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Episode 2: Triangles Ipso Facto Aliens
I watch a lot of trashy TV, and I don’t just say that as a person who occasionally watches Maury when they are home sick but as the sort of person who actively seeks out tickets to see the Maury show as part of the live studio audience. Coincidentally, did you know there is like a 3-month waiting period for those tickets? Anyways, one of my favorite guilty television pleasures is Ancient Aliens, which has some of my favorite television personalities including Christopher Dunn, who is a proponent of what is known as the Pyramid Power theory. This says that the Great Pyramid at Giza was actually some manner of power generating station, whether that means it produced hydrogen or caused microwaves to be emitted from the tip, and that therefore we can infer that the ancient Egyptians must have had some sort of advanced technologies that are lost to modern historians.
What is so fascinating about this theory isn’t just the actual science of the thing itself, which I promise we will go into heavily in this episode, but also the storied history and continued use of the triangle and other geometric shapes as the crux of pseudoscientific or pseudohistorical beliefs. Just this past month there was a story floating around about a kid on Google maps who used satellite images and the geometry of the stars to potentially find a lost Mayan temple, although more recent reports show that a number of archeologists are now walking back the claim. Going as far back as the beginnings of philosophical and scientific thought we find whole religions and lifestyles centered on the perfection of geometry, and the particular fascination with the triangle, that most basic of shapes from which all figures can be built using trigonometry and multiplication, is almost hard wired into our psyches. What is it around triangles that fascinate us, and how far does the triangularly shaped rabbit hole go?
WELCOME TO THE MAD SCIENTIST PODCAST: TONIGHTS EPISODE, TRIANGLES. IPSO FACTO, ALIENS.
When I was an undergraduate student, one of the most fascinating things I learned in philosophy was the sort of things the scientists and mathematicians I used in my engineering courses had written or thought. And one of the wackiest by far was Pythagoras, who is famously remembered for his Pythagorean theorem, which says that in a right triangle, or a triangle that contains a side which has a 90 degree angle, the sum of the square of the longest side is equal to addition of the squares of each of the other sides. This basic mathematical principle is the foundation of trigonometry, from which we can derive all higher mathematical systems including differential calculus and therefore is one of the lynchpins of the modern world. We couldn’t have physics as it stands now without this simple relationship found in the triangle, and one that was discovered back in the 500’s BC.
So, Pythagoras is a pretty important guy, although it was only in later centuries that his mathematical thinking became the thing that he was most famous for. During his lifetime and in the centuries afterwards he was most well known for his symbola, or way of life, which prescribed different strict rules to his followers, as well as his metaphysical theories which described what occurred to the soul after death. While some of his symbola were strictly about religious things, for instance he says “Disbelieve nothing wonderful concerning the gods, nor concerning divine dogmas”, he also says, “Cut not fire with a sword” and “Don’t urinate facing the Sun”. A little bit of good advice, a bit of crazy advice.
After his death his Pythagoreans, or the “So Called Pythagoreans” as Aristotle describes them in The Metaphysics, continued to espouse his worldview, although some of the thinking was mixed in with the philosophy of Philolaus, and really what we know of Pythagorous himself is quite murky at best. Interestingly, while other Greek philosophers at the time believed the world to be constituted of combinations of the basic elements of wind, fire, earth, and water, the Pythagoreans believed that the universe was actually composed of numbers. In particular they thought that the properties of numbers, for instance even-ness and odd-ness, could be used to describe and understand the natural world, and that harmony in these numerical qualities could lead to harmony in the universe. This is shown in Aristotle’s explanation of the Pythagoreans table of opposites, where reality could be broken up into 10 distinct pairs. These are limit, unlimited, odd, even, unity, plurality, right, left, male, female, rest, motion, straight, crooked, light, darkness, good, bad, and square, oblong. Pythagoreanism as a religious cult lost its prominence over time, but this way of thinking about the universe and numbers is still very powerful.
As a practicing scientist, it is hard for me to not see numbers and symbols in the everyday world. Everything out there can for the most part be described using mathematics, and sometimes-in uncanny ways. The same mathematics that can be used to describe the metabolism of our bodies can also be used to describe the flight of a baseball threw the air, and some mathematical rules seem as if they are universal laws. This has led to a number of scientists and mathematicians to posit things like the unified theory, where both quantum mechanics and relativity can be brought together under the same mathematical umbrella. We’ve also used math as a universal language of sorts, and in fact some of the most basic communication methods out there, and the ones we are currently beaming into space in the hopes of communicating with extra terrestrial life, are composed of a binary mathematical language. Now, whether mathematics is merely a tool used to describe the universe, or an actual part of the fabric of the cosmos is a question for another episode, but I always found the views of the Pythagoreans compelling simply because of the sheer amount of numerical language and thinking that goes on in my everyday life. I also am always careful to never pee directly into the Sun, so all in all I would say I am a pretty good Pythagorean.
Triangles are a particularly interesting shape because it is the most basic figure that can be made in two-dimensional space. If a point is the building block of the 1-D world, and a line the block of the 2-D, then a triangle is the fundamental figure of 3-dimensional space. Every shape can be built from triangles, including circles and spheres through trigonometry. And it is this basic character and ubiqutousness of the triangle that makes it such rich fodder for pseudoscientific claims. The triangle and the number Pi, that favorite of amateur pyramidologists and Egyptologists, are interconnected by a somewhat complicated mathematical rule that I would be insane to try and explain here. But basically, since the number Pi is related to the circumference or length of the outside of a circle by 2*pi*radius = Circumference, and a circle can be drawn inside of a triangle with equal sides, then we can get pi from some pretty simple mathematical relations between the sides of the triangles, the radius of the circle, and practically any combination of those things. In other words, with enough elbow grease it is possible to finagle Pi out of almost any two shapes that we put together! Even more comically, it is thought that the ancient Egyptians actually used circular measuring wheels to plan out the lengths of the pyramids, with a certain number of circular wheels being the size of each of the bottom lengths. And what mathematically important number is particularly important when transposing the straight line length of a circles outer surface, also known as the circumference? That’s right, its Pi! So in reality, it could be the choice to use the circular measuring device versus the straight ruler that day that spawns a whole world of mathematical confusion and mystification.
This is particularly important for pyramidology, where the exactness and geometric relations between the shapes that make up the pyramid are used as proof of some higher learning that was had by the ancient Egyptians. But believe me, if given enough time and resources any one listening to this podcast could come up with Pi or a multiple of Pi from almost every single geometrically regular shape or object they see in their everyday lives.
Other sorts of geometric bunk are used all the time to put forward aliens or conspiracies and all kinds of other wacky things. Again, I can’t say that aliens don’t exist, or that they are unlikely, although again that is a topic for another episode. But a lot of this sort of stuff, while not mere coincidence, does I think come from a general misunderstanding of the very basic character of geometry and its relationship to the natural world. One of my favorite sorts of theories like this, and one that comes into the pyramid power theorem, is that of the world grid, discussed by people like David Childress. I want to say that although I don’t agree with Mr. Childress here, I do have a lot of respect for his continued quest for the truth of ancient history, and although our methods and conclusions may be different I hope that if he ever hears this he doesn’t take anything too personally. I grew up reading the books of authors like Von Daniken, and seeing these topics continue to be in the public sphere is fascinating to me.
So all right, Mr. Childress is a proponent of a theory that is known as the Earth Energy Grid theory, one that posits that the great ancient sites of the Earth are laid out on a geometric grid like pattern, over which aliens could potentially gather energy for their spaceships or for some other issue. Childress says in the intro to Antigravity and the World Grid, quote:
However the familiar image of the Earth as a globe girded in a lattice of longitude and latitude lines helps us understand what an Earth Grid, based on more primary energy lines, might be like. I say "energy lines" particularly, because one of the most consistent observations readers will encounter in this book is that the geometric pattern of the Earth Grid is energetic in nature. And that this Earth energy, organized into a precise web, was once, and can be again, the source of a free and inexhaustible supply of power, once empowering older civilizations of high technological achievement. Most Grid theorists state confidently that this Grid technology can be reclaimed again---today.
Now despite the issue of where does this energy come from, how can an object produce energy without losing that energy when it is transferred, and other basic physics problems with this theory, the mathematical issue is simply that the sorts of patterns they are looking for are found literally everywhere in nature. When I watch the episodes specifically on the earth grid Katie always ends up blurting out “but that is just a line!” when they point out that 3 points on a map can be roughly approximated to be on a linear path with each other. Even worse is when it is between two points and they suppose a third more ancient or even Atlantean site must exist at this final place.
Geometry and patterns in nature are commonplace specifically because they are often the least energetically difficult sorts of configurations to make. Nature generally is quite lazy, and tries to keep things in as easy or low energy a configuration as possible, and it just so happens that geometric shapes with regular patterns just happen to be energetically less intensive than randomly oriented shapes or behaviors. For instance, in chemistry the hexagon is the single most stable shape possible for an organic molecule to take on, with 6 carbons bridged together into a hexagonal shape making up a huge number of biologically important molecules. This is because in that configuration the electron clouds of each carbon atom, which will repel each other due to magnetic interactions, are as far apart as they can happily be while still filling in as much space as possible. And the hexagon shows up almost everywhere in nature, including in the microscopic shape of alumina, in the patterns on pineapples, the cells of plants, and in the very math that describes every physical behavior of particles and chemicals through the triangle. But the fact that hexagons show up in nature does not require a secondary force that must have placed it there.
The same thing is used when trying to fit the patterns of stars to the patterns of ancient sites. While I do think that the Orion theory interesting, I also don’t find it hard to see that again given enough time and the desire to find a pattern in the stars that corresponds to the patterns we see on Earth that we probably could. Finding patterns is simply in our nature, and geometry provides a catchy method by which to describe those patterns. As Michael Shermer, a personal hero, says “Humans are pattern-seeking, story-telling animals, and we are quote adept at telling stories about patterns, whether they exist or not”.
And just a general question for those that subscribe to the ancient alien theory, and again I don’t have any particular issue with the idea that potentially we were visited by aliens in the distant past. But where does it end? This seems like an infinitely regressive argument, one that continuously requires another more advanced civilization to explain the thinking and power of that civilization that comes next. If aliens helped us start technology, then did aliens help the aliens, and so on and so forth. Karl Pilkington had a hilarious thought on this, where he says something about computers being composed of sand. He states that there must have been an alien, since computer chips are far more complex than the Frisbee for instance, or his favorite refrain the Dyson vacuum. But as a scientist working in new technologies, I promise that the inventions that will change the world 50 years from now have about a thousand graduate students working on them now, and probably working on extremely small pieces of the problem that will only become part of the larger truly world changing technology when it is pieced together by some genius who see’s these threads all coming together. I have one friend who I hope to interview here soon for an episode on anti-cancer myths, and not to oversimplify his work too much but he is basically electrocuting cancer cells and seeing if they bounce off of each other afterwards. And who knows, one day Mark’s work could very well be the lynchpin that solves the problem of metastasis in cancer. But at the ground level from where the individual research is working now, it is only a very small part of a larger whole. In this way big scientific discoveries are more like a thousand people pushing a stone block one foot, as opposed to a single person pushing that same stone block a thousand feet.
Alright, so I’ve gotten pretty far off topic, but I hope into some interesting territory. Now for the meat of the thing; Pyramid power theories! Pyramids and geometry in general clearly have a very interesting place in our consciousness and collective history, and I hope I’ve outlined some of that in the proceeding sections enough that maybe your interested to learn more.
The pyramid power theory takes some of this geometric thinking and puts it together with another interesting theory, that of ancient technologies belonging to the Egyptians and other ancient cultures. One example of this for instance is the Baghdad battery, which although it sounds very interesting is the equivalent of a third grade science experiment in reality. I was fascinated with this thing once I first read about it as a kid, and was pretty disappointed to learn that I could get the same voltage with some juice and some metal sheets. The basic premise of the pyramid power theories is that the Great Pyramid at Giza is so different than the others found at the site that it must have had a different purpose. Furthermore the sorts of channels and things found in the pyramid, that we can’t quite explain with normal archeology, must have had some secondary purpose that we cannot understand if we use the same sorts of traditional thinking about the knowledge of the Egyptians.
Now I am not interested in putting pyramids over my old food, as suggested by Antoine Bovis, who thought that they could help to keep meat products from spoiling. I’m also not particularly interested in discussing the idea that pyramids can heal cancer, help with your brain power, make plants grow more quickly, or any of the other wacky sorts of ideas proposed by pyramid fanatics over the years. The fact that these things are so prevalent is sort of funny, and shows just how readily humans jump to believe in these sorts of paranormal-ish and pseudo-scientific beliefs. The pyramids are awe inspiring, and its crazy to think that basic human tools could be used to construct it. But that doesn’t meant that they are magic in any sort of important or special way, and if they are then we have to open a whole other can of worms.
For this episode I am particularly interested in the work of Christopher Dunn, who has done a lot of work on the machining and techniques used by the Egyptians in constructing the pyramid. Again just as with David Childress I hope I am not giving any offense, although I don’t agree with Mr. Dunn and his conclusions. His general thinking is, from what I can tell, that the great pyramid acted as some sort of energy generating station. This is supposed to work as water fills in the channels below the pyramids main chambers, which as the Nile Ebbs and Flows causes vibrational energy that is then transposed through the body of the pyramid that then acts to cause the granite walls to ionize the surrounding air. The air further ionizes hydrogen gas that was pumped into the pyramid by some means, and the hydrogen gas is then stripped of its electrons resulting in a proton laser beam that shoots from the tip.
Ok, so a lot of things to go over here. Number one, what is a laser? Laser stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. A laser works because of the ability of molecules to adsorb and desorb photons through optical stimulation. Basically we supply a photon to a given material, which is adsorbed by the material causing it to go into an excited, or high energy state. After a certain amount of time the material will relax again, releasing the adsorbed photon. Usually these releases are in random directions, however in the case of lasers some of these photons will hit another atom in the same material from which it was desorbed. This creates an amplification of the emission, going from a net one photon released to two, and with enough of this amplification we can obtain the very high beam strengths found in modern lasers. By then playing around with the rate and energy of photons added and the material that is doing the photon emission we can get different colors or beam strengths.
Clearly this laser thing is pretty complicated, but really to make one you need a consistent photon source (in the case of modern lasers a flash tube that cycles on and off at high voltage), a material that can amplify photons (modern lasers use things like neodymium doped yttrium orthovanadate, ruby, organic dyes, and can actually use chemicals or gases), and a series of mirrors or other materials that can basically streamline the photon beam into one direction. Based on Dunn’s description he is using the acoustic energy from the water pumping into the bottom of the pyramid to ionize the hydrogen gas in the pyramid body, which then relaxes and creates the laser beam. However even if we accept that the energy from the water could transmit 100% efficiently through the pyramid walls and become amplified, there is no reason to think that the granite in the walls could ionize any significant portion of Hydrogen gas.
A different version of this theory I have read that is also attributed to Mr. Dunn, but potentially I’ve gotten that one wrong, is that the pyramids act as more of a modern day hydrogen fluoride laser. In this system a chemical reaction first occurs where two fuels are burned together, generating a special kind of chemical known as a free radical. Atoms are composed of a nucleus, composed of photons which are positively charged and neutrons that are neutral but add weight to the atom, and a surrounding cloud of constantly moving electrons which are negatively charged. Electrons sit in things called orbitals, with different levels of orbitals being farther and farther away from the nucleus center. Since the electrons are negative, and the nucleus is positive, the electrons and nucleus are attracted to each other, and therefore it is harder to remove electrons from closer to the nucleus than from the orbitals that are farther away.
Now a special sort of atom is one where you remove only one electron from the orbital farthest away from the nucleus. This creates what is known as a free radical, which is an extremely reactive species that will almost immediately try to find something else to bond with. When your creating a chemical laser you are burning fuel in such a way that you generate one of these radical species.
When the radical is created it will react with the gas that is going to be doing the laser emission, by bonding to a gas species and creating an exciting gaseous molecule. The gas is then relaxed, and normal laser emission occurs! If this was how the pyramid was generating a laser beam it gets rid of the problem of the energy source, but requires the ancient Egyptians to have access to extremely reactive chemicals and the ability to move them about and use them successfully. Not only that, but it would require a comically large amount of hydrogen gas, something that besides being explosive, which coincidentally Dunn thinks may have caused what he calls scorch marks on the inside of the pyramid, would be pretty hard to pressurize and transport in such a way that we would not be able to tell that they could do it at the time. Besides that, if they were able to transport gases in that technologically advanced way, then why did they not simply do that with the waters of the Nile to stop drought and famine?
So the whole laser thing I think doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Besides there being no evidence of an optical tuning method that would change the random laser photons into a beam that could be harnessed, there is no evidence that the Egyptians could actually transport gases in the way described, besides the lack of a really sensible chemical source for the chemical laser method or a significant energy transfer method for the water acoustic theory.
So alright, well we’ve gone through a lot of science this time, but why do we expect these pyramids or the people who built them to be all that advanced or important in some way? I guess a big part of this would be that the pyramids are pretty magnificent, and it boggles the mind of many how they could possibly have been constructed without the use of advanced technologies. But the fact of the matter is that they had all of the tools needed to move giant stones and carve them at the time, and anyone who has had to move a refrigerator knows at least one way that may have worked. The same principles of rocking a large object back and forth on a level arm to cause it to move small distances is a time tested method that works even for giant objects, without the need of UFO anti gravity beams or giants or any other esoteric methodology. IF you have some free time after listening to this show, I highly suggest you look up on YouTube the video titled “Man Moves Huge Blocks!” which shows these principles in practice. A single person moves blocks the size of those found at Stonehenge, and all it takes is a little bit of physics! And the Egyptians had thousands of workers, and all the time in the world to use on these projects.