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Physical force fields do not exist
No matter where one travels on planet Earth, one is held to its surface by the mysterious something we call gravity. It is ever-present, almost constant in magnitude even at the tops of high mountains, and only dwindles as one travels into space. There, however, one comes under the influence of the Sun's gravity, and must travel still farther to escape that.
Today, everyone with a basic education 'knows' that the Earth is surrounded by a gravitational field, as are the Moon, the Sun and other planets; and, indeed all massive bodies large and small, right down to individual atoms. Few older folk are aware that MWS no longer uses the concept of gravitational fields, having replaced it by concepts presented in Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Younger people may have been taught this in high-school physics classes, but the concept of a gravitational field seems so easy and natural that it probably remains the basis of their understanding. Besides, a multitude of other fields abound in modern theory, since all elementary particles are believed to have their own fields. Electrons have an electron field; protons have the electromagnetic field; neutrinos have a neutrino field; and so on. What, then, are fields? When were they discovered, and how?
A scientific novice who has never encountered a magnet will be delighted when first presented with a few bar magnets. He will quickly discover that their ends attract and repel, and that there appear to be two types of 'end': let us call them A and B. All A-ends repel each other, as do all B-ends; but A-ends attract B-ends and vice versa. If asked for an explanation, he will likely reply that there must be two mysterious somethings, one within each end of each magnet, and that these attract and repel each other. We may call this the 'point-source theory', meaning that the forces have their origin in individual objects.
If one of the magnets is now cut in two, our scientific novice will be mystified that he now possesses, not separate A- and B-ends in the two pieces, but two complete smaller magnets. Additional A- and B-ends have suddenly appeared at each side of the cut. His point-source theory will be unable to account for this, and a new theory will need to be devised. Let us turn to history to see how modern ideas emerged and developed.
The concept of a field of force, as presently understood, is a comparatively recent development, having emerged during the nineteenth century; but the idea of magnets and electric charges being being surrounded by a region of influence dates to antiquity. It was usually conceived as an invisible fluid with properties appropriate to the behaviour demonstrated, and usually included within a larger set of ideas in which the concept of an aether – an invisible fluid filling all of space – played an important role.
In some theories, an electric field was thought to be a 'tension in the aether', whilst a magnetic field was a flux (or flow) in it. In other theories, electric and magnetic fluids were postulated as independent, discrete entities. No relationships between electric and magnetic phenomena were evident, primarily because current electricity was unknown and static charges were difficult to control, as previously explained. Nor was there any means of making them visible, other than as the spark of a static discharge, and they remained invisibly enigmatic until the nineteenth century.
Educated laymen generally credit Newton with introducing the concept of a gravitational field; but the word 'field' does not appear even once in Motte's English translation of the Principia. The fact is that Newton met so much controversy just by introducing the concepts of gravity and inertia that the further introduction of a field, had the idea occurred to him, may have turned many potential supporters against him. Apparently it did not, and with good reason.
At the time, Aristotle's ideas dominated scientific thinking, wherein objects occupied their 'natural positions' when at rest. If a stone be tossed in the air, it automatically seeks to return to its natural position on the ground. What need, then, of gravity? The force acting is inherent in the object itself; why postulate an external agent or reference when the matter is so simply and obviously explained as something quite natural? Similarly, when a stone is thrown at a passing bird, its passage through the air causes a displacement of the air around it, and it is this displacement that causes the stone to keep moving. Why, then, invent inertia?
Newton's arguments compelled attention and ultimate conviction for two main reasons. By employing his two new concepts of gravitation and inertia, he was able to unite, within a single theory, a whole range of apparently disparate phenomena, from planets orbiting stars down to pebbles falling off cliffs. Even more convincingly, by applying the new mathematical techniques of his differential calculus, he was not only able to give exact mathematical descriptions of the motions involved, but to provide accurate predictions of them before they occurred. It was a tour de force that earned him just recognition as one of the greatest of Natural Philosophers.
Three important points should be noted concerning the Principia:
- At no stage is the action of a field implied, nor even its existence. The forces are inherent in the objects themselves.
- There is no apparent connection between the forces of gravity and inertia, although both are proportional to mass. Yet gravitational mass and inertial mass are identical. This remains one of the oldest unexplained mysteries of MWS.
- There is no explanation of how or why these forces arise in bodies.
What, then, is a force? The answer hearkens back to Chapter 3. It is a mathematical concept derived from the product of the magnitude of two observables: mass and motion. The simplest expression for it is F = ma. Like energy, force is not an observable: not a manifestation within physical reality: only its effects are manifest. Also like energy, it is a remarkably useful concept that has also been reified: turned into a 'thing'.
The reason why the force-field was so late in arriving, as opposed to the more general field of influence, is that, being a mathematical entity, the prior development of suitable mathematical techniques was essential. A formal definition states that a force-field is "a vector field that describes a non-contact force acting on a particle at various positions in space." Although regarded today as an obvious entity for undergraduate study, it required most of the nineteenth century for the necessary mathematical techniques to be devised, refined, and cast in accepted formal terms and notation.
A strong impetus to clarification of the field concept came from the works of Faraday and Maxwell. The former was a gifted experimenter and clear conceptual thinker, but an indifferent mathematician. The latter shared many of Faraday's gifts, but was also a talented mathematician who benefited greatly from the mentoring of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, himself one of the most renowned mathematicians.
Faraday's seminal contribution was the concept of 'lines of force' emanating from the north pole of a magnet and returning to the south. Not only did these define the 'shape' of the field, but their density indicated its strength or intensity. Thus, at the poles, the lines are closest together where the field is strongest, but move farther apart as distance increases and the field is weaker. Maxwell gave formal expression to these ideas in A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field published in 1865 using twenty of Hamilton's quaternions, but these were later replaced by Heaviside with four simpler equations in the notation of vector algebra. The latter have since been used in formal introductions to the subject.
Thus the mathematics; but what of reality? Let us consider, for a moment, that there is such a thing as a gravitational field; what does it mean? It requires that, at every point in space, there is an invisible, massless 'something' that responds to the presence and motion of all mass in the entire universe by creating a gravitational potential; and that, if a massive object moves into the point, it exerts a force on the object proportional to its potential. This is, surely, a remarkable proposal.
Next comes the perennial question as to whether the field is continuous or discrete: that is, does it remain unchanged at ever smaller scales, or is there a minimum 'point size' beyond which it cannot further be subdivided? MWS has postulated the 'graviton' as part of the answer to this, and 'gravitational waves' as its complement, but they remain theoretical and undiscovered other than speculatively.
The boundary of belief is passed when we imagine the gravitational field extended to the entire universe, since gravity obeys the inverse square law and its field extends to infinity in all directions. Imagine a region of space far beyond our Sun; in fact, far beyond our Milky Way galaxy. If a gravitational field does exist throughout space, then each atom-sized part of this remote region in the empty vastness of intergalactic space must contain this invisible, massless 'something' that sits there, through all of eternity, varying slightly in potential as nearby galaxies drift endlessly through the void, patiently awaiting the arrival of a chance hydrogen atom, a stray proton, perhaps a passing rock, in order to give it a nudge. How often does this happen? Once in a billion years? A lonely existence, to be sure, and highly inefficient: all of that vast, empty field doing nothing for most of eternity.
Now add to this the many other fields postulated by MWS – the electromagnetic field and the many particle fields – and 'empty space' takes on quite a different meaning. It becomes, in fact, something so wondrous as to be quite incredible. Such fields cannot be real, physically manifest phenomena. A more credible explanation is surely required.
It is likely that thoughtful Readers will by now be feeling somewhat uneasy. It is obvious that electric current, being a mere invention, should never have been used in teaching students about electricity since it introduces confusion at the critical early stage of forming ones ideas about phenomena that, being invisible, are inherently mysterious. But force and energy are obvious, everyday experiences, and to have them brought into question is an unexpected, perhaps unwanted intellectual challenge. The further suggestion that force fields do not exist may leave the Reader wondering just what is left of the reality in which he has believed for so long.
Another discomfort will arise from the lack of alternative explanations offered here; but as explained in the the first chapter, that is not the purpose of this monograph. Nor can it be, since such explanations are necessarily so long and involved as to require a book of their own, as will be explained in the last chapter. In spite of this, a few hints will now be presented as to the grounds for those explanations, and a beginning will be made by identifying a crucial historical turning-point.
The history of MWS can be divided into three major periods: the Aristotelian, the Newtonian, and the modern. The European rediscovery of Greek ideas in the twelfth century produced a renaissance of thought that, after a period of debate and reinterpretation, led to the acceptance of Greek teachings that had been adapted to accord with Christian doctrine. These formed the basis of such science as was then practised. By the seventeenth century the ideas had become almost as rigid as religious doctrines, and many countries enforced severe penalties for disputing them; as, for example, Galileo's astronomical disputes with Church authorities. Other countries were more liberal. Philosophical discourse and dispute was not only tolerated, but encouraged as being essential for furthering the understanding of the natural world; and so emerged the Natural Philosophers of whom Newton was one. Although his Principia is taken to mark the beginning of modern science, it is better to name it as the beginning of the Newtonian period, since many of its fundamental ideas are no longer accepted by academic science. They are still accepted by the general public, however, a dichotomy of which few are aware, and still fewer understand.
The modern period began in October 1927, a date unknown to laymen, and even to many scientists. At the Fifth Solvay Conference of that month, the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of QM was accepted by the world's leading physicists after a famous debate headed by Bohr and Einstein. The Copenhagen Interpretation itself is a matter of science, but it had numerous inescapable consequences of far greater significance. Three are of great importance for those interested in philosophy, science, and their social effects.
The main philosophical consequence of Copenhagen, as it is commonly called, was to discredit philosophy itself as an authority on Physical Reality. Henceforth, only the empirical evidence of scientific experiments was admissible in such discourse, and this was founded in physicalism, an extreme form of materialism. As logical as this may sound to non-scientists, it overlooks the fact that many phenomena accepted as essential components of everyday reality – emotions and consciousness, for example – are not directly amenable to physical experiments; only their epiphenomena (or results) can be examined. This began the transition of MWS into the religion of Scientism.
The Copenhagen Interpretation also marks the point at which Western Science became inaccessible to laymen. Until that time, all important scientific ideas could be explained to any thoughtful person with a high-school education, albeit simplistically, and debate about them could be followed by the general public, at least in broad outline. After Copenhagen, scientific ideas not only became increasingly abstract, but were couched in complex mathematical formalisms unknown to all but specialist Physicists, who struggled to explain them to anyone other than their colleagues. Following the development of atomic energy and the rise to supremacy of QM, a simple solution to this difficulty was found. Enquirers were told that, in order to understand the ideas, they should study the mathematics in which they were expressed. Those areas of maths had become so abstract and complex as to require many years of specialized study; the enquiries had been answered, all but trained specialists were incapable of the time and effort needed to comprehend them, and the gulf between Physicists and laymen widened into a chasm that is today unbridgeable.
The third consequence is never explained publicly, and only in carefully-worded rhetoric to to students, but is fundamental to the material presented here. Physicists had, in fact, not only abandoned the search for a Physical Theory, but denied that one was possible. In their view, all that could ever be achieved was a mathematical analogue (or model) of physical phenomena. Thus was born Mathematical Physics, the symbolic scripture of today's Scientism; and along with it the death of philosophy and true science.
In modern scientific discourse it is inadmissible to say that two massive bodies attract each other, since bodies are not sentient: they cannot 'feel' an attraction. In the case of oppositely charged electrical bodies, one speaks of an exchange of photons between them as resulting in an attraction, not the bodies themselves. In the case of gravitation, laymen will speak of the 'force of gravity' acting between two bodies, and 'know' that they are correct. Since the 1920s, however, MWS has abjured this explanation for a number of reasons, amongst them those just stated: that both gravity and inertia are too obviously mere concepts, and unlikely to be real in a physical sense. An alternative explanation was required, and to that we now turn.