Is it even possible that the electric and magnetic forces interacts at distance without something being under?

I was thinking about it and actually found that Faraday and Maxwell imagined some fluid ether which is filling the space and this fluid allows the electric and magnetic forces to do their work. How about this these days? Is this theory relevant or not? But if not, how it could happen that something is interacting with something other without any transmission media?

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    $\begingroup$ Read about Michelson's experiments regarding detecting the ether, and the consequences of his results. $\endgroup$
    – Bill N
    Dec 26, 2016 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ Not mainstream but in the tradition of Maxwell my two cents: Are photons composed particles $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2016 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ There is nothing showing that it could not happen. So it can happen. If it actually happens or not depends on what the vacuum truly is. And the vacuum is a concept that changes a lot across theories, so we might never really know. $\endgroup$
    – user126422
    Dec 26, 2016 at 18:27

1 Answer 1


Is this theory relevant or not?

The Michelson Morley experiment destroyed the concept of the classical luminiferous aether.

But if not, how it could happen that something is interacting with something other without any transmission media

At the micro level nature is quantum mechanical. The classical electromagnetic wave is a confluence of innumerable photons, the elementary particle of the electromagnetic interactions. These photons propagate with velocity c and are also fundamental in the interactions at the microscopic level.

Quantum field theory postulates fields for each particle that fill up all space on which creation and annihilation operators generate the interacting particles. The difference with the luminiferous aether is that quantum fields are Lorenz invariant .

As pointed out by BobBee in the comments, one has to be careful in the use of the word "medium". Medium in physics needs an extra attribution,. The attribution by Maxwell had the adjective "luminiferous", light carrying medium, i.e. a substance or material in which something exists or grows or through which something can move or otherwise travel. The experiment showed that this substance did not exist. The quantum field theoretical model which applies for light propagation also describes how interactions at a distance happen, by the transmission of energy and momentum packages moving with a maximum velocity of c .

When you throw a ball and hit somebody, it is action at a distance without a medium, that is a rough analogy of what is happening at the quantum mechanical level of interactions, (rough because there are integrals involved)

  • $\begingroup$ Great answer Anna, crisp and to the point. But a field can't be considered a medium where something else travels through. Makes no sense. Best not to appease people who are just confused. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Bee
    Dec 28, 2016 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ @BobBee Thanks. The majority of the theoretical physicists who contribute to this site , if I judge by their answers, consider quantum fields the basic reality that fill all space (even with a vev of zero), and not simply a successful mathematical model. The "medium" is the mathematical compromise in my experimentalist's view. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Dec 28, 2016 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ Understand the experimentalist no belief of anything they don't see. A healthy thing. Just the word medium has all kinds of implications implying material which other things make it wave. I would contend that is not standard experimentalists word or understanding either. And the mainstream physics view, experimental or physical, is that it is a real quantum field, I've never heard it call a medium. Unless you contend it is the aether, which has been experimentally disproven $\endgroup$
    – Bob Bee
    Dec 28, 2016 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Or, really, the qiuantum fields are the 'material' that at this point constitutes all mass energy, except the unknown quantum gravity. As for medium those fields (or gravity) which propagate, or rather their excitations, do so on vacuum. A medium implies something on top of vacuum. The something 'under' that the OP asks about is not a medium, it does not exist, it is just vacuum. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Bee
    Dec 29, 2016 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ @BobBee The luminiferous aether model was such a "medium" too. It just was not Lorenz invariant. I do not call it a medium, that is why I have quotation marks. It mathematically describes a medium like behavior. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Dec 29, 2016 at 5:56

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