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Dan Massey: Personal Correspondence with a
Regarding Some Matters of Scientific Interest
in The Urantia Book
From the files of Urantia Brotherhood
April 9, 1979
Please accept my apologies for my slowness in responding to your letter of long ago. I have been rather preoccupied with my work for the last half-year and kept thinking I would answer your request in the context of my promise to prepare a summary of my talk last August in Lake Geneva for the Brotherhood. I recently had an opportunity to conduct a six hour seminar on the same subject matter (with some additions) for the Oklahoma society, and in the process realized that I would not be able to synthesize the range of material into a paper meeting all needs, and resolved to reply directly to your inquiry on a limited scale. I offer this material to you in the hope it will stimulate your own thinking further on some of these topics. Please feel free to use it as the Spirit directs. If you want to discuss these or other matters further, I will try to reply more promptly in the future. Alas, this is hardly organized at the level I associate with the term "paper."
How about the number, 860? You may want to get an elementary mathematical text on quantum theory or atomic physics and work this out for yourself. Here are the general lines of the argument. According to the Bohr theory of the atom, the energy, E (n), of an electron can assume the values Rh/n(2d), where h is Planck's constant, and R is Rydberg's number, 2pi(2d)me(4d/h(3d), and n is restricted to positive integer values. This means that, when a "free" electron is captured into energy level n, or when a bound electron is ejected from the same energy level, it must lose or gain the amount of energy E(n).
According to theories of the wave-particle duality of light developed by Planck, Einstein, etc., the wavelength, L(n), associated with a photon of light of energy E(n) is just L(n ) = hc/E(n) = cn(2d)/R, where c is the velocity of light in a vacuum. Now, Bohr reasoned that the various energy levels of the electron (which were based on the assumption that the circumference of the electron orbit at a given binding energy would be an integral multiple of the radiation wavelength associated with the electron energy, called the de Broglie wavelength) were associated with circular orbits for which he estimated the radii, r(n) = e(2d)n(2d)/2Rh, where e is the charge of the electron. If D(n) is the diameter of the Bohr electronic orbit associated with energy level E(n), then the ratio of the wavelength of the ionizing radiation to the orbit diameter is simply L(n)/D(n) = (cn(2d)/R)/(e(2d)n(2d)/Rh) = hc/e(2d) = 861.023, according to modern observation.
I suggest you refer to the relevant section on page 474. The Bohr model of the atom is much simpler than models currently in use to predict atomic spectra; however, it is approximately correct and is the only atomic model which is easy to explain. Factors ignored in the Bohr model are the behavior of electrons at relativistic orbital speeds, the possibility of non-circular orbits (and non-uniform orbital speeds), and coupling between permissible eccentric orbits and electron spin orientation, and other phenomena resulting from the interactions of many electrons in the same energy level. Physicists have long speculated on the curiosity that the ratios of the apparently unrelated fundamental constants, h, c, and e should come out to be a small number. Most such speculation has revolved around the factor hc/2pi e(2d), which is known as the "fine-structure constant" and is indicated by the Greek letter alpha.
The fine-structure constant has a value very near 137 (currently measured to be 137.03608245, roughly). Many physicists have thought it must be a fundamental characteristic of space, time and matter. Eddington, in particular, made it the cornerstone of a rather bizarre theory of the size of the Universe. More recently, in France, the theoretician Armand Wyler has argued that it is a geometrical property of a suitably defined seven-dimensional space-time, and that the correct theoretical value is... .. For more on this refer to Physics Today, August 1971, pp. 17-19, which you should find in most any good library. There is a further bibliography attached to the news note in PT. Eddington's nutty paper is reprinted in the collection "The World of Mathematics" which is almost ubiquitous (maybe it's not nutty?). The U Book reference to the seven dimensional universe is on p. 1439.
What else can I mention? Here's one I got onto as a result of some remarks dropped during the Conference. On p. 458, the Book refers to an "extraordinary double star explosion, the light of which reached Urantia in AD 1572" and goes on to say that the explosion was visible in broad daylight. Here is what is interesting. As far as I can tell, the only thing like this we know about is the supernova which produced the Crab Nebula, which was visible in daylight in AD 1054. (Another is known from 1006 AD) (now that I'm looking, I find others) Anyway, the interesting point is that the apparent source of the Crab event is now recognized as a pulsar, which MAY be two stars (or a star and a black hole) rapidly orbiting each other, so the Crab event may have been a "double star explosion" too. I would suggest trying to find out what object in the sky now corresponds to the supernova mentioned in the Book, and looking to see if it is associated with an unusual radio object which could be the remnant of a "double star explosion" too. This is particular interesting since the pulsars were unknown in 1935 when the Book was written.
Hubble's law makes a lot of trouble for U Book readers. A recent paper in Nature V.277 p. 633, presents a fairly sensible alternative to the cosmological interpretation of the red shift. This explanation is consistent with some observational evidence about the spectra of stars viewed along paths near the sun. Other theories have tried to explain away the red shift, but this is the best one yet. That does not mean it is correct, of course.
The Book ascribes a collisional origin to the solar system, and says the presence of retrograde motion can only be explained by the introduction of matter from outside the original condensation cloud. There are many physicists who are starting to lean toward a view which says "we are unable to explain the retrograde motion of certain bodies in the solar system in terms of our theories of planetary formation." The bodies which have recognized retrograde spin are Venus and Uranus. Triton, a moon of Neptune, has a retrograde orbit. The Book says there are moons of Jupiter and Saturn with retrograde motion (p. 656). It would be interesting to find out which they are, if they are known.
Not all popularizations of science are correct, current, or accurate. You might think everybody agreed that Penzias and Wilson's discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation had "proved" the big bang theory, considering that it had been predicted from such a model by Gamow many years before. I note that, in a letter to Nature, V. 266, p. 698, Hannes Alven (who is considered one authority on such matters) writes "... the observed cosmic microwave background radiation does not give us direct information about the state of the metagalaxy...( before)...galaxies or protogalaxies already existed...To claim that it is strong evidence in support of the hot big bang cosmology ... is completely unjustified." You may recall that I speculated last August that the epoch of the formation of the background radiation corresponded to the terminal eruption of newborn stars from the Andronover nebula, described on p. 655. Rather than a "hot big bang" which produced the entire Master Universe, we have a "warm little bang" which produced the million suns in our local neighborhood. I don't think our present observations provide the means to be clear about the difference.
You might enjoy looking up New Scientist, 27 July 1978, p. 273, which has a lot of information about Pluto, its moon, and the possibility of another big planet five to ten billion miles out from the sun. The article is not very hopeful of finding it, but mentions some evidence which could be suggestive either of the extra planet or of the possibility of a collisional event in the formation of the solar system.
I am about talked out on these things for right now. I think there is much opportunity for more research on these matters, but doubt that the cosmological portion of the Book is intended to be the part which captures the loyalty of men's minds. It really does sound pretty superficial in many parts, and does not itself claim to be authoritative. On the other hand, I have non-scientific reasons for believing the Book to be genuine, so I am willing to seek interpretations which fit. I do think this is interesting and useful, particularly if it eases the intellectual conflict which the scientific part of the Book seems to generate for its students who are exposed to the casual generalizations about "space, time, and relativity" which abound in the popular scientific press. There is much more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of by Isaac Asimov.
I appreciate your enthusiasm for these matters, and look forward to hearing from you again. I would welcome your collaboration in digging for useful and constructive interpretations. By the way, if you are at all into biology, I highly recommend the article "A Diagram of Evolution," in Nature V. 276, p. 447. In my uninformed opinion, it explains, indirectly, the problem of 46 or 48 chromosomes in the human species, the difference between "Fathers" and "Mothers" (which applies to deities as well), and the difference between a normal and an "experimental" planet. I admit this is all inferential speculation. What the article does present directly is an up-to-date synthesis of knowledge in evolution, population genetics, and molecular genetics which goes a long way to clarify the good (evolution) and the bad (gradualism) parts of Darwinian thought. This is the direction in which our knowledge is progressing, and the picture of the development of life which emerges is closer to that of the Book than anything I have personally reviewed. (No life carriers or teleological evolution, though -- but that is outside the domain of science).
Hope you are enjoying a good season at school,
A Service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship