The 1887 Cleveland Disenchantment

Again: so far, so good. But we may ask ourselves: “If the aether reaches throughout space, does not our Earth move with respect to it? Then there should be a noticeable difference in the speed of light along, and perpendicular to, the direction of motion of the Earth, because of the aether wind which blows unnoticed in our ears and eyes”.(30) The reasoning is logically airtight modus tollendo tollens. But so is – an omnipresent aether presupposed – the corollary: no aether wind, then no motion!

As everyone knows: in 1887 Michelson and Morley, using an extremely complicated and sensitive interferometer, tried to measure this difference,(31) and –just like Airy — drew a blank for the purpose of justifying Galileo. “It appears…reasonably certain that if there be any relative motion between the Earth and the luminiferous ether, it must be small; quite small enough entirely to refute Fresnel’s explanation of aberration (32) (emphasis added, v.d.K.). For this 1887 result “is in flagrant conflict with the hypothesis which was put forward to explain Fizeau’s experiment. If one performs the experiment in the air, for which the drag coefficient is equal to zero, (the refractive index is almost equal to one), then one expects a displacement, or conversely the negative result points to a drag coefficient of one: the aether travels with the apparatus. There is no aetherwind. We see that all sorts of difficulties arise from the use of the concept of the aether, by which we understand some elastic material through which the light oscillations travel.”(33)

On the authority of Niklas Koppernigk it is, of course, declared ultra vires to ask whether these difficulties do not disappear like snow under a hot sun if we consider the apparatuses of Arago, Fizeau, Airy, Hoek and Michelson and Morley to be at rest in a space that knows place. The Earth, we have decided to know, is spinning through space. Hence, to cite a twentieth century comment on Airy’s mishap: “If the Fresnel drag coefficient be introduced into the calculation of the aberration, there emerges the fact that the aberration is the same with or without water in the telescope. Thus conversely Airy’s negative result confirms the validity of the Fresnel coefficient”.(34) It of course does not when logically judged. That is: without the unscientific, instinctive, imaginary, and pseudo-metaphysical viewpoint of the heliocentric and a-centric confessions of astronomical faith. As until today all logically valid tollendo tollens experiments after the style of Michelson and Morley have shown: if there is a light-carrying aether, our instruments are not travelling through that aether – the isotropy of space investigated from, or relative to, the Earth has never as yet been seriously called into question. Hence in Airy’s case the drag coefficient is absent and cannot be dragged into court to vindicate Copernicus.

Whichever way we turn: after 1887 there clearly was the devil to pay with regard to the permissible particulars of the cosmic clockwork suspended in any form of the luminiferous stationary aether. It is not necessary to enter into details about the input and output by Stokes, Fitzgerald, Lorentz, Poincaré, and a host of minor celebrities, all of them trying to devise a way out of the cul-de-sac in which classical Copernicanism found itself. By 1897 Michelson aptly summarized the situation as follows.