Image: House of cards by Alex Clark
The glow retreats, done is the day of toil;
It yonder hastes, new fields of life exploring;
Ah, that no wing can lift me from the soil
Upon its track to follow, follow soaring!
Recently, I came across a post on Sepp Hasselberger's blog that I had first seen more than a year ago. In the post, Sepp gives details about some of the ideas of Dr.Paul Rowe, regarding the aether, and specifically, Rowe's persistence that it could be possible to produce hydrogen from the vacuum of space. This belief is based on his own experience and also past experiments made by pioneering scientists of the 19th Century.
Rowe manages to explain his theory about the aether while also imagining himself as part of an elaborate stage play (where he is taunted by the ghosts of science-past - including Huygens, Maxwell and Einstein - about his snoring, and belief in the existence of the aether). In the play, Rowe makes the very curious statement that "vacuum is not a void and whatever is in vacuum can be converted into hydrogen under surprisingly mild conditions."
I wrote a post in March last year, "House of Cards", which was based on details taken from Rowe's play (the title of the post is taken from the name of the play.) I found the play very interesting, highly entertaining, and it even succeeded in tickling me in places (no easy feat in the midst of discussing physics.) After reading it again last night, I realised just how much the play has influenced my thinking over the past year. For one, it showed me the need to question everything that science bases its assumptions on, and to try and explain my line of reasoning as simply as possible. More importantly perhaps, Rowe also proved to me that you can do all the scientific stuff, without having to take ourselves too seriously.
Most certainly, it was Rowe who drew my attention to the paradox that Maxwell had developed his calculations for EMR whilst using a mechanical model of the aether (he later discarded the model but kept the maths.) It follows that Einstein then used Maxwell's equations to develop his own theories, but as Rowe points out, wasn't he thereby basing them on the same assumptions - mainly, that a vacuum is a physical medium? In one dream sequence, Rowe challenges Einstein's stance on the existence of the aether:
" I’ve heard that you felt your equations described physical phenomena without assuming a physical medium in vacuum. You have been quoted as saying, “If a thing can’t be observed, why should it be necessary to assume its existence?”"
One could argue that Einstein did not so much as deny the existence of the aether, but rather, he argued that to prove its existence was unnecessary. There was something else in the play which caught my eye. I noticed that it might very well have been here that I first picked up on the old "helium-He-God" thing. Below, is a part of the play, where Rowe is talking to J. Norman Collie, a long-since deceased Fellow of the Royal Society, about helium's possible contention as being the very substance of the Universe, and ultimately, God:
" For a while, I thought that the medium (aether), in which many scientists, of your day still believed carried light, might be helium. This would mean the whole knowable universe is permeated with helium. It pleased me to think that the most important thing in the universe was capital H small e, which in this form is the pronoun we use for God."
I think that the timing of me re-discovering Sepp's post, and essentially Rowe's aether theory, is for me personally significant. For over the past year I have been able to learn a few more things regarding aether theory, and today, at last, I am beginning to grasp the importance of what Rowe is saying. If I might be so bold, having developed some of my own ideas on the aether over the past year, I think that I might be able to add something to the picture being painted by Rowe. Below, is a paragraph, written by Rowe, which seems to encapsulate the most radical idea in his aether theory:
" I am convinced that hydrogen gas has been created from vacuum. This leads me to suspect that vacuum contains something from which hydrogen can be produced. Other observations led me to suspect that vacuum contains a concentrated matrix of protons and electrons. Such a matrix, the aether, agrees with the ideas of Huygens and Maxwell on the nature of light. The presence of unpaired electrons in the matrix permits simple explanations for the forces between magnets separated by vacuum."
Rowe suspects that the vacuum of space is a concentrated matrix of protons and electrons, and as these are the basic ingredients which make-up helium, it could be argued that the aether is one guise or another of helium. The fourth state of matter - plasma - is essentially made up of super-heated helium. If we imagine the aether as a highly concentrated fluid, then it shall be seen that protons and electrons simply arise from it; they don't exist as protons and electrons per se, until they are fashioned from the formless aether fluid. From this, one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that plasma can arise, by some mechanism, from the fluid of the aether, and that when it does, we are essentially witnessing the birth of matter. Not only that, but we are seeing it emerge from a place that science has erroneously described as empty. The aether, the cold vacuum of space that we've largely ignored as merely "nothing", suddenly becomes a sea of seemingly endless potential energy.
The structure of the building blocks of matter is remarkably simple - they are swirling dipolar vortices in the fluid of the aether. The proton is anticyclonic while the electron is cyclonic, and though they vary in mass, I have presumed that these particles are roughly the same size. The proton has a mass that is some 1836 times greater than the electron, and I think that the reason for this greatly increased mass is down to density. Thus, the proton emerges as a very dense structure in the aether. While on the other hand, the electron being cyclonic, suggests that it is an "empty" structure, and that it has a density that is 1836 times lower than that of the proton. The electron emerges as something of a "hole" in the aether field.
I was thinking that if a proton is a structure that has too much fluid, and the electron is one that has too little, then if I was looking for the very essence of the aether, I should make like Goldilocks and go for something, somewhere in the middle. Therefore, what we are looking for is an entity that has half the density of a proton, while also being half as dense as the electron; something that is 918 times less dense than a proton, but 918 times more dense than an electron. If a proton has a positive charge, and therefore a positive mass, while an electron has a negative charge, and a negative mass, then what is required is something that has no charge, and no mass.
No charge and no mass? Where on earth can we ever hope to find something that has no charge and no mass? No chance. We might aswell close the book on that one. Time to wrap it up. Last one to leave turn off the light. But hang on, some time ago, there was a particle of the aether which was thought to exist that possessed practically no charge, and virtually no mass - Tesla called it a "neutron", Leedskalnin referred to them as "North and South pole indivual magnets", while Mendeleev named it "element x".
In October 1902, the Russian chemist, Professor D. Mendeleev, produced a thesis entitled, "An Attempt Towards A Chemical Conception Of The Ether." In an attempt at a chemical conception of the aether, he put forward a hypothesis that there existed two inert chemical elements of lesser atomic weight than hydrogen. The heavier of these he called coronium, while the lighter one, the one which he suspected could belong to the substance of the aether itself, he classed as a "zero series besides a zero group" on the Periodic Table, and named it "element x". Below, I've included the extracts from the thesis which seemed the most relevant to this discussion:
" In his Dictionaire Complet, P. Larousse defines the ether as ‘an imponderable elastic fluid, filling space and forming the source of light, heat, electricity, etc.’ This is laconic, but sufficient to raise some misgivings in the mind of a thoughtful man of science. He is obliged to admit, in the ether, the properties of a substance (fluid), while at the same time, in order to explain in some way the transmission of energy through space by its motion, the ether is assumed to be an all-pervading ‘medium’. Moreover, in order to explain the phenomena of light, electricity, and even gravity, this medium is supposed to undergo various disturbances (perturbations) and changes in its structure (deformation), like those observed in solids, liquids and gases. If the fluid medium permeates everything and everywhere, it cannot be said to have weight, just as the ponderability of air could not be recognized before the invention of the air pump. Yet the ether must have weight, because, since the days of Galileo and Newton, the quality of gravitation or of weight forms a primary property of substances.
Before endeavoring to give an answer respecting the chemical nature of ether, I think it necessary to state my opinion regarding the belief held by some in the unity of the substance of the chemical elements and their origin from one primary form of matter. According to this view, ether consists of this primary matter in an unassociated form, that is, not in the form of the elementary atoms or molecules of substances, but as the constituent principle out of which the chemical atoms are formed. This view has much that is attractive. The atoms are regarded as proceeding from primary matter in the same way as celestial bodies are sometimes represented as being formed from disunited bodies, such as cosmic dust, etc. The celestial bodies so formed remain surrounded by the cosmic dust, etc., from which they took their origin. So also the atoms remain in the midst of the all-pervading and primary ether from which they took their origin. Some persons assume also that atoms can be split up into their dust or primary matter, just as comets break up into falling stars; and that, as the geological changes of the earth or the building up and dissociation of heavenly bodies proceed before our eyes, so also do the atoms break up and form again in the silence of their eternal evolution
Hence the ether may be said to be a gas, like helium or argon, incapable of chemical combination. This definition of the ether as a gas, signifies that it belongs to the category of the ordinary physical states of matter, gaseous, liquid or solid. It does not require the recognition of a peculiar fourth state beyond the human understanding (Crookes). All mystical, spiritual ideas about ether disappear. In calling ether a gas, we understand a ‘fluid’ in the widest sense; an elastic fluid having no cohesion between its parts. Furthermore, if ether be a gas, it has weight; this is undisputable, unless the whole essence of natural science, from the days of Galileo, Newton, and Lavoisier, be discarded for its sake. But since ether possesses so great a penetrative power that it passes through every envelope, it is, of course, impossible to experimentally determine its mass in a given amount o other substances, or the weight of a given volume of ether. We ought, therefore, not to speak of the imponderability of ether, but only of the impossibility of weighing it.
The problem of the ether is more or less closely connected with that of gravity, and gains in simplicity when all question of the chemical attraction of the atoms of ether is excluded, and this is accomplished by placing it in the zero group. But if the series of elements begins with series I containing hydrogen, the zero group has no place for an element lighter than y, like ether. I therefore add a zero series, besides a zero group, to the periodic system, and place the element x in this zero series, regarding it (1) as the lightest of all the elements both in density and atomic weight; (2) as the most mobile gas; (3) as the element least prone to enter into combination with other atoms, and (4) as an all-permeating and penetrating substance.
In a word, I see no object in following the doctrine of unity of matter, while I clearly see the necessity of recognizing the unity of the substance of ether and of realizing a conception of it, as the uttermost limit of that process by which all the other atoms of the elements were formed and by which all substances were formed from these atoms. To me this kind of unity is far more real than any conception of the formation of the elements from a single primary matter. Neither gravity nor any of the problems of energy can be rightly understood without a real conception of the ether as a universal medium transmitting energy at a distance. Moreover, a real conception of ether cannot be obtained without recognizing its chemical nature as an elementary substance, and in these days no elementary substance is conceivable which is not subject to the periodic law.
As regards the temperature of space, this can only be regarded as the absolute zero by those who deny the material nature of the ether, for temperature in a perfect vacuum or I space devoid of matter is an absurdity, and a solid such as an aerolite or thermometer introduced into such space would alter the temperature, not by contact with the surrounding medium, but solely by radiation. But if space be filled with the substance of ether, it not only may have, but must, have its own temperature, which evidently cannot be absolute zero.
Hence, according to Formula II, the atomic weight of such a gas must be less than 0.038 to enable it to escape freely from the earth’s atmosphere into space. All gases of greater atomic weight, not only hydrogen and helium, but even the gas y (coronium?), will remain in the earth’s atmosphere.
...I consider that the majority of phenomena are sufficiently explained by the fact that the particles and atoms of the lightest element x capable of moving freely everywhere throughout the universe have an atomic weight nearly one millionth that of hydrogen, and travel with a velocity of about 2,250 kilometers/second.
In conceiving the ether as a gas endowed with the above properties, and belonging to the zero group of elements, I desired before all to extract from the periodic law that which it was able to give and to tangibly explain the materiality and universal presence of an ethereal substance throughout nature, and also to explain its faculty of permeating all substances, gaseous, liquid and solid. The atoms of even the lighter elements forming the ordinary substances being several million times heavier than those of ether, they are not likely to be greatly influenced in their mutual relations by its presence.
It seems to me that the optical and photo-radiant phenomena, not to mention the loss of electrical charges, indicate a material flow of something which has not been weighed, and it appears to me that they might be understood in this manner, for peculiar forms of the entrance and egress of ether atoms should be accompanied by such disturbances in the ethereal medium as give the phenomena of light. Monsieur and Madame Curie showed me the following experiment, for instance. Two small flasks were connected together by a lateral tube fused into their necks, and having a stopcock in the middle. The cock being closed, a solution of the radioactive substance was poured into one of the flasks, while the gelatinous white precipitate of sulfide of zinc, shaken up in water, was placed in the other flask. Then both flasks were closed. So long as the cock between the flasks remained closed, nothing is visible in the dark; but directly as it is opened, the sulfide of zinc becomes brilliantly fluorescent and continues so as long as the tube connecting the flasks remains open. This experiment gives the impression of an emissive flow of something material from the radioactive substance, and, in a sense, seems comprehensible if we assume that a peculiar refined ether gas, capable of exciting luminous vibrations, enters and passes off from the radioactive substance.
In conclusion, I may mention another class of phenomena, which led me to this conception of the ether. Dewar, about 1894, in his researches on the phenomena proceeding at low temperatures, observed that the phosphorescence of many substances, and especially of paraffin, becomes more intense at the temperature of liquid air (between -181° and -193°). Now, it appears to me that this is due to the fact that paraffin and such like substances have a great capacity for condensing the atoms of ether at very low temperatures. In other words, that the solubility (absorption) of the ether atoms in some bodies increases in extreme cold. They therefore become more phosphorescent, for the vibrations of light are then set up in the phosphorescent substances, not only by their own atoms (having the property of illumination at their surface, of passing into a state of peculiar tension, which causes, when the act of illumination ceases, the ether to vibrate), but also by the atoms of ether which condense in these bodies and set up a rapid state of interchange with the surrounding medium.
I find that what Mendeleev is revealing about the nature of the aether to be absolutely fascinating. He imagines the aether to be neither a solid or a liquid, or indeed, neither etherial or imponderable - but simply a gas. Best of all, he gives us a pretty good description of the particles that make up this gas. Mendeleev describes element x as having "an atomic weight nearly one millionth that of hydrogen," and that it travels "with a velocity of about 2,250 km/s." Based on Mendeleev's calculations, if element x should have a mass which was even smaller, it would be capable of higher velocities, thereby making it remarkably similar to a particle, which today, we call the "neutrino".
Neutrinos, meaning "small neutral one"; are elementary particles that often travel close to the speed of light, are electrically neutral, and are able to pass through ordinary matter almost undisturbed and are thus extremely difficult to detect. Neutrinos have a minuscule, but nonzero mass. They are denoted by the Greek letter ν (nu).
Most neutrinos passing through the Earth emanate from the Sun, and more than 50 trillion solar neutrinos pass through the human body every second.
Where might it be possible to find a reliable mechanism to produce hydrogen from the aether? I was thinking that it should be possible to produce not only protons, but also electrons. Fluid dynamics dictates that it is simplicity itself to produce vortices in a fluid, especially one as theoretically perfect as the aether. Protons and electrons being the basic building blocks of matter, are most conspicuous in plasma. The most obvious form of plasma being lightning, and as we see it so readily here on Earth, one might presume that the mechanism should be easy to duplicate. Rowe, in a final conversation with Einstein at the close of the play, also reveals an interest in the mechanism that produces lightning:
Paul: You probably know that there is great concern today about the depletion of the earth’s fuels and the deleterious side effects from our present sources of energy. All of the techniques I have discussed for converting the medium into hydrogen require the input of large amounts of energy to produce comparatively little hydrogen. Conversion of the hydrogen in water into the medium, would release considerable energy. The byproducts would be oxygen and the medium. If one could control the process, there would be no deleterious effects.
Einstein: Have you tried to accomplish this?
Paul: Yes, and I have had some interesting, but not dramatic results. I haven’t been able to convince myself about the source of the energy. I certainly couldn’t convince the scientific community. The source of the energy from lightning remains a mystery. I wonder if it could be the conversion of hydrogen in moist air into the medium.
Einstein: That is just the kind of thing I had in mind...