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For other uses, see Aether (disambiguation).

The aether (also spelled ether) is a substance concept, historically used in science and philosophy.


Brief History of Science

In physics and philosophy, aether was once believed to be a substance which filled all of space. Aristotle included it as a fifth element on the principle that nature abhorred a vacuum. Aether was also called "Quintessence".

Oliver Nicholson points out that the older concept the aether (in contrast to the more well known luminiferous aether of the 19th century) had three properties. Among these characteristics, the aether had a non-material property, was "less than the vehicle of visible light", and was responsible for "generating metals" along with fostering the development of all bodies.[1] Robert Fludd stated that the aether was of the character that it was "subtler than light". Fludd cites the 3rd century view of Plotinus, concerning the aether as penetrative and non-material.[2] Other 1800s views, such as James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, and Nikola Tesla, was of the disposition that the aether was more akin to it actually being the electromagnetic field.

In 19th century physics, the positing of a luminiferous aether was used to reconcile electromagnetic theory and Newtonian physics. It was known that light exhibited wave-like properties, and the aether was posited as the "signal-carrying medium" in which waves of light traveled (just as waves of sound require a physical/atomic medium). By the early 20th century, though, attempts to detect the aether (or, more specifically, attempts to detect the planet's movement through the aether) had called the concept into doubt.

The problem of the luminiferous aether was sidestepped by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. In modern physics, the concept of fields even in an absolute vacuum devoid of all particulate matter remains, with terms such as "space-foam", "Planck particles", "quantum wave state" (QWS), Zero-point energy, Dark energy, quantum foam, and Vacuum energy being frequently used.

Extended Discussion

"Ether or aether (aiqhr probably from αιθω, I burn), a material substance of a more subtle kind than visible bodies, supposed to exist in those parts of space which are apparently empty" - so began the article on the "Ether" written by J.C. Maxwell for Encyclopedia Britannica, and O. Lodge's book against Relativity, entitled "The ether of space".

The above definition encapsulates a mistake that is common to a whole epoch of classical and modern physics: the idea that the Aether is subtler than matter, but is still a material, ponderable medium with 'invisible' electromagnetic properties. The modern scientific development of Aether theories points, instead, in a different direction with respect to both dark and subtle properties of the Aether - it points towards the concept of a massfree energy medium that has 'a- photic' or nonelectromagnetic properties. The Aether's 'subtlety' results from its massfree or noninertial property, and the 'invisibility' from its nonphotonic or dark nature. This rejoins the perception of pre-Socratic philosophy when it wrestled the original concept of the Aether from Greek mythology.

Aether in Greek mythology is probably first mentioned by Hesiod as a figure of the Highest or Superior Heaven. 'Higher' than it, only its 'mother' Nix ("The Night") and its 'father' Erebus ("The Dark"). So, Aether is issued from the dark, the dark of the night and the dark of the cosmos; 'his' sister is Hemera ("The Day"). In Higinius' fables, Aether is the 'son' of Chaos, Chaos being uncreated and having a meaning different than the later Parminedean meaning of the vacuum or nothingness - a meaning that is best translated by the dark, the empty of 'Day', where no Light or Sun abides. It is Chaos that precedes everything, but it is from the Aether that Heavens, Earth and Sea arise - Aether being also the 'father' of the Titans, the Erinias (later the Roman Furies) that inhabit 'hells' (not Hades), Pan - and, according to Cicero, Jupiter in the Roman mythology.

Pre-Socratic Orphism (Clement of Alexandria, Macrobius, etc) displaced the relationship - as an evocation of Akhnaton's solar monotheism - by replacing Chaos with Helios, as identified with Dionysus (who became the master of Aether and Hades). Helios is surrounded on all sides by Aether, and orphism only recognized one god - Helios-Dionysus. Eusebius later amalgamates this god to Zeus.

To this swirl of mythological and nonphilosophical discussions of origins, Anaxagoras of Clazomena (~5th century BC) counterposed two principles - Chaos and Nous - for two types of substances, Air and Aether. Chaos was the principle of permanent motion (and for Anaxagoras all motion was vortical), and Nous the principle of 'order', 'ratio', knowledge, plasticity, creation and consistency. Nous was also the power of the lightest substance, and thus the principle of Levity or Celeritas. As Aether was also the lighest of substances, Nous was its principle. All matter was made up of Aether and Air, and created by virtue of the Nous. Nous will later be distorted to become the basis of the philosophical concept of Reason in post-Socratic philosophy.

The birth of the scientific concept of the Aether can be traced to Renaissance thought - in particular to the one-all substance of Spinoza, Descartes' notion of a vortical occupation of space, and Leibniz's monist theory of monads. These thoughts are precursors to modern theories of a dynamic Aether. Conversely, the notion of a static Aether, a jelly-like Aether, finds its classical origins in Newton.

In more recent times, Aether has had four distinct physical, mathematical and conceptual meanings.

Classic Stationary Aether

In the 19th century, Aether designated a stationary substance of space that transmitted light and permitted measurement of the motion of material bodies by the drag which they supposedly caused. Thomas Young, Kelvin, Lodge, Lorentz, and others held this view. Maxwell's electromagnetic Aether is the prime example of the Classic Static Aether. However, the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment forced (from 1887 onwards) the demise of all Classic Static Aether models. Classical theories of the Aether have retained a certain currency to this day, particularly in their Aether-drag variants (eg. Miller). Lorentz's mathematical transformations and invariance - later adopted by Relativity to the exclusion of an Aether - were enunciated so as to preserve the stationary Aether hypothesis.

Gravitational Aether

In the 1910-1925 period, A. Einstein persisted in an antiquarian interpretation of the General Relativity that took recourse to an Aether of Space, a Gravitational Aether, responsible for the production of space and gravity as physical effects: "Most careful reflection teaches us, however, that the special theory of relativity does not compel us to deny the aether. We may assume the existence of an aether; only (...) we must by abstraction take from it the last mechanical characteristic which Lorenz had still left it (...), namely, its immobility. (...) To deny the aether is ultimately to assume that empty space has no physical qualities whatever. (...) Recapitulating, we may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether" (A. Einstein, "Aether & Relativity", 1920). Einstein later abandoned this approach.

New Aether (ZPE/mCBR)

In 1913, A. Einstein and O. Stern first proposed the notion of a cosmic heat bath whose function corresponded to their concept of a Zero Point Energy (ZPE). Though this early concept of the ZPE was rejected, the 1967 discovery of a microwave cosmic background radiation (mCBR) led to a reformulation of the ZPE hypothesis by stochastic (T. Boyer) and quantum models (H. Puthof, B. Haisch). Modern ZPE theories have in common the notion that the "vacuum state" is an electromagnetic field (ZPF) present even near absolute zero temperature, the ZPF being homogeneous, isotropic and subject to Lorentz invariance.

Dynamic Aether

All theories of a dynamic Aether accept the null result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, and explain it by the properties of a massless or massfree Aether. P. Dirac may have the honour of being the first who tried to enunciate the basis of a dynamic Aether by ascribing to it the 'strange' property of 'negative energy'. Other approaches are the Orgonomy — Orgonometry approach, The Quon — Hadronic Aether model, Aetherometry apporach.

Orgonomy — Orgonometry

The first attempt at a theory of a dynamic Aether was Wilhelm Reich's theory of orgone energy (1940- 1957). Reich's approach lay the foundations for a (micro)functionalist treatment of physico-mathematical quantities and processes, but failed to generate a consistent method capable of successfully distinguishing gravitational and electromagnetic interactions and properties, from 'orgonotic' and massfree interactions or properties. Reich's exclusive assimilation of massfree properties to 'orgone energy' prevented him from realizing the difference between electric and nonelectric manifestations of the Aether as a primary form of massfree energy. This left his followers mired in the premature identification of Aether with orgone.

The Quon — Hadronic Aether

The first cogent model of a dynamic Aether was proposed by H. Aspden as far back as 1958. Aspden's model of a dynamic Aether invokes the existence of a near-balanced continuum of cosmological charge populated by 'Aether particles', the quons, that are capable of condensing ordinary electron-positron pairs and are not subject to the constraints of Relativity (hence, are massless-like). Aspden's theory has also been called a model of the hadronic Aether because the proposed Aether lattices also contain positively charged mu-mesons and massive gravitons and supergravitons.


Recently a model of an imponderable dynamic Aether has been proposed by P. Correa and A. Correa, under the name of Aetherometry. Experimentally, the Correas claim to have demonstrated the existence of Reich's orgone and dorgone energies, and quantitatively identified them as contiguous subspectra of ambipolar (electric) massfree energy. This theory has not found any scholarly support.

See also


  1. Oliver Nicholson, "Tesla's self-sustaining electrical generator", The historical ether. Proceedings of the Tesla Centenial Symposium, 1984.
  2. Robert Fludd, "Mosaical Philosophy". London, Humphrey Moseley, 1659. Pg 221.

External links and further reading

nl:Ether (niet bestaand medium) sv:Eter (fysik) vi:-te (vật l) zh:以太


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