# The Ether

Gold Member
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?

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
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.

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.

Gold Member
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.

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).

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.

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.

Gold Member
I think it is more likely that his name was Ockham rather than Occam but that is an entirely different discussion.

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.

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...

I'm not trying to revolutionize science or anything...

Why not? :tongue:

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?

JasonRox
Homework Helper
Gold Member
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.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
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.

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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Gold Member
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.
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?

JasonRox
Homework Helper
Gold Member
who are you trying to mischaracterize here, just for clarity?

Haha! Not you. :rofl:

Just an imaginary person. :tongue:

Gold Member

ahhhhh....

Stingray
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.

Gold Member
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)

russ_watters
Mentor
Yes, space has properties - just not the position/motion properties of a fluid medium.

Gold Member
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?