Article 3 : RESTORING THE EXPERIMENTAL BASIS – by Rev Nicholas Sykes



In the last article a fundamental problem with the Theory of Relativity was cited: it does not cohere adequately with another foundation theory of modern Physics, namely Quantum Mechanics. We may touch on what Quantum Mechanics is later on in the series, and how the Electric Universe paradigm may supply this mainly mathematically oriented theory with a more adequate physical basis than it currently enjoys.

But enough of that for now. Einstein’s Relativity explorations too are mathematical in character. Indeed it is said that Einstein himself, unlike Sir Isaac Newton, hated to do experiments, and ceased attempting to do any from an early age. Critics of Einstein point out that his “gedankenexperimenten” (thought experiments) cannot substitute for real experiments in the process of building a verifiable theory, but should always lead to them.

For example, the whole concept of a four dimensional space-time continuum, which forms a mathematical basis for Relativity Theory, is something that a person may conceptualise in thought; yet there is no known person on this planet that actually experiences space and time in such a manner. It appears that without exception, humans see space in three dimensions, with the flow of time being sensed in a manner that is entirely different from and independent of the way three-dimensional space is experienced. (Perhaps there might be a form of severe mental disturbance that could cause someone to actually “see” reality in the way Relativity proposes, but I am not aware of any such case.)

Relativity Theory also predicts that the simultaneity of two events occurring at the same time is not absolute, but is relative to the relationship between the “frame of reference” of the observed events and that of the observer himself. In other words, two things which happen at the same time in one frame of reference, may not happen at the same time in another. Common sense, of course, finds this outrageous. Relativity Theory is upheld by a captivated public, but could this be in the same way as the fabled naked emperor’s clothing was heralded as magnificent by his fawning admirers? In any case I will continue to be one of the growing number of those small boys who are horrid enough to say what they see. There is much more to be said on this, but it must wait.

We will move on to those who, like Michael Faraday, progressed Physics through their experiments. Kristian Birkeland (1867 – 1917) was one such scientist, perhaps best known for his “terrella” (laboratory model of the earth) experiments. His terrella, simulating the earth, was made from naturally magnetised lodestone, and, having suspended it in an evacuated box, he subjected it to electric fields and currents. He organized several expeditions to Norway’s high-latitude regions where he established a network of observatories under the auroral regions (i.e. the regions where the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights take place) to collect magnetic field data.

The results of the Norwegian Polar Expedition conducted from 1899 to 1900 contained the first determination of the global pattern of electric currents in the polar region from ground magnetic field measurements. Birkeland also developed vacuum chambers to study the influence of magnets on cathode rays (electrons). Birkeland noticed that an electron beam directed toward a magnetised terrella was guided toward the magnetic poles and produced rings of light around the poles, and he concluded that the aurora could be produced in a similar way. He developed a theory in which energetic electrons were ejected from sunspots on the solar surface, directed to the Earth, and guided to the Earth’s polar regions by the geomagnetic field where they produced the visible aurora. In 1916,

Birkeland was probably the first person successfully to predict that the solar wind behaves as do all charged particles in an electric field: “From a physical point of view it is most probable that solar rays are neither exclusively negative nor positive rays, but of both kinds” In other words, the Solar Wind consists of both negative electrons and positive ions. Birkeland suggested that polar electric currents — today referred to as auroral electrojets—were connected to a system of currents that flowed along geomagnetic field lines into and away from the polar region. He provided a diagram of field-aligned currents in his book, The Norwegian Aurora Polaris Expedition 1902-1903. Birkeland’s vision of field-aligned currents became the source of a controversy that continued for a quarter of a century.

Hannes Alfvén, following Birkeland’s lead, believed the auroras to be powered by charged particles from the Sun, but Sydney Chapman categorically denying any role of electric currents across interplanetary space developed a mathematically elegant hypothesis that the auroras were generated entirely in the Earth’s magnetosphere by a “buffeting” of the solar wind. The proof of Birkeland’s field-aligned currents, however, eventually came from observations made above the iononsphere with satellites. A magnetometer onboard a U.S. Navy navigation satellite launched in 1963 observed magnetic disturbances on nearly every pass over the high-latitude regions of the Earth. It was soon realized that they were due to field-aligned or Birkeland currents.

In 1913, Birkeland may have been the first to predict that plasma was ubiquitous in space. He wrote: “It seems to be a natural consequence of our points of view to assume that the whole of space is filled with electrons and flying electric ions of all kinds. We have assumed that each stellar system in evolutions throws off electric corpuscles into space. It does not seem unreasonable therefore to think that the greater part of the material masses in the universe is found, not in the solar systems or nebulae, but in ’empty’ space.” Amazingly, Birkeland’s insights on the electrical composition of space, like John Herschel’s (see my Article 2), in spite of Birkeland’s posthumous vindication by the experimental confirmation of Birkeland currents, remain sidelined by the great bulk of mainstream Physics today, which speaks instead of such ideas as “magnetic reconnection” with extraordinary confidence and authority. But about this, I shall write some more another time.

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Bishop Nicholas Sykes

Nicholas JG Sykes, B Sc, Dip Ed, MTS Taught in mainly public schools and a teachers college for over 20 years, in Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom in science and mathematics, as well as religious education, becoming the chairman of the Association of Science Teachers of Jamaica in 1979. Ordained priest in 1976 and consecrated bishop in 2012, currently the Rector of St. Alban's Anglican Church, George Town, immediate past Secretary of the Cayman Ministers' Association, and member of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission. Authored the book “The Dependency Question - a study of Church and State in the Cayman Islands” and numerous articles. Happily married for over 40 years to wife Winnifred, with three adult children born in Jamaica, and several grandchildren.