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The Electrical Mechanism Of The Ether

By A. Press, B.Sc.

The electrical theory of Maxwell was based on the assumption that when a body was electrified something in the nature of a displacement passed from the body into the ether, and from the ether to some other material object or objects said to be thereby oppositely electrified.

That the displacement was not material, that is, it had no weight, went without saying, for with the most delicate chemical balance no difference in weight could be detected. It, therefore, had to partake of an ether-like displacement because the ether is supposed to have no weight.

Maxwell conceived the idea that it was this mysterious displacement, by an unrevealed physical mechanism, that caused electrified bodies to be attracted or repelled according to the well-known material Newtonian laws of mechanics.

Whereas, the electrical displacement itself is intangible as it were, because it involves the ether only, forces always very visibly manifested at the material bounding surfaces of the ether were conceived to take place by virtue of a special displacement mechanism which Maxwell assumed.

This displacement mechanism was considered to be located in the ether itself rather than in the electrified material bodies. Forces there must be in the ether, but it is necessary to remember that we can make sure of their existence only by mechanical reactions of the ether upon material bodies. When the forces wholly refer to the ether they are designated as "generalized" forces.

Thus, although an electro-motive force is regarded as setting up a flux of electric displacement this force cannot be considered a true force in the Newtonian sense, for matter is not involved, except indirectly.

The mechanical or Newtonian forces that are observable on electrified bodies always imply matter. Electrical instruments are employed it is true to measure E. M. F.'s (potentials) and currents, but it is very obvious that what we are really measuring are the reactions of the ether upon material bodies and not the forces that act wholly and entirely on the parts of the ether medium itself.

The question can arise whether electricity as such can exist apart from matter.

Heaviside is decidedly of the opinion that it cannot. We know that like charges repel each other and therefore the functions of material bounding surfaces for - the ether appears to be to keep the like elemental charges together. Just how this property to see how any portion of electricity can manifest itself except by a material reaction which can account for a Newtonian force being set up, yet single negative electrons have been observed. Again, if the electron or atom, of electricity were of the imponderable ether substance then there is difficulty in accounting for the elemental electric charge keeping itself intact; for even an electron is supposed to have dimensions.

It was from this latter sort of consideration that Heaviside foretold that the observable electron would be found to have a material nucleus. It would also seem to nullify the earlier electric particle hypothesis of Maxwell.

Strange to say in attempting to form a physical picture of electrical displacement, Maxwell himself imagined a sort of purely ether particle which bears a very close resemblance to Lorentz's electron particle.

However, such makeshift devices, for such they are, do not by any means enable us to explain how mechanical energy can be converted into electrical energy or how electrical energy, such as the electro-magnetic light waves from the sun, can be transmitted through space to be thereafter transformed into work in the service of man, or how even to interpret matter in terms of the ether.

Both Lorentz and Maxwell imagined their ultimate electrical particles to be of such a nature that, in what are called dielectrics or insulators,the electrons are only capable of moving a very short distance from their normal state of equilibrium; whereas in conductors, such as copper, the electrons were considered to be free and capable of being set in motion by appropriate etherial or as we would now express it—electromotive forces. Such forces, as has already been indicated above, are not to be confounded with the mechanical forces such as pressure or inertia. Yet when a conductor passes through a state of the ether called a magnetic field, the electrons in the conductor are assumed to be impelled in a certain direction. So far as the electrons are concerned, it is an electro-motive force that causes the electrons to travel through what are really the large-sized pores of the metal; but so far as the copper or material conductor is concerned it is a Newtonian mechanical force or pull that will be found necessary to be applied to set up the electronic displacement.

In the dielectric or insulating medium of a condenser the electrons are considered tied, a9 it were, to the material atoms or molecules of the insulating medium. They are not supposed capable of extended migratory movement from the individual atom. Thus for an alternating E. M. F. large current volumes can be set up but cannot, however, be maintained uni-directionally to any considerable extent. Of course, in conductors this limitation is not present and the electrons are free to travel in a complete physical circuit.

The question can also arise as to how an alternating current can be maintained when there is nothing but the ether between the plates of a condenser. Would such a medium constitute a perfect insulator? The answer for an alternating E. M. F. is, "No." In fact, besides the Lorentz electrons, with, however, a material nucleus added, one must, because of this, fall back on a true Maxwellian, purely etherial displacement.

According to modern electron theory the true Maxwellian, purely etherial displacement is always present in a dielectric, but superposed upon it in material media is an electronic displacement, with a material nucleus. The original Maxwellian displacement was structurally undefined. In insulators the electrons are tied, but in material conductors the electrons are free. It would be expected that since the electrons have a material core that these elemental charges should be associated with material media, but the true ether displacement currents of Maxwell, in which the material core is absent entirely, offers considerable difficulties to our understanding or rather visualization.

In the older theory, such as that of Ampere, the current flowing in a conductor was considered to be altogether distinct from the current flowing in a condenser.

It was Maxwell who insisted, however, that a condenser current in the insulating medium itself must set up magnetic effects equivalent absolutely to those set up in a conductor of like current capacity.

Nowadays the conductor current of Maxwell's mysterious days is pictured as being due to an electronic stream of particles having a material nucleus, but the old purely etherial condenser current of Maxwell has still held its ground but superposed upon this current notion is the one in which, for material dielectrics, electrons are in addition considered, to be displaced to a limited extent just as in the old Maxwellian ether displacement current.

In considering the manner in which light reaches us from the sun, since this is understood to be an electro-magnetic wave phenomenon, it would appear to be really of the nature of a true Maxwellian (or pure Lorentzian) character. That is to say the light waves in leaving the sun pass out like straight line streamers of a reeled off link chain in all directions. The one set of links" lying in a plane, see Fig. 1, represent the displacement circuits of electricity, which Maxwell pictured as due to a flux of pure ether particles in such a circuit.

On the other hand the links looping the first set of links in a plane perpendicular to the latter, represent the closed paths of magnetic disturbances which Maxwell considered was due to what he called "idler" ether particles. Now, in considering electro-magnetic waves set up by an aerial in wireless telegraphy, the original displacement loops are not considered to lie wholly in ether, as they must do, when electric waves in the nature of light are sent out by the sun.

In wireless work such displacement loops are partly true Maxwellian (i.e. they consist of a pure etherial displacement in ether) and partly what one might call Lorentzian, or modified Lorentzian, because a portion of the loop path passes through the earth. That part which passes through the earth would be due to electrons according to modern theory, whereas the remaining part in the ether, or air, would only be due to electrons if the air was what is called ionized; otherwise the actual electrical displacement in the ether part of the circuit would have to be considered pure Maxwellian.

The difference apparently between a Maxwellian ether particle and a Lorentzian electron is that Lorentz's electron is supposed to account for the electrical conductivity in solids, liquids and gases or what is called ionization, whereas Maxwell's ether particle is supposed to account for the normal etherial conductivity.

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