The Last Stoic

Around A Corner

Posted in Uncategorized by munty13 on April 20, 2009

Been out hunting on the web, and found this wabbit…

History of Science, by Henry Smith Williams (1863 – 1943)

“In the early days of his discovery Young thought of the undulations which produce light and radiant heat as being longitudinal – a forward and backward pulsation, corresponding to the pulsations of sound – and as such pulsations can be transmitted by a fluid medium with the properties of ordinary fluids, he was justified in thinking of the ether as being like a fluid in its properties, except for its extreme intangibility. But about 1818 the experiments of Fresnel and Arago with polarization of light made it seem very doubtful whether the theory of longitudinal vibrations is sufficient, and it was suggested by Young, and independently conceived and demonstrated by Fresnel, that the luminiferous undulations are not longitudinal, but transverse; and all the more recent experiments have tended to confirm this view. But it happens that ordinary fluids – gases and liquids – cannot transmit lateral vibrations; only rigid bodies are capable of such a vibration. So it became necessary to assume that the luminiferous ether is a body possessing elastic rigidity – a familiar property of tangible solids, but one quite unknown among fluids.

The idea of transverse vibrations carried with it another puzzle. Why does not the ether, when set aquiver with the vibration which gives us the sensation we call light, have produced in its substance subordinate quivers, setting out at right angles from the path of the original quiver? Such perpendicular vibrations seem not to exist, else we might see around a corner; how explain their absence? The physicist could think of but one way: they must assume that the ether is incompressible. It must fill all space – at any rate, all space with which human knowledge deals – perfectly full.”


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