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Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything

Joe Milutis
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In Ether, the histories of the unseen merge with discussions of the technology of electromagnetism. Navigating more than three hundred years of the ether's cultural and artistic history, Joe Milutis reveals its continuous reinvention and tangible impact without ever losing sight of its ephemeral, elusive nature. The true meaning of ether, Milutis suggests, may be that it can never be fully grasped.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9764-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction: Superflux of Sky
    (pp. ix-xxiv)

    Every culture has its own name for this nothing. Kundalini and anima, Ein Sof and mana, the orgone, the lapis, akasha, chi and prana. The ether is the superflux of sky, triggering a plenitude of thought, even though the word stands in for the void. The narcosis of such a farflung and far-flinging thing is bound to send the initiate on an etherhinging tour that might include cartoon characters floating in a blue haze, lithe creatures dancing under fountains to Debussy, and mystic envelopes of heavenly wind coursing the planets and cradling them in their orbits. The ether is at...

  4. Part I. Radiance and Intellect

    • 1 Paradigm Lost: Ether and the Metaphysics of Pop Science
      (pp. 3-35)

      We are eavesdropping on Poe’s quasi-scientific dialogue with a mesmerized patient in his 1844 tale “Mesmeric Revelation.” A lot of history would intervene between this dense, obscure interview about the uninterviewable and, say, Yves Montand and Barbra Streisand cooing across the centuries in the mesmeric musicalOn a Clear Day, You Can See Forever.And it’s a long way from the initial revolutionary impact of the mesmeric rapport to the cheap bedazzlement of hypnotic suggestion, typified in the timeless image of a borscht belt magician proclaiming “you are a chicken” to an obliging volunteer from the audience, who proceeds to...

    • 2 Holy Science, Film, and the End of Ether
      (pp. 36-74)

      Of the heady mix of historical transformations in the nineteenth century’s fin de siècle, admittedly the least influential—at least at the time—was an exotic physics experiment conducted in 1881 and 1887 by Albert A. Michelson and Edward W. Morley. In their “etherdrift” experiment, they set out to measure the ethereal wind in which the earth traveled. At the time there was no question as to the ether’s existence; what they were looking for was the quantity of its aerodynamic resistance, if you will. By gauging this resistance with a highly sensitive contraption of Michelson’s making, called an “interferometer,”...

  5. Part II. The Lovely Intangibles

    • 3 Radio, Ether, and the Avant-Garde
      (pp. 77-107)

      In the intimate parlors and other mystical enclaves of the nineteenth century, mathematical philosophers and poet-madmen tortured distinctions between ether and not-ether, in an attempt to winnow out frivolous immaterialities of the new electric regime from those intangibles that have, since ancient times, enclosed the secrets of angels and the empyrean. For example, we saw that Poe, and later the theosophists, distinguishing between scientifically knowable ethers, such as the luminiferous, and those unknowable and inaccessible to standard human thought, variously charted the infinitely subtle gradations of rarefied matter for the purposes of cosmic understanding. The beginning of the twentieth century...

    • 4 Ether Underground: The Postwar Representation of Outer Space
      (pp. 108-144)

      In what has become a dramatic staple of the outer-space exploration film, a crippled module attempting reentry loses all contact with the earth. “They’re entering ionization blackout,” an anonymous technician will say, less to inform the mission specialists, more as an aside to the audience who might otherwise be baffled. For a few minutes, while listening to dead air, mission control will wait to hear the pilots affirming that they have survived the last trial of the mission. During this interlude, a hot ionized gas forms an envelope around the returning vehicle, effectively blocking transmissions. This ionized gas is the...

  6. Conclusion: Visualizing Networks, Selling Transcendence
    (pp. 145-160)

    Data has become the newest candidate for the prime element, our contemporary ethereal substrate. What Sir Arthur Eddington in 1927 called the “mind stuff” of the physical universe, cybernetic philosopher David Foster reinterpreted, in 1975, as data to support his claims that the universe is an electronic computer. The ubiquity of universal control by subsensory data, ultimately decipherable like the genetic code or the periodicity of spectral waveforms, turns concerns with energy and matter toward the imponderabilia of information exchange. The speed of information transfer in our time, imperceptible and mercurial, is for Foster (who was writing well before the...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 161-162)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 163-196)
  9. Index
    (pp. 197-208)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-209)