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I Could the speed of light just be "terminal velocity"?

  1. May 14, 2016 #1
    Alright, so I'm by no means a trained physicist and most of what I know comes from sporadic readings on the internet, but I had a strange theory the other day. I'm more the type to think in visualizations or analogies rather than cold hard math, so I'll explain it the way the idea came to me.

    So, on Earth, a falling object will reach a terminal velocity as it moves through a medium, which in this case is air. So we can safely say that terminal velocity isn't intrinsic to matter itself, but depends on the medium it is moving through.
    In a vacuum, you theoretically would not have this terminal velocity, but logic dictates there MUST be a point at which it cannot go any faster. At first thought, I'd assume that the speed of light would be that limit, though I can't realistically see an object with mass approaching that speed without becoming immensely massive. That got me thinking though. What about light itself?
    Is the speed of light intrinsic to light itself? We know that c is the speed of light in a VACUUM, but that it can be impeded when moving in other mediums. But what if a vacuum itself is a medium?
    I recently read a theory about inertia being a zero point lorentz force. I imagined an object moving through this zero point field as a penny dropped from a sky scraper would move through air. So here we have an enigmatic property of matter, a natural propensity to resist acceleration, that may not even be intrinsic to matter either.

    This is when a strange idea finally popped into my head:
    What if the speed of light is akin to terminal velocity? A universal terminal velocity so to speak, only achievable my a massless particle moving in the most basic of all mediums in the universe, the zero point field?

    Is this theory just wholly uninformed and crazy, or is there any merit to it?

  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2016 #2


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    The ether theory was so roundly discredited in 1887 that discussion of it is a waste of time. Google Michelson–Morley
  4. May 14, 2016 #3
    I wasn't really talking about ether theory.
  5. May 14, 2016 #4


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    What else can you possibly call it when you ask "But what if a vacuum itself is a medium?". That IS the ether theory.
  6. May 14, 2016 #5
    Obviously I misspoke, and you are focusing on a minute detail of my post.
    You were quick to liken a fraction of what I said to some archaic theory, but didn't actually answer my real question at all.
    All I'm asking is could the speed of light be due a photon moving through the zero point field? Would this cause something akin to terminal velocity?
    Does the speed of light necessarily have to be intrinsic to photons themselves or is it dependent on what it is moving through?
  7. May 14, 2016 #6


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    I'm not clear that you are aware of it but the "speed of light" really has two meanings, one solidly correct, the other not so much.

    First, it means, literally, the speed at which light travels, which varies from one medium to another. Second is REPRESENTS the universal speed limit, which almost certainly is the speed at which light travels in a vacuum. Should photons turn out to have some amazingly tiny mass, way below our current ability to detect it, the universal speed limit would not change but we would have to stop calling it the "speed of light". That answers the last part of your question. I have no answer for the part about terminal velocity in a zero point field, but I SERIOUSLY doubt that it is correct because, after all, thousands of physicists from around the world are unlikely to have overlooked it if it were correct.
  8. May 14, 2016 #7


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    When you talk about "terminal velocity", you are talking about a balance between a force for motion and a resistance of some material that light is going through. That material can be called ether.

    In your defense, the ether theory was an intellectually satisfying theory that would have explained a lot in a very simple, intuitive way. Most scientists at that time really wanted it to be true. When experiments did not support the ether theory, there was no good way (before Einstein) to explain the constant velocity of light. That was intellectually very disappointing. Then Einstein's theory explained how the speed of light would always be measured the same, no matter what the measurement method or logical consequence was. So the speed is constant, for any physical, theoretical, or real-world purpose. What is more, Einstein's theory explained everything in an intellectually satisfying way and made some unexpected predictions that were later verified.

    If you study Einstein's Special Relativity theory, I think you will find that it is MUCH more intellectually satisfying than just saying "the speed of light is constant" and even more satisfying than the ether theory or anything like it.
  9. May 14, 2016 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    It is wholly uniformed and without merit. There is more to a scientific theory than putting words together in the right order - you need to be able to use it quantitatively: i.e. to calculate something. It is not only not right, it is not even wrong.

    It also is in violation of PF Rules to post personal theories, and as soon as I am done writing this, I will alert the Mentors. I miss the days when such messages were simply removed, instead of having to waste the membership's time responding to such messages.
  10. May 14, 2016 #9


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    Indeed. Thread closed.

    To everyone: Please report such threads instead of replying.
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