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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/503

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THE NEW THEORY OF MATTER.

ous. But whether this final unification be accepted or not, it is certain that these monads can not be considered apart from the ether. It is on their interaction with the ether that their qualities depend—and without the ether an electric theory of matter is impossible.

Surely we have here a very extraordinary revolution. Two centuries ago electricity seemed but a scientific toy. It is now thought by many to constitute the reality of which matter is but the sensible expression. It is but a century ago that the title of an ether to a place among the constituents of the universe was authentically established. It seems possible now that it may be the stuff out of which that universe is wholly built. Nor are the collateral inferences associated with this view of the physical world less surprising. It used, for example, to be thought that mass was an original property of matter: neither capable of explanation nor requiring it; in its nature essentially unchangeable, suffering neither augmentation nor diminution under the stress of any forces to which it could be subjected; unalterably attached to, or identified with, each material fragment, howsoever much that fragment might vary in its appearance, its bulk, its chemical, or its physical condition.

But if the new theories be accepted these views must be revised. Mass is not only explicable, it is actually explained. So far from being an attribute of matter considered in itself, it is due, as I have said, to the relation between the electrical monads of which matter is composed and the ether in which they are bathed. So far from being unchangeable, it changes, when moving at very high speeds, with every change in its velocity.

Perhaps, however, the most impressive alteration in our picture of the universe required by these new theories is to be sought in a different direction. We have all, I suppose, been interested in the generally accepted views as to the origin and development of suns with their dependent planetary systems; and the gradual dissipation of the energy which during this process of concentration has largely taken the form of light and radiant heat. Follow out the theory to its obvious conclusions, and it becomes plain that the stars now visibly incandescent are those in mid-journey between the nebulæ from which they sprang and the frozen darkness to which they are predestined. What, then, are we to think of the invisible multitude of the heavenly bodies in which this process has been already completed? According to the ordinary view, we should suppose them to be in a state where all possibilities of internal movement were exhausted. At the temperature of interstellar space their constituent elements would be solid and inert; chemical action and molecular movement would be alike impossible, and their exhausted energy could obtain no replenishment unless they were suddenly rejuvenated by some celestial collision, or traveled into other regions warmed by newer suns.