Against the Day Weblog

November 27, 2006

Aether

Filed under: Notes — basileios @ 12:02 pm
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Page 58 brings in a very interesting introduction to the Aether theory for the propagation of the electromagnetic waves and the Michelson Morley experiment, the tombstone in the Aether theory.

Pynchon talks about the affinity of aether with religion, but its important to point out that these were beliefs held mostly by para-scientific entities and not strictly by scientists. Scientists – like William Crookes who tried to bring in an element of spiritualism in science were treated like pariahs from the rest of the scientific community.

The other point that cares for a bit more discussion is the sentence ‘all these whirlpools the theory has come to require’. The whirlpools were indeed required by the Maxwellian aether theory in order to connect Maxwells equations (especially the displacement current term μ0ε0∂E/∂t) to the propagation of the field in Aether, but what was understood very clearly by the scientists at the time was that this mechanistic approach was only a means of satisfying a rather heuristic (but more than prominent belief in the scientific community of the time) that every physican entity should have a mechanical analogy. However, this did not necessarily imply that the mechanical analogy was a representation of the true world.

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1 Comment »

  1. As for the Michelson expriment, Pynchon says on p. 59 that it was first carried out in Berlin. This is not completely correct: he first tried it there at the Institute of Physics but there was too much noise due to traffic so the interferometer did not produce any results.
    Therefore, in 1881, Michelson moved to the Astrophysical Observatory Potsdam on Potsdam’s Telegraph Hill where he succeeded finally for the first time to show the Null event: no Aether out there.
    Website: http://www.pik-potsdam.de/~thomas/michelson/Michelson.html
    In the basement of what is now Building A31, at the very place where Michelson had set up his experiment one can find a reproduction of the instrument though – for health reasons – without the original quicksilver lamp.

    Comment by Franz Ossing — September 10, 2009 @ 7:08 pm | Reply


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