Category Archives: Physics Book

On the Conservation of Force (Faraday)


Reference: Disturbance Theory


This is a talk by Michael Faraday delivered on February 27, 1857. It is available at the Proceedings of the Royal Institution, Vol. II. p. 352I have added my comments (indented and in a different color) to each paragraph of this letter.

What Faraday is talking about in this paper is the conservation of “matter, energy and space”. Matter, energy and spaceconvert into each other through TIME. Faraday had sent this paper to Maxwell, who read it, but completely missed its meaning.

Faraday was way ahead of his time. If Faraday were to comment on the phenomenon of “quantum entanglement” today he would definitely talk about the participation of the space in between.


On the Conservation of Force

Various circumstances induce me at the present moment to put forth a consideration regarding the conservation of force. I do not suppose that I can utter any truth respecting it that has not already presented itself to the high and piercing intellects which move within the exalted regions of science ; but the course of my own investigations and views makes me think that the consideration may be of service to those persevering labourers (amongst whom I endeavour to class myself), who, occupied in the comparison of physical ideas with fundamental principles, and continually sustaining and aiding themselves by experiment and observation, delight to labour for the advance of natural knowledge, and strive to follow it into undiscovered regions.

Faraday was an experimentalist. He had differences of opinions with theoretical scientists. Here he is standing his ground on what he believes, and trying to communicate it. First of all his definition of “force” is different from the Newtonian definition.

 To Faraday, “force is the source or sources of all possible actions of the particles or materials of the universe, these being often called the powers of nature when spoken of in respect of the different manners in which their effects are shown.”

 Conservation of force, then, is the conservation of all possible effects in this universe. This is an all-encompassing concept.

There is no question which lies closer to the root of all physical knowledge, than that which inquires whether force can be destroyed or not. The progress of the strict science of modern times has tended more and more to produce the conviction that “force can neither be created nor destroyed,” and to render daily more manifest the value of the knowledge of that truth in experimental research. To admit, indeed, that force may be destructible or can altogether disappear, would be to admit that matter could be uncreated ; for we know matter only by its forces : and though one of these is most commonly referred to, namely gravity, to prove its presence, it is not because gravity has any pretension, or any exemption amongst the forms of force, as regards the principle of conservation ; but simply that being, as far as we perceive, inconvertible in its nature and unchangeable in its manifestation, it offers an unchanging test of the matter which we recognize by it.

The fundamental question is, “Can force be destroyed?” This is akin to asking, “Can matter be uncreated?” because we know matter only by its forces. The force very intimate to matter is gravity. Gravity appears to be inconvertible in its nature and unchangeable in its manifestation. Therefore, a close examination of gravity may help settle the above question.

Agreeing with those who admit the conservation of force to be a principle in physics as large and sure as that of the indestructibility of matter, or the invariability of gravity, I think that no particular idea of force has a right to unlimited or unqualified acceptance, that does not include assent to it; and also, to definite amount and definite disposition of the force, either in one effect or another, for these are necessary consequences : therefore, I urge, that the conservation of force ought to be admitted as a physical principle in all our hypotheses, whether partial or general, regarding the actions of matter. I have had doubts in my own mind whether the considerations I am about to advance are not rather metaphysical than physical. I am unable to define what is metaphysical in physical science ; and am exceedingly adverse to the easy and unconsidered admission of one supposition upon another, suggested as they often are by very imperfect induction from a small number of facts, or by a very imperfect observation of the facts themselves : but, on the other hand, I think the philosopher may be bold in his application of principles which have been developed by close inquiry, have stood through much investigation, and continually increase in force. For instance, time is growing up daily into importance as an element in the exercise of force.  The earth moves in its orbit in time ; the crust of the earth moves in time; light moves in time; an electro-magnet requires time for its charge by an electric current : to inquire, therefore, whether power, acting either at sensible or insensible distances, always acts in time, is not to be metaphysical ; if it acts in time and across space, it must act by physical lines of force ; and our view of the nature of the force may be affected to the extremest degree by the conclusions, which experiment and observation on time may supply ; being, perhaps, finally determinable only by them. To inquire after the possible time in which gravitating, magnetic, or electric force is exerted, is no more metaphysical than to mark the times of the hands of a clock in their progress; or that of the temple of Serapis in its ascents and descents; or the periods of the occultations of Jupiter’s satellites; or that in which the light from them comes to the earth. Again, in some of the known cases of action in time, something happens whilst the time is passing which did not happen before, and does not continue after: it is therefore not metaphysical to expect an effect in every case, or to endeavour to discover its existence and determine its nature. So in regard to the principle of the conservation of force ; I do not think that to admit it, and its consequences, whatever they may be, is to be metaphysical : on the contrary, if that word have any application to physics, then I think that any hypothesis, whether of heat, or electricity, or gravitation, or any other form of force, which either wittingly or unwittingly dispenses with the principle of conservation, is more liable to the charge, than those which, by including it, become so far more strict and precise.

Faraday urges that the conservation of force ought to be admitted as a physical principle in all our hypotheses, whether partial or general, regarding the actions of matter. He observes that time is growing up daily into importance as an element in the exercise of force. If power acts in time and across space, it must act by physical lines of force. Inquiry after the possible time in which gravitating, magnetic, or electric force is exerted may be quite revealing, as projected by the principle of conservation of force. The conclusions from such an inquiry may affect our view of nature in a fundamental way.

Supposing that the truth of the principle of the conservation of force is assented to, I come to its uses. No hypothesis should be admitted nor any assertion of a fact credited, that denies the principle. No view should be inconsistent or incompatible with it. Many of our hypotheses in the present state of science may not comprehend it, and may be unable to suggest its consequences; but none should oppose or contradict it.

If the principle be admitted, we perceive at once, that a theory or definition, though it may not contradict the principle cannot be accepted as sufficient or complete unless the former be contained in it; that however well or perfectly the definition may include and represent the state of things commonly considered under it, that state or result is only partial, and must not be accepted as exhausting the power or being the full equivalent, and therefore cannot be considered as representing its whole nature; that, indeed, it may express only a very small part of the whole, only a residual phenomenon, and hence give us but little indication of the full natural truth. Allowing the principle its force, we ought, in every hypothesis; either to account for its consequences by saying what the changes are when force of a given kind apparently disappears, as when ice thaws, or else should leave space for the idea of the conversion. If any hypothesis, more or less trustworthy on other accounts, is insufficient in expressing it or incompatible with it, the place of deficiency or opposition should be marked as the most important for examination ; for there lies the hope of a discovery of new laws or a new condition of force. The deficiency should never be accepted as satisfactory, but be remembered and used as a stimulant to further inquiry; for conversions of force may here be hoped for.  Suppositions may be accepted for the time, provided they are not in contradiction with the principle. Even an increased or diminished capacity is better than nothing at all ; because such a supposition, if made, must be consistent with the nature of the original hypothesis, and may, therefore, by the application of experiment, be converted into a further test of probable truth. The case of a force simply removed or suspended, without a transferred exertion in some other direction, appears to me to be absolutely impossible.

Once we agree to this principle of conservation of force, we can hope for much greater result from all our hypotheses. This principle requires that any appearance or disappearance of force should not be ignored but fully investigated. Suppositions may be accepted for the time, provided they are not in contradiction with the principle. Such suppositions should then be tested for truth by experiments.

If the principle be accepted as true, we have a right to pursue it to its consequences, no matter what they may be. It is, indeed, a duty to do so. A theory may be perfection, as far as it goes, but a consideration going beyond it, is not for that reason to be shut out. We might as well accept our limited horizon as the limits of the world. No magnitude, either of the phenomena or of the results to be dealt with, should stop our exertions to ascertain, by the use of the principle, that something remains to be discovered, and to trace in what direction that discovery may lie.

According to Faraday, if the principle of the conservation of force is not fully satisfied then something remains to be discovered. Faraday is proposing this principle as an absolute rule because he is convinced of it as an experimentalist. Underlying the principle of the conservation of force we then have the logic of continuity, harmony and consistency.

I will endeavour to illustrate some of the points which have been urged, by reference, in the first instance, to a case of power, which has long had great attractions for me, because of its extreme simplicity, its promising nature, its universal presence, and its invariability under like circumstances; on which, though I have experimented and as yet failed, I think experiment would be well bestowed: I mean the force of gravitation. I believe I represent the received idea of the gravitating force aright, in saying, that it is a simple attractive force exerted between any two or all the particles or masses of matter, at every sensible distance, but with a strength varying inversely as the square of the distance. The usual idea of the force implies direct action at a distance; and such a view appears to present little difficulty except to Newton, and a few, including myself, who in that respect, may be of like mind with him.

Faraday was fascinated by the power of gravitation, and wanted to understand it fully. He understood that the usual idea of the force implied direct action at a distance, but he was not satisfied by it. He quotes Newton to be not satisfied with it as well:

“That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent, acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this agent be material or immaterial I have left to the consideration of my readers.”–See Newton’s Third Letter to Bentley.

This idea of gravity appears to me to ignore entirely the principle of the conservation of force; and by the terms of its definition, if taken in an absolute sense “varying inversely as the square of the distance” to be in direct opposition to it; and it becomes my duty, now, to point out where this contradiction occurs, and to use it in illustration of the principle of conservation. Assume two particles of matter A and B, in free space, and a force in each or in both by which they gravitate towards each other, the force being unalterable for an unchanging distance, but varying inversely as the square of the distance when the latter varies. Then, at the distance of 10 the force may be estimated as 1 ; whilst at the distance of 1, i.e. one-tenth of the former, the force will be 100 : and if we suppose an elastic spring to be introduced between the two as a measure of the attractive force, the power compressing it will be a hundred times as much in the latter case as in the former. But from whence can this enormous increase of the power come? If we say that it is the character of this force, and content ourselves with that as a sufficient answer, then it appears to me, we admit a creation of power, and that to an enormous amount ; yet by a change of condition, so small and simple, as to fail in leading the least instructed mind to think that it can be a sufficient cause :—we should admit a result which would equal the highest act our minds can appreciate of the working of infinite power upon matter ; we should let loose the highest law in physical science which our faculties permit us to perceive, namely, the conservation of force. Suppose the two particles A and B removed back to the greater distance of 10, then the force of attraction would be only a hundredth part of that they previously possessed ; this, according to the statement that the force varies inversely as the square of the distance would double the strangeness of the above results; it would be an annihilation of force ; an effect equal in its infinity and its consequences with creation, and only within the power of Him who has created.

To Faraday, the idea of gravity as “direct action at a distance” appeared to ignore entirely the principle of the conservation of force. The power of force increased a hundred times when the distance was reduced to a tenth. Similarly, the power of force reduced a hundred times when the distance was increased ten times. How could this enormous creation and destruction of power come about by change of condition so small and simple? This required a closer examination.

We have a right to view gravitation under every form that either its definition or its effects can suggest to the mind; it is our privilege to do so with every force in nature; and it is only by so doing, that we have succeeded, to a large extent, in relating the various forms of power, so as to derive one from another, and thereby obtain confirmatory evidence of the great principle of the conservation of force. Then let us consider the two particles A and B as attracting each other by the force of gravitation, under another view. According to the definition, the force depends upon both particles, and if the particle A or B were by itself, it could not gravitate, i.e. it could have no attraction, no force of gravity. Supposing A to exist in that isolated state and without gravitating force, and then B placed in relation to it, gravitation comes on, as is supposed, on the part of both. Now, without trying to imagine how B, which had no gravitating force, can raise up gravitating force in A; and how A, equally without force beforehand can raise up force in B, still, to imagine it as a fact done, is to admit a creation of force in both particles; and so to bring ourselves within the impossible consequences which have already been referred to.

Faraday: The force of gravity depends upon two particles. If a particle were by itself it could have no force of gravity. Gravitation comes about only if another particle is placed in relation to it. What is the source of this power?

It may be said we cannot have an idea of one particle by itself, and so the reasoning fails. For my part I can comprehend a particle by itself just as easily as many particles; and though I cannot conceive the relation of a lone particle to gravitation, according to the limited view which is at present taken of that force, I can conceive its relation to something which causes gravitation, and with which, whether the particle is alone, or one of a universe of other particles, it is always related. But the reasoning upon a lone particle does not fail; for as the particles can be separated, we can easily conceive of the particle B being removed to an infinite distance from A, and then the power in A will be infinitely diminished. Such removal of B will be as if it were annihilated in regard to A, and the force in A will be annihilated at the same time : so that the case of a lone particle and that where different distances only are considered become one, being identical with each other in their consequences. And as removal of B to an infinite distance is as regards A annihilation of B, so removal to the smallest degree is, in principle, the same thing with displacement through infinite space: the smallest increase in distance involves annihilation of power; the annihilation of the second particle, so as to have A alone, involves no other consequence in relation to gravity; there is difference in degree, but no difference in the character of the result.

Faraday: Removal of the second particle (B) from the vicinity of the first particle (A), will also remove the power of gravity from A. Such removal of B will be as if it were annihilated in regard to A, and the force in A will be annihilated at the same time. The smallest increase in distance involves annihilation of power; the annihilation of the second particle, so as to have A alone.

It seems hardly necessary to observe, that the same line of thought grows up in the mind if we consider the mutual gravitating action of one particle and many. The particle A will attract the particle B at the distance of a mile with a certain degree of force ; it will attract a particle C at the same distance of a mile with a power equal to that by which it attracts B ; if myriads of like particles be placed at the given distance of a mile, A will attract each with equal force ; and if other particles be accumulated round it, within and without the sphere of two miles diameter, it will attract them all with a force varying inversely with the square of the distance. How are we to conceive of this force growing up in A to a million fold or more? and if the surrounding particles be then removed, of its diminution in an equal degree ? Or, how are we to look upon the power raised up in all these outer particles by the action of A on them, or by their action one on another, without admitting, according to the limited definition of gravitation, the facile generation and annihilation of force ?

Faraday: The gravitating factor is mutual. The force of gravity increases in particle A as it is surrounded by increasing number of particle B’s. A will attract each with equal force. The definition of gravity is thus limited as it does not explain the facile generation and annihilation of force.

The assumption which we make for the time with regard to the nature of a power (as gravity, heat, &c.), and the form of words in which we express it, i.e, its definition, should be consistent with the fundamental principles of force generally. The conservation of force is a fundamental principle ; henc’e the assumption with regard to a particular form of force, ought to imply what becomes of the force when its action is increased or diminished, or its direction changed ; or else the assumption should admit that it is deficient on that point, being only half competent to represent the force ; and, in any case, should not be opposed to the principle of conservation. The usual definition of gravity as an attractive force between the particles of matter VARYING inversely as the square of the distance, whilst it stands as a full definition of the power, is inconsistent with the principle of the conservation of force. If we accept the principle, such a definition must be an imperfect account of the whole of the force, and is probably only a description of one exercise of that power, whatever the nature of the force itself may be. If the definition be accepted as tacitly including the conservation of force, then it ought to admit, that consequences must occur during the suspended or diminished degree of its power as gravitation, equal in importance to the power suspended or hidden ; being in fact equivalent to that diminution. It ought also to admit, that it is incompetent to suggest or deal with any of the consequences of that changed part or condition of the force, and cannot tell whether they depend on, or are related to, conditions external or internal to the gravitating particle; and, as it appears to me, can say neither yes nor no to any of the arguments or probabilities belonging to the subject.

If the definition denies the occurrence of such contingent results, it seems to me to be unphilosophical ; if it simply ignores them, I think it is imperfect and insufficient ; if it admits these things, or any part of them, then it prepares the natural philosopher to look for effects and conditions as yet unknown, and is open to any degree of development of the consequences and relations of power : by denying, it opposes a dogmatic barrier to improvement ; by ignoring, it becomes in many respects an inert thing, often much in the way ; by admitting, it rises to the dignity of a stimulus to investigation, a pilot to human science.

Faraday: The usual definition of gravity as “an attractive force between the particles of matter VARYING inversely as the square of the distance”, whilst it stands as a full definition of the power, is inconsistent with the principle of the conservation of force. There is some truth missing that explains the role of space with regards to the force of gravity. This provides stimulus to further investigation.

The principle of the conservation of force would lead us to assume, that when A and B attract each other less because of increasing distance, then some other exertion of power, either within or without them, is proportionately growing up; and again, that when their distance is diminished, as from 10 to 1, the power of attraction, now increased a hundred-fold, has been produced out of some other form of power which has been equivalently reduced. This enlarged assumption of the nature of gravity is not more metaphysical than the half assumption; and is, I believe, more philosophical, and more in accordance with all physical considerations. The half assumption is, in my view of the matter, more dogmatic and irrational than the whole, because it leaves it to be understood, that power can be created and destroyed almost at pleasure.

When the equivalents of the various forms of force, as far as they are known, are considered, their differences appear very great; thus, a grain of water is known to have electric relations equivalent to a very powerful flash of lightning. It may therefore be supposed that a very large apparent amount of the force causing the phenomena of gravitation may be the equivalent of a very small change in some unknown condition of the bodies, whose attraction is varying by change of distance. For my own part, many considerations urge my mind toward the idea of a cause of gravity, which is not resident in the particles of matter merely, but constantly in them, and all space. I have already put forth considerations regarding gravity which partake of this idea, and it seems to have been unhesitatingly accepted by Newton.

The increase and decrease in the force of gravity due to changing distance seems to be compensated proportionally by reduction and growth of some other exertion of power.

Faraday: “For my own part, many considerations urge my mind toward the idea of a cause of gravity, which is not resident in the particles of matter merely, but constantly in them, and all space.”

There is one wonderful condition of matter, perhaps its only true indication, namely inertia; but in relation to the ordinary definition of gravity, it only adds to the difficulty. For if we consider two particles of matter at a certain distance apart, attracting each other under the power of gravity and free to approach, they will approach ; and when at only half the distance each will have had stored up in it, because of its inertia, a certain amount of mechanical force. This must be due to the force exerted, and, if the conservation principle be true, must have consumed an equivalent proportion of the cause of attraction ; and yet, according to the definition of gravity, the attractive force is not diminished thereby, but increased four-fold, the force growing up within itself the more rapidly, the more it is occupied in producing other force. On the other hand, if mechanical force from without be used to separate the particles to twice their distance, this force is not stored up in momentum or by inertia, but disappears ; and three-fourths of the attractive force at the first distance disappears with it : How can this be ?

We know not the physical condition or action from which inertia results; but inertia is always a pure case of the conservation of force. It has a strict relation to gravity, as appears by the proportionate amount of force which gravity can communicate to the inert body; but it appears to have the same strict relation to other forces acting at a distance as those of magnetism or electricity, when they are so applied by the tangential balance as to act independent of the gravitating force. It has the like strict relation to force communicated by impact, pull, or in any other way. It enables a body to take up and conserve a given amount of force until that force is transferred to other bodies, or changed into an equivalent of some other form; that is all that we perceive in it: and we cannot find a more striking instance amongst natural, or possible, phenomena of the necessity of the conservation of force as a law of nature; or one more in contrast with the assumed variable condition of the gravitating force supposed to reside in the particles of matter.

Even gravity itself furnishes the strictest proof of the conservation of force in this, that its power is unchangeable for the same distance; and is by that in striking contrast with the variation which we assume in regard to the cause of gravity, to account for the results at different distances.

The property of inertia of matter seems to be involved in pure conservation of force, same as gravity. In fact, inertia (as mass) seems to have a strict relation to gravity. However, neither can account for the change in the force of gravity with distance.

From Disturbance Theory point of view, inertia relates to the structure of a particle, whereas, the force of gravity relates to the interaction between two particles and the space in between. The common element is that both inertia and gravity can be explained by disturbance in space.

It will not be imagined for a moment that I am opposed to what may be called the law of gravitating action, that is, the law by which all the known effects of gravity are governed; what I am considering, is the definition of the force of gravitation. That the result of one exercise of a power may be inversely as the square of the distance, I believe and admit; and I know that it is so in the case of gravity, and has been verified to an extent that could hardly have been within the conception even of Newton himself when he gave utterance to the law : but that the totality of a force can be employed according to that law I do not believe, either in relation to gravitation, or electricity, or magnetism, or any other supposed form of power.

The mathematical formulation of the law that power may be inversely as the square of the distance, is correct but it does not completely define or cover the force of gravitation, electricity or magnetism.

I might have drawn reasons for urging a continual recollection of, and reference to, the principle of the conservation of force from other forms of power than that of gravitation; but I think that when founded on gravitating phenomena, they appear in their greatest simplicity; and precisely for this reason, that gravitation has not yet been connected by any degree of convertibility with the other forms of force. If I refer for a few minutes to these other forms, it is only to point in their variations, to the proofs of the value of the principle laid down, the consistency of the known phenomena with it, and the suggestions of research and discovery which arise from it. Heat, for instance, is a mighty form of power, and its effects have been greatly developed; therefore, assumptions regarding its nature become useful and necessary, and philosophers try to define it. The most probable assumption is, that it is a motion of the particles of matter; but a view, at one time very popular, is, that it consists of a particular fluid of heat. Whether it be viewed in one way or the other, the principle of conservation is admitted, I believe, with all its force. When transferred from one portion to another portion of like matter the full amount of heat appears. When transferred to matter of another kind an apparent excess or deficiency often results; the word ” capacity ” is then introduced, which, whilst it acknowledges the principle of conservation, leaves space for research. When employed in changing the state of bodies, the appearance and disappearance of the heat is provided for consistently by the assumption of enlarged or diminished motion, or else space is left by the term ” capacity“ for the partial views; which remains to be developed. When converted into mechanical force, in the steam or air-engine, and so brought into direct contact with gravity, being then easily placed in relation to it, still the conservation of force is fully respected and wonderfully sustained. The constant amount of heat developed in the whole of a voltaic current described by M. P. A. Favre, and the present state of the knowledge of thermo-electricity, are again fine partial or subordinate illustrations of the principle of conservation. Even when rendered radiant, and for the time giving no trace or signs of ordinary heat action, the assumptions regarding its nature have provided for the belief in the conservation of force, by admitting, either that it throws the ether into an equivalent state, in sustaining which for the time the power is engaged; or else, that the motion of the particles of heat is employed altogether in their own transit from place to place.

The force of gravitation appears to be the simplest form of all; and that is why it has not yet been connected by any degree of convertibility with the other forms of force. Heat as a form of force is better understood as motion of the particles of matter. Its convertibility is an illustration of the principle of conservation.

It is true that heat often becomes evident or insensible in a manner unknown to us ; and we have a right to ask what is happening when the heat disappears in one part, as of the thermos-voltaic current, and appears in another ; or when it enlarges or changes the state of bodies ; or what would happen, if the heat, being presented, such changes were purposely opposed. We have a right to ask these questions, but not to ignore or deny the conservation of force; and one of the highest uses of the principle is to suggest such inquiries. Explications of similar points are continually produced, and will be most abundant from the hands of those who, not desiring to ease their labour by forgetting the principle, are ready to admit it either tacitly, or better still, effectively, being then continually guided by it. Such philosophers believe that heat must do its equivalent of work : that if in doing work it seem to disappear, it is still producing its equivalent effect, though often in a manner partially or totally unknown; and that if it give rise to another form of force (as we imperfectly express it), that force is equivalent in power to the heat which has disappeared.

When changes occur in heat we must investigate the occurrence based on the belief that heat must do its equivalent of work. if in doing work heat seems to disappear, it is still producing its equivalent effect, though often in a manner partially or totally unknown; and that if it give rise to another form of force (as we imperfectly express it), that force is equivalent in power to the heat which has disappeared. This is application of the principle of conservation of force.

What is called chemical attraction, affords equally instructive and suggestive considerations in relation to the principle of the conservation of force. The indestructibility of individual matter, is one case, and a most important one, of the conservation of chemical force. A molecule has been endowed with powers which give rise in it to various qualities, and these never change, either in their nature or amount. A particle of oxygen is ever a particle of oxygen—nothing can in the least wear it. If it enters into combination and disappears as oxygen,—if it pass through a thousand combinations, animal, vegetable, mineral,—if it lie hid for a thousand years and then be evolved, it is oxygen with its first qualities, neither more nor less. It has all its original force, and only that ; the amount of force which it disengaged when hiding itself, has again to be employed in a reverse direction when it is set at liberty ; and if, hereafter, we should decompose oxygen, and find it compounded of other particles, we should only increase the strength of the proof of the conservation of force, for we should have a right to say of these particles, long as they have been hidden, all that we could say of the oxygen itself.

Again, the body of facts included in the theory of definite proportions, witnesses to the truth of the conservation of force ; and though we know little of the cause of the change of properties of the acting and produced bodies, or how the forces of the former are hid amongst those of the latter, we do not for an instant doubt the conservation, but are moved to look for the manner in which the forces are, for the time, disposed, or if they have taken up another form of force, to search what that form may be.

Even chemical action at a distance, which is in such antithetical contrast with the ordinary exertion of chemical affinity, since it can produce effects miles away from the particles on which they depend, and which are effectual only by forces acting at insensible distances, still proves the same thing, the conservation of force. Preparations can be made for a chemical action in the simple voltaic circuit, but until the circuit be complete that action does not occur ; yet in completing we can so arrange the circuit, that a distant chemical action, the perfect equivalent of the dominant chemical action, shall be produced; and this result, whilst it establishes the electro chemical equivalent of power, establishes the principle of the conservation of force also, and at the same time suggests many collateral inquiries which have yet to be made and answered, before all that concerns the conservation in this case can be understood.

This and other instances of chemical action at a distance, carry our inquiring thoughts on from the facts to the physical mode of the exertion of force; for the qualities which seem located and fixed to certain particles of matter appear at a distance in connexion with particles altogether different. They also lead our thoughts to the conversion of one form of power into another: as for instance, in the heat which the elements of a voltaic pile may either show at the place where they act by their combustion or combination together; or in the distance, where the electric spark may be rendered manifest; or in the wire or fluids of the different parts of the circuit.

The conservation of force has been variously demonstrated in chemical attraction, theory of definite proportions, and even in chemical actions at a distance. In the last case, this raises the question about the physical mode of the exertion of force. It also takes our thoughts to the conversion of one form of power into another.

When we occupy ourselves with the dual forms of power, electricity and magnetism, we find great latitude of assumption; and necessarily so, for the powers become more and more complicated in their conditions. But still there is no apparent desire to let loose the force of the principle of conservation, even in those cases where the appearance and disappearance of force may seem most evident and striking. Electricity appears when there is consumption of no other force than that required for friction; we do not know how, but we search to know, not being willing to admit that the electric force can arise out of nothing. The two electricities are developed in equal proportions; and having appeared, we may dispose variously of the influence of one upon successive portions of the other, causing many changes in relation, yet never able to make the sum of the force of one kind in the least degree exceed or come short of the sum of the other. In that necessity of equality, we see another direct proof of the conservation of force, in the midst of a thousand changes that require to be developed in their principles before we can consider this part of science as even moderately known to us.

One assumption with regard to electricity is, that there is an electric fluid rendered evident by excitement in plus and minus proportions. Another assumption is, that there are two fluids of electricity, each particle of each repelling all particles like itself, and attracting all particles of the other kind always, and with a force proportionate to the inverse square of the distance, being so far analogous to the definition of gravity. This hypothesis is antagonistic to the law of the conservation of force, and open to all the objections that have been, or may be, made against the ordinary definition of gravity. Another assumption is, that each particle of the two electricities has a given amount of power, and can only attract contrary particles with the sum of that amount, acting upon each of two with only half the power it could in like circumstances exert upon one. But various as are the assumptions, the conservation of force, (though wanting in the second,) is, I think, intended to be included in all. I might repeat the same observations nearly in regard to magnetism,—whether it be assumed as a fluid, or two fluids or electric currents,—whether the external action be supposed to be action at a distance, or dependent on an external condition and lines of force—still all are intended to admit the conservation of power as a principle to which the phenomena are subject.

The principles of physical knowledge are now so far developed as to enable us not merely to define or describe the known, but to state reasonable expectations regarding the unknown ; and I think the principle of the conservation of force may greatly aid experimental philosophers in that duty to science, which consists in the enunciation of problems to be solved. It will lead us, in any case where the force remaining unchanged in form is altered in direction only, to look for the new disposition of the force ; as in the cases of magnetism, static electricity, and perhaps gravity, and to ascertain that as a whole it remains unchanged in amount :—or, if the original force disappear, either altogether or in part, it will lead us to look for the new condition or form of force which should result, and to develope its equivalency to the force that has disappeared. Likewise, when force is developed, it will cause us to consider the previously existing equivalent to the force so appearing; and many such cases there are in chemical action. When force disappears, as in the electric or magnetic induction after more or less discharge, or that of gravity with an increasing distance; it will suggest a research as to whether the equivalent change is one within the apparently acting bodies, or one external (in part) to them. It will also raise up inquiry as to the nature of the internal or external state, both before the change and after. If supposed to be external, it will suggest the necessity of a physical process, by which the power is communicated from body to body; and in the case of external action, will lead to the inquiry whether, in any case, there can be truly action at a distance, or whether the ether, or some other medium, is not necessarily present.

We are not permitted as yet to see the nature of the source of physical power, but we are allowed to see much of the consistency existing amongst the various forms in which it is presented to us.  Thus if, in static electricity, we consider an act of induction, we can perceive the consistency of all other like acts of induction with it. If we then take an electric current, and compare it with this inductive effect, we see their relation and consistency. In the same manner we have arrived at a knowledge of the consistency of magnetism with electricity, and also of chemical action and of heat with all the former; and if we see not the consistency between gravitation with any of these forms of force, I am strongly of the mind that it is because of our ignorance only. How imperfect would our idea of an electric current now be, if we were to leave out of sight its origin, its static and dynamic induction, its magnetic influence, its chemical and heating effects? or our idea of any one of these results, if we left any of the others unregarded? That there should be a power of gravitation existing by itself, having no relation to the other natural powers, and no respect to the law of the conservation of force, is as little likely as that there should be a principle of levity as well as of gravity. Gravity may be only the residual part of the other forces of nature, as Mossotti has tried to show; but that it should fall out from the law of all other force, and should be outside the reach either of further experiment or philosophical conclusions, is not probable. So we must strive to learn more of this outstanding power, and endeavour to avoid any definition of it which is incompatible with the principles of force generally, for all the phenomena of nature lead us to believe that the great and governing law is one. I would much rather incline to believe that bodies affecting each other by gravitation act by lines of force of definite amount (somewhat in the manner of magnetic or electric induction, though without polarity), or by an ether pervading all parts of space, than admit that the conservation of force could be dispensed with.

The principle of conservation of forces may be used to sort out the assumptions being used to explain the nature of electricity, magnetism and gravitation, and to explore new dispositions. We may arrive at new knowledge by seeking consistency among these forms of force. It is very unlikely that the power of gravitation exists by itself, having no relation to the other natural powers, and no respect to the law of the conservation of force.

It may be supposed, that one who has little or no mathematical knowledge should hardly assume a right to judge of the generality and force of a principle such as that which forms the subject of these remarks. My apology is this, I do not perceive that a mathematical mind, simply as such, has any advantage over an equally acute mind not mathematical, in perceiving the nature and power of a natural principle of action. It cannot of itself introduce the knowledge of any new principle. Dealing with any and every amount of static electricity, the mathematical mind can, and has balanced and adjusted them with wonderful advantage, and has foretold results which the experimentalist can do no more than verify. But it could not discover dynamic-electricity, nor electromagnetism, nor magneto-electricity, or even suggest them; though when once discovered by the experimentalist, it can take them up with extreme facility. So in respect of the force of gravitation, it has calculated the results of the power in such a wonderful manner as to trace the known planets through their courses and perturbations, and in so doing has discovered a planet before unknown; but there may be results of the gravitating force of other kinds than attraction inversely as the square of the distance, of which it knows nothing, can discover nothing, and can neither assert nor deny their possibility or occurrence. Under these circumstances, a principle, which may be accepted as equally strict with mathematical knowledge, comprehensible without it, applicable by all in their philosophical logic whatever form that may take, and above all, suggestive, encouraging, and instructive to the mind of the experimentalist, should be the more earnestly employed and the more frequently resorted to when we are labouring either to discover new regions of science, or to map out and develop those which are known into one harmonious whole ; and if in such strivings, we, whilst applying the principle of conservation, see but imperfectly, still we should endeavour to see, for even an obscure and distorted vision is better than none. Let us, if we can, discover a new thing in any shape; the true appearance and character will be easily developed afterwards.

The above is a wonderful paragraph that must be studied on its own.

Some are much surprised that I should, as they think, venture to oppose the conclusions of Newton: but here there is a mistake. I do not oppose Newton on any point; it is rather those who sustain the idea of action at a distance, that contradict him. Doubtful as I ought to be of myself, I am certainly very glad to feel that my convictions are in accordance with his conclusions. At the same time, those who occupy themselves with such matters ought not to depend altogether upon authority, but should find reason within themselves, after careful thought and consideration, to use and abide by their own judgment. Newton himself, whilst referring to those who were judging his views, speaks of such as are competent to form an opinion in such matters, and makes a strong distinction between them and those who were incompetent for the case.

Faraday is answering the criticism of those who wanted to strictly sustain the idea of action at a distance and did not want to consider Faraday’s approach to considering space as part of the overall equation.

But after all, the principle of the conservation of force may by some be denied. Well, then, if it be unfounded even in its application to the smallest part of the science of force, the proof must be within our reach, for all physical science is so. In that case, discoveries as large or larger than any yet made, may be anticipated. I do not resist the search for them, for no one can do harm, but only good, who works with an earnest and truthful spirit in such a direction. But let us not admit the destruction or creation of force without clear and constant proof. Just as the chemist owes all the perfection of his science to his dependence on the certainty of gravitation applied by the balance, so may the physical philosopher expect to find the greatest security and the utmost aid in the principle of the conservation of force. All that we have that is good and safe, as the steam-engine, the electric-telegraph, &c., witness to that principle,—it would require a perpetual motion, a fire without heat, heat without a source, action without reaction, cause without effect, or effect without a cause, to displace it from its rank as a law of nature.

This concluding paragraph should be studied on its own.



Thoughts on Ray Vibrations (Faraday)


Reference: Disturbance Theory


This is a letter written by Michael Faraday to Richard Philips on April 15, 1846. It is available at “Experimental Researches in Electricity”, Vol III, M. Faraday, p447-452.

I have added my comments (indented and in a different color) to each paragraph of this letter.


To Richard Phillips, Esq.

Dear Sir,

At your request I will endeavor to convey to you a notion of that which I ventured to say at the close of the last Friday-evening Meeting, incidental to the account I gave of Wheatstone’s electro-magnetic chronoscope; but from first to last understand that I merely threw out as matter for speculation, the vague impressions of my mind, for I gave nothing as the result of sufficient consideration, or as the settled conviction, or even probable conclusion at which I had arrived.

Faraday was chairing a Friday lecture at the “Royal Institution,” by Charles Wheatstone, on a device Wheatstone had invented for measuring very short time intervals. Half an hour before the talk the lecturer went home (for whatever reason), leaving Faraday with an assembled audience but no lecturer. [This allegedly started a custom in the Royal Institution to lock speakers in an office half an hour before their talks]. Faraday knew enough about the subject to give a good account of Wheatstone’s “chronoscope,” leaving ample time to spare. To fill time, Faraday then added his own lecture, with the above title.

The point intended to be set forth for consideration of the hearers was, whether it was not possible that vibrations which in a certain theory are assumed to account for radiation and radiant phaenomena may not occur in the lines of force which connect particles, and consequently masses of matter together; a notion which as far as is admitted, will dispense with the aether, which in another view, is supposed to be the medium in which these vibrations take place.

Faraday was an experimentalist and not a theorist. Other physicists and mathematicians saw action at a distance; but Faraday saw effect propagating through a medium. In his mind cause and effect were joined through continuous lines of force. Thus, all particles and masses were connected together through lines of force, which carried change from one point to another. It was generally understood that radiation propagated in space between masses through vibrations. Here Faraday is speculating that all radiation could be the result of vibrations of change carried through lines of force from one point to another. This concept could then replace the idea of aether as a medium in space.

The Disturbance Theory sees space itself as the “medium” that extends throughout the universe as a fabric like the lines of force. This makes radiation a disturbance in the fabric of space.

You are aware of the speculation [M. Faraday, Phil Magazine, 1844, Vol XXIV, p136; or Exp.Res.II.284] which I some time since uttered respecting that view of the nature of matter which considers its ultimate atoms as centres of force, and not as so many little bodies surrounded by forces, the bodies being considered in the abstract as independent of the forces and capable of existing without them. In the latter view, these little particles have a definite form and a certain limited size; in the former view such is not the case, for that which represents size may be considered as extending to any distance to which the lines of force of the particle extend: the particle indeed is supposed to exist only by these forces, and where they are it is. The consideration of matter under this view gradually led me to look at the lines of force as being perhaps the seat of vibrations of radiant phenomena.

Faraday viewed the atoms of matter as “centers” that were connected by lines of force, much like nodes in a network. He didn’t see them as “bodies” surrounded by forces, because a “body” to an experimentalist is an abstract notion. When you determine the form and size of such a body experimentally you are dealing with forces only. Thus, the size may be considered as extending to any distance to which the lines of force of the particle extend: the particle indeed is supposed to exist only by these forces, and where they are it is. Faraday’s view of radiation is consistent with his view of matter.

Disturbance theory is also consistent in its view of matter and radiation in a similar way. Radiation is simple disturbance propagating in space. A particle of matter is a complex disturbance concentrated at a point.

Another consideration bearing conjointly on the hypothetical view both of matter and radiation, arises from the comparison of the velocities with which the radiant action and certain powers of matter are transmitted. The velocity of light through space is about 190,000 miles in a second; the velocity of electricity is, by the experiments of Wheatstone, shown to be as great as this, if not greater: the light is supposed to be transmitted by vibrations through an aether which is, so to speak, destitute of gravitation, but infinite in elasticity; the electricity is transmitted through a small metallic wire, and is often viewed as transmitted by vibrations also. That the electric transference depends on the forces or powers of the matter of the wire can hardly be doubted, when we consider the different conductibility of the various metallic and other bodies; the means of affecting it by heat or cold; the way in which conducting bodies by combination enter into the constitution of non-conducting substances, and the contrary; and the actual existence of one elementary body, carbon, both in the conducting and non-conducting state. The power of electric conduction (being a transmission of force equal in velocity to that of light) appears to be tied up in and dependent upon the properties of the matter, and is, as it were, existent in them.

The consistency of Faraday’s view on matter and radiation is also borne out of the fact that the velocity of electricity in a metallic wire is comparable to the velocity of light. Both are viewed as being transmitted by vibrations. Light is apparently transmitted through aether, which, while lacking gravitation, is infinitely elastic. Electricity is transmitted through a metallic wire, which is subject to forces of gravitation but limited in elasticity. Gravitation and elasticity as forces are seen as balancing each other out.

In Disturbance theory the velocity of light is represented by wavelength to period ratio that remains constant between radiation and matter. Only the frequency is much higher for matter making it a much more complex disturbance.

I suppose we may compare together the matter of the aether and ordinary matter (as, for instance, the copper of the wire through which the electricity is conducted), and consider them as alike in their essential constitution; i.e. either as both composed of little nuclei, considered in the abstract as matter, and of force or power associated with these nuclei, or else both consisting of mere centres of force, according to Boscovich’s theory and the view put forth in my speculation; for there is no reason to assume that the nuclei are more requisite in the one case than in the other. It is true that the copper gravitates and the aether does not, and that therefore the copper is ponderable and the aether is not; but that cannot indicate the presence of nuclei in the copper more than in the aether, for of all the powers of matter gravitation is the one in which the force extends to the greatest possible distance from the supposed nucleus, being infinite in relation to the size of the latter, and reducing the nucleus to a mere centre of force. The smallest atom of matter on the earth acts directly on the smallest atom of matter in the sun, though they are 95,000,000 miles apart; further, atoms which, to our knowledge, are at least nineteen times that distance, and indeed in cometary masses, far more, are in a similar way tied together by the lines of force extending from and belonging to each. What is there in the condition of the particles of the supposed aether, if there be even only one such particle between us and the sun, that can in subtility and extent compare to this?

It is logical to consider aether and metallic wire alike in their essential constitution, either as little bodies or as centers of force. The difference shall only be in terms of degree. Matter has power of gravitation, which is a force that extends to the greatest possible distance from the supposed nucleus, reducing the nucleus to a center of force. Aether is that intervening distance.

In the Disturbance theory, matter is disturbance of extremely high frequencies that is concentrated, whereas, aether is simply the disturbed space in between.

Let us not be confused by the ponderability and gravitation of heavy matter, as if they proved the presence of the abstract nuclei; these are due not to the nuclei, but to the force super-added to them, if the nuclei exist at all; and, if the aether particles be without this force, which according to the assumption is the case, then they are more material, in the abstract sense, than the matter of this our globe; for matter, according to the assumption, being made up of nuclei and force, the aether particles have in this respect proportionately more of the nucleus and less of the force.

Atom being a little body is an abstract notion. It does not necessarily provide the reason for solidity and gravitation of matter. It can just as well be a center of force. In case of aether there is simply less solidity and gravitation.

In Disturbance theory, space acquires inertia when disturbed. The higher is the frequency and complexity of disturbance, the greater is its inertia.

On the other hand, the infinite elasticity assumed as belonging to the particles of the aether, is as striking and positive a force of it as gravity is of ponderable particles, and produces in its way effects as great; in witness whereof we have all the varieties of radiant agency as exhibited in luminous, caloric, and actinic phaenomena.

Aether has less solidity and gravitation, but it has infinite elasticity. This is as striking a “force” as gravity, and produces in its way effects as great. This balance points to a conservation of force, where force is defined as the ability to produce effect.

In Disturbance theory, the frequency and complexity of disturbance increases from the consideration of aether to matter, but it is the same space throughout that is disturbed.

Perhaps I am in error in thinking the idea generally formed of the aether is that its nuclei are almost infinitely small, and that such force as it has, namely its elasticity, is almost infinitely intense. But if such be the received notion, what then is left in the aether but force or centres of force? As gravitation and solidity do not belong to it, perhaps many may admit this conclusion; but what are gravitation and solidity? certainly not the weight and contact of the abstract nuclei. The one is the consequence of an attractive force, which can act at distances as great as the mind of man can estimate or conceive; and the other is the consequence of a repulsive force, which forbids for ever the contact or touch of any two nuclei; so that these powers or properties should not in any degree lead those persons who conceive of the aether as a thing consisting of force only, to think any otherwise of ponderable matter, except that it has more and other forces associated with it than the aether has.

Less gravitation and more elasticity simply means less concentration of force because it is more spread out. Solidity and gravitation are there because of concentration of force. It is basically a matter of degree. Lack of such concentration then leads to greater elasticity.

In Disturbance theory such concentration is described in terms of frequency. Solidity is the result of high frequency, whereas, gravity is the consequence of steeply changing frequency. Elasticity, on the other hand, is the consequence of low frequency.

In experimental philosophy we can, by the phaenomena presented, recognize various kinds of lines of force; thus there are the lines of gravitating force, those of electro-static induction, those of magnetic action, and others partaking of a dynamic character might be perhaps included. The lines of electric and magnetic action are by many considered as exerted through space like the lines of gravitating force. For my own part, I incline to believe that when there are intervening particles of matter (being themselves only centres of force), they take part in carrying on the force through the line, but that when there are none, the line proceeds through space. Whatever the view adopted respecting them may be, we can, at all events, affect these lines of force in a manner which may be conceived as partaking of the nature of a shake or lateral vibration. For suppose two bodies, A B, distant from each other and under mutual action, and therefore connected by lines of force, and let us fix our attention upon one resultant of force, having an invariable direction as regards space; if one of the bodies move in the least degree right or left, or if its power be shifted for a moment within the mass (neither of these cases being difficult to realise if A and B be either electric or magnetic bodies), then an effect equivalent to a lateral disturbance will take place in the resultant upon which we are fixing our attention; for, either it will increase in force whilst the neighboring results are diminishing, or it will fall in force as they are increasing.

The lines of force proceed through space. When there are intervening particles (centers of force), they take part in carrying the force through the line. In all events, these lines of force can be vibrations. If one end of the line of force is vibrated, the effect then proceeds through the line to the other end.

In Disturbance theory, the frequency of vibration along a path changes to accommodate the higher frequency of the mass encountered. It then returns to its original frequency after passing the mass, unless it is changed in some way by that mass.

It may be asked, what lines of force are there in nature which are fitted to convey such an action and supply for the vibrating theory the place of the aether? I do not pretend to answer this question with any confidence; all I can say is, that I do not perceive in any part of space, whether (to use the common phrase) vacant or filled with matter, anything but forces and the lines in which they are exerted. The lines of weight or gravitating force are, certainly, extensive enough to answer in this respect any demand made upon them by radiant phaenomena; and so, probably, are the lines of magnetic force: and then who can forget that Mossotti has shown that gravitation, aggregation, electric force, and electro-chemical action may all have one common connection or origin; and so, in their actions at a distance, may have in common that infinite scope which some of these actions are known to possess?

All we see in space are forces and the lines in which they are exerted. This is probably what aether is. Gravitational force that is spread out all over the space can be accounted for this way. The electromagnetic force also spreads out all over the space as light and can be accounted for this way. Though Faraday only speculated upon it, it was later found to be true. 

In Disturbance theory, the frequency of disturbance accounts for the electromagnetic force; and the changes in frequency (gradients of frequency) account for the gravitational forces.

The view which I am so bold to put forth considers, therefore, radiation as a kind of species of vibration in the lines of force which are known to connect particles and also masses of matter together. It endeavors to dismiss the aether, but not the vibration. The kind of vibration which, I believe, can alone account for the wonderful, varied, and beautiful phaenomena of polarization, is not the same as that which occurs on the surface of disturbed water, or the waves of sound in gases or liquids, for the vibrations in these cases are direct, or to and from the centre of action, whereas the former are lateral. It seems to me, that the resultant of two or more lines of force is in an apt condition for that action which may be considered as equivalent to a lateral vibration; whereas a uniform medium, like the aether, does not appear apt, or more apt than air or water.

Faraday asserts boldly that all lines of force are made up of vibrations, and they account for electromagnetic, gravitational and other forces. He was way ahead of his time in making these speculations as substitution for the theory of aether. Much of these speculations have been verified now in science.

The Disturbance theory is simply making an attempt to formalize these speculations of Faraday to come up with a unified theory.

The occurrence of a change at one end of a line of force easily suggests a consequent change at the other. The propagation of light, and therefore probably of all radiant action, occupies time; and, that a vibration of the line of force should account for the phaenomena of radiation, it is necessary that such vibration should occupy time also. I am not aware whether there are any data by which it has been, or could be ascertained whether such a power as gravitation acts without occupying time, or whether lines of force being already in existence, such a lateral disturbance at one end as I have suggested above, would require time, or must of necessity be felt instantly at the other end.

Faraday maintained that instantaneous action at a distance was not possible and that the transmission of effect took time. The effect was transmitted through the lines of force. This is what radiation is. Light as well as gravitational effects shall take time to propagate through space. These speculations have since been verified as true by science.

The Disturbance theory concurs with the above as it looks at space as the fabric of the universe.

As to that condition of the lines of force which represents the assumed high elasticity of the aether, it cannot in this respect be deficient: the question here seems rather to be, whether the lines are sluggish enough in their action to render them equivalent to the aether in respect of the time known experimentally to be occupied in the transmission of radiant force.

The transmission of effect through radiation in space shall take time depending on how sluggish the lines of force are. Faraday is speculating here on the inertia in the lines of force.

In Disturbance theory, the greater is the frequency and complexity of the disturbance in space, the higher is the inertia. The inertia associated with mass is the resistance that space puts up to the propagation of mass as a complex disturbance. The radiation in gamma range of the electromagnetic spectrum is more complex and it shall take more time to propagate through space.

The aether is assumed as pervading all bodies as well as space: in the view now set forth, it is the forces of the atomic centres which pervade (and make) all bodies, and also penetrate all space. As regards space, the difference is, that the aether presents successive parts of centres of action, and the present supposition only lines of action; as regards matter, the difference is, that the aether lies between the particles and so carries on the vibrations, whilst as respects the supposition, it is by the lines of force between the centres of the particles that the vibration is continued. As to the difference in intensity of action within matter under the two views, I suppose it will be very difficult to draw any conclusion, for when we take the simplest state of common matter and that which most nearly causes it to approximate to the condition of the aether, namely the state of the rare gas, how soon do we find in its elasticity and the mutual repulsion of its particles, a departure from the law, that the action is inversely as the square of the distance!

We imagine aether to pervade all bodies and space. As regards bodies it lies between atoms. So, aether neither makes up the space nor the bodies. Here lies the difference with lines of force that make up the space as well as the bodies.

In Disturbance theory, there is no separate aether. There is only space and disturbances in space. Atoms of matter are simply made of complex disturbances.

And now, my dear Phillips, I must conclude. I do not think I should have allowed these notions to have escaped from me, had I not been led unawares, and without previous consideration, by the circumstances of the evening on which I had to appear suddenly and occupy the place of another. Now that I have put them on paper, I feel that I ought to have kept them much longer for study, consideration, and, perhaps final rejection; and it is only because they are sure to go abroad in one way or another, in consequence of their utterance on that evening, that I give shape, if shape it may be called, in this reply to your inquiry. One thing is certain, that any hypothetical view of radiation which is likely to be received or retained as satisfactory, must not much longer comprehend alone certain phaenomena of light, but must include those of heat and of actinic influence also, and even the conjoined phaenomena of sensible heat and chemical power produced by them. In this respect, a view, which is in some degree founded upon the ordinary forces of matter, may perhaps find a little consideration amongst the other views that will probably arise.

Faraday knew that these were speculations based on his experimental studies, and more experiments were needed to fully verify them. However, he felt certain that any view of radiation must also include, in addition to light, the phenomenon of heat, and the chemical effects produced by radiation; for this may help explain the forces in a wider context.

The Disturbance theory sees the investigation of chemical effects produced by radiation as an extensive area of research.

I think it likely that I have made many mistakes in the preceeding pages, for even to myself, my ideas on this point appear only as the shadow of a speculation, or as one of those impressions on the mind which are allowable for a time as guides to thought and research. He who labours in experimental inquiries knows how numerous these are, and how often their apparent fitness and beauty vanish before the progress and development of real natural truth.

The text of Faraday may be difficult to understand, with ideas no longer held about the “aether” and the nature of atoms. However Faraday’s main ideas are: the lines of force fill all space, and light propagating in space is a vibrating line of force. These lines of forces terminate at atoms of matter, which form the center of forces. Faraday felt such “transverse” waves, oscillating sideways like waves in molded gelatin (“jello”), explained the way light could be polarized. This last paragraph is an example of Faraday’s charming style.

I am, my dear Phillips,

Ever truly yours,

M. Faraday,

April 15, 1846


The Disturbance Theory


Reference: Disturbance Theory


On June 9th, 1952, Einstein stated in the preface of the 15th edition of his “Relativity–The Special and General Theory”,

“In this edition I have added, as a fifth appendix, a presentation of my views on the problem of space in general and on the gradual modifications of our ideas on space resulting from the influence of the relativistic viewpoint. I wished to show that space-time is not necessarily something to which one can ascribe a separate existence, independently of the actual objects of physical reality. Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended. In this way the concept of “empty space” loses is meaning.”

The Disturbance Theory is based on the postulate that space, when disturbed, breaks into electric and magnetic fields. In other words, when space and time come together they transform into energy of disturbance. This transition is seamless, meaning that space, time and energy are intimately related. They show up as wavelength, period and frequency of the disturbance.

The electromagnetic spectrum represents increasing state of disturbance, which ranges from low frequency radio waves to high frequency gamma rays. The disturbance starts to condense in the range of gamma rays until it transforms into matter. In this sense, space, time, energy and matter are fundamentally related.

All stages of the electromagnetic spectrum may be found in the structure of an atom, if we consider the atomic boundary to extend all the way to space. The most condensed disturbance forms the nucleus of the atom.

Atoms may be looked upon as tiny whirlpools in the sea of electromagnetic field of disturbed space.

The above shows that not only space, time and energy are intimately related, the energy appears as mass at very high disturbance levels.


The Disturbance Levels

The undisturbed space has no bounds or form. It acquires a form only when it is disturbed. The disturbance appears as a dynamic electromagnetic field that has gradients of disturbance levels. A gradient of disturbance levels has the form of acceleration, force or gravity. Within a uniform disturbance level there is stillness or constant velocity.

The disturbance levels are defined by their wavelength, period and frequency. The wavelength and period maintain a constant ratio ‘c’. The frequency is the inverse of period. This may be shown symbolically as

λ / T  = c

f = 1/T

Where,   λ is the wavelength associated with space;

               T is the period associated with time;

               c is a universal constant referred to as speed of light;

 and,       f is the frequency associated with energy

The electromagnetic spectrum covers a large range of frequencies as radio and micro waves, infra-red, visible and ultra-violet light, X and Gamma ionizing radiation, and subatomic particles. These frequencies may be expressed more conveniently on a logarithmic scale of base 2. The logarithmic form of frequency is referred to as Disturbance Level (D).

D = log2 (f)


DL Chart1

So we have a fundamental relationship among space, time, energy and matter.

By equating space-time with energy-mass, the Disturbance Theory hopes to bring about an interpretation that makes the theory of relativity consistent with quantum mechanics and Newton’s theory of motion.


Space, Time & Reality

We live on a material plane, and so we view space, time and energy from the viewpoint of matter. Our reality is the fact of matter.

Matter appears at the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is highly condensed disturbance. If we look at the wavelength of disturbance as the unit of space, it is infinitesimal at the level of matter. Similarly, the unit of time as period of disturbance is also infinitesimal at the level of matter. This makes the calculus of space and time possible. But this is so at the level of matter only and not at other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. There is continuity at disturbance levels lower than matter but it is of a different sort. At these parts of the electromagnetic spectrum the wavelength and period is finite and the  reality can be very different, but we do not get to experience it ordinarily.

We live on earth. We are connected to matter all the time. Therefore, we perceive space and time in infinitesimal increments. This brings smoothness of continuity to our physical senses. It forms the basis of our knowledge. Euclidean geometry and Newtonian mechanics has its basis in it.

But how is it out in the interstellar space? How does one experience space and time away from matter—even away from the matter of the spaceship that carried us there, or away from the matter that constitutes our bodies? What is space and time like when its units in terms of wavelength and period are no longer infinitesimal?

How do we visualize an electromagnetic field spread over vast interstellar space in which finite wavelength, period and frequency are changing dynamically. Here the gradients in frequencies bring about the sense of acceleration, force or gravity. It is like living within Faraday’s lines of force that come together, and then spread out in an eternal cosmic dance.

Like a blurred vision, the location in space and time gets blurred far from material surface of a planet. A location can be defined with pin-point precision on a material surface only. The GPS signals that travel to a satellite and back require relativistic correction. This is because the location of satellite is a bit blurred relative to the locations on earth.

The theory of relativity gets it right about the blurring of the very nature of space and time.

Dark energy and matter in the interstellar space has no reasonable explanation at the moment. The concept of disturbed space might be able to provide an explanation.



Relativistic mathematics of Einstein is based on MRF (material reference frame). The Disturbance Theory proposes mathematics based on SRF (space reference frame).  SRF math is yet to be developed. It should lead to similar space-time correction in case of the GPS signals.

MRF math uses the concept of velocity, which is applicable only for a specialized view of space and time near the surfaces of planets.

SRF math shall use the concept of disturbance levels, instead of velocity.

The concept of disturbance level is applicable to all locations near or far from planets.


The Inertial Frame and Space


Reference: Disturbance Theory


The Inertial Frame

In 1632, Galileo Galilei first described that in a ship travelling at constant velocity, without rocking, on a smooth sea; any observer doing experiments below the deck would not be able to tell whether the ship was moving or stationary. This is a nice description of an inertial frame.

An inertial frame is one in which Newton’s first law remains true. In other words, in this frame, an object stays either at rest or at a constant velocity unless a force acts on it. A non-inertial frame shall be experienced inside an accelerating rocket. In this frame Newton’s first law will not hold true.

In short, all inertial frames are in a state of constant, straight line motion with zero acceleration. Measurements in one inertial frame can be converted to the measurements in another by a simple transformation.

For example, suppose two cars are moving side by side at the speed of 60 mph in the same direction. The driver of each car will see the other car to be practically still. The speed of a car relative to the other would be the “algebraic difference” of their speeds: 60 – 60 = 0. If the two cars were approaching each other at 60 mph, a driver will see the other car approaching at 120 mph [60 – (–60) = 120].

NOTE: The individual speeds would have to be measured in a common reference frame for the above transformation to be valid.

This simple transformation shall also apply to the relative speed of disturbances moving through a medium. Here the medium stays still while the disturbance moves through it. The speed of the disturbance relative to the medium is determined by the properties of the medium.

For example, suppose a ripple on the surface of water moves at speed, R based on the properties of water. We see two ripples approaching each other, each moving on the surface of water at speed R toward the other. Their relative speed shall be: R – (–R) = 2R. The transformation is the same as in the case of cars in the previous example, because individual speeds are measured in a common reference frame.

Sound travels in dry air at 20°C at a speed of 343 meters per second. If two waves of sound are approaching each other, their relative speed shall be 343 x 2 = 686 meters per second. This is because the medium in which these waves are traveling provides a common reference frame. By no means is this relative speed “supersonic”, because this speed is not relative to the medium.

If two beams of light were approaching each other in a medium that provided a common inertial frame, similar consideration shall apply. In other words, their relative speed shall be “2c” where c is the speed of light. This shall not violate the limit placed by the medium on the speed of light.

In the 19th century a medium called “luminiferous ether” was postulated for light, but it could not be found. The absence of a medium resulted in the assumption that the relative speed of two light beams approaching each other would also be ‘c’ instead of ‘2c’ because no common reference frame existed. This resulted in a mathematics that led to the ideas of ‘length contraction’ and ‘time dilation’.

Why couldn’t we find any medium for light? Were we looking for the wrong thing?


The Ether

In 1873, Maxwell’s effort to determine the relationship between electromagnetic theories and the Newton’s theory of motion resulted in the amazing discovery that light was an electromagnetic phenomenon.

Maxwell wrote in the preface to the first edition of his book A TREATISE ON ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM:

“The most important aspect of any phenomenon from a mathematical point of view is that of a measurable quantity… I have therefore thought that a treatise would be useful which should have for its principal object to take up the whole subject in a methodical manner, and which should also indicate how each part of the subject is brought within the reach of methods of verification by actual measurement… before I began the study of electricity I resolved to read no mathematics on the subject till I had first read through Faraday’s Experimental Researches in Electricity.

“As I proceeded with the study of Faraday, I perceived that his method of conceiving the phenomena was also a mathematical one, though not exhibited in the conventional form of mathematical symbols. I also found that these methods were capable of being expressed in the ordinary mathematical forms, and thus compared with those of the professed mathematicians.

“For instance, 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.

“When I had translated what I considered to be Faraday’s ideas into a mathematical form, I found that in general the results of the two methods coincided, so that the same phenomena were accounted for, and the same laws of action deduced by both methods, but that Faraday’s methods resembled those in which we begin with the whole and arrive at the parts by analysis, while the ordinary mathematical methods were founded on the principle of beginning with the parts and building up the whole by synthesis.”

It is interesting to note that Maxwell finds Faraday’s “lines of force traversing all space” to be mathematically equivalent to other mathematician’s “centers of force attracting at a distance”. Maxwell notes, “Faraday saw a medium where they [other mathematicians] saw nothing but distance”.

Space is not “nothing” because it has the electromagnetic properties of permittivity and permeability. These properties of space determine the speed of light per Maxwell’s equations. This fact alone should be enough to convince that space is the medium through which light travels.

Why is space not considered to be the medium of light? Why can’t the mysterious ether be space itself?

The answer to this question seems to be tied with the idea of inertia. Neither space nor light seem to exhibit the property of inertia. Therefore, we cannot apply the considerations of the inertial frame to space and light.


The Inertia

Let’s make the following postulate. It is a reasonable postulate.

“Space, when disturbed, breaks into electric and magnetic fields.”

This is similar to the observation that water, when disturbed breaks into peaks and valleys; or air, when disturbed, breaks into high and low pressure areas.

In case of the ripple in water we see the movement of peaks and valleys, but not that of water. In case of sound we see the movement of high and low pressure, but not that of air. We may say that in case of light we see the movement of electric and magnetic fields but not that of space itself.

How does this compare with the 19th century consideration of “luminiferous ether”?

The “luminiferous ether” was required to be rigid to electromagnetic wave of light. This requirement is met when we consider light to be a disturbance in space as ether, we can see this disturbance to propagate when changing electric and magnetic fields generate each other. The problem of ether being rigid to electromagnetic wave is thus resolved.

But the “luminiferous ether” was  perceived as being completely permeable to matter; and this was looked upon as a contradiction to the above requirement. But the truth seems to be that space as ether not completely permeable to matter.  Matter encounters resistance when pushed through space. This resistance is the inertia associated with a material object

Light refers to the whole electromagnetic spectrum from low frequency radio waves to very high frequency gamma rays. We may get some insight by looking at this spectrum in relation to the structure of an atom.

Gamma rays are produced in the disintegration of the nucleus of an atom. This nucleus is surrounded by electrons that have a frequency found in the beginning gamma range. Beyond these electrons is the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum. Beyond that spectrum is space. From space to the nucleus of an atom we seem to have the whole frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Space seems to represent a frequency of zero. The increasing frequency of the  spectrum seems to represent an increasingly disturbed space. The nucleus of an atom then represents a highly disturbed state of space that appears as mass.

We can now see that the movement of a very complex disturbance in the form of mass through space shall require undisturbed space to suddenly go to a highly disturbed space and then back to undisturbed space. This would create a resistance. This resistance may explain the fact of inertia. The greater is the mass, the higher is inertia.

Space is not completely permeable to matter. The resistance of space to matter is observed as inertia.

There is an illusion of space being permeable to matter because we see matter gliding through space. But matter is “gliding through space” only when it is either still or moving at a constant velocity relative to other matter. But it is actually still relative to space. Motion relative to space is accompanied by acceleration.

We may conceive a material object to be moving relative to other matter; but if it is not accelerating, it is actually standing still relative to space.


The Space Reference Frame

When we look at space as the medium of light we no longer need the relativistic math developed by Einstein. We can apply the classical inertial frame to understand that two light beams approaching each other shall have the relative velocity of ‘2c’; and this shall not violate the limit on ‘c’ as the universal constant.

The universal constant ‘c’ may be seen as the ratio of the wavelength of light to its period. This connects space to time in the domain of electromagnetic field. This is true even in the domain of matter, but it not so obvious because both wavelength and period are infinitesimal in that domain. Being infinitesimal in their “units” both space and time appear to be absolute and independent in the domain of matter. However, this is not so in reality.

The inertial frame of Galileo and Newton represents a special case of a more general inertial frame where space and time are related by the universal constant ‘c’.

The inertial frame of Galileo and Newton uses matter as its basis. It may be referred to as the Material Reference Frame (MRF). The more general inertial frame identifies space as the basis. We may refer to it as the Space Reference Frame (SRF).

The general inertial frame (SRF) is consistent with all of physics. It also provides a much more elegant explanation for INERTIA.


Obsolete: The Space Reference Frame (SRF)

See: BOOK: The Disturbance Theory


Reference: Disturbance Theory


We are used to looking at space and time from the perspective of matter. Galileo, Newton and even Einstein launched their theories using a material reference frame. When Einstein looked at space and time closely he started to realize that a more fundamental basis than matter was space-time.

To study space and time from the viewpoint of matter is backwards. Space and time are more fundamental. They have no inertia, whereas matter has inertia.  It is more logical to study matter from the basis of space and time. Attempts of the theory of relativity to study space and time from a material basis has led to strange concepts, such as, “length contraction” and “time dilation”. Both Inertial and Non-inertial reference frames have a material basis. We may categorize them as material reference frame (MRF).

If Einstein had lived longer he, definitely, would have developed a non-material reference frame based on field to understand space, time, energy and matter. Such a reference frame would devoid of inertia. We may call such a basis the space reference frame (SRF). It is interesting to note that the moment we shift our basis from MRF to SRF, the strangeness associated with space and time disappears.

Space has no inertia, but something is there. We know that the speed of a wave is determined by the properties of the medium in which it is traveling; and not by its frequency or wavelength. Maxwell determined that the speed of light could be determined by the electromagnetic properties in pure space.

But the problem was the belief that a medium without inertia was not possible. A very fine medium with material like properties was postulated in late 19th century to explain light as a wave. It was called “ether”. However. “ether” was found not to exist by the famous Michelson-Morley experiment. This led to Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The theory of relativity acknowledges the constant speed of light in space. It even acknowledges the electromagnetic nature of light. Furthermore, it implies that matter is “condensation” of electromagnetic energy per the equation E = mc2. But it continues to measure the speed of light using matter as its reference frame.

Can inertia-less space be used as the reference frame?

By light, we don’t just mean the visible light. It refers to the whole electromagnetic spectrum from low frequency radio waves to very high frequency gamma rays. The question arises, “How low can the frequency of electromagnetic radiation go? Can it go all the way down to zero? What does that imply? Does the electromagnetic phenomenon arise due to a disturbance of space? ”

The moment we consider that the electromagnetic phenomenon emanates from space rather than from matter it becomes possible to use space as the reference frame. This is the basis of the Disturbance Theory.

The Disturbance Theory postulates that space breaks into electric and magnetic fields when disturbed.

The electromagnetic phenomenon as “disturbance of space” has a large range of frequencies and wavelengths. This range is represented by the electromagnetic spectrum consisting of radio waves, microwaves, infra-red light, visible light, ultra-violet light, X-rays and Gamma rays. Since the spectrum extends over a very large range of frequencies, it may be managed more conveniently as Disturbance Levels on a logarithmic scale of base 2 (similar to octaves).


Disturbance Level                 Frequency

                0                                  20 or 1

                1                                  21 or 2

                2                                  22 or 4

                3                                  23 or 8

                …                                 …

                n                                 2n




The disturbance levels of some of the electromagnetic frequencies and particles are as follows

     EM Frequency                 Disturbance Level

Visible light ……………….. ~ 49.0  

Gamma Rays ……………… ~ 65.0

Electron ………………………. 66.7

Proton ………………………… 77.6

Neutron ……………………….. 77.6

Earth…………………………~ 235.6

If the Electromagnetic spectrum originates from space then it seems to end in “matter”. This seems to be evident as we look at the structure of the atom. Let’s visualize walking from the center of atom outwards towards its boundary.

At the center of the atom we find the nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons. The disturbance levels of these nucleons are in upper gamma range. When this nucleus is disturbed it emits gamma rays. Here we seem to be looking at the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum as “matter”.

Immediately surrounding the nucleus is the region of electrons. The disturbance level of electrons is at the beginning of the gamma range. There is a high gradient (large step change) of disturbance levels from the electrons to the nucleons. This probably points to a sharply defined boundary of the nucleus separating it from the electronic region.

Immediately surrounding the electronic region of the atom there seems to be an electromagnetic field.  This is similar to the electric field surrounding an electron. Again there is a high gradient of disturbance levels from the electromagnetic field to the electronic region. This probably describes the boundary of the atom.

The electromagnetic field continues beyond the atom and lessens in its disturbance levels until it becomes the space itself. This way the whole electromagnetic spectrum from space to matter seems to be demonstrated in the structure of the atom.

Atoms thus appear like tiny whirlpools of electromagnetic phenomenon in space when we visualize them in the space reference frame (SRF).