In the Timaeus, Plato spoke of the most translucent of all air and gave it a name, aether. The pure, fresh air of the Gods. Since that time, thinking minds have pondered this mysterious substance and tried their best to not only define it, but measure it, so as to prove its existence. It became known as the fifth element.
In Orphic mythology, time was the pre-existing cause of all things. Chronos, the father of time, begat divine Aether and a great chasm was formed which was described as never ending in all directions. Everything undivided in a dark mist, and was held together by gloomy night, which covered what was under Aether. Chronos then created a shiny egg, along with the divine Aether. Protogonos Phaethon, the firstborn, began to move in an incredible circle inside the egg, which was encircled by a giant serpent Ananke (Ouroboros?). This is the famous Orphic Egg we see surrounded by a serpent. In this mythology, Aether may be equated with the holy spirit of Abrahamic religions.
By the time the 1800’s rolled around, aether research was pretty much everywhere. Scientists, alchemists, alternative medicine practitioners, mystics, and seemingly every thinker was in pursuit of this mystical substance; the luminiferous aether, which permeated all of space and thus carried the seed of life in its womb. Lord kelvin called it an "elastic, compressible, non-gravitational solid.” Aether was the “it.”
Then in 1887, German born physicist Albert Michaelson and American scientist Edward Morley created an experiment intending to measure the relative motion of the earth and the luminiferous aether. They found no significant difference between the speed of light in the direction of movement through the presumed aether, and the speed at right angles. Aether, we have a problem!
This experiment inspired the mind of a young wannabe physicist named Albert Einstein, who in 1905 burst onto the scene with the bold claim that there was no scientific evidence of aether. He gave us “special relativity” instead. Most didn’t understand, much less agree with the notion. According to Einstein, the speed of light is a constant in any inertial frame, which violated Newton’s laws of motion.
His theory predicted the deflection of light around the sun, and hypothesized that we could not only visualize such a concept, but measure it as well. Indeed when a total eclipse came around in 1919 observations seemed to prove his then far-fetched theory.
Space had become warped and aether research was dead. This line of thinking eventually led to the strangest of all ideas from astronomer Fritz Zwicky, dark matter. Something not detectable at all with experimentation or observation as it doesn’t interact with anything. Pure speculation, to some. And completely out of the realm of real science. After all if it can’t be measured, is it science at all?
But a strange thing happened over the course of time. Aether made a comeback. Now we see experiments to find and redefine aether, as well as a return to past thinking for some, putting Einstein’s theories on the hot seat and potentially moving us out of Zwicky’s darkness.
I, not being a scientist or at all qualified to debate any of these ideas, still have thoughts that I can’t put to rest. What if luminiferous aether isn’t a substance at all, rather a simple lack of substance? Maybe dark matter isn’t really a mysterious substance, but a complete lack of matter entirely? If matter is omnipresent in the universe, then wouldn’t its opposite be no matter at all rather than anti-matter? No need to annihilate anything but misunderstanding. Nothing is the opposite of something. It seems obvious to me.
We have been taught that matter is comprised of atoms, molecules and such. Electrons spinning around in a cloud. And the further one shrinks down, nothing is solid. It’s mostly made up of empty space. We all learned this in basic science classes. In fact, empty space permeates the tiniest of atoms. So why the need for any substance at all? If everything has matter, and matter is mostly existing in empty space, what is it that connects matter? Can we actually touch anything, or is it just an illusion?
Could it be that we are not connected by matter at all? It seems to me that it’s the space between that connects everything and not matter itself. To me, the space between is the aether. It is nothing, yet without it, nothing is possible. The ultimate and eternal paradox. It is omnipresent and completely hidden at the same time. Not dark matter, but simply no matter at all. A place where matter can’t exist.
Can one paint a picture without a blank canvas of some sort to begin? And regardless of how much paint is applied, the blank canvas is still there hidden underneath and between each dollop of paint. You just need to look deep enough to find it. And without it, there would be no painting at all.
So what are your thoughts on aether?
Is it a luminiferous substance?
Is it the mother of dark matter?
Is it, as the ancient Greeks believed, the pure, fresh air of the Gods?
Or is it nothing at all?
The original and eternal blank canvas.
The space between.