Caroline Thompson's Physics

Started August 27, 2000

Forgotten History

Whether or not there is conscious effort by "the establishment" to support the reigning paradigms by presenting distorted versions of history, the fact is that the text books and popular literature abound with misleading statements and occasional outright falsehoods.   If established scientists believe in something, why should they tell historians and science writers the whole truth?  After all, it will only confuse them!

Did the Michelson-Morley experiments prove there was no "aether wind"?

Probably not!  They have been accepted by almost everyone as giving a "null" result, but in point of fact they showed a very interesting periodic variation indicating something.  If it was the presence of an aether wind, then it was not behaving in the way they expected, but it was definitely something that needed further investigation, and Dayton Miller, working at first with Morley, undertook the task.  The variations proved to be reproducible and to show systematic changes with time of year and some other factors.  He also showed, incidentally, that the effect disappeared if you put the apparatus in a thick-walled enclosure, which nullifies several of the more recent tests.  He summarised his work in great detail in a review paper in 1933 (Miller, Dayton C, “The Ether-Drift Experiments and the Determination of the Absolute Motion of the Earth”, Reviews of Modern Physics 5, 203-242 (1933)).  For a much shorter version written in 1940 (the year before he died) see his article for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  

He interpreted his results as showing relative motion of the aether.  It could either be that the solar system was moving pretty fast (about 200 km/sec, faster than the earth moves around the sun) in a direction roughly perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic, or the aether was moving in the opposite direction at that speed. The aether seemed to be moving like a fluid, going with much slower relative velocity near solid bodies, thus accounting for the apparently modest speed (about 10 km/sec) indicated by Miller's experiments.

These facts about Miller were drawn to my attention by James DeMeo, who continues to research the subject.  It appears that there was a major difference of opinion between Miller and Einstein.  Einstein's Special Relativity theory demanded that the Michelson-Morley experiments must have been null!  The aether was not acceptable.  DeMeo reports (January 2001) that he has now found evidence that Einstein was more directly involved than he had thought.  Much new material has been added to his original paper, which concentrated on Shankland's 1955 report, written in consultation with Einstein.  (Shankland had been an assistant to Miller in 1932-3.)

As Miller said, in an article in a local paper:

The trouble with Professor Einstein is that he knows nothing about my results. ... He ought to give me credit for knowing that temperature differences would affect the results. He wrote to me in November suggesting this. I am not so simple as to make no allowance for temperature. (Cleveland Plain Dealer January 27, 1926.)

It was evidently a power struggle between the two, the odds tipped in favour of Einstein by the media-enhanced "victory" of his General Relativity theory after the 1919 eclipse.  By 1955 the aether had become a dirty word.  Even in 1940 or so, I can find no reference to Miller's existence in Herbert Ives' papers (see The Einstein Myth in my book list).  The 1979 Brillet and Hall experiment*, currently accepted as an accurate confirmation of Michelson and Morley's "null" result, appears to have been conducted in ignorance of Miller's work.  They seem to have been unaware of Miller's conclusion that the aether wind can only be detected in the open. Their temperature-controlled Fabry-Perot interferometer would have had little chance!

DeMeo is not the only person to have spotted Shankland and Einstein's error!  See notes by Prof Allais to the French Academy of Sciences, 1997, 1999 and 2000 at .

However, let us not jump to conclusions!  Could Miller in fact have been seeing the same thing as Gershteyn et al., who reported in February 2002** that there was an apparent periodic variation in the value of G?  The data was not quite conclusive but appeared to show that its main variations followed a sidereal cycle, not a solar one.  Could it be that a gravitational effect caused the arms of Miller's apparatus to bend and vary slightly in effective length?  Or could it be that what he saw was merely an ordinary wind effect?  Whatever it was, it should not have been ignored.  Even if there was no sign of drift, this should not have been used to dismiss the idea of an aether, since all it means is that some wrong assumptions have been made about its properties.

*A. Brillet and J. L. Hall, Physical Review Letters 42, 549 (1979)

**Mikhail Gershteyn et al, “Experimental Evidence That the Gravitational Constant Varies with Orientation”,


Have Einstein's relativity theories ever been "generally accepted"?

Many prominent scientist have expressed their doubts, but one in particular should have been listened to.  Louis Essen, professional metrologist,  inventor of the atomic clock and co-author of a book on the experimental estimation of the speed of light thought Einstein's ideas ridiculous.  He may well have forfeited a Nobel Prize for saying this rather too publicly.  As he said, Einstein’s theories arbitrarily made “space and time intermixed by definition and not as the result of some peculiar property of nature … If the theory of relativity is regarded simply as a new system of units it can be made consistent but it serves no useful purpose”.

See his essay,

Whilst on the subject, see also:

"Seen as a purveyor of metaphysical nonsense that would corrupt the vigorous strain of experimental physics admired by conservative Nobel committee members, Einstein’s nomination provoked an extraordinary depth of hostility."

[Though his nomination for the Nobel prize was not for his relativity ideas, these would have contributed to the impression of "metaphysical nonsense".]

McCrea, W H, “Why the Special Theory of Relativity is Correct”, Nature 216, 122-4 (1967)

and later correspondence: Nature, vol 217, Jan 6 1968, p19


Did Einstein discover E=mc2?

Well, no!  I received the following from Theo Theocharis, August 23, 2000, and relayed it to APS News on his request:

In the APS News, Vol. 9, No. 8, August/September 2000, p. 2, the "This Month in Physics History" column was entitled "September 1905: Einstein's Most Famous Formula", and it stated:

"But it was later that year [1905], in a paper received by the Annalen der Physik on September 27, applying his equations to study the motion of a body, that Einstein showed that mass and energy were equivalent, a startling new insight he expressed in a simple formula that became synonymous with his name: E=mc2. However, full confirmation of his theory was slow in coming. It was not until 1933, in Paris, when Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie took a photograph showing the conversion of energy into mass." 

The "100 YEARS AGO" item in the 6 April 2000 issue of Nature (Vol. 404, p. 553) is taken from the 5 April 1900 issue of Nature (note the dates), and it states:

"The calculations of M. Henri Becquerel show that this energy is of the order of one ten-millionth of a watt per second.  Hence a loss of weight of about a milligram in a thousand million years would suffice to account for the observed effects, assuming the energy of the radiation to be derived from the actual loss of material."

The assumption that accounts for the stated (in the 5 April 1900 issue of Nature) figures is E=mc2.  But according to APS News, this is "Einstein's most famous formula" which in September 1905 was "a startling new insight". 

I think that there is a problem that ought to be resolved.


Did quantum theory "predict" that "back body radiation curve"?

Well, not exactly!  This is what Planck -- the reluctant co-inventor of the "photon" -- had to say:

From his 1919 Nobel Prize address, “The Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory”:

But even if the radiation formula should prove to be absolutely accurate it would after all be only an interpolation formula found by happy guesswork, and would thus leave one rather unsatisfied.  I was, therefore, from the day of its origination, occupied with the task of giving it a real physical meaning …

It is down to you to judge whether or not he succeeded.


Does the photoelectric effect prove the existence of photons?

No!  Listen to Millikan on the subject -- and he should know!  He is probably best known for his "oil drop" experiment, but he also made a vital contribution to photoelectric theory.  His experiments confirming that Nature really does seem to obey the law that Einstein had predicted in 1905 are still taken as definitive.  In his main paper on the subject, (Millikan, R A, “A Direct Photoelectric Determination of Planck’s ‘h’”, Physical Review 7, 355-388, 1916) he says in the introduction:

It was in 1905 that Einstein made the first coupling of photo effects and with any form of quantum theory by bringing forward the bold, not to say reckless, hypothesis of an electro-magnetic light corpuscle of energy h?, which energy was transferred upon absorption to an electron.  This hypothesis may well be called reckless, first because an electromagnetic disturbance which remains localised in space seems a violation of the very conception of an electromagnetic disturbance, and second because it flies in the face of the thoroughly established facts of interference. [My emphasis]

Millikan's concluding discussion includes fascinating ideas about what really happens, some sounding remarkably similar to my own [see my faq file]!  He repeats several times his vehement objection to the idea of localised packets of light.  For example:

...  if the equation be of general validity, then it must certainly be regarded as one of the most fundamental and far reaching of the equations of physics; for it must govern the transformation of all short-wave-length electromagnetic energy into heat energy.  Yet the semi-corpuscular theory by which Einstein arrived at his equation seems at present to be wholly untenable ...

Finally, he says that a modification of Planck's latest idea [in which light is not in packets of h? but of nh?, where n is any integer]

“... seems to me able to account for all the relations thus far known between corpuscular and ethereal radiations … If any particular frequency is incident upon [a substance containing oscillators of every conceivable frequency] the oscillators in it which are in tune with the impressed waves may be assumed to absorb the incident waves until the energy content as reached a critical value when an explosion occurs and a corpuscle is shot out with an energy h? …

It is to be hoped that such a theory will soon be shown to be also reconcilable with the facts of black body radiation.”

Other articles in the same volume of Physical Review (vol 7, 1916) express similar views.  For example, Duane discusses the inverse case, in which impact of an electron causes the emission of X-rays (Duane, William, “Planck’s radiation formula deduced from hypotheses suggested by X-ray phenomena”, pp143-147 of Proceedings of the American Physical Society, Physical Review 7, 139, 1916).  Duane re-derives Planck's black body radiation formula using, among other assumptions, the

Frequency Hypothesis: When an electron produces radiation by hitting an atom, the frequency ? of radiation is given by the equation
Energy = ½ mv2 = h?
... the ... hypothesis says nothing about the amount of energy radiated.  [The equation] is not necessarily an energy equation in the sense that the whole kinetic energy ½ mv2 is supposed to be radiated as a quantum h? of radiant energy, although it may be so.  The hypothesis simply states the relation between the frequency ? and the velocity v of the electron that produced the radiation.
[The version of Einstein's photoelectric equation that Millikan was investigating is the same as above only with the energy in question being the maximum energy of emitted electrons and the "work function" of the target metal subtracted from h?.  It may, incidentally, not be as true as Millikan thought!  Richard Keesing (“The measurement of Planck’s constant using the visible photoelectric effect”, European Journal of Physics 2, 139-149, 1981) has pointed out that there were some strange features to Millikan's experiments, one being the shapes of the curves he obtained, another the fact that, despite what Millikan believed, the photoelectric effect does depend on temperature.  Keesing believes it applies in Einstein's form only at a temperature of absolute zero.]
Incidentally, not all modern physicists believe in the photon!  See, for example, the following, written by the man who gave his name to the Lamb Shift:
Lamb, Willis E Jr., "Antiphoton", Applied Physics B 60, 77-84 (1995)

Who was William Crookes anyway?

Have you met a "radiometer" -- a toy consisting of an evacuated bulb in which a little "windmill" can respond to light?  Is this all that Sir William Crookes and his "friend and assistant Mr Gimingham" did -- invent a toy?  No!  

In about 1875, Crookes (1832-1919) started, as a side issue from his studies of the element thallium that he had just discovered, investigating why hot bodies seemed to weigh light. This led on to research into what he at first thought was "radiation pressure", but which later experiments, using vacua orders of magnitude better than any achieved before, seemed to show was the pressure of molecular beams which, at these low densities, have mean free paths as long as the dimensions of the containing vessel.  When he started his work, it was not even clear that gases consisted of particles!  By the end (1898), with much feedback from others, many of whom had seen his fantastic demonstrations at the Royal Society, he was able to focus molecular beams using curved sources, make them glow or cause phosphorescence using electric currents (presumably ionising them, only the idea had not yet been invented!), or bend a beam using a magnet.  His experiments must have been the essential foundation that led to the discovery of the electron, the invention of the cathode ray tube (sometimes known as the Crookes tube), the analysis of chemicals by mass spectroscopy, yet today he is almost unknown.  Crookes tried not to theorise as he was still finding out the facts, though of course he did come up with the occasional hypothesis to direct his research.  Whatever apparatus was needed, he had only to ask his master-glass-blower assistant, Mr Gimingham!

Did he find out why hot bodies weigh light?  Well, it's not air currents, but since heat can either attract or repel once you start putting your object in a vacuum I doubt if you can generalise.  The "apparent lawlessness" of this response is what led to his other discoveries.  He found that his most delicate instruments were so sensitive that they were thrown out by the gravity of a person moving in the next room.  (He invented a "torsion balance" while investigating this.)  He found out that what people had been calling a vacuum was nowhere near one, and the effect of radiation varied dramatically as you reduced the pressure: his radiometers (usually made symmetrically, with flat vanes, black one side, white the other) could reverse direction.  He was under the impression that the force he was seeing reduced to zero at zero density but could not be sure.  He could not obtain rarefactions that would take him past the point at which a hydrogen vacuum produced increased response as you decreased the density.

I have only just (August, 2001) finished reading his papers on the subject:

"Sir William Crookes Reprint Package: Selected Reprints of
Articles Related to the Mechanical Action of Light and the Radiometer
(1875-1898)", Compiled by James DeMeo, Natural Energy Works.

Early ones are in the Proceedings or Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, later ones in Nature.

What I want to know is the next part of the story: what happens at even lower densities?  Do we know what "radiation pressure" would be in a pure vacuum?  Can it even be defined unambiguously?  As Crookes was fond of saying, Any theory will account for some facts; but only the true explanation will satisfy all the conditions of the problem …”.   I wonder if modern theory does take account of all the facts he discovered?  What made Nancy Cartwright, in her book, “How the Laws of Physics Lie” (Clarendon Press 1983), say that nobody yet knew just how the radiometer worked?

A quick search on led me to:

Crookes Tube, an Encarta Encyclopedia Article Titled "Crookes Tube" (which confirms my suspicion: what Crookes was calling a beam of radiative molecules is now called an electron beam)

William Crookes (biography, confirming that his own explanation for the action of the radiometer is not now accepted.  [What is the explanation then?])


Was Quantum Theory necessary to explain the "anomalous Zeeman effect"?

Well, maybe not!

Email from Bertrand Ducharme, August 24, 2000 and subsequent messages, referenced the chapter whose title translates as "The theory of physics: a critical viewpoint" in the book:

Abdus Salam, W.Heseinberg, P.A.M. Dirac: La grande unification - Vers une théorie des forces fondamentales, Editions du Seuil, Paris (which is translated from Abdus Salam: Unification of fundamental forces : the first of the 1988 Dirac memorial lectures, Cambridge University Press, 1990.)

 Heisenberg is quoted as saying at a conference:

"Sommerfeld talked to me of an old Voigt's article, which had been written in Göttingen, at the beginning of 1913, before the Bohr's atomic theory.  Voigt had proposed a theory of anomalous Zeeman effect on sodium D lines.  To get it, he took two linear oscillators arranged in such a way as to get the two D lines, and he also imagined a coupling which was taking into account anomalous Zeeman effect. He could even get Paschen-Back effect, and also the intensities. Globally, he was able to reproduce extremely well experimental results. Once more, Sommerfeld asked me to translate these results in the language of quantum theory, which was very easy to do. I obtained very long and complicated formulas for energy levels and the intensities, with huge square roots including the square magnetic field, the coupling constant, etc., and which still reproduced very well experimental results. I am mentioning this example of phenomenological description because it presented an exceptionally good accord. But did it have something to do with quantum theory? Six years later, we had quantum mechanics at our disposal, and Jordan and myself calculated the same levels and intensities from that quantum mechanics. We got the same formulas as Voigt, with the same endless square roots, and the same intensities. So, you can see from one side that phenomenological theories can be perfectly successful, inasmuch as they sometimes lead to the exact result and they are therefore in excellent accord with the experiences. But, besides that, they don't bring any information on the real physical content of the phenomena, on what is going on really inside the atom".

But do you agree with Heisenberg?  Voigt's version sounds reasonable to me!

Has it ever been proved that gravity is proportional to mass?

No!  This was an assumption that Newton made and others followed, but since nobody pretends to have actually weighed the Sun or the planets it has never been checked.  Laboratory experiments have attempted to check it for small bodies, but (a) it is impossible to separate gravitational from electrostatic effects and (b) we have not been told all the facts.  The various anomalies such as variations with temperature and with the coating on the object have not reached the text books.  

For more, I recommend David Pratt's article (based on a book by Pari Spolter, 'Gravitational Force of the Sun' )  The article introduces many alternative theories and gives full references.  Happy reading!

Perhaps even more relevant are a few chapters in Matt Edwards' book, "Pushing Gravity".  Here you will find details of probably the only experimental tests ever to have been made that investigate the possibility of gravitational shielding.  They were performed by Quirino Majorana round about 1920.  Despite his best efforts they were inconclusive and (like Dayton Miller's work) need to be repeated, the results were compatible with a degree of "gravitational absorption" that would mean that the Sun could be about three times as massive as we currently think.

Did Hubble think the cosmological red shift was a Doppler shift?

No!  In fact he thought some of his data proved it could not be.  He had little use for Einstein's cosmological ideas.  Hubble right from the start kept an open mind about the cause of the red shift.  A typical quote from his writing:

"[If the redshifts are a Doppler shift] ... the observations as they stand lead to the anomaly of a closed universe, curiously small and dense, and, it may be added, suspiciously young. On the other hand, if redshifts are not Doppler effects, these anomalies disappear and the region observed appears as a small, homogeneous, but insignificant portion of a universe extended indefinitely both in space and time" [E. Hubble, Roy. Astron. Soc. M. N., 17, 506, 1937]

He thought there was some other reason -- some principle of nature as yet unknown -- causing the red shift.  Yes, distant objects are red shifted, but he thought the law was exponential rather than linear, as required by the basic "expanding universe" idea.  Einstein and the relativists chose to ignore his opinions and, as Hubble thought, force nature to conform to their interpretation.  After his death they re-wrote history, saying for example:

"More than ten years were to pass (after the expanding hypothesis had been put forward by De Sitter) before the observations made by the American astronomer Edwin Hubble were to establish beyond all reasonable doubt that the Universe was expanding" [W. Bonnor, The mystery of the expanding universe, Boringhieri, 1967, p. 2]

The above quotes and much more can be found in an essay by Roberto Monti at

Did Quantum Theory help in the discovery of the laser?

Well, certainly the discovery owed nothing to Niels Bohr!  

See, where Carver Mead makes some outspoken criticisms of the status quo.  

He has clearly identified several of the false claims of modern theory:

"Central to Mead's rescue project are a series of discoveries inconsistent with the prevailing conceptions of quantum mechanics.  One was the laser.   As late as 1956, Bohr and Von Neumann, the paragons of quantum theory, arrived at the Columbia laboratories of Charles Townes, who was in the process of describing his invention.  With the transistor, the laser is one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century. Designed into every CD player and long distance telephone connection, lasers today are manufactured by the billions.  At the heart of laser action is perfect alignment of the crests and troughs of myriad waves of light. Their location and momentum must be theoretically knowable.  But this violates the holiest canon of Copenhagen theory: Heisenberg Uncertainty.  Bohr and Von Neumann proved to be true believers in Heisenberg's rule. Both denied that the laser was possible.  When Townes showed them one in operation, they retreated artfully."

As the article tells us, Mead is a scientist of note,

"best known as inventor of a crucial high frequency transistor, author of dominant chip design techniques, progenitor of the movement toward dynamically programmable logic chips, and most recently developer of radical advances in machine-aided perception ..."

[The above link is primarily an advert for Carver's book, which I have not yet had time to read.  Though correctly identifying the faults in the present system, he does not necessarily know how to put them right!]


Did Newton believe in action at a distance?

Yes, Newton's Law of Gravitation relates the force of gravity to the masses and the distance apart of two bodies and does not mention the speed at which the force is supposed to propagate.  When you apply it in practice, you do so as if there was instantaneous effect of one body on another.  However, Newton himself never thought of this as more than a mathematical rule.  

A famous quotation:

I have only recently discovered that Newton original derived his rule from the idea that gravity could be caused by flow of aether into bodies.  See Matt Edwards, "Pushing Gravity".  Though it is customary these days to respect Newton and pour scorn on Le Sage, you will find that Newton and Le Sage shared Nicolas Fatio's idea that gravity is due to pressure of particles from elsewhere in the universe.

He did not assume instantaneous effects!


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