Dr. Campbell in the MEDesign Lab

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

The Vision of Ezekiel

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Has Physics Found God?

An exploration of the concept of the Luminiferous Aether. 
Presented to The Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem    

James Stewart Campbell, MD            February 2010    

Introduction:  
For over 300 years, physicists have been trying to find what makes gravity, electricity, magnetism, and atomic forces work.  How does physical pull or push actually happen without physical contact, even through what appears to be the vacuum of empty space?  

This question is extremely important, because these forces create the environment for the existence of all matter as we know it.    If these forces of nature were to change even slightly, our world could not exist.  Or the world would change so drastically that we fragile humans could not exist.

Fortunately, whatever sustains these forces has been extemely stable for billions of years as far back in time as we can detect with our magnificent telescopes like The Hubble.   In my mind, whatever carries and sustains this stability of the known forces of nature qualifies as a candidate for what we humans call God. 

Now God means a lot of different things to different people - no group should understand that better than Unitarian-Unversalists.  So I need to first define what I mean by God.   Fitting definitions for God are found in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary:      

"The supreme or Ultimate Reality"      
"The supreme worthful actuality of all existence."      
"the first and final cause of the Universe."     

I also consider God to be unfathomable, unknowable, and incomprehensible to us mere mortals.   My candidate for the position of God that fulfills all these definitions is what physicists in the 19th and 20th centuries called the "Luminiferous Aether", and, though that term has fallen out of favor, the concept continues to surface in quantum mechanics, string theory, and the search for "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy."  

Let us explore the history of the Aether in physics, and what we know about its properties.    

Chapter 1: 
In the Beginning  

Our story starts in 1687 - 67 years after the Mayflower dropped off its passengers on the shores of the "New World."   In that year, Isaac Newton published his treatise on gravity and the universal laws of motion.    This definitive work, which gave us the mathematical formulas for gravity and the orbital motion of the planets, was the first time that mechanical action without physical contact had been described and quantified almost exactly.  

Now Organized Religion was very upset at this discovery, as they had been 77 years earlier when Galileo stated that the earth went around the Sun, so it was not long before Newton was accused of heresy for introducing "Occult Agencies" into the field of science.   It did not help Newton that he experimented in Alchemy.  And the fact that he was an outspoken "Anti-Trinitarian" made it even worse.   Newton's reputation fortunately survived the accusations of heresy. Also fortunately, he was not forced to recant under the pain of the thumbscrew as was Galileo. Newton went on to be Knighted by the British Empire and  Sir Isaac lived to the ripe old age of 84.   His theory of gravity and planetary motion survived unchallenged for 190 years after his death.    

Chapter 2: 
Chasing the Aether
 
In the next 200 years after Newton's death, scientists in both the Old and New World began questioning how mechanical force could be transmitted through space.   This question was made urgent with the discovery of Electricity and Magnetism.  These new forces were obviously different from Gravity, yet they too could create force even through an experimental vacuum.
  ---- (Demonstrate magnetic force here - two opposing ring magnets on a pencil).----------   
How does this force work?       What carries it?     

Adding to this problem was the question of how light could travel great distances through the vacuum of space.  What carries the light?  If light is an undulating wave, what medium is propagating the undulations?   These questions led to the theory of the existence of the "Luminiferous Aether"   It was labeled the "Aether" to describe its clear celestial continuity.   The term "Luminiferous" meant that it could transport light.

It was not long before the possible physical qualities of the Aether were being described.   Surprisingly, it was postulated that the Aether could not be "etherial" as in wispy or gaseous, for two major physical reasons:  

First, the Aether could propagate light at the incredible speed of 186,000 miles per second.  A soft substance propagates waves more slowly than a hard substance.  Thus the Aether must be extemely hard.  

Second, It was found that light was a polarized wave.  That meant the undulations of light must be transverse to the direction of wave travel.  It is well known that transverse waves cannot propagate far through a liquid or a gas. A hard, rigid substance is required to carry such a wave.    Thus the concept of the Luminiferous Aether in the mid-1800's might go something like this:  
"The Aether is like a fine, extremely hard crystal extending continuously throughout all space, in which all matter is embedded yet free to move about within certain limits."   

Now if the Earth and Sun are moving through a stationary "Crystal" of Aether, and the speed of light is constant in this Aether crystal, then it should be possible to construct an instrument that can compare the speed of light in two channels which are at right angles to each other.  Such an instrument could then find how fast the instrument is moving with respect to the Aether.  This speed should vary slightly from noon to midnight and from summer to winter as the earth turns and orbits around the sun.  

Just such an instrument was devised and constructed in 1887 by two physicists, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley at what is now Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, OH.   This large optical instrument, called the Michelson-Morley Inferometer, was supported on top of a huge block of marble, which was then floated in a pool of mercury to allow rotation of the instrument while preventing vibrations.   The inferometer was so sensitive that if the change in the Aether speed was figuratively as small as a gnat, the instrument could measure the size of the gnat's anal pore.  

Michelson and Morley tested the speed of light at all times of day, during all seasons of the year, at different altitudes, and in all types of buildings - even in lightweight tents.   All experiments showed the same disappointing result:  The speed of light was always the same in all directions.    Thus the speed of the Aether could not be determined, and physicists around the world declared that the Aether Hypothesis was officially DEAD.    

Chapter 3: 
Relativity to the Rescue  

Just about the time the Michelson-Morley experiments were performed, a very talented young lad by the name of Albert Einstein was born.  While other children played with dolls or toy guns, Einstein grew up playing with physics, mathematics, and the concept of the Aether.   At the age of 4, when his father showed him a pocket compass, Einstein realized that there must be something causing the needle to move, despite the apparent "empty space." And at the age of 15, Einstein wrote his first scientific work, "The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields".  

These "Thought Experiments" as he called them, focused Einstein's mind on the effect of the speed of light as it applied to moving objects.   In 1905, At the age of 26, he published his work on the Special Theory of Relativity.  Among other things, this theory states that the faster one goes, the slower time goes, and the shorter physical things become in the direction of travel.  This amazing result has been physically proven in recent years.   The Special Theory of Relativity explained why the Michelson-Morley experiment could not measure the speed of the Aether.  Because of the contraction of physical objects and the slowing of time caused by relative motion, the speed of light "seems" the same to every observer, independent of their velocity!   The possibility of the Aether was again alive, even though its "speed" could not be determined.  

Ten years later, Einstein completed the General Theory of Relativity, which takes into account the movement of rotating objects as well as objects in a gravitational field.  Since rotation and gravity require forces and spatial relationships between separate masses, Einstein became more convinced that an Aether indeed existed to makes these relationships and forces possible.

  Einstein gave a presentation in 1920 to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands,  where he explained his concept of the Aether.  Here are his concluding remarks from that lecture:        

"...we may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an ether.  According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable; for in such a space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for  standards of space and time (measuring rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this ether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time.  The idea of motion may not be applied to it."

Chapter 4: 
I think we're all Bozons on this bus.
 
We now enter the strange realm of Quantum Physics, where particles smaller than atoms go where they will without impediment, and things and anti-things randomly appear and disappear before your sensors.  Where mass and energy create waves or particles depending on how you sense them, where a wave really can be in two places at once. Where there are no actual things, only processes. And where the smaller the particle is, the more energy it takes to split it into its parts.    

How do we look for signs of the Aether in all this quantum chaos?   The answer is to look into the chaos itself!  

Here we must bring in the famous and well proven Uncertainty Principle, developed in 1927 by Werner Heisenberg.   

Quantum Physicist Brian Greene states in his book, "The Elegant Universe": "Even in an empty region of space, the uncertainty principle tells us that from a microscopic vantage point there is a tremendous amount of activity."  What's that?  A tremendous amount of quantum activity in empty space??? Activity of WHAT?   

My belief is that this microscopic activity reflects the fabric of the Aether that we seek.    Actually, this random quantum restlessness may be quite important for the development of the universe, for without these fluctuations, matter might not clump into larger and larger masses that we know as the stars and galaxies.   

So here at the beginning of the 21st century, the concept of the Aether is not that of a solid continuous crystal, but instead the Aether seems to be a noisy yet stable supersolid-superfluid extending throughout space.  It probably consists of what we know mathematically as interactive strings, each so small that it would take all the energy on earth to determine its physical structure.

This Aether carries gravity and electromagnetic forces both in space and within matter, and all the material waves and particles which make up the physical world we experience are but curious condensations of this background Aether.    

Conclusion:  
So we are left in the uncomfortable position of being able to consider that the Aether exists, and that it forms the basis of the universe.  But we are physically unable to detect its speed or basic structure.  

The Aether, therefore, is physically unfathomable, unknowable, and incomprehensible to us mere mortals.   If the Aether does exist, it would certainly qualify as        
"The supreme or Ultimate Reality"      
"The supreme worthful actuality of all existence."      
And "the first and final cause of the Universe."  

The extreme stability of this Aether makes possible all known things.  It has allowed the birth and death of stars and galaxies, which spew out the more complex elements, such as the carbon of which we are made.  It has allowed the billions of years required for the evolutionary process to come up with sentient creatures such as ourselves, who in a mere 300 years have been able to seriously delve into the mysteries of our creation.  

In my mind, that qualifies the Aether as God.  

Physicist are understandably split on the existence of the Aether.  Some are adamantly opposed to the concept, and say that light travels through space as particles, which do not need a medium to carry them.   I stand with the physicists who accept the possibility of a quantum background Aether, probably a continuous multi-dimensional array of strings (whatever they are...) extending throughout the universe, both within and outside of matter.  Perhaps these strings form the missing dark matter and dark energy of the Universe that physicists can detect but not yet define.  

Who is correct?  Physics has now become so complicated and conjectural that it is like a group of Unitarian-Universalists.  As long as the basicexperiments are repeatable and the results agreed upon, what is going on unseen depends on each individual’s personal belief.   

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