Gustav Mie and the simple universe

The second decade of the 20th century, 1909 to 1919, was a remarkable period in the development of physics and cosmology. In particular, three intellectual giants emerged and published works that would result in profound changes in how we view the world, the universe, and the cosmos. Today we remember one in particular, Albert Einstein, who between 1913 and 1916 published extensive work on his model of the cosmos culminating in his Theory of General Relativity in 1916. Einstein’s theory offered a major update of the Galilean idea of relativity along with a generalization that would effectively replace Newton’s theory of gravity. Einstein’s theory came complete with a set of field equations that described the universe in a seemingly complete fashion.

David Hilbert, until about 1912 known mostly as a brilliant mathematician, turned his attention to physics and on the publication of GR, was able to offer more complete and extensive solutions to Einstein’s field equations. He followed with an almost complete generalization of a theory of everything, his “axiomatic derivation of the basic equations of physics.”

The third of these intellectual giants was Gustav Mie, who was to challenge Einstein on his conclusions and to offer a plausible alternative to his theory, but someone which has been mostly forgotten until recent years. Mie was about ten years older than Einstein and was known to have challenged him on his assumptions and on his conclusions in several of their interactions. Einstein’s view of the universe ultimately prevailed and became a large part of the standard model of cosmology we adhere to today. Mie’s theories were to become an important influence on Hilbert’s later expansion of Einstein’s work, primarily on the mathematical side. Mie’s theories, however, lay unrefuted, but obscure in the wake of Einstein’s success.

I find it personally remarkable that my own researches in the history and development of models of the cosmos somehow skipped right over and past that of Mie, but I think that may have been the result of his major works never having been translated into English and my own lack of comfort with German originals. In any case I have recently been made aware of Mie’s theory of an electromagnetic basis for cosmology because of it’s strong similarities to my own rudimentary model, the simple universe. It all begins with the “discovery” of something very tiny.

What would turn out to be one the most significant discoveries of the later years of the 19th century would turn out to be that of that thing called the “electron.” In 1869, the German physicist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, while engaged in the study of electrical conductivity in rarefied gases. . .

“. . .discovered a glow emitted from the cathode that increased in size with decrease in gas pressure. In 1876, the German physicist Eugen Goldstein showed that the rays from this glow cast a shadow, and he dubbed the rays cathode rays. During the 1870s, the English chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes developed the first cathode ray tube to have a high vacuum inside.[28] He then showed that the luminescence rays appearing within the tube carried energy and moved from the cathode to the anode. Furthermore, by applying a magnetic field, he was able to deflect the rays, thereby demonstrating that the beam behaved as though it were negatively charged.[29][30] In 1879, he proposed that these properties could be explained by what he termed ‘radiant matter’. He suggested that this was a fourth state of matter, consisting of negatively charged molecules that were being projected with high velocity from the cathode. In 1892 Hendrik Lorentz suggested that the mass of these particles (electrons) could be a consequence of their electric charge.

In 1896, the British physicist J. J. Thomson, with his colleagues John S. Townsend and H. A. Wilson, performed experiments indicating that cathode rays really were unique particles, rather than waves, atoms or molecules as was believed earlier.[5] Thomson made good estimates of both the charge e and the mass m, finding that cathode ray particles, which he called “corpuscles,” had perhaps one thousandth of the mass of the least massive ion known: hydrogen.[5][14] He showed that their charge to mass ratio, e/m, was independent of cathode material. He further showed that the negatively charged particles produced by radioactive materials, by heated materials and by illuminated materials were universal.[5][34] The name electron was again proposed for these particles by the Irish physicist George F. Fitzgerald, and the name has since gained universal acceptance.” (from Wikipedia “the electron”)

So. it would appear, the question of “What is an electron?, of what does it consist?” was a hot topic among experimental physicists.

For most of these researchers, it was sufficient to accept an electron as a fundamental particle, of whatever shape or size as long as it was extremely tiny (no one has actually seen one yet). But Mie took a slightly different track. What must have remained on his mind was the question, “What is an electron, exactly?” He wasn’t ready to offer an answer until about 1910 and 1911. Before that he devoted his efforts and research to the phenomenon that still bears his name, the issue of what causes the red and yellow colors and patterns in the atmosphere when illuminated by light at sunset and in rainbows and the like. His studies of the scattering of light by suspended microscopic particles in the atmosphere is what he is remembered most for today, called “Mie scattering.”

What he is not remembered so much for is his studies and concepts of where that mysterious thing called an electron comes from. During this time, Mie was Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Greifswald.

“During his Greifswald years Mie worked on the computation of scattering of an electromagnetic wave by a homogeneous dielectric sphere, which was published in 1908 under the title of “Contributions to the optics of turbid media, particularly of colloidal metal solutions” in “Annalen der Physik“. The term Mie scattering is still related to his name. Using Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory applied to spherical gold particles Mie provided a theoretical treatment of plasmon resonance absorption of gold colloids. The sharp absorption bands depend on the particle size and explain the change in colour that occurs as the size of the colloid nanoparticles is increased from 20 to 1600 nm. He wrote further important contributions to electromagnetism and also to relativity theory. In addition he was employed on measurements units and finally developed his Mie system of units in 1910 with the basic units Volt, Ampere, Coulomb and Second (VACS-system).” (from Wikipedia, “Gustav Mie”)

But the question of “What is an electron, exactly?” must have been still on his mind.

A  1999 paper gives the background of Mie’s study, going on to elaborate on it’s influence on the work of Hilbert’s mathematical extensions of General Relativity. Leo Corry of Tel Aviv University describes his contributions this way:

“In 1910 Mie published a textbook on electromagnetism that soon became a classic and saw two additional editions in 1941 and 1948 (Mie 1910). Mie believed that this was the first textbook in which Maxwell’s conclusions were arrived at in a completely inductive way starting from the experimental, factual material. When the first edition was published, Mie took special pride on having been able to “present the Maxwell equations in a complete and exact fashion, expressing himself in plain words, and without having to introduce any mathematical symbols.”. . . Mie sent the first installment of his electromagnetic theory of matter to the Annelen der Physik in January 1912. At the center of Mie’s theory was an articulate attempt to support the main tenets of the so-called “electromagnetic worldview,” and more specifically to develop the idea that the electrons cannot be ascribed physical existence independently of the ether. . .. . . Mie based his theory on three explicitly formulated basic assumptions. The first one is that the electric and the magnetic field are present both outside and inside the electron as well. This means that the electrons are in fact an organic part of the ether, rather than foreign elements added to the ether, as was common belief among certain physicists at the time (e.g. Einstein in 1909). The electron is thus conceived as a non-sharply delimited, highly dense nucleus in the ether that extends continually and independently into an atmosphere of electrical charge. An atom is a concentration of electrons, and the high intensity of the electric field around it is what should ultimately explain the phenomenon of gravitation.”

(“From Mie’s Electromagnetic Theory of Matter to Hilbert’s Unified Foundations of Physics“, by Leo Corry) Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 30(2): 159-183 (1999).

In 1916, Albert Einstein, unwittingly, I think, enshrined in the minds of physicists and most inhabitants of the civilized world, the notion that empty space was a substantive entity that could be warped, stretched, deformed in subtle ways, and that these distortions of a non-existent substance could explain motion, gravity, and a thousand other phenomena that occurred in the real world. It was a wonderful, mathematically beautiful myth, and it overwhelmed otherwise intelligent scientists world wide. Gustav Mie challenged Einstein, saying in his own way that there was another, more complete and consistent explanation. But Mie’s way required an ether, an electromagnetic one, but by this time the age of particles had taken over physics and a field theory of the scope and extent of this one had no chance.

Let’s just summarize what Mie proposed. The electron, the most fundamental entity of the time, was not a solid, spherical entity, but was rather an excitation, a disturbance, a concentration in the ether, not something passing through it but a disturbance in and part of it. As a concentration of energy, it’s influence radiated from its core outward in all directions, causing a diminishing sphere of energy in the medium, and these disturbances might well be the generator of gravity. The ether not only surrounded and penetrated what we called an electron but existed in and through it. They were of the same substance. Further, what we call matter consists of higher level aggregations of these fundamentals. “Both electric and gravitational actions could be shown as a direct manifestations of the forces that account for the very existence of matter.” He further asserted that the rules that governed these actions could be found not in some new particle theory, but right there in Maxwell’s equations, which he then set out to recreate directly out of empirical observations. In short: “The electron is thus conceived as a non-sharply delimited, highly dense nucleus in the ether that extends continually and independently into an atmosphere of electrical charge. An atom is a concentration of electrons, and the high intensity of the electric field around it is what should ultimately explain the phenomenon of gravitation.”

Here is the foundation of “the simple universe,” my own model, a non-particle, electromagnetic-ether based theory that encompasses all of the phenomena of the universe, from the tiniest excitation of the ether, call it an electron or more likely, something very much smaller, out to the stars, galaxies and clusters of the most distant and unreachable objects we are aware of.

My discovery of Gustav Mie and his model has come late, but strongly solidifies my confidence that my own model has intrinsic value and is worthy of testing, a path I continue to follow. The details, as far as they been taken so far, can be found described in first, “the picnic at the edge of the universe,” published in early 2015, followed by “imagine darkness,” released just a month later, both available from bookstores and Amazon. Other confirmations can be found in the series of over 50 articles on the same subject in my blog at (this page). I commend them to you.


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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