In my twenties I designed a perpetual motion device that works perfectly . . . in the future.

And by that I mean the device requires in one of its parts a type of material that did not yet exist but I imagined someday would. That imagined material would have three properties:
  1. Thin (perhaps 1/16 of an inch, or anywhere in that range.)
  2. Must block or substantially reduce a magnetic field
  3. Must not itself be attracted or repelled by a natural magnet
The third point is the hard one. There are "shielding" materials for magnetic fields but the shields themselves are influenced by magnets.

Every few years I like to check in with my smarter-than-me readers and ask if some new development in materials science has gotten us there yet.

You don't need to tell me perpetual motion violates the rules of physics. I know that. No lectures needed.

But if the rules of physics disallow perpetual motion, they also disallow any future discovery of the material I described, because having that material would allow me to build my device.

So I'm just checking in to see if anyone knows of a newly developed material that meets my criteria. If you do, you are about to change the world.

(Regular readers know I like to use irrational optimism as a feel-good strategy for the moist robot container that you refer to as Scott. That's what this is.)


Scott Adams

Co-Founder of CalendarTree (the simple way to add lengthy schedules to your calendar)

Author of the best graduation gift ever
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Apr 4, 2014
I just designed a perpetual motion machine. All I need is a material that gives off energy indefinitely without degrading. Let me know when you find it.
Apr 4, 2014
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Apr 4, 2014
The history of purported perpetual motion devices is very interesting. People for hundreds of years have constructed them. But there is always a catch somewhere. Snooty principles of Physics as established in our section of the Universe state a perpetual motion machine is impossible to build. OR IS IT?

Other Universes might have more business-friendly rules. The nearest access to another universe would probably be through singularities within black holes. The nearest globular cluster is probably the place to find nice family-size black hole embedded within. There is also a humongous industrial strength black hole at the center of our galaxy, but it is booked solid for decades.

But our present technology cannot use black holes, darn it. Then, too, OSHA frowns upon their use in the workplace without prohibitively expensive safeguards, and the EPA would have a fit if you brought one to Earth. If you happen by chance to find one, magnetic gloves and apron are required. Keep it away from children and pets, for goodness sake.

Fortunately, on the other side of the Universe lies the Nairatrebil Expanse, wherein Physics is more conducive to business interests. With the help of Oligarchs From the Tenth Dimension, legislators there have voted to void Universal Gravitational rules, the Planck Constant, Entropy, and most of those other silly things that impede Progress. Conveniently, Pi equals a flat 3.0. Causality is casually observed. Taxes are low there.

Anyway, sales creatures from Nairatrebil are even now saturating the Internet with PM construction material. It will enable us to make our own perpetual motion machines. The material is relatively lightweight, can be sliced as thick or thin as you need it, is flexible, and will soon be available at fine grocery stores near you. It is Angolob, so ask for it by name. See ads for further details.

Slap it on liberally to your favorite perpetual motion machines to get the desired effect. Or slap it on conservatively if liberality offends you. And if you get hungry, it is even edible. Such a deal.

I hope this helps.
Apr 4, 2014
Dr Feynman explains how/why magnets work:

The quick answer: everything is magnetic to some degree. All matter is either held together (or pushed apart) by some form of electro-magnetic force. Material that doesn't seem to be magnetic (because you can't seem to feel or detect the force of attraction or repulsion) simply has its particles aligned in a sufficiently random pattern that it doesn't appear to create a magnetic field that either attracts or repulses another object.

But, you still can't push your hand through a non-magnetic solid object. Because at the atomic level, the electro-magnetic force which is holding it (and your hand) together are strong enough to repell each other.

So Scott, the material you're describing cannot exist -- because while some material can block (or interfere) with a magnetic field, it is simply impossible for matter to exist that will not be affected in some way by a magnet. (Even if that effect appears to be so small that we can't see it.)
Apr 4, 2014
Mavioni, the writer of that article is far too breathless and silly. At the nanoscale individual particles may increase in free energy, and it's hardly a new result from Vienna -- Jan Liphardt at Lawrence Berkeley labs, for example, did a great paper back in the early 2000's where optically trapped DNA did. But notice that in order for it to do that _it has to give up entropy to a larger system with which it is in thermal equilibrium_. The second law still holds; it's about the aggregate behavior of _systems_. Individual pieces within those systems can do all kinds of things on specific occasions. Look, every chemical reaction you've ever seen in a biology class (as opposed to, say, a gas-phase chemistry class) has some "activation energy" -- that means at the beginning of the reaction, the molecule actually _gains_ free energy, just like the little glass sphere in the Vienna paper. Did that violate thermo? Of course not -- the molecule borrows energy from solution and then gives it back, just like the glass bead borrows energy. Now, there are nice conclusions one can draw and meaurements one can make. But this experiment is not, even slightly, a violation of thermo; the journalist is ... confused.
Apr 4, 2014
EMU, you're just trying, as was Kingfisher, to hide science illiteracy. Your exact statement was " no one has (so far) found a way to have any physical thing have a size, weight or other measurement that is a non-rational real number." But that's science-illiterate. Nobody (with a functioning brain) has even tried to do such a thing, because it cannot be done, because irrational and rational numbers are contained within the error on ever measurement.

Nowhere have I said there's anything wrong with asking "why." What I did was correct Kingfisher -- the laws of thermo are simply an observation. I think it would be interesting to ask why they are as they are. But _not one of you_ has proposed to do that. What Mr. Adams proposes doesn't do that. It would just say, OK, that law is wrong. No "why" either way.

Now I see more nuts are coming out to tell me that superconductors are the magic magnetic-field killer. OK, let me know how that works out for you next time you get an MRI.
Apr 4, 2014
Superconductors effectively block magnetic fields less than their critical limit, as the field cannot exist within the superconductor. Of course, they also require the temperature to be less than their transition temperature, which is quite cold for all known superconductors.

How does a magnetic field blocking material help you to build a perpetual motion machine?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
It is strange you mention perpetual motion today, Scott, as just before reading your blog I was reading about this research from the University of Vienna showing that nanoparticles can disobey the second law of thermodynamics.
Apr 4, 2014
Mu Metal first came to mind.

"Hard disks, which have mu-metal backings to the magnets found in the drive to keep the magnetic field away from the disk." ---wiki

Ductile, blocks magnetic fields. It has far less iron than steel, so should have low magnetic pull.

0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
Kieselguhr_Kid: So you don't think it's worth trying to figure out /why/ a certain capability is limited?
Thinking about this stuff is what maths and theoretical computer science are for.

Regarding the "measurement error" this has nothing to do with it.

Apr 4, 2014
Kingfisher, you are digging in deeper and wackier. The definition of work, for example, has bupkus to do with approaching equilibrium. Mechanically, it's what you learned in junior high: force times displacement in the direction of the force. Finis. The laws of thermodynamics are not, in fact, definitions. And so on. Besides, if what you said were true (which, I want to stress, it's not), your original comment would _still_ be wacky: fine, Mr. Adams is quibbling with the appropriate definition, no "magical thinking" there.

EMU is also wacky. Every measurement ever has error. It is simply impossible to say that any measured quantity is necessarily a rational number since within the margin of error there are infinitely many irrational and rational numbers both (actually, there are stupidly _more_ irrationals, because they outnumber the hell out of the rationals: if you pick a number at random, there is zero probability that it is a rational number. But that's a whole 'nother discussion.) I mean, unless your measured quantity is of something like "how many ball bearings are in this jar" or "how many people visited the Washington Monument last year" or "How many roads must a man walk down" in which case I guess we can figure it's an integer. But "how _much_" questions are not in fact constrained to rationals.

I correct my earlier statement: there are in fact some very small numbers of ideas for perpetual motion machines that do not come from misunderstanding magnets. They come from misunderstanding zero-point energy. I forgot about those.

So there's the real reason Mr. Adams should eschew thinking about perpetual motion machines. It brings the nuts out.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
Hey, Scott. Great posting by the way. :-)
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
Phantom II: "If one could accelerate all the molecules in an object simultaneously at the same rate, one would be able to overcome the 'G' forces that prevent rapid acceleration of a body without having it lose its third dimension"

What about this for second best:
Remove the skull and put the rest of the person in water. Fill lungs and other cavities with liquid too. The goal would be to make the body as homogeneous as possible. Most of the body is water anyway so it's going to be suspended. If you accelerate the block of water, the body doesn't move relative to the water and the absence of skull prevents the brain from being ripped apart by cavitation effects.

Theoretically, this could push acceleration quite a bit further, provided you don't mind the reassembly step. (We're talking science fiction here nevertheless.)

One could try this with squids. Has anyone done this?

I think this would work until acceleration gets high enough for shock waves to become significant.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
Yeah, I think there's a contradiction in terms there. This material would need to both interact with magnetic fields (block them) and not interact with them (no attraction or repulsive force).
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 4, 2014
No. Just like no one has (so far) found a way to have any physical thing have a size, weight or other measurement that is a non-rational real number.
(Having a thing like this would supposedly allow one to construct a computer with capabilities beyond those of a turing machine.)
Apr 4, 2014
In the 60's I was taken to see an aged uncle who claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine and one of the parts was just such a material you describe. The machine didn't work and the material (a kind of fibre board) didn't block magnetism. But like all inventors of these things he 'just needed someone to develop it further and put some money in and all would be OK'.
Apr 4, 2014
We all know that the physical laws of the universe came into being in the first few microseconds after the Big Bang, which of course happened all by itself. Those laws also came into existence all by themselves. Of course.

Some of them are really crappy, like that absolute speed of light stuff, making it challenging to travel through interstellar/intergalactic space without using up oodles of time.

Others make it impossible to create a perpetual motion machine. Oh, well. So let's move on.

Here's something that could very well be practical (maybe not), and could be a lot more fun: inertialess drive.

If one could accelerate all the molecules in an object simultaneously at the same rate, one would be able to overcome the 'G' forces that prevent rapid acceleration of a body without having it lose its third dimension, to wit: become splattered. Interesting but irrelevant factoid: the common housefly can withstand accelerations up to 60 G's. You're welcome.

Again, we all remember one of those pesky physical laws that go way back to pre-Einsteinian times: Newton's Second Law of Motion. You know, that ol' F=MA. Create an inertialess drive, and you could send satellites into orbit with a gentle push.

The late Arthur C. Clarke both posited this idea and believed that it was possible without violating the laws of physics. So here's a challenge, Scott: start working on the inertialess drive. I await with future awe the announcement of your Earth-shattering discovery.
Apr 4, 2014

I don't think my statement is misinformed, though it might be oversimplified. The fundamental laws of thermodynamics are laws because they are definitions. That is, they are the mathematical description of what we call energy, and thus form our definitions of work, power, and motion. Combined with the theories of relativity, they form our definitions of time, distance, gravitation and the strong nuclear forces. Combined with the theories of quantum physics, they form the basis of our definitions of electromagnetism, and the weak nuclear forces. (the electro-weak forces in the standard model)

A definition by its nature cannot be violated. Work, by definition, can only come from some system approaching equilibrium. Maybe this definition could be revised, but I suspect the only possible revision would be to allow for time-reversal, which would be a very big deal.
Apr 4, 2014
Could zero point energy be the secret to creating a perpetual motion machine?
Apr 4, 2014
I think they did find a material along those lines on Pandora...I know, it was called "Unobtainium"

Yeah, I'm the first one who got to make that joke!
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