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9: Matter as One of the Forms of Ether Energy

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« on: April 10, 2024, 08:14:09 am »

9: Matter as One of the Forms of Ether Energy
What an atom is like, and what becomes of it.

It is incorrect to try and explain matter as something real, and force as a mere notion to which nothing real corresponds; both are abstractions from the real, formed in exactly the same way. We can perceive matter only through its forces, never in itself.---HELMHOLTZ, Erhaltung der Kraft.

SO far we have dealt, after a fashion, with the Ether and its functions; instancing among those functions gravitation, cohesion, light and radiation, electricity and magnetism. Are there no other functions that have to be considered? Yes, there is one very important one, the constitution of matter itself.

Electrons and protons are the building stones of which matter is made. The atom of matter is composed of them, and all matter is composed of atoms. Electrons are evidently composed of Ether, because whatever mass they have is represented by the energy of their electric field, which is certainly an etherial phenomenon: and apart from this field they seem to have no other existence; they are electric charges and nothing else. We cannot make a similar statement about a proton, because we do not know enough: for that we must wait. The things that I might attempt to say about it are too speculative at present, and would probably be wrong; this at any rate is not the place to say them.

Meanwhile we know that an electron has mass represented by its energy. We also know that a moving electron is more massive than one at rest, and that as its speed increases, its mass and energy slowly increase too, preserving constant proportion to each other. Matter is turning out to be one of the forms which etherial energy can take---a very curious and permanent form, not easily changed into other forms; at least not the whole of it: some of it is. The part of it which is easily changed is the extra mass acquired by a moving electron: this behaves like additional matter, but not like permanent matter. When an electron is stopped, this temporary matter disappears: it does not vanish into nothingness, it is changed into radiation; it is as it were shaken off or shocked off from the electron, and travels out into space as a quantum or individual splash of radiation with the speed of light. It may be actual visible light, but it must be radiation of some kind, whether it affects the eye or not: in its best known and simplest form it is an X-ray.

All radiation is produced by a sudden change in the motion of an electron; and the wave-length depends on how fast the electron was moving, and how quickly it is stopped. The electrons circulating round an atom have the power, the peculiar power, of dropping from one orbit to another, every now and then. Their orbits are not fixed like the orbits of the planets: it is as if Mars could suddenly drop to the orbit of the Earth and begin circulating there. That is one of the peculiarities of atomic astronomy: one in which it differs from celestial astronomy. In celestial astronomy the only objects liable to drop from one orbit to another are the comets: these may be captured by one of the planets and be thus dropped into a totally different orbit, being at the same time apparently pulled to pieces and converted into a swarm of meteors. We will not pursue that further, because there is nothing certainly known in the atoms to correspond with that.

Atomic astronomy is in some respects simpler than celestial astronomy; for all the planets or satellites revolving round the nucleus are similar to each other, identical in everything except speed and position: and their orbits, though very complicated, are by no means distributed at random: only some orbits are possible. There is a curious kind of discontinuity in the immediate neighbourhood of a material nucleus: the satellite or planetary electrons can occupy certain positions and no others: they can drop from one of these possible positions to another, and when they do so they emit energy in the form of radiation. It is as if they were stopped at the new orbit and thrown into shivers by the stoppage, so as to emit X-rays, or it may be light. The kind of radiation they emit depends on how far they have dropped and where they drop to. If they drop from a long way off (say a millimetre) into a position close to the nucleus, they get up a big speed, shiver quickly, and emit ultra-violet radiations or X-rays: if they drop only a little way, and remain at some distance (say a ten millionth of a millimetre) from the nucleus, they emit what is called infra-red radiation, something below the visible range. Some of the radiation can be seen; nearly all of it can be photographed; and that is how we learn about it. Each drop nearer to the nucleus corresponds to a line in the spectrum; and by analysing the spectrum the structure of the atom has been made out. We have more to learn about this process of drop, and why certain orbits only are possible; but all observers agree that radiation is due to a sudden drop, though they may differ as to what the drop means and what kind of thing it is.

The process is a reversible one: not only is radiation emitted, it can also be absorbed; and when radiation is absorbed, the electron is jerked up again. How far it is jerked up depends on the kind of radiation: a hard or high-frequency X-ray would jerk it up a long way, even out of the atom altogether: a soft X-ray or visible light would jerk it up from an inner orbit to an outer one. Whence in due time it might drop back again, giving out exactly the same energy as it received when it made its jump.

All these details can be followed, and are studied by the great spectroscopic analysts who are now at work. The spectrum has thrown a flood of light on inter-atomic processes. And by "the spectrum" I mean the line spectrum, the discontinuous spectrum, the kind of spectrum which is full of law and order; not a continuous spectrum, which is a mixture of a number of different kinds, but the spectrum due to a simple and definite process. It must suffice here to call attention to this great subject, and leave it for the future elucidation of the workers, not because too little, but because too much is known about it. And yet, in spite of this knowledge, our understanding of it is incomplete. Everything relating to the "quantum," or individual splash of radiation, is rather puzzling: we have only partially got the clue.

What concerns us now is the fact that matter and energy are equivalent to each other; I do not say identical, they are different forms of energy. The important thing is that they are forms of energy, so that when one disappears, the other makes its appearance. Energy is always protean in form: at one moment it can be mechanical strain, as in a stretched bow; at another moment it is visible motion, as in an arrow; at one moment it is in the form of compressed air or steam, at the next it is the revolution of a fly-wheel; at one moment it is a raised 20-ton weight, at another moment it is the heat and noise when the weight has fallen and crashed; at one moment it is the energy of an electric current, that is of magnetism, at the next it is the motion of a tram, propelled by that magnetism; at one moment it is an electric charge, at another it is the heat and light of a spark. All this has long been known, but we are now surprisingly able to say that at one moment a portion of energy is matter, mass, inertia, momentum; and the next, it is away travelling in the Ether as radiation. Moreover, energy which is now radiation can make an electron jump, and thus constitute an electric current, with all its intangible and protean properties.

Are we able to say that radiation can actually generate matter,---not only the temporary form of matter associated with electromagnetism, but the permanent form of electrons and protons? Here we must hesitate and proceed warily: we do not know that at present. There are some who think it probable; but all are willing to hesitate and seek the aid of further experiment. The birth of permanent matter would be a great discovery. Attempts have failed, so far.

But we can proceed, with some hope of getting an answer, to ask the converse question, Do an electron and proton ever clash together and obliterate each other in a pulse of radiation? Can matter, as we know it, radiate itself away and cease to be matter, until at some future time perhaps it is reconstituted? We do not yet know for certain---we only suspect it: what we know is that the permanent units of matter, when in motion, have more mass than they had at rest; and that this additional mass is convertible into radiation. This is happening continually, and accounts for all the light and radiant heat with which we are familiar.

In our laboratories, electrons can drop towards the nucleus. Do they ever drop into it? Or must they stop and take up some orbit short of the nucleus? We cannot answer that question yet. There are some who think that though the process does not as yet go on in our laboratories, under the conditions of temperature and pressure there available, yet that in the extravagant conditions of pressure and temperature which exist inside the stars, especially the giant stars, the process may be occurring. The radiation of such stars is tremendous, and it goes on for millions of ages, without apparent diminution. The Sun is rather a small star, but it is known to have been radiating for millions of years, perhaps for thousands of millions: there is no limit to time, time past or time future: the Universe is a going concern, and time seems to be infinite. How can we account for all that radiation? Whence comes the energy which a body like the Sun is constantly emitting, and which some stars are emitting thousands of times faster? And what has become of it all? Here are two questions. We are not yet ready to answer the second; but Astronomers believe they can answer the first.

They say that not only the atoms must be falling together, they suspect that the very constituents of the atoms must be falling together. I do not say that it is true; no one positively asserts as yet that it is true; but if it were true, it would account for the energy. Not only the temporary and electromagnetic matter is disappearing, some of the permanent matter may be disappearing too. Matter may not be so permanent as we think. It seems permanent enough under terrestrial conditions, but we can see how the destruction or transformation of matter could produce radiation; we are beginning to think that that is how most of the stellar and solar radiation is produced.

We can already say, pretty definitely, that wherever radiation is produced, matter disappears. Whether it be only the temporary form, or also what has hitherto been thought of as the permanent form, is the only question. The radiating power of the Sun is known: a fair amount of it is received by the earth; that is what is responsible for all the activities on the earth,---the winds, the rain, the rivers, the vegetation, and life generally. But what the earth receives is but a minute fraction of the whole: the Sun radiates in every direction; the earth is only a small body 92,000,000 miles away: the fraction it receives is very little compared with the whole. Even that is not insignificant however,---by no means insignificant to us: it lies at the very root of our physical being, though expressed as matter it is but small; the earth receives from the sun about three hundredweight a minute.

But the Sun is losing four million tons of matter every second! Accepting what we have said about the connexion between matter and radiation, the actual amount is a mere question of arithmetic. Arithmetic gives the figures---four million tons a second, lost to the Sun and radiated into space. Can the Sun stand such a loss without perceptible diminution? Yes, it makes no perceptible difference. The amount of matter even in the earth is 6000 trillion tons, that is 6000 million-million-million tons: the Sun has three-hundred-thousand times as much as that: and there is no difficulty in supposing that it has been losing, at much the same rate as now, for ten-thousand-million years. Less than one-tenth per cent. of its substance would have gone away in that time.

The antiquity of the Solar System is fearful. Life on the earth, in some form or other, has been going on most of that time: that is the conclusion to which we have come by studying electrons and the properties of the Ether, and digging down to the ultimate nature of matter. All that time, Life has existed; but not all that time Intelligence; not intelligent life as we know it now. The Ages of the Earth's past seem to have been a sort of preparation for the life and mind which now is, and for the mind which is still to come. It has been a slow and laborious process; and the outcome of it, so far, we see. Has the outcome been worth all the labour and time spent in preparation? Faith is needed to suppose that. Mankind  with its trivialities seems hardly worthy. Yet by faith we feel bound to suppose that there is some far-seeing design, some lofty meaning in it all, and that the ultimate outcome will be worth while.

Meanwhile here we are, conscious creatures endowed with the faculty of understanding; with the power of work, and of mutual help: we have become agents in the Universe endowed with consciousness. We are beginning to understand something of the processes at work: we are beginning even to have some power, not only of understanding but of helping, of doing things which would not otherwise be done. We have the power to produce works of art, to re-arrange matter into beautiful forms, to exhibit emotions, to glorify existence by human achievements, to express feelings and hopes and aspirations, to add to the real wealth or value of existence. And so, even while still within the range of the material universe, we may hope that mankind will become worthy of the magnificent scene in which its lot is cast. And we ourselves, though we are but a stage in the majestic pageant, can yet understand that here on earth is scope for free response to a Divine Will, and can wonder at the Patient Effort.

Depend upon it, nothing is easy, nothing petty, nor is anything haphazard, things are not left to chance. Everything is amenable to law and order, everything points to a rational Scheme or Plan, of which we know neither the beginning nor the end, but towards the fulfilment of which we can help. In face of all that, shall we allow ourselves to squabble about trivialities! Shall we crawl about on the surface of the planet and sting each other here in the dust and die? Or shall we realise that we are the heir of all the ages, that the destiny of mankind is being partly entrusted to us, and that humanity has a future, a potential future, beyond our wildest dreams!

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