The Abandonment of the Aether
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An intriguing but often-confusing exploration of a fringe scientific theory.

Luminiferous aether–or “light-bearing aether,” a theory first postulated by Isaac Newton in the 18th century, later refined by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century and ultimately replaced by Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity–is most simply defined as the medium for the propagation of light. In his Optiks, Newton used the theory of aether as part of a larger mechanistic theory explaining how light is transmitted and contained, similar to the movement of electricity through a copper wire. In an attempt to explain the wave-particle duality phenomenon in quantum mechanics, Deutsch reactivates and develops this outmoded theory in physics. He posits that Einstein made a grave error in dropping the aether paradigm in favor of his special theory of relativity, which focuses on the constant rate of the speed of light across a vacuum along a space-time continuum. According to Deutsch, Einstein possessed the computational justification for the presumed existence of the aether, but decided to discard the principle since it was too cumbersome to work through to its logical conclusion. The author cites many landmark experiments, as well as countless algebraic equations and diagrams that will quickly lose the untrained reader. While the general argument is provocative, the symbol- and jargon-heavy narrative becomes bogged down in the specifics, especially given that the aether theory is now widely considered obsolete.

May interest those well versed in high-level physics, but general readers beware.

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 2006
ISBN: 0-595-37481-6
Program: Kirkus Indie
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