A Physicist Embraces the Aether

Here is the sad story about Allen Rothwarf, a physicist who embraced the aether. On 15 February 1998,Physics Essays received a manuscript titled “An Aether Model of the Universe” from Dr. Rothwarf. The manuscript was accepted for publication (I don’t know the exact date). Then, tragically, Allen Rothwarf died suddenly of a heart attack on 24 June 1998, at the age of 62. The manuscript was published in the September issue (vol. 11, number 3, pp. 444-466).

Dr. Rothwarf was in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

To convey to the reader his commitment to the aether, here is the first paragraph of “An Aether Model of the Universe”:

We live in a universe of interacting fluids. While oceans in which gases are dissolved and an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere with water vapor and other trace gases are readily accepted, the third fluid, the aether, which penetrates everything, is ridiculed as a relic of a bygone era in science. Yet, while rejecting an aether, the science establishment has no problems swallowing waves in vacuum, mysterious probability waves, ad hoc cosmological constants, vacuum fluctuations that can generate anything, and time and space expanding and shrinking. To the true believer, the fact that “they work” is the only justification for the major theories in physics: Maxwell’s equations, the Schrodinger equation, and relativity, and is used as evidence that we know everything, that “science is dead,” and humanity’s brightest should move on to more challenging tasks. Some of us, however, are heretics. We would actually like to “understand” the physics, rather than just use it as a magic wand to create technology. In this pursuit of “understanding,” which is also ridiculed by the establishment as the asking of meaningless questions, we have found that the aether is not only a useful concept, but that it is a real substance whose origin coincides with the birth of our universe and whose properties determine the speed of light, the other physical constants, and the missing insight lacking in present theories.

Here is the first paragraph of a section headed “Relativity and the Aether”:

Relativity is one of the areas of physics that were instrumental in the demise of the traditional aether, and is also one that could benefit most from a plausible aether. Among the questions that an aether can hope to answer for relativity are: Why is the speed of light the same in all frames of reference? What determines the speed of light? What causes the apparent increase in mass as an object approaches the speed of light? What causes the time dilation and space contraction in moving systems? How can relativity and QM [quantum mechanics] be reconciled? The last question has remained as the outstanding problem in theoretical physics for the past seven decades.

And here is the last paragraph:

It is unlikely that all the features of the model and all our speculations will turn out to be correct on closer examination. However, the approach reopens a mode of thinking that has been largely prohibited for the past century. From our results it appears to be a fruitful approach.

The Rothwarf aether particle (EP) is an electron-positron pair. It is therefore neutral, and its mass is twice that of an electron, or 1.822 x 10-30 kg. (See also Menahem Simhony’s EPOLA model in the April 2003 pdf file in

Since the EP has mass, it is gravitationally attracted to every massive object. Therefore, the aether is approximately stationary, relative to the Earth, in a Michelson-Morley type of measurement.

One of the key ideas endorsed by Rothwarf was that the velocity of light depends on the density of its aether carrier. As the Universe expands, the density of the all-pervading aether decreases. Rothwarf derives the functional relation

 c = k/t0.5,                                                                          (1)             

where c is the velocity of light, k is a constant, and t is time since the Big Bang. Ignoring the singularity at t = 0, and using 2.998 X 108 m/s  for c and 14 billion years for t, we get k = 3.547 X 1013, so that

c = 3.547 X 1013/t0.5 m/s.                                                               (2)

This conjectured relationship is plotted, using log-log scales, in Fig. 1. Several interesting features show up in this straight-line plot:


Fig. 1- Velocity of light versus time since the Big Bang if c is inversely proportional to the square root of t. The Universe is assumed to be 14 billion years old. The Earth formed 4.55 billion years to the left of “Now.” At t = 1 million years, c = 3.547 X 1010 m/s; at t = 100 billion years, c = 1.122 X 108 m/s.

(1) Because of the log-log plot, there is only a short distance between the “Earth formed” and “Now,” 4.55 billion years later. The velocity when the Earth formed is 3.649 X 108 m/s, or a decrease of 17.84% since then.
(2) Is there a chance that, during one of our lifetimes, we can measure the change in velocity? We get

dc/dt  = – c/(2t).                                                                       (3)

At the “Now” point, then, dc/dt = – 0.01071 m/s/year, or -1.071 m/s in 100 years. This raises the exciting possibility that the decrease in the speed of light, if it exists, can be measured with very accurate instruments.

(3) At the left end, at t = one million years, the velocity of light is 3.547 X 1010 m/s. At the right end, where the Universe is 100 billion years old, the velocity is 1.122 X 108 m/s. From “Now” at t = 14 billion years to t = 100 billion years, the velocity decreases by a factor of only 2.67. 

Dr. Rothwarf also pointed out that “If c is a function of time, e [electron charge], h [Planck’s constant], and m [rest mass of an electron] may also be time dependent.”This may invalidate the age of the Universe and, also, Fig. 1.  This may have consequences far beyond cosmology. If the natural “constants” have indeed changed, then the conditions under which life can originate have changed. During the first billion years of the Universe, say, the random accretion of atoms was not able to form viable combinations. With e, h, and m (and other “constants”) substantially different from “Now” values, it was impossible for viable RNA-DNA molecules to form.

In the vicinity of t = 10 billion years, however, the natural “constants” have values that permit the emergence of viable RNA-DNA molecules. Thus, life throughout the Universe, as we know it, has emerged in the vicinity of t = 10 billion years. (An unlikely possibility is that there is life that doesn’t use RNA-DNA.)

Continuing with this line of conjecture leads us, eventually, to the vicinity of t = 100 billion years. Here it is possible that the natural “constants” can no longer sustain life. Instead of life terminating because the Universe cools off like a cinder of coal after it is used up, life may simply end because the chemical reactions needed to sustain life have been replaced by lifeless varieties. (Human life is scheduled to end, in any event, when the sun blows up in 5 billion years or so.)

The above sequence of events is deadly to the Intelligent Design (ID) philosophy. The ID people maintain that only an Intelligent Designer could come up with the complicated structures that are found in living creatures, such as the visual system, the auditory system, the brain, and so forth. The Variable Natural Constants (VNC) perspective is that the Universe gradually entered a period during which life could begin in goo somewhere on Earth. That period may have ended so that, actually, the conditions on earth are different and life can’t begin again the way it once did. Therefore, it may no longer be possible for a clever chemist to show how life began in a cubic meter of goo, say.

Furthermore, the time will come when life ends in the Universe — not because creatures are efficiently killing each other off, but because natural abortion (unable to reproduce, no viable offspring) will decimate the population so that it is below a sustainable level. Those who believe in the deity will then be able to say that the deity is evil because it allowed life to vanish; the deity created the Universe and then abandoned it. Would an Intelligent Designer allow the work that it created to be destroyed in this ignoble fashion? Only a gullible believer in ID magic would say “Yes” to that.

To me, this does not seem to be a particularly intelligent ending.

The magnum opus by Allen Rothwarf did not resuscitate the aether; as I have repeatedly maintained, only a physicist big-shot can do that. But Allen’s brother, Frederick Rothwarf, and a colleague, Sisir Roy, are writing papers based on Allen’s work. They are in the Physics & Astronomy Department of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. They are currently completing a paper on “An Aether Cosmology.” A previous paper, “The Time Dependence of Fundamental Constants and Planck Scale Physics,” is available via the Internet at
http://arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0311351. So the aether may yet be revived; as the saying goes, “Stay Tuned.”

Additional excerpts from the Allen Rothwarf paper, “An Aether Model of the Universe,” Physics Essays, vol. 11, #3, 1998, pp. 444-466, with comments by me based on Return of the Ether, SciTech Publishing, 1999, and Einstein’s Greatest Mistake, Abandonment of the Aether, iUniverse, 2006. My comments are italicized.
p. 445R—{It is also of interest to note that in 1951 Dirac published a letter to Nature titled “Is There an Aether?” in which he showed that the objections to an aether posed by relativity were removed by QM, …}

p. 445R—{We will argue that electrons and positrons dominate the aether plasma, …} His aether “particles” are neutral, same as mine, but I don’t specify their composition.

p. 446L—{An object moving through the aether creates a wave in the aether just as one moving through air or water creates a wave. The wave also acts back on the object to determine its path.} Exactly agrees with my model.

p. 447L—{If c is a function of time, e, ħ, and m may also be time dependent.} Some of the important natural “constants” may change with time.

p. 447L—{This yields n0 = 6 X 1029/cm3}, or 6 X 1035/m3. My aether particle density is 1.71 X 1047/m3 (p. 71 of “Einstein’s Greatest Mistake”), but Dr. Rothwarf’s model includes heavier aether particles, and pores.       

p. 447R—{…we see that the speed of light is decreasing as t-1/2.} I completely agree. If there is an aether, then it is reasonable to assume that the speed of light decreases as the aether (the Universe) expands. Joao Magueijo agrees with this in “Faster Than the Speed of Light,” but does not specify the time function.

p. 449L—{Thus, a period of inflationary growth or “inflation” occurs naturally in the aether model. Other models of cosmology have introduced inflation as an ad hoc assumption; in our picture it can emerge in a natural way.}

p. 450L—{Thus we approach the Schrodinger equation from a physical point of view that stresses the fluid in which the wave exists, rather than the mathematical approach through heuristic manipulation of classical Hamilton-Jacob theory.}

p. 452L—{In the model there is a finite density of particles in the aether and hence a natural “pore size” in which there is no aether.}

p. 453R—{That the photon is small and localized is attested to by the photoelectric effect, where a single photon ejects an electron locally from a material, and also by photographic plates, where the photon deposits its energy locally to produce a chemical change.}

p. 453R—{Since this disturbance has energy, it must have drawn this energy from the photon, and hence lowered the photon’s energy, giving a redshift to the light. This redshift explanation differs from other approaches, such as of the expansion of the universe, or the Doppler shift due to relativity, and from the different physical constants in distant regions, …} In my model, during a redshift, the lost energy is converted into potential energy that is given back when and if the photon undergoes a blueshift.

p. 454L—{Since Fermions are embedded in vortices that interact, while bosons have no vortices, a difference in behavior is expected from the aether model.}

p. 454R—{Thus, the electron is a charged particle that is trapped in the core of a vortex, and the neutrino is a vortex with angular momentum ħ/2 with no particle within its core.}

p. 455R—{In the aether model, the fluid is made up primarily of electrons and positrons and hence is not continuous at small distances on the order of n0-1/3. There are thus natural “pores” in the aether that make it multiply connected and able to support irrotational flow while at the same time contain vortices centered on the pores.}

p. 456L—{Thus, we have plausibly explained spin, the Pauli exclusion principle, the magnetic moment of the electron, and Zitterbewegung by simply pursuing where the aether picture leads.}

p. 457L—{In some experiments the aether is pulled along and in other cases it is not. Hence, in contrast to the predictions of relativity, it should be possible to detect the aether by using the proposed LIGO and perhaps other tests as well.} To detect the aether, we need an apparatus that can measure the speed of light in three mutually perpendicular directions; taken aboard a space vehicle, it would yield a vector that represents the motion of the aether with respect to the vehicle. I believe that today we have the technical capability to construct such a speedometer. It has to be accurate to within a few m/s.

p. 458L—{The increase of inertial mass as a particle’s speed increases can likewise be visualized in the aether model as due to the inability of the aether particles to move fast enough to get out of the way of a speeding particle.} This agrees with some of my own conjectures.

p. 458L—{… and a region of thickness on the order of the radius of the earth could be dragged along.} In my model, the aether is gravitationally attracted to the earth.     

p. 458R—{Hence c is changing by about 1 part in 1010 per year, and depending upon the accuracy of the LIGO (or any other) determination of c, the accumulated change in c should be seen after an appropriate time.} Using 14 billion years for the age of the Universe, I get 2.8 parts in 1010 per year.

p. 459R—{This leads to the possibility that at some future time the universe will simply fade away as c –> 0, as the density of the aether goes to zero.}

p. 460L—{Since the speed of light in a medium depends upon its index of refraction, and the longer the wavelength the slower the speed, a few days delay in a trip that took on the order of 109 years amounts to a one part in 1012 difference in index of refraction between γ-rays and optical radiation.}

p. 460R—{One of the tenets of modern cosmology is that at the center of the big bang there must be a singularity.}

p. 460R—{The counter-movement toward a steady-state universe around 1950 gained support for a while, but current evidence and theories have placed the big-bang model in the ascendancy again.}

p. 461L—{Our aether model lends itself to an alternate picture of the origin of the redshift. Indeed there are several possible causes for the redshift that emerge from our model.}

p. 461R—{… we would have the ingredients for a consistent explanation for the observed redshifts, although not a numerical agreement, since the time dependences of m and e, if any, are not yet known.}

p. 462R—{This in turn came from the pore size or core size of the vortex in the aether, which is tied to the density of the aether, which changes with time as the aether expands.}

p. 462R—{The uncertainty principle can be viewed, for Fermions at least, in terms of the spin vortex around the center or “position” of the particle. The closer one comes to the center the higher the aether velocity, and the stronger the interaction with any probe that is present there, and the larger the change in momentum the particle will sustain.}

p. 463R—{In the aether model a particle has a definite position and produces a disturbance pattern in the aether. The particle and its disturbance (or wave function) are an entity that in QM replaces the particle concept. In the process of making a measurement the particle and its wave function must interact with the measuring apparatus in some way. … The “measurement” forces the particle to choose a definite position or state, … The wave function as modified by the interaction with the measuring apparatus, and acting back on the particle (or quantum system), determines the final measured state of the particle.}


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