Light has been difficult to explain over the course of the history of science. Find out why Ken Wheeler’s ideas about light, if anyone took them seriously, would set modern science back by at least two centuries.
Einstein said that a fish is the last thing to discover water. We humans are visual animals, and a similar thing has happened to us with what lets us see – light. We’ve had a remarkably hard time understanding its nature.
Christian Huygens discovered that light has wavelike properties in 1678. At the time, the only waves with which people were familiar were ocean and sound waves.
These are called mechanical waves because they come from physical disturbances in a medium like water or air. Mechanical waves also need their medium to travel or propagate.
Assumed that Light Waves Needed a Medium
Throughout the 18th century, scientists assumed that light waves needed a medium as well. Even though they couldn’t perceive or measure it, they assumed that light waves were perturbations in a hypothetical medium they called the luminiferous ether.
Then, in 1801, Thomas Young published his famous paper, On the Theory of Light and Colours. It showed that light could generate interference patterns similar to waves in the water.
He followed those findings up in 1803 with an experiment that demonstrated these interference effects. It was the forerunner to the now famous double slit experiment which shows that light has both wavelike and particle-like properties.
Michelson-Morley Experiment Proved Ether Doesn’t Exist
As we explain under Field Theory – Why Ken’s Wrong, the Michelson-Morley experiment proved the luminiferous ether doesn’t exist in 1887. The YouTuber Planarwalk also debunks Ken Wheeler’s ideas about the ether here.
Einstein explained that, “If the Michelson–Morley experiment had not brought us into serious embarrassment, no one would have regarded the relativity theory as a (halfway) redemption.”
Understanding that light waves don’t need a medium led to our modern understanding of electromagnetic waves. The two most successful scientific theories in history, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, are both built on this foundation.
In His Mind, Waves Don’t Exist in and of Themselves
Enter Ken Wheeler. The Angry Photographer insists, in the face of all this evidence, that the ether exists. In his mind, waves don’t exist in and of themselves. He claims that “waves are what something does, not what something is.”
The YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis has a strong aversion to academics, and especially to scientists. He reserves his deepest derision for anybody with a PhD and for peer reviewed periodicals.
It’s odd for a self-declared “hard-core platonist” to take this position, given that Plato founded the world’s first academic institution known, appropriately enough, as the Academy.
Falsely Claims Scientists “Can’t Even Define What Light Is”
One of the accusations that Ken Wheeler hurls at scientists is his claim that “they can’t even define what light is.” Of course, this is pure nonsense.
Physicists define light as “Energy in the form of electromagnetic waves of any wavelength that travel in a vacuum with a speed of 299,792,458 metres per second. Specifically, such radiation that is visible to the human eye i.e. within the range of 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers.”
That seems pretty clear. It’s also evident from the definition that light travels through a vacuum, i.e. it doesn’t need a medium though which to propagate.
Can’t Grasp Mechanical Versus Electromagnetic Waves
Yet, for whatever reason, the YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis can’t seem to get his head around the difference between a mechanical wave and an electromagnetic wave. He insists that light is what he calls an “ether perturbation modality.”
Once again, that phrase is a mouthful. It’s also meaningless for three reasons. First, we’ve seen empirical evidence conclusively proving there’s no ether. Second, Ken Wheeler doesn’t explain the process by which perturbations arise in his hypothetical medium.
Finally, the Angry Photographer doesn’t explain the various categories into which his so-called modalities fall. He argues that the modalities are like ice, water and steam.
Never Explains “Ether Perturbation Modalities”
Yet, the the Theoria Apophasis creator never explains the specific modalities that correspond to matter’s solid, liquid and gaseous states. Further, he doesn’t link these modalities to the actual phenomena we experience, like visible light.
In his document Fields Ken Wheeler offers his own, idiosyncratic definition of light. He calls it, “Coaxial energy circuit of the Aether-medium. Longitudinal rarefactions and compressions of dielectric pulses, accompanied by transverse cyclic magnetic & electric (magnetism & dielectric) spatiotemporal manifestation.”
Since there is no “aether-medium,” there’s no point in deciphering the rest of this word salad. Suffice it so say, that light is not coaxial and there’s no such thing as dielectric pulses.
Denies Light’s Speed is Constant in All Frames of Reference
The Theoria Apophasis creator denies the universally accepted principle that the speed of light is constant in all frames of reference. He also refuses to accept the existence of photons.
According to Ken Wheeler, light has a maximum speed because of the hysteresis or impedence of the ether. Hysteresis and impedence are two entirely different phenomena.
Hysteresis refers to the way a physical system’s history affects its motion. For example, hysteresis is the reason a rubber band stretches more when we load it with weights than it snaps back when we unload those weights from it.
Hysterisis or Impedance Don’t Explain Speed of Light
Impededance, on the other hand, is the resistance of a material to the flow of electromagnetic or mechanical or waves through it. Wires have some level of electrical impedance to waves of current and our bodies have some acoustical impedance to ultrasound waves, for example.
This doesn’t come close to explaining why light waves travel at the same speed regardless of our frame of reference. For example, the speed of waves in a lake would be subject to the resistance of water as a medium.
Even so, if our boat travels into the waves, their speed impedes our speed. In relative terms, those waves are travelling faster toward us.
Speed of Water Waves Depends on Boat’s Relative Motion
If our boat runs before the waves, their speed enhances our speed. Relative to our boat, those waves are going slower than if our boat was anchored.
If we steer our boat in between two waves, they have no effect on our speed. From a relative point of view, their speed is fixed.
None of that happens with light. Whether we’re moving toward it, away from it or across it, its speed remains constant in every frame of reference.
Speed of Light Constant Regardless of Speed or Direction
This counterintuitve fact about light is the whole point of special relativity and quantum mechanics. Ken Wheeler can’t explain electromagnetic waves by resorting to concepts that only apply to mechanical waves.
Ever since scientists have studied light they’ve noticed that in some ways it behaves as a wave, as Christian Huygens found, and in other ways it acts like it’s made of particles, as Isaac Newton showed.
Both ideas have gone in and out of style as science gathered more information. However, when Einstein explained the photoelectric effect, it became clear that light was made up of the particles we now call photons. That’s how Einstein won the Nobel Prize.
Photoelectric Effect Shows Light is Made of Particles
The photoelectric effect also showed that when photons strike certain kinds of metal, those metals emit electrons. These observations gradually led to the field of Quantum Mechanics.
So, light has a dual nature. It has wavelike properties and particle-like properties at the same time. None of these established scientific facts sit well with Ken Wheeler. For one thing, he wrongly claims that the idea that light has two properties is a logical contradiction. It’s not. All sorts of phenomena have multiple properties.
In any event, scientists have photographed actual electrons behaving like waves and particles at the same time. They captured the image while monitoring an instance of the photoelectric effect. Here is that photograph.
Bizarre Notions About Spatial Coherence of Laser Light
The Angry Photographer also expresses some bizarre notions about the spatially coherent phenomenon we call laser light. LASER stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
He calls lasers “point source light.” This is just as fanciful and demonstrably false as his claim that magnets are “point source objects.” They’re both lame justifications for his disproven notion of the ether.
The YouTuber behind Theoria Apophasis insists that the coherence of laser light comes from laser devices using what he calls a “spacial filter.” He claims a laser device’s aperture and not light wave amplification explains laser coherence.
Every Flashlight With a Lens Would Generate Laser Light
It doesn’t. If that was true, every flashlight with a lens would generate laser light. We all know that’s not the case.
Laser devices produce coherent light by emitting stimulated electrons, which in turn emit new photons via the photoelectric effect. This is unacceptable in Ken Wheeler’s worldview because he insists that neither electrons nor photons exist.
Ken Wheeler also rejects quantum mechanics and Special Relativity because he associates these models with a group of pre-socratic philosophers called the atomists. This may sound innocent enough, but for Ken Wheeler, an atomist is one of the worst things one can be.
Atomist is One of the Worst Things One Can Be
Kentucky Ken considers himself to be a neoplatonist. The platonists were idealists, and therefore arch rivals of the atomists who tended to be materialists.
What does that have to do with modern physics? Nothing whatsoever. Yet, the Theoria Apophasis host has decided that Relativity = Quantum Mechanics = Atomism = Materialism = Atheism = Nihilism = Evil.
This is a logical leap of epic proportions. It also leads Ken Wheeler down a rabbit hole in which modern science is irredeemably diabolical.
Clings to Ether Like an Exorcist to a Silver Cross
To combat what he sees as a demonic doctrine, the Angry Photographer clings to the notion of the ether like an exorcist to his silver cross. He views the history of science as a comic book heroic struggle between ethereal angels and atomic demons.
In reality, there’s no historical, philosophical, scientific or logical connection between ancient atomists like Democritus or Epicurus and modern particle physicists like Max Planck or Richard Feynman.
There’s also no connection between Relativity or Quantum Mechanics and anybody’s morality. For what it’s worth, Max Planck, the founder of Quantum Mechanics, was a lifelong, devout Lutheran and not one of Ken Wheeler’s nefarious nihilists – not that nihilists are evil.
Fights Modern Understanding of Light Tooth and Nail
Yet, somehow, these bizarre non-sequiturs between science and ethics lead the Angry Photographer to fight our modern understanding of the nature of light tooth and nail. As with many of his other misconceptions, Ken Wheeler is more to be pitied than censured for these infantile notions. His fondness for the Latin motto lux et veritas couldn’t be more ironic.
Who knows, if more knowledgable people continue to correct him about these fallacies, one day he may come to see the light.