Perpetual Motion Disease

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Q_Goest
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Ralf is in a wheel chair now. He’s an old guy, over 80 but still has a strong desire to do things like run his machine shop and invent stuff. His shop only consists of himself and one other guy though he’s not able to work in the shop any longer due to his age and failing health. He’s got this thick accent, as does the guy that works for him. Kind of a Pennsylvania Dutch accent I guess but maybe not. Something more European but I can’t place it.

Ralf called me about 4 weeks ago and wanted me to help him with an idea he had for electrical power generation but he didn’t want to disclose it because he thought he had something really unique. He tried sending letters to executives at our company, but as you might imagine, he got no response. Knowing he probably had an idea that was basically a perpetual motion machine and therefore impossible to make work, I nevertheless told him I’d look at it and tell him what I thought.

Friday morning Ralf finally got a nurse that was able to drive him to where I work. She wheeled him in and I took him into a small coffee shop to talk about his idea. As soon as he started in on it I could see it was a perpetual motion machine and my heart sank. I was really hoping he had something original but as an engineer, you can generally identify a perpetual motion machine as easily as a doctor can identify a broken leg. It might take all of a few minutes but it’s always as obvious as the back of your hand.

I spent almost an hour listening carefully and talking with him, trying to get him to understand the energy balance of the system he was proposing. A few times I tried to remind him that we’ve known each other for a very long time and I honestly care about him and his business. You could see just how much work he had put into this and how much it meant to him. He had scale drawings made up and all sorts of details to describe how it would work. He really believed he’d come up with a way to make energy from a contraption that looked like a Ferris wheel that took water from the top to the bottom, hooked to a generator, and a pump that returned the water to the top which was powered by a battery charged by wind or solar energy. The whole thing was convoluted to say the least. To make it that much more difficult, he’s hard of hearing and I’d have to talk loudly to be heard.

Eventually it all got through to him. He sat there staring at the plans he brought for his invention saying nothing for a very long time. Then he’d get up his courage and ask a few more things and try to point out how it could be made to work. Each time I’d try to explain as best I could how energy can’t be created out of thin air and where the energy had to come from. He slowly started catching on. I felt bad for the guy and sat with him there while he pondered how to make this thing work.

Eventually he gave up. I know he realized I wasn’t trying to just shoot him down, I was trying the best I could to educate him and explain how his invention couldn’t work in technical detail sufficient for him to understand. Before he left he even apologized for taking up my time which I quickly brushed aside and thanked him for stopping by, shaking his hand before he packed up.

I’ve seen this phenomena many times before. People come up with ideas for some invention that puts out more energy than it consumes. It’s hypnotic. When I was younger I had a friend at work who also has an engineering degree and realizes there’s no way to create a perpetual motion machine but he still thought about it all the time anyway and told me about the ideas he had. This went on for a year or two. He KNEW there was no way to make it work but he kept thinking about it anyway and constantly came up with new ideas. I think he’d tell me about these ideas to help him understand how they couldn’t work because he couldn’t quite figure it out himself. But there are a lot of people that seem to get caught up with the idea of creating energy out of nothing. They get totally wound around some idea and can’t let it go.

So what do you call it, Perpetual Motion Disease (PMD)? Have you seen it too? I think the vast majority of people with PMD honestly believe in their ideas, they’re not just trying to scam anyone. Sure, there are scammers out there trying to take advantage but if there wasn’t anyone with PMD, there would be no one to scam! There seems to be a genuine belief, not unlike an unfounded religious belief, that grips people predisposed to PMD.
 

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  • #2
Chi Meson
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I had a former student of mine waste an hour of my life with his machine. He had a typical "torque fallacy" machine, a wheel where the mass on an extended arm on the right side lifted the mass on a short arm on the left. I pointed out that the mass on the short arm would then need to be lifted the extra distance where the long arm started. He thought that the momentum in the system would compensate for that

Not understanding Physics does not seem to be a barrier. I do believe you are correct in detecting a psychological issue. PMD has a good ring to it.

It dawned on me that my guy thought there was the kinetic energy in the system, and then there was also the momentum; that is, you could take out the KE but keep the momentum, as though they were two completely different ingredients.

I finally emailed him what I thought his idea was: it was like he was looking at a mountain with several paths to the top. No matter which path you took, you would end up at the same altitude as all the others. He was essentially proposing to me that he was going to blaze a trail to the top of this mountain, crossing different streams, going over different rocks, and at the end, his path would be at a higher altitude than all the others.

That was the last I heard of him.
 
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  • #3
Q_Goest
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That's a good story! It's always easier to deal with folks with PMD if you don't know them. :devil:
 
  • #4
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Ralf sounds like a nice guy. Although his perpetual motion idea was unsuccessful, maybe he will use the information from your meeting to build something else.

I have an uncle who shares his proposed perpetual motion machines with me. He wants to put cars in vacuums or something like that. I used to (politely) point out problems with his ideas, but he got extremely offensive. He told me that I had no clue what I was talking about because physics cannot be proven and that "just because go to school, doesn't mean that know anything more than anyone else." I told him that the science cannot be definitely proven, but it seems to work in our current system, so it must bear some weight. He became more aggressive and continued to criticize my education, so now I just sit and listen.
 
  • #5
Q_Goest
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Ralf sounds like a nice guy.
He's a sweetheart. And his work at the machine shop is always compared to Swiss watches.
I have an uncle ...
That's a tough one because he's "your uncle"... Unfortunately for your uncle, the rule of "Obey your elders" gets trumped by the law of "conservation of energy". <sigh>
 
  • #6
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That's a tough one because he's "your uncle"... Unfortunately for your uncle, the rule of "Obey your elders" gets trumped by the law of "conservation of energy". <sigh>
Oddly enough, his responses usually contain a few "obey your elders."
 
  • #7
turbo
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I have had a great deal of trouble over the years with people that claim that "insiders" are suppressing energy-saving devices. I once told a stubborn brother-in-law that I had bought a bunch of fuel-economy devices from JC Whitney and had bolted them onto my '65 Jeep, but it got tedious having to stop over and over and siphon excess gasoline out of the tank so it wouldn't overflow. He was not amused.
 
  • #8
Q_Goest
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... energy-saving devices.
I heard about those things. They were discovered on that disk shaped craft taken from Area 51.
 
  • #9
OmCheeto
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There was once* a perpetual motion device posted here at the forum. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't work. So I went out on my back porch and built it. Within 3 seconds I understood why. Unfortunately, when I came back inside to post why it wouldn't work, I discovered that the thread had been locked.

I think people with PMD should all be required to build one first, and then explain to the class why it didn't work, so I don't have to waste any more, oh so valuable, empty tuna fish cans. :grumpy:

pf_pmot_debunk.jpg


*google: site:physicsforums.com perpetual motion
About 3,420 results
 
  • #10
Q_Goest
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Those little warts on the tuna fish cans are magnets, aren't they?

That's too funny! :rofl:
 
  • #11
JonDE
Tell someone they can't do something, and suddenly its the only thing they have ever wanted to do. I think this is almost a normal part of human behavior. Both a weakness and a strength. How many FTL threads have there been on this forum? I think it amounts to the same thing as PMD.
 
  • #12
MacLaddy
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This makes me think of the historical study of alchemy, trying to transmute lead into gold. How many people did that obsession drive over the edge?

I guess energy is our modern day gold.
 
  • #13
OmCheeto
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Those little warts on the tuna fish cans are magnets, aren't they?

That's too funny! :rofl:
Yes..... :redface:

The design reminded me a bit of a Perpetual Motion device I designed sometime earlier. Mine was based on the assumption that superconductors exclude magnetic fields. I of course didn't build one, knowing that PM devices are impossible. But I did scratch my head regarding the Meissner Effect for a few days. Never did figure it out.

But then again... Right after I posted an image of the device on my last science forum, the forum went down... permanently. :bugeye:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDZBgHBHQT8​

:tongue:

----------------------------------
Please don't ban me, please don't ban me, please!!!!!!
 
  • #15
fluidistic
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I never met such people yet; or at least they never discussed perpetual motion with me.
 
  • #16
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I never met such people yet; or at least they never discussed perpetual motion with me.
Trust me, once they get started discussing it, they never ever stop.
 
  • #17
Chi Meson
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Trust me, once they get started discussing it, they never ever stop.
It's true. My guy finally got over his "torque fallacy" machine, and then came up with a "perpetual waterflow" device. The kind where a flow of water (top reservoir to bottom reservoir) causes a float in the bottom to rise, which in turn lifts water into the top reservoir.

He just would not let it go, and he kept thinking his ideas were brand new, that he's never seen any idea like his. I told him that he not only didn't understand physics, but he can't do a decent search on the internet either.
 
  • #18
Q_Goest
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It's true. My guy finally got over his "torque fallacy" machine, and then came up with a "perpetual waterflow" device. The kind where a flow of water (top reservoir to bottom reservoir) causes a float in the bottom to rise, which in turn lifts water into the top reservoir.

He just would not let it go, and he kept thinking his ideas were brand new, that he's never seen any idea like his. I told him that he not only didn't understand physics, but he can't do a decent search on the internet either.
I think that highlights two of the symptoms of PMD.
1) The person doesn't understand energy and how it has to balance.
2) The person thinks their idea is the first time it's ever been thought of.

PMD also induces the sensation of winning a lottery in the victim. It must be a wonderful feeling, but there's always the 'day after' sensation that arises when realization sets in.
 
  • #19
OmCheeto
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I never met such people yet; or at least they never discussed perpetual motion with me.
I almost met one once. In that eX-Filed forum I discussed earlier, someone brought together the fact that pistons of different sizes, under the same pressure, would have different net forces applied. So he proposed sinking his device into the ocean to generate huge amounts of free energy. I looked at his drawing and told him that it would work through one cycle and then stop. I also told him that I had a fish tank into which I could submerge a mini-model and prove this. He said it would only work if it were submerged under hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet of water. So I asked him if he required financial assistance for such a huge venture. He of course said yes, at which point I stopped conversing with him.

But I did google his name*, and discovered he lived only a few miles away from me. I now avoid that section of town like the plague......

*He was so confident in his idea, he gave out his real name.
Gads. Googling the concept and my town, still lists him on page 1.
How could I have forgotten that name....
OMG! His invention has it's own Wiki entry!
"A prototype [top secret name] has yet to be built, but several scientists and engineers[who?] have attested to the validity of the [top secret] concept.[citation needed] Conceptual drawings are available.[doodle]"​
I feel really special now.
 
  • #20
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Peoples failed attempts to build perpetual motion machines has contributed to our knowledge of energy.A big problem is that many of the said people have paid dearly for their failures both in terms of time and money.
 
  • #21
jhae2.718
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As my thermodynamics professor says, the correct response to a perpetual motion nut is to call security.
 
  • #22
OmCheeto
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Peoples failed attempts to build perpetual motion machines has contributed to our knowledge of energy.A big problem is that many of the said people have paid dearly for their failures both in terms of time and money.
Don't I know that...

retrieving two empty tuna fish cans from the recycle bin: 90 seconds
finding hammer and nail to poke holes in cans: 90 seconds
pulling [STRIKE]neo-neptunian[/STRIKE], [STRIKE]neobdinium[/STRIKE], rare earth magnets off of 'fridge: 30 seconds
putting it all together: 360 seconds
time to realize what was going on in the "iron plate / magnetic attractor": 3 seconds
taking pictures, transferring data, etc: 1 hour 30 minutes

time it took PF to lock the thread: 1 hour 35 minutes

finding the long lost thread after all these years: priceless

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ht-pUhMCrc

:smile:

and a special thanks to our long lost mgb_phys for sharing the great "Museum of Unworkable Devices" link. There can never be enough of those.
 
  • #23
Q_Goest
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Don't I know that...

retrieving two empty tuna fish cans from the recycle bin: 90 seconds
finding hammer and nail to poke holes in cans: 90 seconds
pulling [STRIKE]neo-neptunian[/STRIKE], [STRIKE]neobdinium[/STRIKE], rare earth magnets off of 'fridge: 30 seconds
putting it all together: 360 seconds
time to realize what was going on in the "iron plate / magnetic attractor": 3 seconds
taking pictures, transferring data, etc: 1 hour 30 minutes

time it took PF to lock the thread: 1 hour 35 minutes

finding the long lost thread after all these years: priceless

<Joni Mitchel = 2 thumbs up> :smile:

and a special thanks to our long lost mgb_phys for sharing the great "Museum of Unworkable Devices" link. There can never be enough of those.
Very nicely expressed... my hat's off to you.
hats-off.jpg
 
  • #24
DaveC426913
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I know he realized I wasn’t trying to just shoot him down, I was trying the best I could to educate him and explain how his invention couldn’t work in technical detail sufficient for him to understand. Before he left he even apologized for taking up my time which I quickly brushed aside and thanked him for stopping by, shaking his hand before he packed up.
You are a good and kind person. The above description is the kind of thing that has inspired me to have patience with many people on this forum. When I've shot people down for their ignorance it tends to just makes them try harder. But with some compassion and patience, I like to think they come away with a bit of knowledge.
 
  • #25
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I met a guy in this "hippy" area of a town in Norway living in an apartment. He was trying to build a PM device in the basement of the apartment and he tried talking to me about it.

From the start, he considered me an adversary because he knew I studied physics. He told me that physicists are not trained right, and we're only taught to think in one way. I felt that was ignorant and insulting, but I let him go on for over an hour since he was my friend's brother and I wanted to be his friend.

His idea consisted of magnets and a motor . . some kind of wheel. I picked apart his idea a few times, but he always would counter my attacks with pseudo science arguments that I didn't know enough about to really be able to refute him. Basically he said that there is vacuum energy that must be sapped, and so it won't violate the 2nd thermodynamic law.

Obviously vacuum energy is real, but how a wheel with magnets made in a basement shop is going to tap into quantum energy is beyond me. The sad part is he was not very rich, living as a hippy, and he told me he spent large amounts of money on the magnets.
 

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