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Eric Baird- Newton’s aether model

Eric Baird- Newton’s aether model

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arXiv reference: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/ 
physics/0011003
 
Newton’s aether model
Eric Baird
(eric_baird@compuserve.com)
 
Isaac Newton is usually associated with the idea of absolute space and time, and withballistic light-corpuscle arguments. However, Newton was also a proponent of wave/particle duality, and published a “new” variable-density aether model in which lightand matter trajectories were either bent by gravitational fields, or deflected by an aetherdensity gradient. Newton’s (flawed) aether model can be considered as an early attempt at acurved-space model of gravity.
1. Introduction 
Modern textbooks typically say that Newtonbelieved that space and time were absolute andinviolable. However, a reading of Newton’s“Principia” [1] and “Opticks” [2] reveals a rather different picture, with Optiks inparticular documenting Newton’s attempt toproduce a model of gravity in which agravitational field could be represented as aseries of light-distance differentials, or as avariation in lightspeed or refractive index. Thiscan be compared to Einstein’s “refractive”approach to gravitational light-bending in 1911( [3] §4 ) and to his description of generalrelativity as a (nonparticulate!) gravitationalaether model in 1920 [4][5]. We briefly look at some of the features of Newton’s model, the mistake that doomed it toobscurity [6], and some of the consequences of this mistake on the subsequent development of physics.
2. Absolute space? 
In “Principia”, Newton was careful todistinguish between
relative space and time
,which were to be defined by observations andinstrument readings, and
absolute space andtime
, which were to relate to more abstract (andpossibly arbitrary) quantities that might ormight not have an identifiable grounding inphysical reality. Finite-lightspeed effects hadalready been seen in the timing offsets in theorbits of Jupiter’s moons, so this distinctionwas important. Newton insisted that the words“space” and “time” should by default refer to“absolute” (deduced, mathematical) quantitiesrather than their “apparent” counterparts, butstatements from Newton regarding “absolutespace” and “absolute time” do not automaticallymean that Newton believed that directly-measurable distances and physical clock-rateswere also absolute – (Principia, Definitions:
… the natural days are truly unequal, thoughthey are commonly considered as equal … it may well be that there is no such thing as anequable motion, whereby time may beaccurately measured.
”).In “Opticks”, Newton’s idealised absolute spaceis occupied by a “new” form of medium whosedensity depends on gravitational properties,with variations in aether density producing theeffects that would otherwise be described as theresults of a gravitational field. The resultingmetric associates a gravitational field withsignal flight-time differences (
see:
Shapiroeffect) that deflect light, leading to a normalisedlightbeam-geometry that is not Euclidean. Sincethese effects are described in modern theory asthe effects of curved
 
space, it seems reasonableto interpret Newton’s “absolute space” as anabsolute Euclidean embedding-space that actsas a container for non-Euclidean geometry,rather than as an indication that Newtonbelieved that gravity had no effect on measuredor perceived distances, times, or “effective”geometrical relationships.
3. Lightspeed problems 
Newton and Huyghens had opposing ideas onhow a lightspeed differential deflected light:
Newton view:
 ”A gravitational gradient is associated witha change in speed of freely falling particles,with the speed being higher where thegravitational field is stronger. The bendingof light at an air-glass boundary and thefalling of light-corpuscles in a gravitationalfield can be described as the deflection of light towards regions of higher lightspeed.”
Huyghens view:
 ”If a region has a slower speed of light, itwill tend to collect light from thesurrounding region. If a light-signalwavefront encounters a lightspeed gradientacross its surface, with a faster natural speedon one side and a slower speed on the other,the retardation of the wavefront’s “slower”side will steer the wavefront towards theslower-speed region.”Measurements of relative lightspeeds indifferent media in the 19
th
Century showed thatit was Huyghens’ explanation that was correct.
 
“Newton’s aether model” Eric Baird 1 November 2000
page 2 / 2
arXiv reference: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/ 
physics/0011003
 
4. Huyghens’ principle 
Huyghens’ principle is illustrated in thefollowing diagrams of a light plane-wavehitting a glass block:.
(a)
 
(b)
 Figure (a) shows the progress of a wavefronthitting a lightspeed transition boundary,(b) shows the resulting change in direction of the wave normal.At the start of the experiment, the leftmost edgeof the advancing wavefront hits the air/glassboundary at
A
. A short time later, the rightmostedge of the wavefront has advanced by adistance
c
1
and the rightmost edge of thewavefront has reached the boundary at
B
. Bythis time, the leftmost edge has penetrated theglass a smaller distance
c
2
(because lightspeedin glass is slower) and the new wavefront liesalong a line between
B
and a tangent centred on
A
with radius
c
2 .
The wavefront normal isdeflected to point more towards the region of slower lightspeed, with the exact relationshipbeing
21
sinsin
cc
 ANGLE  REFRACTION  ANGLE  INCIDENCE 
=
 
5. The “corrected” gravitational aether 
We can make Newton’s description compatiblewith Huyghens’ principle by inverting hislightspeed and aether-density relationships.After these substitutions, the relevant queries inOpticks read:
Qu 19x (rewritten)
Doth not the Refraction of Light proceed from thedifferent density of this Aetherial Medium indifferent places, the Light receding always fromthe
[rarer]
parts of the Medium? And is not thedensity thereof 
[less]
 
in free and open spaces void of Air and other grosser Bodies, than within the Poresof Water, Glass, Crystal, Gems, and other compactBodies? …
Qu. 21x (rewritten)
Is not this Medium much
[denser]
within the denseBodies of the Sun, Stars, Planets and Comets,
thanin the empty Celestial spaces
between them?And in passing from them to great distances, doth itnot grow
[rarer]
and
[rarer]
perpetually and therebycause the gravity of those great Bodies towards oneanother, and of their parts toward the Bodies; everyBody endeavouring to go from the
[rarer]
parts of the Medium towards the
[denser]
? … And though this
[Decrease]
of density may atgreat distances be exceeding slow, yet is the elastick force of this Medium be exceeding great, it maysuffice to impel Bodies from the
[rarer]
parts of themedium towards the
[denser]
, with all that powerwhich we call Gravity. …
6. Some other issues 
Opticks’
Query 1
, on light-bending effects:
Do not Bodies act upon Light at a distance, and bytheir action bend its Rays; and is not this actionstrongest at the least distance?
This query does not make a distinction betweengravitational light bending (action of gravity onunspecified “corpuscles”, mentioned inPrincipia), and more conventional lensingeffects.
Query 4
makes conventional opticaleffects more “gravitational” by proposing that
… rays of Light … reflected of refracted, begin tobend before they arrive at the Bodies …
Query 17
: Total internal reflection at a glass-airboundary introduced the philosophical problemof how the behaviour of light in glass could beaffected by properties of a region that the lightdid not actually reach. How does light “know”what is beyond the glass, if it never actuallypasses beyond the glass? Newton’s answer –that there must also be a hyper-fast wave-effectwhose interference patterns then steer thesubsequent light signal – predates the “pilotwave” description of the two-slit problem inquantum mechanics.
Query 21
introduces the supposition that theaether might be particulate, but includes a slightqualification:“…
(for I do not know what this
 Aether 
is) …
”.
Query 28
recognises that lightwaves are notcompression waves in the gravitationalmedium, since a compression-wave would havea tendency to spread out into less compressedregions (a lightbeam would then be deflectedtowards “dark” regions).Newton’s perplexity at how a single mediumcould then support both gravitational signalsand electromagnetic signals can be compared toEinstein’s similar musings in 1920 (“
… tworealities that are completely separated from each otherconceptually, although connected causally, namely,gravitational ether and electromagnetic field …
”. [4]
Quest. 30
(sic) asks whether light and matterare not interconvertible, and
Quest. 31
toucheson the idea of stronger short-range forces beingat the heart of chemical reactions.
 
“Newton’s aether model” Eric Baird 1 November 2000
page 3 / 3
arXiv reference: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/ 
physics/0011003
 
7. Effective curvature 
In the diagrams below,
(a)
shows genuinely flatspace,
(b)
shows the aether-density gradientassociated with the “corrected” version of Newton’s variable-density aether model, and
(c)
 shows the same map, extruded so that light-distances can be measured directly from mapdistances in the map:
(a) :truly flat space, (b): variable-density aether onflat background, (c): normalised light-distance map
 The physics of maps
(b)
(“aether-densitygradient”) and
(c)
(“curved space”) can beequivalent (
see:
Thorne [7], Chapter 11 “Whatis Reality?”).
Gravitational field approximated as a seriesof shells of increasing refractive index
Although Cavendish did not calculate the sun’slight-bending effect until the late 18
th
Century,Newton had already made similar calculationsfor the effects of a variable-density medium, inorder to predict optical effects caused by theEarth’s (variable density) atmosphere [6] ).
8. Effective closure 
Our “corrected” version of Newton’s aethermodel (with the time taken by light to cross adistance increasing or decreasing withgravitational field strength), allows anominally-infinite universe containing a“central” concentration of matter to appear toits inhabitants as a closed hypersphericaluniverse with an even distribution of matter andno distinguishable centre [8] – figure 2 of Einstein’s ”Geometry and Experience” lecture[9] gives a method of mapping between thesetwo equivalent descriptions.
9. Historical consequences 
The advantage of expressing a gravitationalfield as a variation in density of an underlyingmedium was that wavefronts and particleswould then be deflected by the same amount(w/p equivalence, gravity as a “spatial density”effect). John Michell’s 1783 letter to HenryCavendish was able to build on the argumentsin Principia and Opticks and conclude that lightclimbing out of a gravitational well should loseenergy, with the image of a high-gravity starviewed through a prism being offset towards theweaker end of the spectrum [10]. Michell’spaper also calculated the R=2M event horizonradius, and discussed the “modern” method of finding non-radiating stars from the motions of their “normal” companions. Michell did notdescribe distance-dependent signal flight-timedifferences in his double-star scenario (such asthose expected in simple ballistic-photon theorysuperimposed on flat space, discounted bydeSitter in 1913 [11][12][13]), possibly because of uncertainty as to whether Newton’saether should support multiple superimposedlightspeeds. LaPlace also derived the R=2Mrelationship, and Cavendish and Soldner bothcalculated “Newtonian” values for the Sun’sbending of light (
see:
[14][15][16] and Thorne [7] pp.122-123 & 132-133).The disagreement between Newton’s andHuyghens’ arguments (Section 3), and thesubsequent disproof of Newton’s lightspeedpredictions (Foucault, 1850) had seriousconsequences for the idea of wave-particleduality, with Optiks going out of print until1931, and its contents apparently unknown toEinstein as late as 1921[4]. Other related work suffered a similar fate – laPlace removed hisreference to the r=2M radius in later editions of his book (Thorne [7] p.122-123), Cavendish’scalculation of solar light-deflection did not findits way into print until 1921, and Michell’spaper dropped out of the citation chain and wasonly “rediscovered” in about 1979 [17][18]. After Laplace and Soldner’s published “light-corpuscle” pieces in 1799 and 1801, thereseems to be a “gap” in the reference chain untilEinstein’s 1911 paper. Even after Riemann’sgroundbreaking work on non-Euclideangeometry [19], attempts to construct curved-space models were not always taken seriously(e.g. Clerk Maxwell on W.K. Clifford’s work,~1869, “the work of a space-crumpler” [20]).Spatial-curvature models remainedproblematical until after Einstein had repeatedMichell’s gravity-shift exercise (apparentlyoblivious to most or all of these earlier works!)and concluded that the situation could not beresolved unless an increased gravitational fieldwas also associated with a reduction in the rateof timeflow. By arguing that gravity distortedmaps of timeflow across a region, Einstein thenopened the door to models of space
time
 curvature based on Riemann’s geometry, themost famous being his own general theory.

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