Talk:Eric Laithwaite

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Gyroscope controversy[edit]

Criticism has been made against this article for many years now. As others has pointed out, no attempt seems to be made (in this article) to explain the phenomena that puzzled Laithwaite. It is not very scientific to turn someone off as fools and do no attempt to show what was wrong about their ideas. In respect for people who cannot defend themselves, and in Wiki's interest to be regarded as a serious technical reference, this article should be rewritten ASAP: Remove statements in either direction that cannot be proved in this article or through links to other articles.Geiroves (talk) 08:32, 7 May 2010 (UTC)

No; that is a ridiculous point of view. If a layman were to have made the same claims as Laithwaite, he would have been laughed at, or ignored. The fact that Laithwaite possessed all of the trappings of academia might seem to argue that he should have been listened to. However, the correct logical conclusion is that Laithwaite should never have held his position in the first place. I would suggest that the fact that he did can be traced to extraneous factors. Firstly, the shortage of manpower after WW2. Secondly, his ability to con research funds out of businessmen. Thirdly, even his crackpot views did not dismay the syndics of Imperial College because - above a certain institutional level - the attitude is the familiar, but non-academic, one that, "there is no such thing as bad publicity". — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:00, 21 November 2011 (UTC)

Look, all that one has to know about gyroscopes is that all of the forces involved act in the form of couples. They will never produce reactionless propulsion. The only anomalous interaction of gyroscopes with gravity occurs at very high spin-rates; so high that any known material will fly apart. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 11:12, 21 November 2011 (UTC)

This article is getting a bit POV now. A patent number for the patent would be a good start in remedying this. Cutler 23:59, Nov 18, 2004 (UTC)

Looks like this was already remedied. DFH 19:37:17, 2005-09-08 (UTC)

The section which says "Rather than disproving his theories, the scientific establishment ridiculed and turned its back on him." needs to be made less POV. It seems to have been put in by someone (Glennturner) who is sympathetic to Laithwaite's theory. The fact of the matter is probably that no physicist wanted to be tainted by getting involved in an irrational debate, or seen to be wasting their time by refuting Laithwaite. This is a common occurrence, particularly with more complex bits of physics like in the case of "anti-relativity" theories. I guess I should ask -- does anyone who is currently helping with this article believe that Laithwaite was correct? I don't want to offend anyone... Theoh 23:38, 14 March 2006 (UTC)

Well the way you put it looks a bit POV the other way. It was never really likely that Laithwaite was right and I don't think that there is any serious body of opinion that says he was. However the scientific establishment is worthy of some censure as rather than investigate and explain his results they said that they "could not be true". Thus, physics graduates like myself still don't know what his error was. I admit that it is almost certainly very technical and not very interesting but it is frustrating that the phenomena of real gyroscopes seem underdocumented and there's no general reference. Perhaps they were "embarassed" but what has emotion to do with reason? Laithwaite was defeated by consensus rather than reason. I'm cool about that but it does reflect on those who insist that science proceeds by logic not politics. Laithwaite's later championing of the theories smells pathological. I think that the tone of the article should be "Laithwaite was barking but the establishment fell short of its own standards of scientific method". Cutler 00:45, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
I don't know if the Royal Institution actually behaved badly at the time. I have watched the video of his lecture and there is nothing to see. It is just a man making a fool of himself through his lack of understanding of or intuition about how gyroscopes behave. Embarrassing, yes. Not very technical at all. The point is really that there is nothing new to be explained, here. BTW, there is of course a reference about gyroscopes. I'm not claiming to be an expert on the literature -- I just found this out from google -- but apparently the classic text on the gyroscope is a four-volume book by Felix Klein and Arnold Sommerfeld, written in the 1890s. Theoh 02:24, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
Well done for reseach on reference. If you've read any 19th century physics books you'll know how intractible they are to the modern student. I've been trying to get some specific account of the controversy into this article. I did have an exchange with User:Cleon Teunissen who appeared to know more than me about gyroscopes but he admitted to not understanding the technical issues User talk:Cutler#Laithwaite and gyroscopes. Seems like a good encyclopedia article here would be valuable. Cutler 10:49, 15 March 2006 (UTC)
The current Wikipedia article on the gyroscope could have better explanation, it's true. A graphic explanation showing addition of angular momentum bivectors (pseudovectors) might help people with their intuition. Incidentally, the only difference between "fast" and "slow" tops is how much of a change in the axis of rotation is needed to produce a certain rate of precession. In a fast top the angle is so small that it is easy to overlook, resulting in a false mental model of what's going on. The common feature of all Laithwaite's more elaborate demonstrations is that they involve more or less complex kinematic constraints on the gyroscope -- various different balance arms and articulated joints. He seems to be unable to reason properly about how these constraints affect the system of forces when the gyroscope is allowed to precess. I don't think it's worth trying to understand the more complex devices, but everything in the RI lecture is straightforward. His simplest demonstration, of lifting a spinning gyroscope more easily than a stopped one, is just a question of precession removing the torque he would otherwise have to supply to support the moment of the gyroscope. This is a REALLY obvious one, to the extent that websites for kids discuss it: [1].
It would be good to go back to the more neutral language of an earlier version of the paragraph. [[2]]. Theoh 17:28, 15 March 2006 (UTC)

"Website for kids" is from Cambridge Unversity: Does not explain the dissapearing torque: "There was a famous Professor Laithwaite who used to demonstrate this effect and claim that gyroscopes were anti-gravity devices because you could pick them up more easily when they were spinning. (Sadly, he died before he could make his first space ship propelled by his anti-gravity gyroscopes!)

In fact, of course, there is no "anti-gravity effect" due to gyroscopes. Using your understanding of couples and gyroscopes, can you explain what's going on here?"

OK. It sounds like you understand the issues but we could do with a careful explanation in this article. Cutler 20:30, 15 March 2006 (UTC)

I came to this article looking for a modern explanation of the phenomenon Laithwaite demonstrated. (I saw him once do the 50lb bicycle wheel in person). The article doesn't cover the topic at all. Only among these comments does one find links to "websites for kids" that look promising. Was Laithwaite right or wrong? If wrong, what was his mistake? If the jury is out, to the extent that this is a debate between POVs, what are the cases to be made in either direction? David Colver 12:22, 26 March 2006 (UTC)

I agree that the article needs to be edited to include these matters. Cutler 19:37, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
The experiment that caused the RIGB to give up on Laithwaite was apparently an "anti-gravity machine" that he demonstrated to them in 1974. It was a box containing two gyroscopes and a reciprocating mechanism that supposedly produced upward impulses that were stronger than the downward impulses. He used a set of kitchen scales to demonstrate the apparent loss of weight. Most people know from experience that you can make kitchen scales read wildly different weights by applying a suitable force/time profile, so I suspect that this was the source of his error. Many "anti-gravity" machines that work cyclically rely on the difficulty of weighing something that's jumping up and down. My reference is this page, which contains an interesting mixture of articles on the demonstration. I quote from the New Scientist article at the end: "his anti-gravity machine weighed to within half a pound of the upper limit of the scales (where there was a mechanical stop)". You get the idea. --Heron 21:02, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
I had already added a link to that page in a previous edit. I sort of agree with Cutler that it would be good to completely explain Laithwaite's error in the article. However, I believe the only rigorous scientific way to do this is to explain the results each of his demonstrations (there are several types) with conventional mechanics. This would be an interesting exercise for some physics or maths undergrad, but is surely beyond the scope of the article. It also skirts a bit close to "original research" -- although it would use only known classical mechanics, it would be an "original analysis" which I think is pushing it.
David Colver -- "What was his mistake?" doesn't have a neat answer. His theory was incoherent, based on analogies and intuition, rather than rigorous empirical analysis. He made various different errors in interpreting his experiments, and he didn't ask any more competent people for help before jumping to conclusions and making a very bold and potentially embarassing presentation of his ideas. The one word answer is "hubris". Theoh 12:22, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

Could one at least explain why a rotating item is easier to lift than the same thing stationery? That may be nothing remarkable for a gyroscope, but for someone who saw Laithwaite's demo and knew nothing more about the subject, it is an object of curiosity. David Colver 11:00, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

10 years on from that comment and no explanation. The reason given by scientists is that there is no gravitational torque: Here is a prof at Sydney University But that doesn't make sense to me. Just because a new torque occurs, the first one should not disappear they should add.

I recall watching Laithwaite avidly in his teens - 'able communicator' doesn't even come close to summing up the compelling presence he had on camera! However, I recall that when he made the announcement about gyroscopes being capable of providing a propulsion system, he claimed that there existed a simple experiment that could be performed in space to test whether he was right or wrong. Does anyone have details of this experiment? Was it ever performed? That would have been the acid test surely - if his experiment failed when tried, he'd have to go back to the drawing board. if anyone has the appropriate TV series on videotape, could they please hunt this down and make sure that my memory isn't letting me down? Only it might go some way toward clearing some of the controversy here if [1] that footage is still in circulation, and [2] there exists a web site containing that footage that can be linked to in the article.

I'm reminded here of a 'quote' from the science fiction works of James Blish - in Cities In Flight, Blish has two of his protagonists discussing scientific theories, and one (the character named Giuseppe Corsi) says:

  • "Oh, how about gravity? I don't know any other subject that's attracted a greater quota of idiot speculations. Yet the acceptable theories of what gravity is are of no practical use to us. They can't be put to work to help lift a spaceship." (They Shall Have Stars, page 17, taken from the single volume set of Cities In Flight, published by Arrow Books, ISBN 0099264404)

Was Laithwaite caught in the same trap? It's tempting to suggest that our continued use of rockets to send material into space means that Laithwaite's ideas on using gyroscopes to defeat gravity were somewhat wide of the mark. However, like several other contributors to this talk page above, it would be nice to have at least a link to an analysis of why Laithwaite was wrong. The NASA page link is broken - and NASA has yet to fix the break (it's at their end).

There was a long correspondence conducted between Laithwaite and a critic in the letters pages of New Scientist. They argued each other to a standstill. As far as I recall Laithwaite managed to get the other guy to acknowledge one mistake in his (the critic's) argument, but other than that it was a standoff. It wasn't particularly interesting, but it did seem to illustrate that Laithwaite was capable of holding his own when it came to technical arguments about gyroscopes, or at least, was rather more proficient than some of his critics gave him credit for. There's a tendency for some physicists to write off Laithwaite as a simple "oily-rag" engineer famous for the linear motor work who came a cropper when he changed disciplines. But Laithwaite described himself as a topologist, and ascribed his success on the linear motor problems to his ability to see that aspects of established teaching on the theory of electric motors weren't credible because they weren't topologically consistent. So while we may tend to see his jump from electric motors to gyroscopes as a large jump between different disciplines, if we take Laithwaite's description of himself as a topologist seriously, it would have been an entirely logical move.
The "topology" theme may also explain why he seemed to take criticisms that his work "defied Newton" with some disdain. Textbook Newtonian mechanics was not topologically consistent in its approach to rotating-body problems, it said that we were supposed to use the inertial observer's data, but weren't supposed to try to describe things from the point of view of the rotating frame, because this "mind-flip" didn't work. To a topologist, the way you check if a theory is consistent is by turning the problem inside out and back to front, and checking that you get the same predictions each way. Textbook Newtonian mechanics didn't apply the principle of relativity to rotation, and failed the topology test. We didn't have a workable, consistent-looking theory of what happened when masses rotated with respect to each other until Einstein's general theory of 1915/1916, and even that might have some problems, so when people say that the full mathematics for gyroscope theory were definitively worked out in the C19th, this suggests that the theory may have been complete, but ought to also be wrong in at least some respects. If we had had an incomplete theory back then, it might have been salvageable or updatable ... but if we had a complete theory back then, with all the gaps filled in, then, logically, that theory ought to be wrong. We may hope that it was a fairly good first approximation, but we can't prove this until we know what the more exact replacement equations are, and one of the things that seemed to make Laithwaite livid was the idea that we still didn't seem to have a decent set of topologically consistent equations, and that nobody seemed to be particularly bothered about this. From his point of view, he was being criticised for disagreeing with a theory that couldn't be right, and his critics were claiming that it couldn't be wrong, even though Mach and Einstein had already argued that at least some of the basic assumptions of that model were not correct.
So there was an impasse. Laithwaite's critics tended to think that the guy was just an ignorant engineer who couldn't do theory, and he in turn he seemed to regard them as a bunch of dumb over-trained academics who could only calculate and couldn't think for themselves. His previous way of winning arguments with these sorts of people had been to forget about trying to argue with them, and to go out and build something that their treasured textbooks had said was impossible, and then shove it under their noses. He seemed to get a lot of pleasure from doing this with motor design, and I suspect that his approach to the linear motor work may have been to try and list the "laws" that he'd been taught and didn't like, and then to try to violate as many of them as possible in a single piece of equipment. That worked very well for him in his "electric motor" work, but was obviously not so successful with his tinkering with gyros. ErkDemon 23:20, 25 February 2007 (UTC)
I visited Eric Laithwaite several times at U. Sussex in the early 1990s and believe I can shed some light on his involvement with gyroscopes, but because this is anecdotal it is not suitable for the main page. (I hold a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge.) EL continued to question the Newtonian analysis of gyroscopes, and his simplest demo was a gyroscope precessing with its axis describing an inverted cone; the apex of the cone was on a flat glass surface, and the end of the gyroscope axis that made contact with the glass had been sharpened to a very fine point. EL asserted that friction should cause the point of contact to move on the glass surface. I did an analysis involving the coefficient of friction of the materials which showed that the effect was not greatly beyond what friction could account for, and suggested that the sharp point of the gyroscope axis, rotating as it was, bored a microscopic pit in the glass, in which it then rested stably. EL did not accept this. I also asked him what was wrong with the theoretical Newtonian analysis and he questioned the principle of resolving vectors into their components along an orthogonal basis set of vectors. I had no taste for going down that road and our meetings and correspondence subsided. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:01, 16 November 2011 (UTC)
PS to the above about resolving vectors: it would also have been good to put the glass plate on a sea of ball bearings while the gyroscope was precessing upon it. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:49, 17 November 2011 (UTC)

It's a bit sad really, because the linear induction motor was a big feather in Laithwaite's cap success wise. Even NASA expressed interest in that. Shades of the Peter principle at work perchance? Calilasseia 21:41, 12 May 2006 (UTC)

The standard gyroscope equations are derived by accounting for the translational motion of each particle of the body with respect to inertial space, hence any effects attributable to the spinning of individual particles is precluded from the anaysis from the outset. It is not intrinsically absurd to speculate that spin itself might introduce an effect of some kind, but the waters appear a bit muddied when it comes to trying to find out whether any real effects have ever been reliably observed. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:13, 24 April 2013 (UTC)

Maglifter Research Consortium[edit]

Maglifter was what Laithwaite was working on before his death. The following finds may be of interest.

  • The Maglifter Research Consortium site is still "under construction", though dated 2001. This is why I haven't included it in the main article. DFH 21:19:52, 2005-09-08 (UTC)
  • See also The Space Show broadcast by David Livingston on 2005-07-31. DFH 21:19:52, 2005-09-08 (UTC)
The Maglifter concept was pioneered by John Mankins of NASA. DFH 21:31:05, 2005-09-08 (UTC)

Thermal inductance?[edit]

Am I right in thinking that Eric Laithwaite purported to be demonstrating thermal inductance during one of his televised Christmas lectures? DFH 19:00:41, 2005-09-08 (UTC)

Magnetic monopole?[edit]

Why is there a link back to Eric Laithwaite from the Magnetic monopole article? Did he express any theories about them? DFH 19:37:17, 2005-09-08 (UTC)

removed refs[edit]

removed by user:JzG

External links

J. D. Redding 22:13, 11 April 2007 (UTC)

The deleted link had only a small ad banner but a lot of text, seems insufficient to call it a spam link?

perfectblue 14:22, 14 April 2007 (UTC)

I'm new to wikipedia so forgive me if I'm doing it all the worng way. We have been repeating Laithwaites' experiments - see This is all about education and setting the record straight. I would be happy to contribute to the wiki page if I can. Let me know how. Hughhunt 20:58, 18 September 2007 (UTC)

How come Hugh Hunt's reference was removed? I found it interesting and relevant. Are there some advertisements on it? I didn't notice any. Lumpy27 05:53, 4 November 2007 (UTC)

Nobody seems to have said anything against it - I'm going to put it back on as I think it's an interesting site as well. --The Great Apple (talk) 01:16, 17 November 2007 (UTC)

Patent Granted??[edit]

After reading the linked patent applications, I find it difficult to believe that a patent was actually granted on any of them, and yet the current article says a patent was granted in 1999. Could we have a reference to the granted patent? If a patent was actually granted, I suspect it was for something other than the linked applications. Patent offices don't grant patents on perpetual motion machines or reactionless propulsion drives. Lumpy27 20:28, 12 November 2007 (UTC)

Fair use rationale for Image:Eric Laithwaite.jpg[edit]

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Image:Eric Laithwaite.jpg is being used on this article. I notice the image page specifies that the image is being used under fair use but there is no explanation or rationale as to why its use in this Wikipedia article constitutes fair use. In addition to the boilerplate fair use template, you must also write out on the image description page a specific explanation or rationale for why using this image in each article is consistent with fair use.

Please go to the image description page and edit it to include a fair use rationale. Using one of the templates at Wikipedia:Fair use rationale guideline is an easy way to insure that your image is in compliance with Wikipedia policy, but remember that you must complete the template. Do not simply insert a blank template on an image page.

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BetacommandBot (talk) 06:27, 2 January 2008 (UTC)

On Moths[edit]

Although moths do not communicate with electro magnetic waves (as he claimed) they do use ultrasonic sounds to jam the radar of bats. See: Arydberg (talk) 15:19, 21 July 2009 (UTC)

More on moths[edit]

Moths, as far as I have been able to ascertain, do not communicate by EGM. Unless someone can show some valid evidence, I will be removing large chunks of the article posthaste, notably from:

Although Laithwaite is best known for his ideas concerning gyroscopes, he also held an idea concerning moths. It was that they communicate via ultra short wave electromagnetic phenomena (Inventor in the Garden of Eden, E R Laithwaite 1994 page 199). He persisted in this belief even after the pheromone, which they actually use, had been isolated [Details?] and could even be bought 'over-the-counter' — which seems to go against his account. However, he himself had argued (1960, see below and [1]) that there must be two different mechanisms for detecting pheromones: (i) The orthodox account of chemical-gradients (effective only at short-range), and (ii) Some method for long-distance detection (>"100 yards") even when the wind was in an unfavourable direction — and the only credible solution then had to be electromagnetic, (probably infrared). This explanation did not account for where the necessary energy might come from — a matter later taken up by P.S.Callahan, though he too suffered considerable controversy (largely due to all contestants overlooking Laithwaite's "(i)/(ii)" distinction). Anyway, present indications are that the energy comes from fluorescence effects whereby the pheromone molecules near the female act as a cloud of infrared beacons (invisible to us humans) while these same molecules also act as the conventional concentration-gradient for any nearby male-moths; (Traill, 2005 [2], 2008 [3]).

I don't know why the "[Details?]", since I can find what certainly looks like sufficient details fairly easily. A large portion of the rest of this paragraph seems to be masquerading psuedoscience, which seems often to present itself on this site in this format (inline citations in place of the normal kind). The papers "cited" are not evidence of this claim, but seem to be speculating on how these claims might be true. Until someone can corroborate this with experimental evidence, I don't think it belongs here. Cburke91 (talk) 22:04, 28 April 2013 (UTC)

Update: I have reduced it somewhat. I left the bits that talk about arguments or claims made, allowing them to be cited at (notably the source of all the "citations" placed there in the first place) and have placed a "citation needed" after the claim about Callahan 'suffering controversy'. Again, when someone prefaces a factual statement with "present indications are", there should be a citation with evidence of the claim. Cburke91 (talk) 22:21, 28 April 2013 (UTC)