“Screwball” (Lawsonomy)


Pitching for the 1890 Boston Beaneaters seems a rather excellent thing to do. Still better is starting a flight magazine in 1908. Alas, these two career highlights are but blips in the otherwise vain, ridiculous life of Alfred Lawson.

He left his sport and aviation pursuits behind to dream up an idea that tied everything together. And I’m not talking some piffling, particle physics-only version, but a theory of EVERYTHING that would solve all problems of governance, economics, morality, and science. His self-importance extended to his naming this panacea Lawsonomy.

He claimed his ideas could lead to a lifespan of 200 years. He seems to have taken this secret to his grave, which was dug well short of his two-century mark. He primarily promoted a form of alternative physics, whose main tenet was “penetrability,” which held that objects can only penetrate other objects if their densities were different. From there, he segued into “suction and pressure,” which he meant to supplant the Law of Gravity. He wrote, “No electron, atom, molecule, Earthly formation, or cosmic formation, however large or small, could move at all except by, or through the agency of currents caused by Suction and Pressure.”

He delved into this and other principles in dozens of books, which he had ample time to write, since he never executed his ideas, tested them in the lab, or applied them to scientific pursuits. He invented his own terminology, which made readers even more confused, and he never attempted to provide evidence for his claims. In fact, his 50-plus volumes of work may constitute the most exhaustive case of Begging the Question in logical fallacy history. Rather than explaining his ideas or relating an experiment, he meanders off into something different, then comes halfway back, then abandons it entirely for another tangent. This goes on page after page, chapter after chapter, book after book.

Some other dandy tidbits: He dunked his head in ice water to stimulate brain cells; He espoused an extreme form of reincarnation if which all entities, even nonliving inanimate objects, come back as something else. He claimed that planets eat, with the North Pole being Earth’s mouth, and the South Pole being its other end.

Lawsonomy features one of the lesser-seen pseudoscience signs, the idea that we are almost there on the all-time breakthrough, if only others would do their part to promote it. To get this going, Lawson started the University of Lawsonomy, which never consisted of more than a rural home, and today exists solely as an extremely threadbare website, lawsonomy.org.

When the didactic route didn’t work, he tried making Lawsonomoy a religion, figuring the faithful would more readily swallow the unproven and unprovable. He had the right idea, but blew it by stipulating a 30-year course of study. People want cheap, easy answers, but they want them now. To do this successfully, you have to sell an elementary idea up front, then keep coming up with new reasons for followers to come back. That’s how Scientology and Transcendental Meditation operate.

Whether at his university or church, followers were subjected to this type of unfounded assertion: “Earth is not a solid ball but a network of constructive cells with power of expansion and contraction which hold together and brace it so that pressure from without cannot crush it nor pressure from within explode it.”

He didn’t limit his unsubstantiated ideas to large bodies. He believed in mental microscopic organisms, themselves made up of other mental microscopic organisms, that “supervise the building up and tearing down of material things by the power of suction and pressure.” He gave these organisms names that would have been at home in a 1950s sci fi movie: Menorgs. These Menorgs are responsible for the existence of heavenly bodies and the species which inhabit them. It was sort of a precursor to today’s Intelligent Design movement, except that he wrote his creation tale.

In this Menorg-created universe, there are no light waves or sound waves. Rather, light, heat, sound, all substances, and even our thoughts are drawn to matter by suction, or pushed away from it by pressure.

Atoms are said to eat, have bodily functions, and operate on Lawsonian principles, which means among other things that they have no energy. While Lawson never tested any of his notions, this particular theory was forcefully falsified at Hiroshima.

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