A Study of Maxwell

Maxwell Cover

Reference: Disturbance Theory


Maxwell (1831 – 1879) constructed his theory of Electromagnetism based on the inspiration he got from the experimental research of Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867); but there was a fundamental difference. Faraday believed in the idea of a continuum of the force of nature permeating all space.  But Maxwell ended up siding with the idea of isolated entities moving through a void of empty space.

Maxwell didn’t intend it that way for he writes in the preface of his major work “A Treatise on Electricity & Magnetism”:

“Faraday, in his mind’s eye, saw lines of force traversing all space where the mathematicians saw centres of force attracting at a distance: Faraday saw a medium where they saw nothing but distance: Faraday sought the seat of the phenomena in real actions going on in the medium, they were satisfied that they had found it in a power of action at a distance impressed on the electric fluids.”

Maxwell seems to have tried his best to unlock the mystery of action going on in the medium that Faraday sought, but he did not quite understand what Faraday meant by “force of nature”. Michael Faraday was quite clear in saying that his ideas involving “lines of force” were an alternative to the aether theory. But Maxwell couldn’t move beyond the mechanical view of nature as presented in the theory of aether.

The excellent article “Why Maxwell Couldn’t Explain Gravitypoints out where Maxwell was influenced by the aether theory and diverged from the ideas of Michael Faraday.

“Maxwell’s understanding of the electrical force that exists between charged particles was based on the idea that even the ‘empty space’ of the vacuum is actually permeated with some kind of substance, called the ether, which consists of individual parts that can act as dielectrics… In simple terms, he pictured ordinary empty space, when devoid of any electric field, as consisting of many small pairs of positive and negative charge elements, and in the absence of an electric field the two opposite charges in each pair are essentially co-located, so there is no net change or electric potential observable at any point. If an electric potential is established across some region of this medium (e.g., empty space), it tends to pull the components of each pair apart slightly. Maxwell termed this an electric displacement in the medium. Of course, the constituent parts of the dielectric pairs attract each other, so the electric displacement is somewhat like stretching a little spring at each point in space.”

The article goes on to say,

“It’s interesting that this theory, which supposedly denies the intelligibility of distant action, nevertheless ends up invoking (albeit on a very small scale) what appears to be elementary attraction between distinct and separate entities.”

Maxwell was thus unable to unlock the mystery of action going on in the medium because he assumed charges to be discrete. Discreteness implies separation and, thus, action at a distance.

Thus, Maxwell could not provide a solution to the problem of “action at a distance” that Faraday sought with his “lines of force”. However, Maxwell’s work did pave the way that could lead one out of the limitations imposed by ideas, such as, the aether theory based on discrete particles.


The most important conclusions that I draw from a study of Maxwell are as follows:

  1. A changing electric field produces a magnetic field of force

  2. A changing magnetic field produces an electric field of force

Thus, both electric and magnetic phenomena have to do with change and force. Change in one phenomenon seems to create force in another phenomenon. Therefore, each phenomenon seems to act as the potential for the other phenomenon. This is the bottom line in the conservation of energy.

This happens with light in space in the absence of discrete charge and mass. What part does charge and mass play? Is light the product of charge and mass, or is charge and mass the product of light? Or, is light, charge and mass the product of space?

  1. Per dimensional analysis provided by Maxwell, a charge has same characteristics as mass.

[M] = [Q] = [L3-2] = Area x acceleration

Is the acceleration of two dimensional wave front of space in the third dimension somehow responsible for the production of light, charge and mass?

The questions asked in this essay shall be dealt with in subsequent essays.


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  • vinaire  On June 4, 2017 at 7:00 PM

    It is interesting for me to observe in the light of the above study that The Standard Model of particle physics is simply a continuation of the Aether Theory. No wonder it was opposed by Einstein.


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