Serious Conversations

I have found myself recently in two groups of thinkers and writers on LinkedIn and one on Facebook with interests and knowledge of theoretical physics and cosmology. I came to those discussions with curiosity and have stayed in them with wonderment. Each discussant brings seriousness, a searching intellect and a desire to resolve reality, observations, experiments with theory, established mathematics and the language of quantum theories and relativity. It is clearly difficult to step far enough back to see the whole and its contradictions as well as to grasp any new approach when our minds and hands are full of a hundred years of accepted theories and conclusions.  Ether or no ether; particles or, as Einstein suggested, just condensations in the field; distortions in an electromagnetic field, or dark energy, dark matter; empty vacuum or some other kind of vacuum, and so on. Then I went back to Einstein and Infeld’s “The Evolution of Physics” (1938) to remind myself of what they had to say about a total field theory and found it convincing.

Sometimes an elegant mathematical expression so grabs our hearts and minds that we exclaim, as Einstein did with General Relativity, “This is so elegant, it must be true!” We forget that the vision of divine perfection of Plato and his contemporaries is what kept a geocentric model of the solar system in place for nearly 2000 years, until better observations so illuminated its inconsistencies that a new model had to be designed. In regard to GR and the various quantum theories, I think we may have come to that place again.

And sometimes, if we’re lucky, an elegant mathematical expression reinforces physical observations and results in a changed vision of reality. I have been looking for that. Now it occurs to me that it may be found in a description in simple English of the implications of Maxwell’s equations numbers 3 and 4, expressed in this way:

Maxwell 3: “An electric field is created by a changing magnetic field.”

Maxwell 4: “A magnetic field is created by a changing electric field.”

“—The key concept here is that a changing electric field produces a changing magnetic field even when no charges are present and no physical current flows. Through this mechanism electromagnetic waves may propagate through even a perfect vacuum, as changing magnetic fields produce electric fields and changing electric fields induce magnetic fields.”(1)

Here then is that thing, that substance, that medium we are afraid to call an ether. Here is that medium whose underlying frequency and structure establishes the speed limit of light and all other electromagnetic radiation. Its structure is what has given us our observed constants like the speed of light (c), Planck’s Constant (h), and values for permeability and permittivity in wave mechanics. Here is the medium from which, through random reinforcements and resonances arose coherent, stable distortions of the field that have become all that we have identified as first, “particles” and then, via phase transitions and other mechanisms, perhaps like those of cellular automata, as atoms, molecules, on up to what we can see, feel taste, hear, and smell—and detect with our telescopes and other instruments. Here then is that which we call dark energy, making up 74% of the substance within our finite universe and 100% of that outside of this and perhaps other universes. It is the high energy but still invisible distortions of this ether that we call dark matter, surrounding the even higher energy distortions we see as planets, stars, and galaxies. It  fuels the growth and expansion of the universe even as the balance of polarities that we detect as gravity maintains a measure of internal order within it. It pervades all of what exists.

This is the heart of the model I have outlined in a very simple way in my book, “the picnic at the edge of the universe” and in the posts on this blog at

(1) Daniel Fleisch, A Student’s Guide to Maxwell’s Equations, Cambridge University Press, (2008)

About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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