November 05, 2016

"Ether is a tenuous and highly elastic substance that fills all interstellar and interatomic space. It has few of the qualities of ordinary matter. It is continuous and has no molecular structure. It offers no perceptible resistance, and the closest-grained substances of ordinary matter are more open to the ether than a coarse sieve is to the finest flour. It fills all space, and, like eternity, it has no limits. Some physicists suppose—and there is much plausibility in the supposition—that the ether is the one substance out of which all forms of matter come. That the atoms of matter are vortices or little whirlpools in the ether; and that rigidity and other qualities of matter all arise in the ether from different degrees or kinds of motion."

This is from a book called Electricity and Magnetism, published in 1900. 

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This theory has since been disproven, or at least fallen out of favor.  What is interesting to me about this pasage, and more apparent when reading it in the full context of the book, is how logical it sounds, and how matter of factly it is stated.  It reads just like any physics book you would pick up today in tone and feeling of authority on the topic. 

What gives it even more weight is that it is surrounded by explaination of the electrical and magnetism phenoma which it explains rather accurately.  So what you have is a theory with some cloudy basic information about the ether, in which you can test.  So one might read this, create an electromagnet or a battery (originally called a Leyden Jar) and it would function as described in the book.  That would make a pretty convincing argument for all the reasoning behind electromagnetic theory. 

How much of what we read today is analagous to this old science book.  I think most people have a sense that science today has straightened out a lot of kinks and misconceptions we had wrong.  Books sound so authoratative.  But it is likely, that a very large portion of what we currently take for granted as true is incorrect or incomplete. 

Imagine any 100 year period since around 1300.  This is when scientific advancement picked up enough to speed to demonstrate this, but it would be the same all the way back in history just in larger chunks than 100 years.  Any 100 year period you could look back at the begining of the period and point out how wrong people had been about a great deal of things.  We are currently only in the most recent 100 year period.  We can look back to 1916 and point out how little people really knew about the universe and nature back then.  The neutron and proton hadn't even been discovered back then.

There is no reason to believe this is the period in our history where all of our science book are right.  Back then when we didn't know something the book didn't read "We don't really know how it works, but we believe it could be"  They read "This is how it works".

So when you are reading about new scientific discoveries, listening to lectures in school, that describe with such confidence the nature of the universe, remember, there is a great chance much of it is wrong.  And although some of it is surely true, we can't distinguish what is what. 

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