David N. Talbott — is a self-taught comparative mythologist and long-time promoter of neo-Velikovskian nonsense. Inspired by Immanuel Velikovsky — , Talbott uses ancient mythological tales as evidence his so-called proof that Earth was at one time in orbit around Saturn within recent human memory, no less , and a litany of other equally ridiculous claims. Talbott received his B. He also completed a year of graduate work in urban studies.

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Image: Che Saitta-Zelterman. They subscribe to an idea called "electric universe," and sometimes describe themselves as "getting EU eyes. The objects and events remain the same. But they're tinged with truth. And in EU theory, the truth is that electricity rules. Electric currents that flow along plasma filaments shape and power galaxies. The currents stream into stars, powering them like fluorescent bulbs. They induce the births of planets. Craters on those planets come from electrical arcs, like lightning bolts, that sear the surfaces.

The electric universe concept does not meet the National Academy of Sciences' definition of a "theory," which is "a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence" and "can be used to make predictions about natural events or phenomena that have not yet been observed.

In physics, theories need math. That's how you predict, gather evidence, verify, disprove, and support. But EU theory isn't big on math.

In fact, "Mathematics is not physics," Thornhill said. While that equation aversion makes the theory pretty much a nonstarter for "mainstream" astronomers, it is the exact thing that appeals to many adherents. The idea that outsiders "the people" will revolutionize physics, in a way that those outsiders understand, is powerful. EU is completely at odds, however, with everything modern science has determined about the universe. Yet something about it sparks fervor in the hearts of people-on-the-street, more fervor than casual believers in the Big Bang have.

Despite the gaps, logical fallacies, and evidence to its contrary, EU appeals deeply to adherents, lighting a fire not unlike a tent revival does. The question is, what is it about EU that grabs people? Thornhill began his obsessive study of cosmic electricity in high school, when he read Immanuel Velikovsky's book Worlds in Collision , published in Velikovsky was an author known mostly for his controversial "comparative mythology" books, which recast and reinterpreted ancient history.

From there, the newborn planet flew close to Earth, causing all sorts of catastrophes. When Venus came back around a half-century later, it stopped Earth's spin briefly , making for a long night.

The resulting disasters, Velikovsky claimed, showed up in mythology around the world. Astrophysicists pointed out that this Jupiter-born Venus idea violated theories about orbits and gravity. But Velikovsky had gone rogue: He suggested gravity didn't cause orbits.

Electricity did. When a young Thornhill read Velikovsky's book, he recognized a kindred spirit. Here, he thought, was a true scientist, not afraid to be a heretic. After studying physics and electronics at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Thornhill briefly did upper-atmosphere research at IBM, but he, too, identified as a heretic. It wasn't long before he left the establishment. He never forgot about Velikovsky, though. And in the early s, he heard about a magazine called Pulsate : 10 issues, all devoted to his scientific hero.

The publication was written by brothers Steven and David Talbott. He soon met these two, along with Velikovsky himself, at a conference called "Velikovsky and the Recent History of the Solar System. There, Velikovsky "planted the seed of an idea that gravity is related to the electrical structure of neutral matter," Thornhill told me.

That seed would eventually grow into a framework called "electric universe" theory, which Thornhill and David Talbott would later develop together and which would gain a fervent worldwide following. Thornhill and Talbott began their official EU collaboration at another conference, years later. In preparation for that meeting, which was called "Planetary Violence in Human History," Thornhill spent a month sleeping on his friend's office floor.

He wanted to convince Talbott that the ancient images he'd been studying—petroglyphs that look like the cartoon Suns in the top-right corners of kindergarten art—bore witness to catastrophic plasma events.

Plasma, the idea went, pervades the universe in filaments. Those filaments carry electric current, and that current controls the cosmos. Today, it's not just Thornhill and Talbott. EU also has the backing of a fervent community, those in The Thunderbolts Project. Since Thornhill and Talbott founded this movement, the internet has spread it. The Thunderbolts website has 1, forum participants, with about online simultaneously at peak traffic.

The Thunderbolts Facebook page has around 10, followers. On its YouTube page, six feature-length documentaries have anywhere between , and a million views. The group holds annual conferences.

This year's is at the Sheraton in Mesa, Arizona. NeeAnderTall, who didn't want to use his real name, consumed science fiction like fuel. But as the years supposedly depicted in Space and A Space Odyssey approached without measuring up, he grew frustrated.

So he decided to reverse-engineer a UFO something he no longer believes in. In the classifieds at the back of Popular Science magazine, he found an ad for High-Energy Electrostatics Research , a tome that deals with "anti-gravity. He gave status-quo answers to get good grades, but he didn't buy into all of it, especially dark matter.

He watched YouTube video after YouTube video, hooked. He likens EU to "a hipster teenager [rebelling] against parental restrictions and taboos. That reaction against convention also led Marc Royal, a year-old music producer in Alberta, Canada, to the electric universe.

In his early twenties, he felt constrained by the corporate demands of his intended career in graphic design. His true passions were making music and reading physics books from Foyles Bookstore in London. When he considered going back to school to formally learn more about the universe, he met with a professor to investigate his options. He opted to continue his solo studies. Soon, he concluded that gravity holds physics back from a grand theory that could explain everything.

He evolved the germ of his own unified theory: that "most things could already be explained by electricity alone. Royal still lurks on the Thunderbolts forum, but the negativity now keeps him silent. A typical comments section is full of ad hominem attacks and invective toward mainstream astronomy and EU doubters. He doesn't think the Thunderbolts have it all figured out. But most in the astronomy "establishment" or "NASA," which seems to be the blanket EU term for a conglomeration of mainstream astronomers, would say EU doesn't deserve refutation.

That's why most astronomers ignore it: No evidence for it, tons of evidence against it, and no support mathematically or physically. EU makes few predictions. It doesn't have a unified framework, or mathematical laws underpinning it. The underlying physics doesn't go far beyond, "It's electric. And where are all these electrical arcs in space? And what could their power source possibly be? It's hard to point out the holes in EU hole by hole because, well, there are a lot.

Here are some others' attempts to poke holes. Proponents also cherry-pick individual phenomena to explain: individual entries on how stars shine, how craters form, why galaxies have their shapes, and what causes planets and craters.

They don't give a whole-universe overview detailed enough to unify those phenomena and also apply to phenomena they haven't yet described. Thunderbolts hate the question-mark terms that modern astronomers use—"dark energy," "dark matter"—to describe observations they can't explain yet. They call these concepts "patches. The gaps in electric universe theory do drive followers from the fold. David, a former enthusiast who now calls EU an "anti-science cult" and wished to use only his first name, was undone when someone asked about Thornhill's latest electric explanation of gravity.

Astrophysics has left many behind. Its concepts, almost by definition, are abstract. None of us, no matter what happened in Interstellar , will feel the tug of a black hole.

We'll never be in the cosmic delivery room when a planet comes barreling around its orbit for the first time. Aside from solar-system samples, all we get from space are pictures and plots—evidence that immaterial photons hit some telescope's detector. The math that predicts and explains the cosmos is far outside common knowledge.

EU proponents hate the question-mark terms that modern astronomers use to describe observations they can't explain yet. What astronomers call dark matter and dark energy, doubters call "patches. Without evidence or explanations they can make sense of, EU followers feel like scientists are saying, "Just trust us.

And, to some extent, he's right. The idea that Earth goes around the Sun, and not the other way around, was once considered heretical.

Before revolutionary ideas become revolutionary, they simply sound fringe. But the problem is that most fringe ideas don't turn out to be revolutionary. They just turn out to be wrong. And equating pseudoscience, or even just bad science, with solid science isn't just unorthodox.

It can be dangerous.


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