Unlike most of the philosophical dreamers, Carter is a capable engineer and does real experiments to test his ideas. He runs a successful business that gives him leisure to pursue his dreams. He is a man of many talents, with one fatal flaw. Carter’s flaw is his unshakable belief in a theory of the universe based on endless hierarchies of circlons. Circlons are mechanical objects of circular shape. The history of the universe is a story of successive generations of circlons arising by processes of reproduction and fission. He verified the behavior of circlons by doing experiments with smoke rings at his home. A smoke ring is a visible manifestation of a circlon. He built an experimental apparatus using garbage cans and rubber sheeting to make long-lived smoke rings under controlled conditions. The fact that smoke rings can interact with one another and maintain a stable existence proves that circlons can do the same. […] Carter was unaware, until Wertheim told him the news, that his smoke ring experiments had been done with similar apparatus and for a similar purpose 130 years earlier. William Thomson and Peter Tait, a famous physicist and a famous mathematician, had invented a theory of matter similar to Carter’s theory of circlons. […] Like Carter, Thomson and Tait used smoke rings as visible images of their imagined atoms. Like Carter, they failed to find any convincing evidence of a connection between image and atom. Unlike Carter, they were professional scientists, highly respected leaders of the international scientific community. Thomson was later ennobled by Queen Victoria and became Lord Kelvin, his name immortalized in the Kelvin scale of absolute temperature. Tait created a mathematical theory of knots, which grew in the twentieth century into a new branch of mathematics known as topology. Thomson and Tait were honored and respected, even as their theory of vortex atoms fell into oblivion. Wertheim asks: Why should Jim Carter be treated differently?[…]

Freeman Dyson on Margaret Wertheim