Illuminated Cables & the Laws of Physics Page 3

Once we've got the laws of physics talking, however, a new problem arises: Should we believe the model? Even if Jim Aud shed some light (sorry!) on all this by showing us a computer simulation of his cables, one which clearly showed how their optics affect their performance, I strongly suspect this case would not be closed. One should still ask: Is the model well-constructed? Does it leave out any relevant factors? Does it make illegitimate assumptions? Just as geophysicists and environmentalists continue to argue over models of global warming, audiophiles and engineers could argue for a long time over whether models of these cables are convincing.

None of this means that science and electrical engineering are not the best avenues toward understanding and improving audio equipment. They are. It does mean, instead, that it should be easy for all of us to play nice. Skeptics often seem to wield "the laws of physics" like a rhetorical club, as if you're either for 'em or agin' 'em. But this leaves no room for the best, most peaceful point of view: As the objectivists insist, the laws of physics do govern every aspect of sound recording and reproduction; but they don't (as objectivists suppose) just instantly tell us everything we'd like to know.

Much the same can be said of "the scientific method" and "pseudoscience." These concepts get thrown around a lot, too, but they're most useful only for raising blood pressures. It's too easy to confuse whether a claim is scientific or pseudoscientific with the question of whether or not it is scientifically correct. If I claim that my Nirvana-in-a-Can line conditioner works by violating the law of energy conservation, this claim is not pseudoscientific—it's just false (or else I'm Nobel-bound).

Actually, it's hard to say what "pseudoscience" really is. When you think about the sciences as historical disciplines, slowly [or rapidly? cf. Thomas Kuhn—Ed.] evolving and changing as the years go by, it's not surprising that this is an open question among historians and philosophers of science. Scientists often stumble onto effects and phenomena that can't be understood with current theories. In retrospect, they may be seen as revolutionary, even though their contemporaries may see them as crackpot pseudoscientists.

One thing is clear: There's nothing pseudoscientific about modesty and honesty. As JA once suggested, "it is possible just to say that [one doesn't] know why something works, only that it does" (June 1996, p.15). Maybe it's in JA's English blood, but that was Newton's point of view when he fended off his critics. A lot of really bright folks thought he was peddling pseudoscience.

Again, think of lonely Pioneer 10 being pulled here and there by distant stars and galaxies. Exactly how, Newton's critics wondered, do massive objects reach across empty space and exert gravitational forces on each other? It does seem kind of spooky, doesn't it? Newton didn't know how this could be, and most of the time he refused to speculate: "Hypotheses non fingo" ("I frame no hypotheses") was his famous response.

Newton had little doubt that gravitational force was real, and that it obeyed his equations. How it worked, however, remained a mystery until Einstein had his say more than two centuries later. If the PAD cables work as claimed, despite the fact that Jim Aud has no idea why, he still may be in some illuminating company.