Friday, July 6, 2012

The Higgs aether

With all the publicity about the discovery of the Higgs boson, hardly anyone is explaining that it is a confirmation of modern Aether theories. Usually any mention of the aether is followed by saying that it was a quaint 19th century concept that was disproved by Einstein's relativity. But that is not true, and was not even Einstein's view.

The concept of the luminiferous aether dates back to ancient times, and refers to whatever fills outer space that allows us to see the light of the stars. It is sometimes said that the vacuum is empty space, and that no such aether is needed to explain the propagation of light. But that is not true either, as modern theories of light require a nonempty vacuum. Quantum electrodynamics is a perturbation theory of the aether.

The authoritative description of the 19th century aether is J.C. Maxwell's 1878 encyclopedia article. That concluded:
No theory of the constitution of the aether has yet been invented which will account for such a system of molecular vortices being maintained for an indefinite time without their energy being gradually dissipated into that irregular agitation of the medium which, in ordinary media, is called heat.

Whatever difficulties we may have in forming a consistent idea of the constitution of the aether, there can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty, but are occupied by a material substance or body, which is certainly the largest, and probably the most uniform body of which we have any knowledge.

Whether this vast homogeneous expanse of isotropic matter is fitted not only to be a medium of physical interaction between distant bodies, and to fulfil other physical functions of which, perhaps, we have as yet no conception, but also, as the authors of the Unseen Universe seem to suggest, to constitute the material organism of beings exercising functions of life and mind as high or higher than ours are at present, is a question far transcending the limits of physical speculation.
Maxwell's view was that the aether was pervasive, uniform, invisible, frictionless, and permeating matter. It is sometimes said that the aether presupposed some sort of fixed coordinate system, but Maxwell does not say that.

What I say here is the consensus view, except that not everyone uses the word "aether". Frank Wilczek, the 2004 Nobel Prize winner in physics, wrote the book, The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces:
In the first part of the twentieth century, the upheavals of relativity and (especially) quantum theory shattered the foundations beneath classical physics. Existing theories of matter and light were reduced to rubble. That process of creative destruction made it possible to construct, over the second part of the twentieth century, a new and deeper theory of matter/light that removed the ancient separation. The new theory sees a world based on a multiplicity of space-filling ethers, a totality I call the Grid. The new world-model is extremely strange, but also extremely successful and accurate.
He details:
What is Space? Is it an empty stage, where the physical world of matter acts out its drama -- an equal participant, like the classical Ether, that both provides background and has a life of its own -- or the primary reality, of which matter is a secondary manifestation? Today, the third view is triumphant. Where our eyes see nothing our brains, pondering the revelations of sharply tuned experiments, discover the Grid that powers physical reality.
The Higgs boson is not just some isolated particle. It is the quantization of an aether that is pervasive, uniform, invisible, frictionless, and permeating matter. And that aether is completely essential to modern physics.

The Higgs aether gives mass to the electrons and quarks, the basic constituents of matter. All electrons are identical, and have the same mass. So the Higgs is the same everywhere. The aether is the largest and most uniform body, just as Maxwell said.

You could also say that there is an electron field in a vacuum, with fluctuations making virtual electrons. But there is no net number of electrons. The Higgs aether is different in that the Higgs field is nonzero in the vacuum.


  1. 'Ether and the Theory of Relativity - Albert Einstein'

    "Since according to our present conceptions the elementary particles of matter are also, in their essence, nothing else than condensations of the electromagnetic field"

    The electromagnetic field is a state of aether. Matter is condensations of aether.


    "If a body gives off the energy L in the form of radiation, its mass diminishes by L/c2."

    The mass of the body does diminish. However, the matter which no longer exists as part of the body has not vanished; it still exists, as aether. Matter evaporates into aether. As matter evaporates into aether it expands into neighboring places; which is energy. Mass is conserved.

    When a nuclear bomb explodes matter evaporates into aether. The evaporation is energy. Mass is conserved.

  2. The original reason for the Luminoferous Aether was to act as a medium for light waves, at a time when everybody thought light was just a wave, but did not know it was also a particle. Now that we know that light is also a particle (photon), it doesn't require a medium to move through, since particles can be their own medium. What you're calling an Aether is just called a "Field" now. So a Higgs Field is not a general Aether, it is only an Aether for its own field. The Photon Aether would have to be its own Aether (i.e. Field), completely separate from a Higgs Aether.

    The idea of a static Luminoferous Aether is gone, and what you're advocating is not the same thing as that old Aether.

  3. Discovering that light has particle properties did reduce the fact that it is also a wave, and that our very best theories of light require a medium. You are right that the term "aether" has fallen out of favor, but the concept remains valid.

    1. It's fallen out of favour because it really isn't the same thing. Think about classic waves, let's say water waves, the medium of water waves is water. What's waving? Water molecules. The wave is moving through water, but the particles of water aren't really moving along with the wave. The water molecules move up and down sure, but they don't really get carried along with the wave toward the other side much, they stay in their relative positions. Aether was envisioned in the same way as water waves, a medium that stays relatively put, while waves travel through it. But due to wave/particle duality, we now know that the medium is moving along with the wave, so it's not the same thing as the Aether where the waves move but the particles stay put.

  4. Light waves are also transverse, just like those water waves you describe. The aether is not just the photon that travels longitudinally with the light beam. It is the electromagnetic fields/particles that are necessary for light propagation. See quantum electrodynamics for details.

    1. But what you just described is just called a field now. And what you just described is by no means anything like the original luminoferous aether. Why introduce a newly defined term "aether" that's likely to be confused with the old "aether", when the word "field" already exists?

  5. Maxwell used the terms "aether" and "field". He described the aether as being vast, homogeneous, and isotropic. His electric and magnetic fields were not. I realize that some people do not like the term "aether", but it matches modern physics better than the term "field" for what pervades empty space. Which term do you think Maxwell would like better?

  6. It's not a matter of whether modern physics "likes" the word "Aether" or not, it's simply a matter of whether it fits the definition. In the 19th century they needed a medium that carried both the known forces of nature at the time, gravity & electromagnetism, so they envisioned the Aether to carry both forces. The properties of light & gravity that they expected to find did not materialize, so the Aether model was dropped. These days, the fields describe totally different forces that can't be described by one Aether model, not yet anyway.

    As for Maxwell, he lived at a time before they knew about wave-particle duality, so he didn't know what we know now. So it's not relevant what term he would have used back then. However, even his equations didn't need to refer to the Aether, all it needed was the field.

  7. Yes, the properties of light, gravity, and aether did not turn out exactly as expected 150 years ago. I don't think that Maxwell ever said t hat the aether has to carry light and gravity, but no one has ever shown that to be wrong anyway.