The Machinery of the Universe - Mechanical Conceptions of Physical Phenomena
by Amos Emerson Dolbear
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A common U-magnet, if struck, will vibrate like a tuning-fork, and gives out a definite pitch. Its poles swing towards and away from each other at uniform rates, and the pitch of the magnet will depend upon its size, thickness, and the material it is made of.

Let ten or fifteen ohms of any convenient-sized wire be wound upon the bend of a commercial U-magnet. Let this wire be connected to a telephone in its circuit. When the magnet is made to sound like a tuning-fork, the pitch will be reproduced in the telephone very loudly. If another magnet with a different pitch be allowed to vibrate near the former, the pitch of the vibrating body will be heard in the telephone, and these show that the changing magnetic field reacts upon the quiescent magnet, and compels the latter to vibrate at the same rate. The action is an ether action, the waves are ether waves, but they are relatively very long. If the magnet makes 500 vibrations a second, the waves will be 372 miles long, the number of times 500 is contained in 186,000 miles. Imagine the magnet to become smaller and smaller until it was the size of an atom, the one-fifty-millionth of an inch. Its vibratory rate would be proportionally increased, and changes in its form will still bring about changes in its magnetic field. But its magnetic field is practically limitless, and the number of vibrations per second is to be reckoned as millions of millions; the waves are correspondingly short, small fractions of an inch. When they are as short as the one-thirty-seven-thousandth of an inch, they are capable of affecting the retina of the eye, and then are said to be visible as red light. If the vibratory rate be still higher, and the corresponding waves be no more than one-sixty-thousandth of an inch long, they affect the retina as violet light, and between these limits there are all the waves that produce a complete spectrum. The atoms, then, shake the ether in this way because they all have a magnetic hold upon the ether, so that any disturbance of their own magnetism, such as necessarily comes when they collide, reacts upon the ether for the same reason that a large magnet acts thus upon it when its poles approach and recede from each other. It is not a phenomenon of mechanical impact or frictional resistance, since neither are possible in the ether.


Molecular cohesion exists between very wide ranges. When strong, so if one part of a body is moved the whole is moved in the same way, without breaking continuity or the relative positions of the molecules, we call the body a solid. In a liquid, cohesion is greatly reduced, and any part of it may be deformed without materially changing the form of the rest. The molecules are free to move about each other, and there is no definite position which any need assume or keep. With gases, the molecules are without any cohesion, each one is independent of every other one, collides with and bounds away from others as free elastic particles do. Between impacts it moves in what is called its free path, which may be long or short as the density of the gas be less or greater.

These differing degrees of cohesion depend upon temperature, for if the densest and hardest substances are sufficiently heated they will become gaseous. This is only another way of saying that the states of matter depend upon the amount of molecular energy present. Solid ice becomes water by the application of heat. More heat reduces it to steam; still more decomposes the steam molecules into oxygen and hydrogen molecules; and lastly, still more heat will decompose these molecules into their atomic state, complete dissociation. On cooling, the process of reduction will be reversed until ice has been formed again.

Cohesive strength in solids is increased by reduction of temperature, and metallic rods become stronger the colder they are.

No distinction is now made between cohesion and chemical affinity, and yet at low temperatures chemical action will not take place, which phenomenon shows there is a distinction between molecular cohesion and molecular structure. In molecular structure, as determined by chemical activity, the molecules and atoms are arranged in definite ways which depend upon the rate of vibrations of the components. The atoms are set in definite positions to constitute a given molecule. But atoms or molecules may cohere for other reasons, gravitative or magnetic, and relative positions would be immaterial. In the absence of temperature, a solid body would be solider and stronger than ever, while a gaseous mass would probably fall by gravity to the floor of the containing vessel like so much dust. The molecular structure might not be changed, for there would be no agency to act upon it in a disturbing way.


Degrees of density have already been excluded, and the homogeneity and continuity of the ether would also exclude the possibility of different states at all comparable with such as belong to matter. As for cohesion, it is doubtful if the term ought to be applied to such a substance. The word itself seems to imply possible separateness, and if the ether be a single indivisible substance, its cohesion must be infinite and is therefore not a matter of degree. The ether has sometimes been considered as an elastic solid, but such solidity is comparable with nothing we call solid in matter, and the word has to be defined in a special sense in order that its use may be tolerated at all. In addition to this, some of the phenomena exhibited by it, such as diffraction and double refraction, are quite incompatible with the theory that the ether is an elastic solid. The reasons why it cannot be considered as a liquid or gas have been considered previously.

The expression states of matter cannot be applied to the ether in any such sense as it is applied to matter, but there is one sense when possibly it may be considered applicable. Let it be granted that an atom is a vortex-ring of ether in the ether, then the state of being in ring rotation would suffice to differentiate that part of the ether from the rest, and give to it a degree of individuality not possessed by the rest; and such an atom might be called a state of ether. In like manner, if other forms of motion, such as transverse waves, circular and elliptical spirals, or others, exist in the ether, then such movements give special character to the part thus active, and it would be proper to speak of such states of the ether, but even thus the word would not be used in the same sense as it is used when one speaks of the states of matter as being solid, liquid, and gaseous.


A sliding stress applied to a solid deforms it to a degree which depends upon the stress and the degree of rigidity preserved by the body. Thus if the hand be placed upon a closed book lying on the table, and pressure be so applied as to move the upper side of the book but not the lower, the book is said to be subject to a shearing stress. If the pressing hand has a twisting motion, the book will be warped. Any solid may be thus sheared or warped, but neither liquids nor gases can be so affected. Molecular cohesion makes it possible in the one, and the lack of it, impossible in the others. The solid can maintain such a deformation indefinitely long, if the pressure does not rupture its molecular structure.


The phenomena in a magnetic field show that the stress is of such a sort as to twist into a new directional position the body upon which it acts as exhibited by a magnetic needle, also as indicated by the transverse vibrations of the ether waves, and again by the twist given to plane polarized light when moving through a magnetic field. These are all interpreted as indicative of the direction of ether stress, as being similar to a shearing stress in solid matter. The fact has been adduced to show the ether to be a solid, but such a phenomenon is certainly incompatible with a liquid or gaseous ether. This kind of stress is maintained indefinitely about a permanent magnet, and the mechanical pressure which may result from it is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field, and may exceed a thousand pounds per square inch.


There are many secondary qualities exhibited by matter in some of its forms, such as hardness, brittleness, malleability, colour, etc., and the same ultimate element may exhibit itself in the most diverse ways, as is the case with carbon, which exists as lamp-black, charcoal, graphite, jet, anthracite and diamond, ranging from the softest to the hardest of known bodies. Then it may be black or colourless. Gold is yellow, copper red, silver white, chlorine green, iodine purple. The only significance any or all of such qualities have for us here is that the ether exhibits none of them. There is neither hardness nor brittleness, nor colour, nor any approach to any of the characteristics for the identification of elementary matter.


However great the mystery of the relation of body to mind, it is quite true that the nervous system is the mechanism by and through which all sensation comes, and that in our experience in the absence of nerves there is neither sensation nor consciousness. The nerves themselves are but complex chemical structures; their molecular constitution is said to embrace as many as 20,000 atoms, chiefly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. There must be continuity of this structure too, for to sever a nerve is to paralyze all beyond. If all knowledge comes through experience, and all experience comes through the nervous system, the possibilities depend upon the mechanism each one is provided with for absorbing from his environment, what energies there are that can act upon the nerves. Touch, taste, and smell imply contact, sound has greater range, and sight has the immensity of the universe for its field. The most distant but visible star acts through the optic nerve to present itself to consciousness. It is not the ego that looks out through the eyes, but it is the universe that pours in upon the ego.

Again, all the known agencies that act upon the nerves, whether for touch or sound or sight, imply matter in some of its forms and activities, to adapt the energy to the nervous system. The mechanism for the perception of light is complicated. The light acts upon a sensitive surface where molecular structure is broken up, and this disturbance is in the presence of nerve terminals, and the sensation is not in the eye but in the sensorium. In like manner for all the rest; so one may fairly say that matter is the condition for sensation, and in its absence there would be nothing we call sensation.


The ether is in great contrast with matter in this particular. There is no evidence that in any direct way it acts upon any part of the nervous system, or upon the mind. It is probable that this lack of relation between the ether and the nervous system was the chief reason why its discovery was so long delayed, as the mechanical necessities for it even now are felt only by such as recognize continuity as a condition for the transmission of energy of whatever kind it may be. Action at a distance contradicts all experience, is philosophically incredible, and is repudiated by every one who once perceives that energy has two factors—substance and motion.

The table given below presents a list of twenty-two of the known properties of matter contrasted with those exhibited by the ether. In none of them are the properties of the two identical, and in most of them what is true for one is not true for the other. They are not simply different, they are incomparable.

From the necessities of the case, as knowledge has been acquired and terminology became essential for making distinctions, the ether has been described in terms applicable to matter, hence such terms as mass, solidity, elasticity, density, rigidity, etc., which have a definite meaning and convey definite mechanical conceptions when applied to matter, but have no corresponding meaning and convey no such mechanical conceptions when applied to the ether. It is certain that they are inappropriate, and that the ether and its properties cannot be described in terms applicable to matter. Mathematical considerations derived from the study of matter have no advantage, and are not likely to lead us to a knowledge of the ether.

Only a few have perceived the inconsistency of thinking of the two in the same terms. In his Grammar of Science, Prof. Karl Pearson says, "We find that our sense-impressions of hardness, weight, colour, temperature, cohesion, and chemical constitution, may all be described by the aid of the motions of a single medium, which itself is conceived to have no hardness, weight, colour, temperature, nor indeed elasticity of the ordinary conceptual type."

None of the properties of the ether are such as one would or could have predicted if he had had all the knowledge possessed by mankind. Every phenomenon in it is a surprise to us, because it does not follow the laws which experience has enabled us to formulate for matter. A substance which has none of the phenomenal properties of matter, and is not subject to the known laws of matter, ought not to be called matter. Ether phenomena and matter phenomena belong to different categories, and the ends of science will not be conserved by confusing them, as is done when the same terminology is employed for both.

There are other properties belonging to the ether more wonderful, if possible, than those already mentioned. Its ability to maintain enormous stresses of various kinds without the slightest evidence of interference. There is the gravitational stress, a direct pull between two masses of matter. Between two molecules it is immeasurably small even when close together, but the prodigious number of them in a bullet brings the action into the field of observation, while between such bodies as the earth and moon or sun, the quantity reaches an astonishing figure. Thus if the gravitative tension due to the gravitative attraction of the earth and moon were to be replaced by steel wires connecting the two bodies to prevent the moon from leaving its orbit, there would be needed four number ten steel wires to every square inch upon the earth, and these would be strained nearly to the breaking point. Yet this stress is not only endured continually by this pliant, impalpable, transparent medium, but other bodies can move through the same space apparently as freely as if it were entirely free. In addition to this, the stress from the sun and the more variable stresses from the planets are all endured by the same medium in the same space and apparently a thousand or a million times more would not make the slightest difference. Rupture is impossible.

Electric and magnetic stresses, acting parallel or at right angles to the other, exist in the same space and to indefinite degrees, neither modifying the direction nor amount of either of the others.

These various stresses have been computed to represent energy, which if it could be utilized, each cubic inch of space would yield five hundred horse-power. It shows what a store-house of energy the ether is. If every particle of matter were to be instantly annihilated, the universe of ether would still have an inexpressible amount of energy left. To draw at will directly from this inexhaustible supply, and utilize it for the needs of mankind, is not a forlorn hope.

The accompanying table presents these contrasting properties for convenient inspection.



1. Discontinuous Continuous 2. Limited Unlimited 3. Heterogeneous Homogeneous 4. Atomic Non-atomic 5. Definite structure Structureless 6. Gravitative Gravitationless 7. Frictionable Frictionless 8. AEolotropic Isotropic 9. Chemically selective —— 10. Harmonically related —— 11. Energy embodied Energy endowed 12. Energy transformer Non-transformer 13. Elastic Elastic? 14. Density Density? 15. Heatable Unheatable 16. Indestructible? Indestructible 17. Inertiative Inertiative conditionally 18. Magnetic —— 19. Variable states —— 20. Subject to shearing stress in solid Shearing stress maintained 21. Has Secondary qualities —— 22. Sensation depends upon Insensible to nerves


Antecedents of Electricity—Nature of what is transformed—Series of transformations for the production of light—Positive and negative Electricity—Positive and negative twists—Rotations about a wire—Rotation of an arc—Ether a non-conductor—Electro-magnetic waves—Induction and inductive action—Ether stress and atomic position—Nature of an electric current—Electricity a condition, not an entity.

So far as we have knowledge to-day, the only factors we have to consider in explaining physical phenomena are: (1) Ordinary matter, such as constitutes the substance of the earth, and the heavenly bodies; (2) the ether, which is omnipresent; and (3) the various forms of motion, which are mutually transformable in matter, and some of which, but not all, are transformable into ether forms. For instance, the translatory motion of a mass of matter can be imparted to another mass by simple impact, but translatory motion cannot be imparted to the ether, and, for that reason, a body moving in it is not subject to friction, and continues to move on with velocity undiminished for an indefinite time; but the vibratory motion which constitutes heat is transformable into wave-motion in the ether, and is transmitted away with the speed of light. The kind of motion which is thus transformed is not even a to-and-fro swing of an atom, or molecule, like the swing of a pendulum bob, but that due to a change of form of the atoms within the molecule, otherwise there could be no such thing as spectrum analysis. Vibratory motion of the matter becomes undulatory motion in the ether. The vibratory motion we call heat; the wave-motion we call sometimes radiant energy, sometimes light. Neither of these terms is a good one, but we now have no others.

It is conceded that it is not proper to speak of the wave-motion in the ether as heat; it is also admitted that the ether is not heated by the presence of the wave—or, in other words, the temperature of the ether is absolute zero. Matter only can be heated. But the ether waves can heat other matter they may fall on; so there are three steps in the process and two transformations—(1) vibrating matter; (2) waves in the ether; (3) vibration in other matter. Energy has been transferred indirectly. What is important to bear in mind is, that when a form of energy in matter is transformed in any manner so as to lose its characteristics, it is not proper to call it by the same name after as before, and this we do in all cases when the transformation is from one kind in matter to another kind in matter. Thus, when a bullet is shot against a target, before it strikes it has what we call mechanical energy, and we measure that in foot-pounds; after it has struck the target, the transformation is into heat, and this has its mechanical equivalent, but is not called mechanical energy, nor are the motions which embody it similar. The mechanical ideas in these phenomena are easy to grasp. They apply to the phenomena of the mechanics of large and small bodies, to sound, to heat, and to light, as ordinarily considered, but they have not been applied to electric phenomena, as they evidently should be, unless it be held that such phenomena are not related to ordinary phenomena, as the latter are to one another.

When we would give a complete explanation of the phenomena exhibited by, say, a heated body, we need to inquire as to the antecedents of the manifestation, and also its consequents. Where and how did it get its heat? Where and how did it lose it? When we know every step of those processes, we know all there is to learn about them. Let us undertake the same thing for some electrical phenomena.

First, under what circumstances do electrical phenomena arise?

(1) Mechanical, as when two different kinds of matter are subject to friction.

(2) Thermal, as when two substances in molecular contact are heated at the junction.

(3) Magnetic, as when any conductor is in a changing magnetic field.

(4) Chemical, as when a metal is being dissolved in any solution.

(5) Physiological, as when a muscle contracts.

Each of these has several varieties, and changes may be rung on combinations of them, as when mechanical and magnetic conditions interact.

(1) In the first case, ordinary mechanical or translational energy is spent as friction, an amount measurable in foot-pounds, and the factors we know, a pressure into a distance. If the surface be of the same kind of molecules, the whole energy is spent as heat, and is presently radiated away. If the surfaces are of unlike molecules, the product is a compound one, part heat, part electrical. What we have turned into the machine we know to be a particular mode of motion. We have not changed the amount of matter involved; indeed, we assume, without specifying and without controversy, that matter is itself indestructible, and the product, whether it be of one kind or another, can only be some form of motion. Whether we can describe it or not is immaterial; but if we agree that heat is vibratory molecular motion, and there be any other kind of a product than heat, it too must also be some other form of motion. So if one is to form a conception of the mechanical origin of electricity, this is the only one he can have—transformed motion.

(2) When heat is the antecedent of electricity, as in the thermo-pile, that which is turned into the pile we know to be molecular motion of a definite kind. That which comes out of it must be some equivalent motion, and if all that went in were transformed, then all that came out would be transformed, call it by what name we will and let its amount be what it may.

(3) When a conductor is moved in a magnetic field, the energy spent is measurable in foot-pounds, as before, a pressure into a distance. The energy appears in a new form, but the quantity of matter being unchanged, the only changeable factor is the kind of motion, and that the motion is molecular is evident, for the molecules are heated. Mechanical or mass motion is the antecedent, molecular heat motion is the consequent, and the way we know there has been some intermediate form is, that heat is not conducted at the rate which is observed in such a case. Call it by what name one will, some form of motion has been intermediate between the antecedent and the consequent, else we have some other factor of energy to reckon with than ether, matter and motion.

(4) In a galvanic battery, the source of electricity is chemical action; but what is chemical action? Simply an exchange of the constituents of molecules—a change which involves exchange of energy. Molecules capable of doing chemical work are loaded with energy. The chemical products of battery action are molecules of different constitution, with smaller amounts of energy as measured in calorics or heat units. If the results of the chemical reaction be prevented from escaping, by confining them to the cell itself, the whole energy appears as heat and raises the temperature of the cell. If a so-called circuit be provided, the energy is distributed through it, and less heat is spent in the cell, but whether it be in one place or another, the mass of matter involved is not changed, and the variable factor is the motion, the same as in the other cases. The mechanical conceptions appropriate are the transformation of one kind of motion into another kind by the mechanical conditions provided.

(5) Physiological antecedents of electricity are exemplified by the structure and mode of operation of certain muscles (Fig. 9, a) in the torpedo and other electrical animals. The mechanical contraction of them results in an electrical excitation, and, if a proper circuit be provided, in an electric current. The energy of a muscle is derived from food, which is itself but a molecular compound loaded with energy of a kind available for muscular transformation. Bread-and-butter has more available energy, pound for pound, than has coal, and can be substituted for coal for running an engine. It is not used, because it costs so much more. There is nothing different, so far as the factors of energy go, between the food of an animal and the food of an engine. What becomes of the energy depends upon the kind of structure it acts on. It may be changed into translatory, and the whole body moves in one direction; or into molecular, and then appears as heat or electrical energy.

If one confines his attention to the only variable factor in the energy in all these cases, and traces out in each just what happens, he will have only motions of one sort or another, at one rate or another, and there is nothing mysterious which enters into the processes.

We will turn now to the mode in which electricity manifests itself, and what it can do. It may be well to point out at the outset what has occasionally been stated, but which has not received the philosophical attention it deserves—namely, that electrical phenomena are reversible; that is, any kind of a physical process which is capable of producing electricity, electricity is itself able to produce. Thus to name a few: If mechanical motion develops electricity, electricity will produce mechanical motion; the movement of a pith ball and an electric motor are examples. If chemical action can produce it, it will produce chemical action, as in the decomposition of water and electro-plating. As heat may be its antecedent, so will it produce heat. If magnetism be an antecedent factor, magnetism may be its product. What is called induction may give rise to it in an adjacent conductor, and, likewise, induction may be its effect.

Let us suppose ourselves to be in a building in which a steam-engine is at work. There is fuel, the furnace, the boiler, the pipes, the engine with its fly-wheel turning. The fuel burns in the furnace, the water is superheated in the boiler, the steam is directed by the pipes, the piston is moved by the steam pressure, and the fly-wheel rotates because of proper mechanism between it and the piston. No one who has given attention to the successive steps in the process is so puzzled as to feel the need of inventing a particular force, or a new kind of matter, or any agency, at any stage of the process, different from the simple mechanical ones represented by a push or a pull. Even if he cannot see clearly how heat can produce a push, he does not venture to assume a genii to do the work, but for the time is content with saying that if he starts with motion in the furnace and stops with the motion of the fly-wheel, any assumption of any other factor than some form of motion between the two would be gratuitous. He can truthfully say that he understands the nature of that which goes on between the furnace and the wheel; that it is some sort of motion, the particular kind of which he might make out at his leisure.

Suppose once more that, across the road from an engine-house, there was another building, where all sorts of machines—lathes, planers, drills, etc.—were running, but that the source of the power for all this was out of sight, and that one could see no connection between this and the engine on the other side of the street. Would one need to suppose there was anything mysterious between the two—a force, a fluid, an immaterial something? This question is put on the supposition that one should not be aware of the shaft that might be between the two buildings, and that it was not obvious on simple inspection how the machines got their motions from the engine. No one would be puzzled because he did not know just what the intervening mechanism might be. If the boiler were in the one building, and the engine in the other with the machines, he could see nothing moving between them, even if the steam-pipes were of glass. If matter of any kind were moving, he could not see it there. He would say there must be something moving, or pressure could not be transferred from one place to the other.

Substitute for the furnace and boiler a galvanic battery or a dynamo; for the machines of the shop, one or more motors with suitable wire connections. When the dynamo goes the motors go; when the dynamo stops the motors stop; nothing can be seen to be turning or moving in any way between them. Is there any necessity for assuming a mysterious agency, or a force of a nature different from the visible ones at the two ends of the line? Is it not certain that the question is, How does the motion get from one to the other, whether there be a wire or not? If there be a wire, it is plain that there is motion in it, for it is heated its whole length, and heat is known to be a mode of motion, and every molecule which is thus heated must have had some antecedent motions. Whether it be defined or not, and whether it be called by one name or another, are quite immaterial, if one is concerned only with the nature of the action, whether it be matter or ether, or motion or abracadabra.

Once more: suppose we have a series of active machines. (Fig. 11.) An arc lamp, radiating light-waves, gets its energy from the wire which is heated, which in turn gets its energy from the electric current; that from a dynamo, the dynamo from a steam-engine; that from a furnace and the chemical actions going on in it. Let us call the chemical actions A, the furnace B, the engine C, the dynamo D, the electric lamp E, the ether waves F. (Fig. 12.)

The product of the chemical action of the coal is molecular motion, called heat in the furnace. The product of the heat is mechanical motion in the engine. The product of the mechanical motion is electricity in the dynamo. The product of the electric current in the lamp is light-waves in the ether. No one hesitates for an instant to speak of the heat as being molecular motion, nor of the motions of the engine as being mechanical; but when we come to the product of the dynamo, which we call electricity, behold, nearly every one says, not that he does not know what it is, but that no one knows! Does any one venture to say he does not know what heat is, because he cannot describe in detail just what goes on in a heated body, as it might be described by one who saw with a microscope the movements of the molecules? Let us go back for a moment to the proposition stated early in this book, namely, that if any body of any magnitude moves, it is because some other body in motion and in contact with it has imparted its motion by mechanical pressure. Therefore, the ether waves at F (Fig. 11) imply continuous motions of some sort from A to F. That they are all motions of ordinary matter from A to E is obvious, because continuous matter is essential for the maintenance of the actions. At E the motions are handed over to the ether, and they are radiated away as light-waves.

A puzzling electrical phenomenon has been what has been called its duality-states, which are spoken of as positive and negative. Thus, we speak of the positive plate of a battery and the negative pole of a dynamo; and another troublesome condition to idealize has been, how it could be that, in an electric circuit, there could be as much energy at the most remote part as at the source. But, if one will take a limp rope, 8 or 10 feet long, tie its ends together, and then begin to twist it at any point, he will see the twist move in a right-handed spiral on the one hand, and in a left-handed spiral on the other, and each may be traced quite round the circuit; so there will be as much twist, as much motion, and as much energy in one part of the rope as in any other; and if one chooses to call the right-handed twist positive, and the left-handed twist negative, he will have the mechanical phenomenon of energy-distribution and the terminology, analogous to what they are in an electric conductor. (Fig. 13.) Are the cases more dissimilar than the mechanical analogy would make them seem to be?

Are there any phenomena which imply that rotation is going on in an electric conductor? There are. An electric arc, which is a current in the air, and is, therefore, less constrained than it is in a conductor, rotates. Especially marked is this when in front of the pole of a magnet; but the rotation may be noticed in an ordinary arc by looking at it with a stroboscope disk, rotated so as to make the light to the eye intermittent at the rate of four or five hundred per second. A ray of plane polarized light, parallel with a wire conveying a current, has its plane of vibration twisted to the right or left, as the current goes one way or the other through the wire, and to a degree that depends upon the distance it travels; not only so, but if the ray be sent, by reflection, back through the same field, it is twisted as much more—a phenomenon which convinces one that rotation is going on in the space through which the ray travels. If the ether through which the ray be sent were simply warped or in some static stress, the ray, after reflection, would be brought back to its original plane, which is not the case. This rotation in the ether is produced by what is going on in the wire. The ether waves called light are interpreted to imply that molecules originate them by their vibrations, and that there are as many ether waves per second as of molecular vibrations per second. In like manner, the implication is the same, that if there be rotations in the ether they must be produced by molecular rotation, and there must be as many rotations per second in the ether as there are molecular rotations that produce them. The space about a wire carrying a current is often pictured as filled with whorls indicating this motion (Fig. 14), and one must picture to himself, not the wire as a whole rotating, but each individual molecule independently. But one is aware that the molecules of a conductor are practically in contact with each other, and that if one for any reason rotates, the next one to it would, from frictional action, cause the one it touched to rotate in the opposite direction, whereas, the evidence goes to show that all rotation is in the same direction.

How can this be explained mechanically? Recall the kind of action that constitutes heat, that it is not translatory action in any degree, but vibratory, in the sense of a change of form of an elastic body, and this, too, of the atoms that make up the molecule of whatever sort. Each atom is so far independent of every other atom in the molecule that it can vibrate in this way, else it could not be heated. The greater the amplitude of vibration, the more free space to move in, and continuous contact of atoms is incompatible with the mechanics of heat. There must, therefore, be impact and freedom alternating with each other in all degrees in a heated body. If, in any way, the atoms themselves were made to rotate, their heat impacts not only would restrain the rotations, but the energy also of the rotation motion would increase the vibrations; that is, the heat would be correspondingly increased, which is what happens always when an electric current is in a conductor. It appears that the cooler a body is the less electric resistance it has, and the indications are that at absolute zero there is no resistance; that is, impacts do not retard rotation, but it is also apparent that any current sent through a conductor at that temperature would at once heat it. This is the same as saying that an electric current could not be sent through a conductor at absolute zero.

So far, mechanical conceptions are in accordance with electrical phenomena, but there are several others yet to be noted. Electrical phenomena has been explained as molecular or atomic phenomena, and there is one more in that category which is well enough known, and which is so important and suggestive, that the wonder is its significance has not been seen by those who have sought to interpret electrical phenomena. The reference is to the fact that electricity cannot be transmitted through a vacuum. An electric arc begins to spread out as the density of the air decreases, and presently it is extinguished. An induction spark that will jump two or three feet in air cannot be made to bridge the tenth of an inch in an ordinary vacuum. A vacuum is a perfect non-conductor of electricity. Is there more than one possible interpretation to this, namely, that electricity is fundamentally a molecular and atomic phenomenon, and in the absence of molecules cannot exist? One may say, "Electrical action is not hindered by a vacuum," which is true, but has quite another interpretation than the implication that electricity is an ether phenomenon. The heat of the sun in some way gets to the earth, but what takes place in the ether is not heat-transmission. There is no heat in space, and no one is at liberty to say, or think, that there can be heat in the absence of matter.

When heat has been transformed into ether waves, it is no longer heat, call it by what name one will. Formerly, such waves were called heat-waves; no one, properly informed, does so now. In like manner, if electrical motions or conditions in matter be transformed, no matter how, it is no longer proper to speak of such transformed motions or conditions as electricity. Thus, if electrical energy be transformed into heat, no one thinks of speaking of the latter as electrical. If the electrical energy be transformed into mechanical of any sort, no one thinks of calling the latter electrical because of its antecedent. If electrical motions be transformed into ether actions of any kind, why should we continue to speak of the transformed motions or energy as being electrical? Electricity may be the antecedent, in the same sense as the mechanical motion of a bullet may be the antecedent of the heat developed when the latter strikes the target; and if it be granted that a vacuum is a perfect non-conductor of electricity, then it is manifestly improper to speak of any phenomenon in the ether as an electrical phenomenon. It is from the failure to make this distinction that most of the trouble has come in thinking on this subject. Some have given all their attention to what goes on in matter, and have called that electricity; others have given their attention to what goes on in the ether, and have called that electricity, and some have considered both as being the same thing, and have been confounded.

Let us consider what is the relation between an electrified body and the ether about it.

When a body is electrified, the latter at the same time creates an ether stress about it, which is called an electric field. The ether stress may be considered as a warp in the distribution of the energy about the body (Fig. 15), by the new positions given to the molecules by the process of electrification. It has been already said that the evidence from other sources is that atoms, rather than molecules, in larger masses, are what affect the ether. One is inclined to inquire for the evidence we have as to the constitution of matter or of atoms. There is only one hypothesis to-day that has any degree of probability; that is, the vortex-ring theory, which describes an atom as being a vortex-ring of ether in the ether. It possesses a definite amount of energy in virtue of the motion which constitutes it, and this motion differentiates it from the surrounding ether, giving it dimensions, elasticity, momentum, and the possibility of translatory, rotary, vibratory motions, and combinations of them. Without going further into this, it is sufficient, for a mechanical conception, that one should have so much in mind, as it will vastly help in forming a mechanical conception of reactions between atoms and the ether. An exchange of energy between such an atom and the ether is not an exchange between different kinds of things, but between different conditions of the same thing. Next, it should be remembered that all the elements are magnetic in some degree. This means that they are themselves magnets, and every magnet has a magnetic field unlimited in extent, which can almost be regarded as a part of itself. If a magnet of any size be moved, its field is moved with it, and if in any way the magnetism be increased or diminished, the field changes correspondingly.

Assume a straight bar electro-magnet in circuit, so that a current can be made intermittent, say, once a second. When the circuit is closed and the magnet is made, the field at once is formed and travels outwards at the rate of 186,000 miles per second. When the current stops, the field adjacent is destroyed. Another closure develops the field again, which, like the other, travels outwards; and so there may be formed a series of waves in the ether, each 186,000 miles long, with an electro-magnetic antecedent. If the circuit were closed ten times a second, the waves would be 18,600 miles long; if 186,000 times a second, they would be but one mile long. If 400 million of millions times a second, they would be but the forty-thousandth of an inch long, and would then affect the eye, and we should call them light-waves, but the latter would not differ from the first wave in any particular except in length. As it is proved that such electro-magnetic waves have all the characteristics of light, it follows that they must originate with electro-magnetic action, that is, in the changing magnetism of a magnetic body. This makes it needful to assume that the atoms which originate waves are magnets, as they are experimentally found to be. But how can a magnet, not subject to a varying current, change its magnetic field? The strength or density of a magnetic field depends upon the form of the magnet. When the poles are near together, the field is densest; when the magnet is bent back to a straight bar, the field is rarest or weakest, and a change in the form of the magnet from a U-form to a straight bar would result in a change of the magnetic field within its greatest limits. A few turns of wire—as has been already said—wound about the poles of an ordinary U-magnet, and connected to an ordinary magnetic telephone, will enable one, listening to the latter, to hear the pitch of the former loudly reproduced when the magnet is struck like a tuning-fork, so as to vibrate. This shows that the field of the magnet changes at the same rate as the vibrations.

Assume that the magnet becomes smaller and smaller until it is of the dimensions of an atom, say for an approximation, the fifty-millionth of an inch. It would still have its field; it would still be elastic and capable of vibration, but at an enormously rapid rate; but its vibration would change its field in the same way, and so there would be formed those waves in the ether, which, because they are so short that they can affect the eye, we call light. The mechanical conceptions are legitimate, because based upon experiments having ranges through nearly the whole gamut as waves in ether.

The idea implies that every atom has what may be loosely called an electro-magnetic grip upon the whole of the ether, and any change in the former brings some change in the latter.

Lastly, the phenomenon called induction may be mechanically conceived.

It is well known that a current in a conductor makes a magnet of the wire, and gives it an electro-magnetic field, so that other magnets in its neighbourhood are twisted in a way tending to set them at right angles to the wire. Also, if another wire be adjacent to the first, an electric current having an opposite direction is induced in it. Thus:

Consider a permanent magnet A (Fig. 15), free to turn on an axis in the direction of the arrow. If there be other free magnets, B and C, in line, they will assume such positions that their similar poles all point one way. Let A be twisted to a position at right angles, then B will turn, but in the opposite direction, and C in similar. That is, if A turn in the direction of the hands of a clock, B and C will turn in opposite directions. These are simply the observed movements of large magnets. Imagine that these magnets be reduced to atomic dimensions, yet retaining their magnetic qualities, poles and fields. Would they not evidently move in the same way and for the same reason? If it be true, that a magnet field always so acts upon another as to tend by rotation to set the latter into a certain position, with reference to the stress in that field, then, wherever there is a changing magnetic field, there the atoms are being adjusted by it.

Suppose we have a line of magnetic needles free to turn, hundreds or thousands of them, but disarranged. Let a strong magnetic field be produced at one end of the line. The field would be strongest and best conducted along the magnet line, but every magnet in the line would be compelled to rotate, and if the first were kept rotating, the rotation would be kept up along the whole line. This would be a mechanical illustration of how an electric current travels in a conductor. The rotations are of the atomic sort, and are at right angles to the direction of the conductor.

That which makes the magnets move is inductive magnetic ether stress, but the advancing motion represents mechanical energy of rotation, and it is this motion, with the resulting friction, which causes the heat in a conductor.

What is important to note is, that the action in the ether is not electric action, but more properly the result of electro-magnetic action. Whatever name be given to it, and however it comes about, there is no good reason for calling any kind of ether action electrical.

Electric action, like magnetic action, begins and ends in matter. It is subject to transformations into thermal and mechanical actions, also into ether stress—right-handed or left-handed—which, in turn, can similarly affect other matter, but with opposite polarities.

In his Modern Views of Electricity, Prof. O. J. Lodge warns us, quite rightly, that perhaps, after all, there is no such thing as electricity—that electrification and electric energy may be terms to be kept for convenience; but if electricity as a term be held to imply a force, a fluid, an imponderable, or a thing which could be described by some one who knew enough, then it has no degree of probability, for spinning atomic magnets seem capable of developing all the electrical phenomena we meet. It must be thought of as a condition and not as an entity.


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Transcriber's Note

Minor typographical corrections have been made without comment. Inconsistencies in hyphenation, and the author's use of commas when writing large numbers, have been retained.


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