On this last point the researches of M. Cremieux have given affirmative results: if we immerse in a large mass of some liquid several drops of another not miscible with the first, but of identical density, we form a mass representing no doubt a discontinuity in the ether, and we may ask ourselves whether, in conformity with what happens in all other phenomena of nature, this discontinuity has not a tendency to disappear.
If we abide by the ordinary consequences of the Newtonian theory of potential, the drops should remain motionless, the hydrostatic impulsion forming an exact equilibrium to their mutual attraction. Now M. Cremieux remarks that, as a matter of fact, they slowly approach each other.
Such experiments are very delicate; and with all the precautions taken by the author, it cannot yet be asserted that he has removed all possibility of the action of the phenomena of capillarity nor all possible errors proceeding from extremely slight differences of temperature. But the attempt is interesting and deserves to be followed up.
Thus, the hypothesis of the ether does not yet explain all the phenomena which the considerations relating to matter are of themselves powerless to interpret. If we wished to represent to ourselves, by the mechanical properties of a medium filling the whole of the universe, all luminous, electric, and gravitation phenomena, we should be led to attribute to this medium very strange and almost contradictory characteristics; and yet it would be still more inconceivable that this medium should be double or treble, that there should be two or three ethers each occupying space as if it were alone, and interpenetrating it without exercising any action on one another. We are thus brought, by a close examination of facts, rather to the idea that the properties of the ether are not wholly reducible to the rules of ordinary mechanics.
The physicist has therefore not yet succeeded in answering the question often put to him by the philosopher: “Has the ether really an objective existence?” However, it is not necessary to know the answer in order to utilize the ether. In its ideal properties we find the means of determining the form of equations which are valid, and to the learned detached from all metaphysical prepossession this is the essential point.
A CHAPTER IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE: WIRELESS TELEGRAPHY
I have endeavoured in this book to set forth impartially the ideas dominant at this moment in the domain of physics, and to make known the facts essential to them. I have had to quote the authors of the principal discoveries in order to be able to class and, in some sort, to name these discoveries; but I in no way claim to write even a summary history of the physics of the day.