of their perpetual motion machine. They forget that
these properties exist only in their imaginations.
Zero-point energy is a useful concept that has
been experimentally confirmed in many ways. But
this energy is “locked up” by constraining laws of
physics that prevent it from producing useful work.
There is not a shred of evidence, from experiment
or established theory, that suggests any way to
utilize zero-point energy as the driving energy for
a cyclic machine. Dark energy is still a speculative
hypothesis whose usefulness in physics theory
remains to be seen. It, too, seems to be unavailable
for conversion to useful work.
Simanek’s silly spring device
HOW CAN WE SAY THAT SOME
THINGS ARE IMPOSSIBLE?
Of course, science has not yet discovered all of
nature’s secrets. In the future we are sure to Simanek’s Silly Spring Device
formulate new principles of physics. Even some Most perpetual-motion-machine designs that people
of the laws we now know to be valid may need send me are variations of old and discredited ideas.
modification or reinterpretation as future discover- It gets boring after a while, so I decided to invent
ies are made. It is even possible that some basement one of my own — to make a point. It uses a flexible,
inventor might stumble onto a useful device or even coiled spring looped over two pulleys. One side of
a new physical principle while trying to achieve the spring is kept compressed by a non-slipping
perpetual motion. belt running over smaller pulleys fixed to the larger
Should we fund research into perpetual motion? ones. Clearly it is heavier on one side of the pulley
I think not. A thing is not necessarily true just because axle, and this “unbalance” is maintained as you
we’d like it to be. It would be foolish to pursue this manually turn it. It can be rotated freely, in either
research because we haven’t a single indication, no direction. But it will not turn on its own, even if you
evidence, no theory — nothing — that even suggests could reduce friction to zero. Thanks to Hans-Peter
that a perpetual-motion machine is possible, and Gramatke’s animation, you can see it in motion
nothing to suggest how to go about achieving it even on my website (see References, below). It dem-if it were possible. Research into antigravity devices, onstrates that computer simulations can model
vehicles that travel faster than light, gravity shields, or unreality just as well as reality.
ways to travel back in time would be just as promising.
We haven’t a clue how to make them, either, and well- References
established laws predict that they aren’t possible. At these two sites, you can find pictures of many
Every law of nature that tells us how nature works perpetual-motion devices you might want to build
also tells us how nature doesn’t work. The negative yourself. They are guaranteed to be unworkable.
part is abhorrent to some people, who desire a
magical universe where anything you can imagine
is possible, if you tinker with things enough. Laws
of nature express the constraints imposed by the
geometry of the universe. You can imagine other
geometries, but they are not recognized in our universe. For example, you may imagine a triangle in
a perfectly flat plane that has exactly equal angles
but very unequal sides. But that’s not achievable
in our universe. Geometry is also the fundamental
limitation on the performance of machines.
Illustration by Hans-Peter Gramatke
Donald Simanek’s Museum of Unworkable Devices:
Hans-Peter Gramatke’s pages:
Donald E. Simanek is emeritus professor of physics at Lock
Haven University of Pennsylvania. Visit his pages of science,
pseudoscience, and humor: www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek.
74 Make: Volume 09