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Sunday, 11 November 2012

Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer

Last year, in UFOs: the forgotten book, I talked about Gerald Heard's The Riddle of the Flying Saucers, which was published way back in 1950. I mentioned in passing that I bought my copy in a second-hand bookstore in Sherborne, and I recently acquired another obscure 1950s UFO book from the same shop: Space, Gravity and the Flying Saucer by Leonard G. Cramp (1954).

Cramp’s book is quite different from Heard’s (in my opinion it’s a lot better – or at least, a lot less bad). Whereas Heard approached the subject from the viewpoint of a philosopher, Cramp approaches it from the viewpoint of an engineer. What the two authors have in common, however, is an astonishing self-confidence in making bold assertions about the nature of flying saucers: as seen for example in Cramp’s “Author’s impression of a sectional view of a Scout Ship”.

Actually, Cramp is less interested in UFOs per se than in his own pet theory of interstellar propulsion. Apparently this “was originally conceived prior to the Second World War, and certainly long before the term Flying Saucer came into general use”. But he quickly latched on to the saucer phenomenon as evidence that extraterrestrial civilizations were already using his hypothetical technique.

Although the details of Cramp’s theory look naïve to modern eyes—with terms like “Ether” and “Rays”, which were old-fashioned even in the 1950s—the basic principle is one I wholeheartedly agree with. This is that, if UFOs really are extraterrestrial spacecraft, then they probably use a propulsion system which involves manipulation of gravity – and the intimately related phenomenon of inertia. Although commonly referred to as “antigravity”, the neutralization of gravity is actually far less important for interstellar travel than the neutralization of inertia – which is the thing that makes it uncomfortable to accelerate rapidly or change direction suddenly. This is something that comes across very clearly in Cramp’s account – as is the fact that a craft powered in such a way would appear to “defy the laws of physics”.

Jon Downes, who recently took over as editor of UFO Matrix magazine, has been generous enough to allow me a “Science Behind UFOs” column. The idea of “antigravity” propulsion—being a hobby-horse of mine just as it was with Leonard G. Cramp—is mentioned in my very first article (in the current issue), and I'm intending to return to it in more detail in subsequent installments.

I came across a striking example of prescience in Cramp’s book. One chapter, on the “Unity of Creation Theory”, was written not by Cramp but by a colleague of his named Antony Avenel. Of this theory, Avenel wrote “I do not pretend that there is sufficient data available at present to prove the theory fully, but there are many indications that it is an anticipation of what will be proved by, let us say, the year A.D. 2000. The theory which I put forward is that the ether and space are the same, and that space is formed out of nothing by a grid of extremely high frequency rays (probably having a wavelength of less than 10–13 cm). Space must be distinguished from ‘nothing’. Space—even if it is empty—possesses the qualities of length, breadth, thickness and time. ‘Nothing’ has no qualities whatsoever, and cannot support any material or ray.”

Now “the year A.D. 2000” was quite some time ago, so has Mr Avenel’s theory been proved? Well, no it hasn’t—certainly not in any of its details—but in broad terms it does have some striking similarities to contemporary theorizing about the nature of reality. I recently read a new book (Gravity by Brian Clegg), in order to review it for Fortean Times. Among other things the book contains brief summaries of the various competing theories of Quantum Gravity. With regard to Loop Quantum Gravity, Clegg writes “From the loop quantum gravity viewpoint, the loops—the atoms of space-time—create the geometry with which space is built. [...] The loops aren’t in space-time, they form space-time... If you had a region with no loops there would be no space and time in it. It would be truly empty in a way that the vacuum of space isn’t. Without loops nothing can exist, no light can travel – a loop-free region is true nothingness.”

Of course, the loops of Loop Quantum Gravity are of the order of 10–33 cm, which is a lot smaller than Mr Avenel’s 10–13 cm... but it's a striking coincidence nevertheless!

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