (1) Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology, and the empirical validity of Milgrom’s MOdified Newtonian Dynamics (MOND) requires a modification of Einstein’s field equations. (2) The Koide formula suggests that there might be a modification of Einstein’s field equations. (3) Lestone’s heuristic string theory suggests that there might be a modification of Einstein’s field equations. Are (2) and (3) sure bets? No. Is (1) a sure bet? I say yes. I suggest that there might be 3 possible modifications of Einstein’s field equations. Consider Einstein’s field equations: R(mu,nu) + (-1/2) * g(mu,nu) * R = – κ * T(mu,nu) – Λ * g(mu,nu) — what might be wrong? Consider the possible correction R(mu,nu) + (-1/2 + dark-matter-compensation-constant) * g(mu,nu) * R * (1 – (R(min) / R)^2)^(1/2) = – κ * (T(mu,nu) / equivalence-principle-failure-factor) – Λ * g(mu,nu), where equivalence-principle-failure-factor = (1 – (T(mu,nu)/T(max))^2)^(1/2) — if dark-matter-compensation-constant = 0, R(min) = 0, and T(max) = +∞ then Einstein’s field equations are recovered. by Pavel Kroupa, Marcel Pawlowski, and Mordehai Milgrom. “The failures of the standard model of cosmology require a new paradigm.” International Journal of Modern Physics D 21.14 (2012): 1230003. Mordehai (Moti) Milgrom, Weizmann Institute of Science “Physics based calculation of the fine structure constant” by John P. Lestone, 2009 Los Alamos Report LA-UR-16-27659 “Semi-classical Electrodynamics: A Short Note” by John Paul Lestone, issued 2016-10-05
    …” J. P. Lestone, “Possible path for the calculation of the fine structure constant”, Los Alamos Report LA-UR-16-22121, April 2016, Los Alamos National Laboratory

  6. Mateus Araújo says:

    If you are interested in criticism, I would recommend you to write defend your point clearly and concisely. You have written so weirdly and posted so many links that it is difficult to understand what are you trying to say. Also, if you want to write equations you can just use LaTeX, using the normal \$ signs.

  7. David Brown says:

    I have several points. First point: Milgrom’s MOND is either empirically invalid or an immense paradigm-changing achievement. If MOND were empirically invalid then there is no way whatsoever that MIlgrom could have convinced McGaugh & Kroupa. Second point: the Koide formula is either a meaningless coincidence or a powerful clue that square -root(mass) has some profound, undiscovered meaning in terms of the foundations of physics. Third point: Lestone’s theory of virtual cross sections is either a misguided attempt at extrapolating intuitions on nuclear fission or an immense paradigm-changing understanding of the value of the fine structure constant and other aspects of the Standard Model. Fourth point: I might be wrong on the Koide formula & Lestone’s heuristic string theory, but I not wrong about MOND — there is too much evidence in favor of MOND — Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology. Fifth point: Motl is correct when he says that I am incompetent physicist — maybe my ideas about the Fredkin-Wolfram network, the Wolframian updating parameter, Wolframian pseudo-supersymmetry, the monster group, the 6 pariah groups, 3 copies of the Leech lattice, and so on are complete rubbish — for every Galileo there are perhaps a million crackpots. Thanks for allowing me my spam session of crackpottery.

  8. Renzo Campanella says:

    Actually, Galileo wasn’t burned at the stake; probably you refer to Giordano Bruno. Galileo was forced to recant his theory on the solar system instead. Last remark: he was not defying the scientific consensus: at the time of Galileo, Copernicus theory had already been published and Kepler’s laws were already known. It was the Church’s belief that Galileo was defying.

  9. Mateus Araújo says:

    I know that Galileo wasn’t burned at the stake, that’s why I was putting “(sic)” in the end of the sentence. I was just being humorous.

    But he wasn’t just forced to denounce his theory, he was also sentenced to house arrest. And geocentrism was pretty much the scientific consensus at that time, there were only a few scientists researching alternatives to it.

  10. Acumentate says:

    Theory suffering a weak postulate (e.g. Euclid to Bolyai to Thurston) with derivation excluding external observation will be safely wrong forever. Non-classical gravitation, dark matter, and SUSY share common mode failure specifying fruitful observation. One hour, commercial equipment, 40,000:1 signal to noise.
    … The worst it can do is succeed, healing everything. Look.

  11. Mateus Araújo says:

    The .pdf you linked to is password-protected.

  12. Acumentate says:

    Update your Adobe Reader. The file can be read and printed but not extracted or altered. In short: If you want baryogenesis you cannot escape Sakharov conditions – trace chiral anisotropic vacuum, a trace vacuum left foot (e.g., Einstein-Cartan spacetime torsion). Extreme chiral-divergent molecules, enantiomers, will embed with trace different energies – opposite shoes on a left foot.

    They will have trace non-identical rotational spectra. offers superlative chirped-pulse microwave spectrometers. Everything else is synthesis, optimization, and transition line internal self-calibration. Be clever when claiming the impossible is trivially observable.

    Sourcing baryogenesis with chiral anisotropic vacuum requires abandoning “beauty” and “naturalness” for matrices like landfills. I’m not the guy who writes theory. Thanks for getting back to me.

  13. Mateus Araújo says:

    I don’t use Acrobat Reader (it doesn’t even run on Linux), I use Evince. But in any case, I think it is counterproductive to make your file hard to read if you want it to be read.

  14. Acumentate says:

    I’ll send you an amusement to occupy slow moments. We’ll call it glorp.pdf.

  15. Critic says:

    …And if you do prove the theory wrong, you do not get burned at the stake (sic), but get a Nobel Prize …

    I don’t believe it. See for example what happened to Dingle. Modern inquisition is very dangerous.

    It is obvious (and it is also experimentally verified) that the modern physics is completely wrong but it is impossible to do anything against false teaching.

  16. Mateus Araújo says:

    I don’t know, what happened to Dingle?

    And what precisely is obviously wrong with modern physics, that has been experimentally verified? I’m aware of no such thing.

  17. Franco Gaspari says:

    Thank you for this. I am one of those bombarded by the first two you mentioned and wanted to vent somewhere. You did it for me.

  18. Mateus Araújo says:

    I’m glad to hear that. You’re welcome.

  19. Critic says:

    Maybe you should first read “Science at the Crossroads” (H. Dingle 1972)?

    H. Dingle wrote: “The theory [special relativity] unavoidably requires that A works more slowly than B and B more slowly than A –which it requires no super-intelligence to see is impossible.”

  20. Indeed, it requires no super-intelligence to see that it is impossible, it requires stupidity to confuse the counter-intuitiveness of the Lorentz transform with a logical contradiction.

    But Herbert Dingle was not quite burned at the stake, was he? Instead several scientists patiently tried to teach him relativity, and he refused to learn.

  21. Critic says:

    What do you think about Prof. Santilli?

  22. Gabor Fekete says:

    Hi Cretin,

    I already wrote you into your [removed] and [removed] mailboxes that remove the content below from your idiot website and then I will stopped the attacks against your site. I have been seen you applied new Captcha and multiple cookies. I already wrote a new PHP script for it. You receive from me TWO HOURS to do it!!!!

    (don’t forget to press Ctrl or click with the right button of the mouse while you’re there!).

  23. Mateus Araújo says:

    Dear Gabor Fekete,

    Thanks for finally making contact. I haven’t received any email from you. Your gifs are really great, it’s a shame that right-clicking and pressing Ctrl don’t show them anymore.

    You can spam me as much as you want, I’m not removing anything.

  24. Daniel says:

    Indeed, it requires no super-intelligence to see that it is impossible, it requires stupidity to confuse the counter-intuitiveness of the Lorentz transform with a logical contradiction.

    Maybe you are not able to see logical contradiction in the simple case as:

    Clock A goes slower than the clock B, and at the same time the clock B goes slower than the clock A.

    If you think it is possible than you have a serious problem.

    Kind Regards

  25. Mateus Araújo says:

    It is actually a rather simple effect, that you can understand if you try to, instead of holding yourself to conspiracy theories.

    You have two trains moving towards eachother at 100 km/h with respect to the ground, so with respect to eachother 200 km/h. The situation is completely symmetric, so what happens in train B from the point of view of train A must be the same as what happens in train A from the point of view of train B.

    And what happens? From the point of view of train A everything in train B is moving the way they do inside the wagon plus the movement due to the 200 km/h relative speed, so they move greater distances. But the experimental fact is, light always moves at the same speed, independently of your point of view. How then can light move a greater distance at the same speed? Well, only if it has more time to do so. That’s time dilation.

  26. Daniel says:

    But the experimental fact is, light always moves at the same speed, independently of your point of view.

    Can you name an experiment in which the speed of light was measured that was not carried out in the same reference frame on the Earth? There is no such experiment. All experiments are just repetitions of the Michelson-Morley experiment. How can you conclude from a single experiment that you will always measure the same speed of light in all reference frames? That is impossible.

  27. Mateus Araújo says:

    Can you name an experiment where the speed of light was not found to be the same? Is there any theory that can handle the null result in the Michelson-Morley experiment without assuming that the speed of light is the same in all reference frames?

    And actually, there is an experiment that is precisely about time dilation in two different reference frames: synchronization of clocks in the GPS satellites.

  28. Daniel says:

    Can you name an experiment where the speed of light was not found to be the same?

    Of course there are many experiments where the speed of light is not the same. For example Sagnac experiment, Michelson-Gale experiment, Sagnac correction in GPS etc.

    According to Special Theory of Relativity, time dilation must be symmetrical (as mentioned above), but that is not the case.

  29. Mateus Araújo says:

    Of course there are many experiments where the speed of light is not the same. For example Sagnac experiment, Michelson-Gale experiment, Sagnac correction in GPS etc.

    A bald-faced lie.

    According to Special Theory of Relativity, time dilation must be symmetrical (as mentioned above), but that is not the case.

    Again a bald-faced lie. I’m no longer allowing comments from you.

  30. Maciej says:

    Amazing to see a number of crackpots starting discussions under a post about crackpots. Some people really have too much time on their hands! And even more of them don’t even try to understand physics. I have no problem with that, as long as they don’t try to disprove something they don’t have much idea about.

    I just accidentally found your entry after googling for Sorin Cosofret, who has just today spammed my inbox about the Hubble law (which he clearly doesn’t understand).

    Quite a while ago I also had issues with Fekete, but unfortunately I’m not finding his emails any more in my spam…

  31. Mateus Araújo says:

    Yeah, apart from the recent attacks on my blog I haven’t heard from Fekete. It’s a shame, his emails were quite entertaining.

    Sorin Cosofret, on the other hand, hasn’t stopped sending emails since I posted this entry on my blog more than two years ago. He does seem to be getting angry, though. In the latest email he wrote this about the people who unsubscribe from his newsletter:

    Do not worry though! It is important to highlight that anyone wish has to be respected, but on the other hand there are going to be clear rules and consequences for such cases. For at least a decade, those who have chosen to unsubscribed, they are not allowed to come back and work for this new theory. The rules are going to be even harsher for those who declared this new theory spam or took other actions against it.

    I supposed I’ll suffer the even harsher consequences.

  32. Enjoyed this post. I recommend all would-be overthrowers of modern physics to begin by studying John Baez’ Crackpot Index:

  33. Julien says:

    I come back here time and time again as I get a Cosofret email in my inbox. Superb post, and superb series of comments below the post that illustrate the point nicely.

  34. Mateus Araújo says:

    Thanks for your comment, Julian.

    Cosofret is still going strong. Just this week I got an email from him containing a hilarious “Corollary”: Gases and plasma cannot be accelerated by gravitational fields.

  35. Keshav says:

    This is hilarious! I’ve been getting spammed by Sorin Cosofret for the past years. So I decided to google him and put a face on him before I unsubscribed (which I did I think .. ?!!??)

    Because… I attend a number of European research events in Brussels which are free and there’s always this one old guy with a big white beard who asks out of context and crazy questions. For example in a robotics event, he’ll ask why the Copernicus program ended up costing so much or some related rambling… Is this Sorin Cosofret?

  36. Mateus Araújo says:

    I have no idea, I’ve never met him in real life, I only get his emails.

  37. Diego Martínez Martínez says:


    as somebody posted previously, I discovered this entry after receiving e-mails from Cosofret. I am not a physicist, but it is amazing to see how people that do not really understand the ‘grounds’ create these amounts of strange ideas. They have a lot of (too much?) free time, I guess.
    I have had several discussions in webs with people that said that water is a combustible, but hidden due to some strange conspiracy theories. As a chemist, I was trying to explain why that is not possible, but unsuccessfully.

    Stay safe!

  38. Mateus Araújo says:

    Clearly you’re part of the conspiracy!

  39. Mateus Araújo says:

    But no, too much free time is not the explanation for their behaviour. I know a couple of crackpots personally, and they actually sacrificed a lot to pursue their crazy theories.

    How would you act you knew, you were absolutely certain, that water actually is combustible, and the whole world ignored this basic truth that would revolutionise our society? I think their behaviour is perfectly rational, given such a belief.

    The problem, of course, is that the belief is incorrect. For me, the essential characteristic of the crackpot is that they are unable to correct their mistakes.

    We see similar behaviour with religious people. I think it’s really a bug in the human brain that we have a tendency to form deep beliefs that are beyond the reach of facts or reason.

  40. David Jackson says:

    I am a crackpot I accept that and I have a crackpot theory. The trouble is that I have supported the theory with mathematics( I am a retired engineer who worked for many years with physicists) and I cant find a fatal flaw. Neither can four physicists (each with a PhD) and a mathematical modelling chemist professor from a major university. All believe, like me (I am a good engineer but no Einstein) that there must be a flaw, but we can’t identify it. So I need to publish to a wider group and the errors will emerge. If there are no errors then the world really is flat. Peer review would be lovely , but no independent reviewer will ‘waste time’ doing that.
    My situation is that
    1) I have as far as possible studied the status quo, Attended many lectures and conferences , bought many expensive books and spent hour upon hour on the internet
    So I am at least up to 1st year undergrad in the subject.
    2) I am very happy to learn from experts
    3) I would propose nothing that can’t be supported by mathematics
    4) I did not deviate one iota from Newtonian physics
    Any suggestions as to where I go from here it is extremely frustrating?

  41. Mateus Araújo says:

    It depends on why you’re certain that there must be a flaw. If you’re contradicting basic physics, such as violating conservation of energy, the second law of thermodynamics, or special relativity, then don’t bother. Nobody will waste their time trying to find the precise mistake.

    Otherwise, you could try contacting some phycisist that works in the field. An impessoal email sent to lots of people is bound to fail, but a couple of times people have contacted me personally about their theories that were indeed in my field (specifically quantum computing and Bell inequalities), and I did take the time to explain why it didn’t work.

    If still nobody can find a flaw, well try going for peer-review. It sounds as if you gave up without even trying.

  42. Sarah Bosman says:

    Sorin Cosofret’s theories are particularly sad, as he does clearly understand basic physics. His mistakes are always different and sometimes subtle. I spotted in the few newsletters I read: using the wrong units in calculations, forgetting factors in equations, misinterpreting terms in popular articles.

    These are mistakes we could all have made during our undergrad scientific training. But rather than digging to find the errors and self-correcting, he always blames Modern Science for being run by idiots. It’s staggering.

  43. Max says:

    Dear Mateus Araújo,

    thank you for your post! For years, I get this spam in my inbox with all kinds of abstruse and grotesque theories. For a long time I ignored the mails and deleted them directly. Today it came over me and I read one – for whatever reason I had to waste my lifetime with it.
    While reading, it, I vacillated between unbelief, despair and anger about how much one can overestimate oneself. For Sorin, there is probably not the slightest doubt that his ideas could contain even small mistakes (in truth, they are mistakes that contain truths that are hard to find).

    So I had to google his name and came across your post, which has now added value to my wasted lifetime, thank you very much!

    Years ago we had once had experiences with people from this “gang”. In a questionable journal a theory was put forward that was unfounded and simply untrue. A colleague who made his Ph.D. in this field then saw it as his task to write a counter statement. In doing so, he put together a very well-founded review on the topic and published it (in a proper journal). A few weeks later, scientists who had worked with him received threatening mails saying they should immediately stop working with him or it would have consequences for their careers… I don’t want to mention any names here, but it should be said: All these crackpots are not to be surpassed in dubiousness. Just in times of QAnon we experience which movements can arise, if populist topics are treated or rather mistreated like this.

    Many greetings

  44. Stefan Hagel says:

    Thanks from another Coșofreț spam victim who finally googled the name, in a time of wavering confidence that society generally would recognise insanity from its literary style alone.

  45. I used to receive emails from an Argentinian crackpot related with UFOs and… everything, that includes vaccines, homosexuality (more or less homophobic) and politics. I never answered any of the emails because I think that silence is more painful than a harsh discussion. After receiving one or two emails per week for many years he eventually gave up. Until very recently when he started again about some conspiracy, imagine about what?, COVID-19 of course. But the weirdest crackpot is somebody who steals somebody’s else identity, generally a Nobel Prize winner. First time I read the whole email, very astonished because of the low level English used until I understood the scam. I then tracked the mail and found it was sent from the University where the real Nobel Prize winner works. Very ugly.

  46. Mateus Araújo says:

    Are you talking about Gabor Fekete? The emails weren’t actually sent from the University the Nobel Prize winner works, the crackpot used a clever spoofing mechanism to do that. He set up his computer as an email relay, and “relayed” an email from the actual University. Thing is, the recipient cannot check where the email actually came from originally, it just takes the relay’s word it. Unless, of course, the original sender and recipient use some authentication protocol such as SPF.

  47. Gabor Fekete says:

    Hi Top Cretin,

    I never used my computer for email campaign. I am not idiot that my IP address be visible in the email header. I used web hostings with open port 25 and runned on those automated PHP script which sent the emails with spoofed headers. I haven’t time sending emails, therefore the PHP script was called by CronJobs, due to possible server downtime. Also I never used any University’s SMTP server. This is completely nonsense. Or you know anyone who can do this?
    Now you can try press Ctrl key or click with right button of the mouse on my web site!
    IP address of all idiots whose come to my web site from your balshit topic, immadiately will be banned. You never read my work, just you plunder your balshits.

    Fuck you your mother spanish dickhead!

  48. Mateus Araújo says:

    Dear Gabor Fekete,

    I’m glad to hear from you again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of your spam, I was getting worried that the pandemic might have taken you. Of course, the idea that you might have come to your senses didn’t cross my mind.

    I appreciate the detailed explanation of how you have done your spamming and identity theft. Do you realize you have just admitted to committing multiple crimes?

  49. Gabor Fekete says:

    You are a total plan moron.
    Was a procedure againts me at the hungarian police in this matter in 2017.
    The procedure was ended still in that year. The reult was: NOT HAPPENED CRIME!
    The email campaing is still always in progress only your email address is cast out to the shit.

    FUCK YOU YOUR MUTHER BRUTE IDIOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  50. Mateus Araújo says:

    So you actually got into trouble with the police? That’s hilarious!

    In any case, thank you very much for not sending me more spam.

  51. Hello Mateus. I followed your advice and right-clicked on Gabor Fekete’s website, which I’d never visited before. For this action I received notice that I was banned for “misusing the site,” though I only intended to see what right-clicking would do, since you mentioned it. Later I read the comments on this blog post, and found out that right-clicking used to show gifs, and now it bans users, a change made my Fekete as a reaction to your post. Frankly, I am disappointed not to be able to examine his site more thoroughly, and am writing to ask you to please at least post a _warning_ with your advice, about the current consequences of following it.

    By the way – not that this should make any difference – I am the Editor of The Feynman Lectures on Physics New Millennium Edition, and publisher of the online edition of same hosted by Caltech at

  52. Mateus Araújo says:

    Dear Michael,

    Sorry about that, I’ve included a warning now. Thanks for your work with the Feynman Lectures, by the way, it’s very useful to have them online.

  53. You’re welcome for the online edition of FLP!

    For a period of about 2 years I had a copy of Feynman’s filing cabinets in my house, and I read a lot of his correspondence, some of which can now be found in Michelle Feynman’s collection, “Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Path.” There was quite a lot of mail from people one might label “crackpots,” and reading Feynman’s responses was very instructive to me later, when I became editor of FLP (with a public email address) and continued to receive such mail as Feynman’s proxy. In many cases, Feynman instructed his secretary (Helen Tuck – also Murray Gell-Mann’s secretary) to respond with a stock response: “I can make neither heads nor tails of what you have written. Heads = Tails. Sincerely, Richard Feynman” When they sent things to him (often privately printed publications) he usually sent them back with no written response. However, interestingly, once in a while, he would see something he liked in one of these letters. There is one example given in Michelle’s book (pp. 378-379), Feynman’s response to Bernard Hanft who believed he had discovered a new force of nature (that he modestly called “Hanft Force”). Along with his letter he sent a little kit for Feynman to perform an experiment – a washer with a thread attached to it – that would demonstrate to him this force in action! Feynman loved that. The guy actually had experimental evidence and sent it to him. Even though the evidence was questionable, this was at least something along the lines of Science, not just idle speculation! So Feynman wrote him a very nice response.

  54. Rich Downey says:

    You said “We see similar behaviour with religious people. I think it’s really a bug in the human brain that we have a tendency to form deep beliefs that are beyond the reach of facts or reason.”

    That’s a feature, not a bug. We wouldn’t have love if we couldn’t “form deep beliefs that are beyond the reach of facts or reason.” Imagine if we decided rationally how much effort to put into relationships. Would we really put up with years of diapers and tantrums in the hopes that child-rearing would pay off? Would we stay with an imperfect spouse through thick and thin? Would we fight alongside our brothers in arms to win the war? Any human society lacking the ability to form unreasonable beliefs wouldn’t survive long.

  55. Mateus Araújo says:

    I did put up with years of diapers and tantrums, and I did stay with my spouse through thick and thin. I think it was perfectly rational to do so, there’s no need for unreasonable beliefs to love.

    Perhaps if you do need to be beyond facts and reason to stay with your spouse you are making excuses for a wife beater? Or if you need to stop your brain from working to fight for your country you are fighting for the Nazis?

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