The Fate of New Ideas: Nobel Prize or "Hell of the Heretic"?

Auditorium B. Touschek (Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Via Enrico Fermi 40, Frascati)

Auditorium B. Touschek

Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati, Via Enrico Fermi 40, Frascati

Via Enrico Fermi 40 00044 Frascati

The fate of a new idea is unpredictable: regardless of merit it can indeed end up either with a Nobel Prize or in the 'Hell of Heretics' (or more simply be ignored as 'nonsense'). New claims are rejected because they appear to clash with existing beliefs, but some beliefs seem to be 'set in stone' or are considered unchallengable or axiomatic in a way that others are not (e.g. 'time travel' and 'warp drive' can be talked about in polite company, since flights of fancy in conventional science turns these ideas up, while 'telepathy' remains taboo). Even then, some are more a source of emotions such as anger than others, and this can lead to attacks on the individuals concerned as well as on the claims themselves. When official communications are blocked, personal contact may become the only mechanism whereby clearer views can be propagated. Two topics of particular interest in this connection are those of 'memory of water' and 'cold fusion'. They share the feature that the claims have been strongly attacked, on grounds that are ultimately invalid, and yet the consensus view seems unshakable. The working out of dominant themes, such as censorship, power and fear, will be discussed.

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