“Free” Energy? Not Really

This is getting curiouser and curiouser. First there was “free textbooks.” Now there is free energy. Scientific American: Irish tech firm throws down “free energy” gauntlet

Perpetual motion machines of the first, second, and third kind? Not going to happen.

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

8 thoughts on ““Free” Energy? Not Really”

  1. The Irish claim comes with a validation request from the scientific community. Don’t you think “not going to happen” is a bit too early? Sure, energy can neither be created or destroyed it merely changes form. Net sum will always balance out. Or so we think.

    Your response reminds of me of the ‘platypus problem’ that Robert Pirsig raised in Zen & Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The platypus doesnt fit (neatly) into our revered Animal Kingdom hierarchy. The result of that was the insidious (silent) inference that there is something wrong with the platypus! Maybe these guys have stumbled onto something, then again maybe not.

    And BTW ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ is a myth. Take a walk on the beach with the breeze blowing in your face, watching the sun set in golden hues. It’s free.

    Yeah, I know, you meant the cost of production. Cost in itself is an arbitary agreement between giver and receiver. to value some piece of work at “fair price”. If the agreed fair price is zero then cost is nullified.

    Note that this not about value. Art is an example. The real cost of production of an artistic work is the sum total of the artist’s entire being (Spice girls doesnt fit into this)poured into the work plus his time and the materials he has used. This cost is incalculable (infinity). Thus, you have the million$ valuation of an artistic work which is a cheap attempt to tack monetary value on something priceless. Same goes for something like architecture.

    The notion that something need “cost something” trundles all the way back to the “entropic curse” at Eden “by the sweat of your brow you will you produce”

    Atanu’s response: I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. I bet dollars to donuts that free energy is impossible–because of the nature of the universe. This sort of impossibility is not the “impossibility” of a platypus. Platypus was a clash between “what the world is” and “what we believe the world ought to be.” There is nothing logically compelling about the non-existence of platypii. There is a logically compelling reason for doubting the existence of free energy.

    About the “free” sunset: it is not free. You do pay for it. It is called “opportunity cost.” To enjoy the sunset you need to spend time, time which you could have spent in alternate occupations — enjoyable or otherwise. That you did not have to create the sunset and did not actually pay with money from your pocket does not alter the fact that you had to invest time which has alternate uses.

    BTW, cost is not “arbitrary agreement,” price is. Price is agreed upon and is based on a valuation of a good or service. And in general the price does not have a straight forward relationship with the cost of production. The cost of production can be low (a piece of art, in your example, or a copy of some software) but the price depends on how much value the buyer associates with the use of the object.

    Cost is an objective matter–and it has nothing to do with Biblical curses.

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  2. butting heads with economists will leave me looking none the wiser but what the hell there’s only one way to go 🙂

    When you say “nature of universe” I guess you mean: You cannot produce more energy than is consumed. At highest level of efficiency the max you can do is equal input to output. Right? This is the “Law of Nature”. Like gravity. Another “Law of Nature” which we broke – but then we had sufficient schooling watching the birds flying for thousands of years and mooning Devadas like “oh i wish i could fly”. My question is what if these Irish boyos have actually stumbled onto something, unlikely as it is, that breaks the energy law. The history of science is littered with broken laws. The precedent for breaking the energy law is the phenonmenon of “miracles”. Religious texts have tons of such claims. Science is agnostic towards such claims and since it is scientifically unverifiable it’s been consigned to the fringes if not completely thrown out. At the cutting edge of discovery science is as inarticulate as any other branch of knowledge when it comes to decrypting the unknown. It is only as the event recedes into the past that scientific language gains 20/20 vision. But then that is true for most of us as well.

    The free lunch rant should be seen in the context of what is preached in consumer niravana land. That there is no free lunch is one of the bedrocks on which every incitement to consume (to consume you need energy, to generate energy you need to work – there is no “free” energy to consume) is based. Everything costs something, production cost of the sunset, trade off costs with viewing it, whatever. My contention is cost is irrelevant given sufficient value. When something is irrelevant it is “free” not because the cost no longer exists but because the value is sufficiently greater than the “cost”. (Yes, ok this will not fit into a cookie cutter)

    The biblical reference was about inherited attitude. Plow the ground and reap the harvest. Invest today and retire tomorrow. Cost is objective but valuing the cost is subjective. And cost makes no sense without value. My contention is ignore the cost and focus on just the value. Hairbrained? :-).

    After thought…if you equate energy with money then capitalism is a working example of generating more energy than what you put into it 🙂

    Atanu’s response: Since the comment is rather complicated, I am unable to fully comprehend it and therefore cannot respond to it. However, I cannot resist the last point — the after thought — and my reply is “If you equate energy with bunny rabbits, then a couple of rabbits is a working example of generating more energy than that you put into it.”

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  3. one final rant: you are right when you say “not going to happen” to the extent that laws of nature are not “broken” (however romantically attractive that sounds) they are circumvented.

    on further thinking the free lunch colloquialism is not a myth, its a bit of specieous garbage used to justify sloppy thinking; everything costs – even breathing; its like saying the sun is shining

    the (non-rational, note: not irrational :-)) proof for my afterthought is:

    fuel produces energy (fuel = energy)
    money buys fuel (money = fuel)
    hence, ergo, sum etc
    as far as i can see all money is employed to acquire and consume energy, use money to buy food, fuel (energy) etc, use money to create (energy) clothes, cars etc

    not quite bunny rabbits

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  4. Although I agree with Atanu more, I still have to say that abey does have a point. If there is anythign constant to our scientific understanding of the universe it is “change”. Not long ago we all believed that earth was the centre of the universe and not long we all believed that the earth was flat and that Newtonian laws held their course everywhere and that there is only one type of matter.
    As science progresses and new inventions and discoveries are made, the fundamentally held beliefs of the physical world keep changing. We can only aspire to get close to the truth and can probably never ever figure out what the truth is. Scientifi endeavor has to push this frontier by continuous theorizing and experimentation.

    Being closed to the idea of an energy source that is so radically different to our current conceptions of energy might be valid from a everyday standpoint but not for physicists who look for this holy grail. As new types of matter are discovered and theoretical physics keeps reshaping our fundamental beliefs, there might be a day not far ahead when we might get there.

    “Collapse of Chaos” by Kack Cohen is a great book. For instance, the argument that Atanu presents is close to the one which says that life is possible only with water or when carbon plays a significant role. it is true in our setting in our world which is carbon based? Some of these beliefs do not explain anaerobic bacteria which live on methane under the ocean!!

    My opinion is that we have to trust the scientific enterprise at the same time keeping an open view to radical findings that might challende the dominant view.

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  5. @ Giresh, Y’know its a myth that people thought the world was flat they knew it was round from as long ago as the Ancient Greeks I don’t know about the rest of the world-

    They laughed at Columbus for thinking it was as small as he thought. And they were right too. He only got lucky in finding America

    And although I reckon his reply to the comment above about “opportunity costs” was bull he’s still right over all.

    If they really had developed something groundbreaking they would’ve stuck it in a proper journal- remember 90% of everthing is shit.

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