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AEther theories

More than two millennia ago philosophers struggled with the concept of an all-pervasive medium, a medium which would on the one hand be solid and yet on the other hand, allow motion unimpeded through it. The medium was called the aether. The ancients Greeks, originally thought that there must be a plenum: an infinitely dense medium. The notion fell into disfavor when the Greeks reasoned that no motion would be possible in such a plenum, anymore than one could move if one were encased in a block of lead. Spurred by the success of Maxwell's equations combining electricity and magnetism into a single field, the plenum aether was succeeded by a thin, rarefied aether called the luminiferous aether. Today, if one reads the popular literature of modern science, one would conclude that the aether is an outmoded, dead concept: one that is no longer necessary for modern physics. The result is that the aether is now an evasive, pervasive medium that physics so desperately needs and just as desperately abhors.

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Last modified on 19 July, 2000 / GDB