Exploring Ether and Space: Maxwell's Equations and Beyond

In summary: I don't think we ever fully delved into it.In summary, the skepticism thread reminded me of a question I had for the professionals here. They explained that Maxwell's equations still work even though he formulated them with the idea of an ether in mind, and space does have properties. Something like the ether may exist as a property of space.
  • #1
Pythagorean
Gold Member
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The skepticism thread reminded me of a question I had for the professionals here.

A lot of Electrodynamics (especially the idea of displacement current) was developed by Maxwell with the idea of Ether in mind.

I'm not trying to argue that the ether-as-we-know-it actually exists, but the whole idea behind it is that space has properties. It seems almost like political fear (in the form of skepticism) prevents knowledgeable people from further exploring this idea because they don't want to be labeled crackpots.

When we brought this up to our teacher, he wouldn't comment on it one way or the other. What do you guys think?

specifically:

a) why do Maxwell's equations still work if they were formulated with an ether in mind, yet there's no ether

b) does space have properties?

c) Could something like the ether (but a new beast) exist as a property of space?
 
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  • #2
Pythagorean said:
The skepticism thread reminded me of a question I had for the professionals here.

A lot of Electrodynamics (especially the idea of displacement current) was developed by Maxwell with the idea of Ether in mind.

I'm not trying to argue that the ether-as-we-know-it actually exists, but the whole idea behind it is that space has properties. It seems almost like political fear (in the form of skepticism) prevents knowledgeable people from further exploring this idea because they don't want to be labeled crackpots.

When we brought this up to our teacher, he wouldn't comment on it one way or the other. What do you guys think?

specifically:

a) why do Maxwell's equations still work if they were formulated with an ether in mind, yet there's no ether

b) does space have properties?

c) Could something like the ether (but a new beast) exist as a property of space?

Er.. Maxwell Equations do not "work" all the time. It is non-covariant under galilean transformation. In other words, if you're on an airplane and you see someone on the ground "applying" Maxwell equation to a phenomenon, your set of Maxwell equations will predict nonsensical results that won't match what you (or the other person) saw! That was the whole impetus for Einstein to examine it.

Zz.
 
  • #3
Think about it this way Pythagorean, what would you gain by postulating some kind of ether?

The theory of general relativity has shown that we can build a theory that does not require any notion of an ether.
In that case Ockham's razor applies. :smile:
 
  • #4
MeJennifer said:
Think about it this way Pythagorean, what would you gain by postulating some kind of ether?

The theory of general relativity has shown that we can build a theory that does not require any notion of an ether.
In that case Ockham's razor applies. :smile:

It's Occam's razor, and the postulation is that it could lead to new predictive ideas, in which Occam's razor becomes a personal decision (like I use Occam's razor with string theory, because I don't care about string theory, but I don't expect string theorists to use Occam's razor, because they're trying to find a way to make new predictions with it.)

Zapperz said:
Er.. Maxwell Equations do not "work" all the time. It is non-covariant under galilean transformation. In other words, if you're on an airplane and you see someone on the ground "applying" Maxwell equation to a phenomenon, your set of Maxwell equations will predict nonsensical results that won't match what you (or the other person) saw! That was the whole impetus for Einstein to examine it.

Zz.

That makes a bit more sense. I'm only in my second semester of Electrodynamics and we're just now getting into retarded potentials in Griffith's. I'm assuming I'll learn more about this pretty soon then (I hope).
 
  • #5
Pythagorean said:
It's Occam's razor,...
I think it is more likely that his name was Ockham rather than Occam but that is an entirely different discussion. :smile:

Anyway, if you can demonstrate we need some kind of ether in order to predict anything new, I am all eyes, but please forgive me for not holding my breath. :biggrin:
 
  • #6
MeJennifer said:
I think it is more likely that his name was Ockham rather than Occam but that is an entirely different discussion. :smile:

Anyway, if you can demonstrate we need some kind of ether in order to predict anything new, I am all eyes, but please forgive me for not holding my breath. :biggrin:

I'm not one of those people who asks questions on here because I want to argue it or convince people to go pursue this. I'm more looking for where my misunderstanding is coming from because I'm sure I'm not the first to wonder about this, and if it hasn't been changed, so all the wondering before me didn't mean anything I guess.

I think it would be of cosmological interest if anything. It was more just a mild curiosity. In class, I wondered 'if ether was eliminated why didn't any adjustments have to be made to the displacement current?'.

I'm not trying to revolutionize science or anything...
 
  • #7
Pythagorean said:
I'm not trying to revolutionize science or anything...

Why not? :tongue:
 
  • #8
ZapperZ said:
Er.. Maxwell Equations do not "work" all the time. It is non-covariant under galilean transformation. In other words, if you're on an airplane and you see someone on the ground "applying" Maxwell equation to a phenomenon, your set of Maxwell equations will predict nonsensical results that won't match what you (or the other person) saw! That was the whole impetus for Einstein to examine it.

Zz.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that Maxwell's Equations will predict accurate results under a transformation of reference frame, but that the mechanisms may differ. The classical example I've heard is a bar magnet moving through a loop of wire. In the magnet's frame of reference, a magnetostatic explanation will show that the moving charges in the wire will undergo a Lorentz force and create a charge. Whereas in the wire's frame of reference, a changing magnetic flux through the loop will produce an electric field whose line integral around the loop is nonzero (resulting in a net EMF). Therefore in different reference frames, Maxwell's Equations falsely attribute the current through the loop to different phenomena, but predict an accurate result nonetheless.

Is this correct?
 
  • #9
krakp0t said:
the ether is a sign of god and it does exists and your point about maxwells equations is 100% valid. i published many articles verifying the results.

What journal did you get this published in? Because it sounds like complete rubbish to me.
 
  • #10
arunma said:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that Maxwell's Equations will predict accurate results under a transformation of reference frame, but that the mechanisms may differ. The classical example I've heard is a bar magnet moving through a loop of wire. In the magnet's frame of reference, a magnetostatic explanation will show that the moving charges in the wire will undergo a Lorentz force and create a charge. Whereas in the wire's frame of reference, a changing magnetic flux through the loop will produce an electric field whose line integral around the loop is nonzero (resulting in a net EMF). Therefore in different reference frames, Maxwell's Equations falsely attribute the current through the loop to different phenomena, but predict an accurate result nonetheless.

Is this correct?

I don't think so. I remember doing a couple of HW assignments eons ago whereby you use both Newtonian laws (which are covariant under galilean transformation) and one of the maxwell equations, and the maxwell equation predict a different answer.

Zz.
 
  • #11
ZapperZ said:
I don't think so. I remember doing a couple of HW assignments eons ago whereby you use both Newtonian laws (which are covariant under galilean transformation) and one of the maxwell equations, and the maxwell equation predict a different answer.

Zz.

Wait, I figured out what's going on. Maxwell's Equations are consistent with special relativity, not the Galilean transformations. Sorry, I guess I was confusing the Galilean and Lorentz transformations for awhile there.
 
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  • #12
misquote said:
the ether is a sign of god and it does exists and your point about maxwells equations is 100% valid. i published many articles verifying the results.
JasonRox said:
What journal did you get this published in? Because it sounds like complete rubbish to me.

who are you trying to mischaracterize here, just for clarity?
 
  • #13
Pythagorean said:
who are you trying to mischaracterize here, just for clarity?

Haha! Not you. :rofl:

Just an imaginary person. :tongue:
 
  • #14
JasonRox said:
180px-Joker_black_02.svg.png


ahhhhh...
 
  • #15
To add a little to Zz's comments, people noticed that the experimentally-inspired equations of electromagnetism did not satisfy Galilean relativity. So it was assumed that the equations only held in a special reference frame which was called the ether. We were supposed to be moving slowly with respect to this frame (compared to the speed of light).

Of course, that wasn't true. Einstein realized that it was possible to redefine the concept of a reference frame (and ideas of space and time) such that Maxwell's equations always worked.
 
  • #16
Stingray said:
To add a little to Zz's comments, people noticed that the experimentally-inspired equations of electromagnetism did not satisfy Galilean relativity. So it was assumed that the equations only held in a special reference frame which was called the ether. We were supposed to be moving slowly with respect to this frame (compared to the speed of light).

Of course, that wasn't true. Einstein realized that it was possible to redefine the concept of a reference frame (and ideas of space and time) such that Maxwell's equations always worked.

So, I had an misunderstanding of what ether was. That's why I asked my other questions which went unanswered.

So can we say that space has properties? that it's a thing? because it bends and curves?

I remember Brian Greene talking about Newton's Bucket had some implications too, but I lost interest when he started going into string theory (in Fabric of the Cosmos)
 
  • #17
Yes, space has properties - just not the position/motion properties of a fluid medium.
 
  • #18
russ_watters said:
Yes, space has properties - just not the position/motion properties of a fluid medium.

Is studying the properties of space a relativity thing or an astronomy thing or what?
 

1. What are Maxwell's equations and how do they relate to ether and space?

Maxwell's equations are a set of four mathematical equations that describe the behavior of electric and magnetic fields. They were developed by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century and are fundamental to understanding the interactions between electric and magnetic fields. These equations also played a crucial role in the development of the theory of electromagnetism, which helped to explain the nature of light and its relationship to space and ether.

2. What is the concept of ether and how does it relate to space?

Ether was a concept proposed in the 19th century to explain the nature of space and how light travels through it. It was believed to be a medium that permeated all of space and served as the carrier of electromagnetic waves. However, with the development of modern physics, the concept of ether has been largely abandoned and replaced with the theory of relativity, which sees space as a dynamic entity rather than a static medium.

3. How did Maxwell's equations contribute to our understanding of the universe?

Maxwell's equations helped to explain the behavior of electric and magnetic fields and their relationship to each other. This understanding was crucial in the development of the theory of electromagnetism, which played a crucial role in explaining various phenomena such as light, radiation, and electricity. These equations also paved the way for the development of other fundamental concepts in physics, such as the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

4. What are some real-world applications of Maxwell's equations?

Maxwell's equations have numerous practical applications in our daily lives. They are used in the design and development of various technologies, such as radios, televisions, and computers. These equations also form the basis of electromagnetic theory, which is essential in fields such as telecommunications, electrical engineering, and optics. Additionally, Maxwell's equations are used in research and experiments in various fields of science, including astrophysics and particle physics.

5. Are Maxwell's equations still relevant today?

Yes, Maxwell's equations are still highly relevant in modern physics and continue to be used in various fields of study. They have been confirmed through numerous experiments and continue to play a crucial role in our understanding of the universe. Additionally, these equations have also been expanded upon and modified to account for new discoveries and advancements in science, making them a foundational concept in the study of electromagnetism.

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