Theories of the Aether
Articles relating to the Emergence
On the hypothesis of the _plenum_
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics,
Australia - Southern Winter 2004
Is it true then that our scientific speculations have really penetrated beneath the visible appearance of things, which seem to be subject to generation and corruption, and reached the entrance of that world of order and perfection, which continues this day as it was created, perfect in number and measure and weight? We may be mistaken. No one has as yet seen or handled an individual molecule, and our molecular hypothesis may, in its turn, be supplanted by some new theory of the constitution of matter; but the idea of the existence of unnumbered individual things, all alike and all unchangeable, is one which cannot enter the human mind and remain without fruit. But what if these molecules, indestructible as they are, turn out to be not substances themselves, but mere affections of some other substance? According to Sir W. Thomson's theory of Vortex Atoms, the substance of which the molecule consists is a uniformly dense _plenum_, the properties of which are those of a perfect fluid, the molecule itself being nothing but a certain motion impressed on a portion of this fluid, and this motion is shewn, by a theorem due to Helmholtz, to be as indestructible as we believe a portion of matter to be. If a theory of this kind is true, or even if it is conceivable, our idea of matter may have been introduced into our minds through our experience of those systems of vortices which we call bodies, but which are not substances, but motions of a substance; and yet the idea which we have thus acquired of matter, as a substance possessing inertia, may be truly applicable to that fluid of which the vortices are the motion, but of whose existence, apart from the vortical motion of some of its parts, our experience gives us no evidence whatever. It has been asserted that metaphysical speculation is a thing of the past, and that physical science has extirpated it. The discussion of the categories of existence, however, does not appear to be in danger of coming to an end in our time, and the exercise of speculation continues as fascinating to every fresh mind as it was in the days of Thales.