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Cancer

The Diastrefopolarizational Rotator: mad science piece

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Our group is starting up a new (classic) Deadlands campaign. There was one before, but that got going while I was off in the wilds of Eastern Washington late last century. Consequently, most everyone else in the group has played the system and setting, but I haven't.

 

If you haven't seen it, it's set in the US in the 1870s, and it posits that supernatural effects broke out during the US Civil War, and so there's elements of magic, supernatural horror, mad science, and so on. California got shattered by a cataclysm into an archipelago of broken islands and dangerous channels with lots and lots of pulp western-ish horror-type strangeness, and so on.

 

Being a mad scientist under the skin, I agreed more or less sight unseen to play a mad scientist character. The first outline of the mad science gizmo creation rules that I saw looked like you could try just about anything. Turns out that what I had in mind is way out of line for the game, which isn't very surprising, but I didn't figure that out until I'd spent a few manic hours going through the "theory" for a quite impossible mad science device. That's what's below.

 

The 1870s were an interesting time in physics, after the measurement of the speed of light and the development of Maxwell's Equations for electromagnetism, but before the Michaelson experiment, so the concept of the luminiferous ether was still viable and even mainstream physics. So I took that and ran with it for a while, using it as the basis for a mad-science weapon of mass destruction, creating what we would think of nowadays as nuclear-class or even antimatter-class explosions. Even I realized (eventually) that this is really more of a weapon for an archvillain mad scientist rather than a PC, but I was on a roll, having fun pulling in different bits of 19th Century science in ways that almost made sense, so I got to over 3000 words in the theory discussion before running out of steam. There's (correct!) references to various physical effects, astronomical data, and mathematical bits known at the time, citations of the scientific workers of the day, in pretty much the right context, with dates, funky units, and so on. What few numbers are present are more or less right in terms of what was known in the 1870s, too. Now, there are several complete leaps over logic and physical possibility, but that's what mad science is all about.

 

I'll never use it -- it's clear it isn't appropriate for the campaign, and I have no real interest in running a campaign of that genre myself -- but it's a damn fine chunk of mad-scientisty background stuff, if I do say so myself. Maybe someone else can make use of it.

 

Some of the development in the quoted "notes" hinges on the date in the mid-1870s. The Michelson-Morley experiment (1887) more or less single-handedly proves the ether doesn't exist, and that's central to the concept. If you want to use this idea in a later-date campaign (like pulps, 1920s or 1930s) then you sort of have to ignore (or refute) Michelson and Einstein in your campaign world history -- stranger things have certainly been handwaved away. On the other hand, in 1918 Shapley determined that the Sun is not the center of the Galaxy (which favors a bigger value for the velocity difference between ether and the Earth), and in the mid-1920s work by Lindblad, Lundmark, Oort, and Stromberg estimated a galactic rotation velocity of about 270 km/s, which would instantly become the preferred number of the velocity of the Sun with respect to the ether, and makes for even bigger bangs.

 

For reference and context: the mad scientist's lab is somewhere in the wilds of what was southern California, and it appears that in that era one stick of dynamite had half a Troy pound of the explosive.

 

Enjoy. If you can turn this into an archvillain prop in some game you're running, that's great. It's only a fragment, but it clearly indicates what the thing is supposed to to, sort of how it is intended to do it, and what the components of the device look like, perhaps: all you need for a game scenario.

 

 

From the notebooks of [the most whacked-out mad scientist you could ever imagine], dated 1875.

 

The Diastrefopolarizational Rotator, or informally, the Annihilation Device

 

Theory.

 

Part A: Diastrefopolarization and the perpendicularity of the aether

 

It is well known to physics that waves can only propagate through a suitable medium. Recent (1865) developments by James Clerk Maxwell in England make it clear that light is a transverse wave involving the electrico-magnetical fields in space. Thomas Young's experiments detected the polarization of light, demonstrating in advance of Professor Maxwell's work that light was a transverse wave; and that polarization cannot be present in a longitudinal wave. The medium in which these waves propagate is called the luminiferous aether, and while we can perform experiments measuring a remarkable number of properties now known for light, to date the medium carrying those waves, the aether, has itself eluded unambiguous experimental detection.

 

The aether must be both exceedingly stiff yet transcendently light, because as measured in 1850 by Hippolyte Fizeau and Leon Foucault in France, the waves carried by the aether move at approximately one hundred ninety thousand English statute miles per second. In physical theory wave speed involves a factor in the numerator describing the restoring force that makes the wave move, which for a transverse wave is the stiffness of the medium, and a second factor in the denominator describing the sluggishness of the medium, generally understood to be its mass specific density. With the speed of light being roughly forty thousand times the speed of sound in steel, quite extraordinary properties must hold for the aether.

 

Despite this enormous stiffness, astronomical observations irrefutably indicate that this aether exerts no net force upon the Earth and the rest of the Solar System, as the planets all move in near-perfect ellipses, as demanded by the laws of motion and gravitation as set out by Newton. Bradley's 1729 discovery of the aberration of starlight, which is a small apparent seasonal change in a star's position in the sky, suggests that the aether may, however, be affected by gravitation of the Earth and hence alter the propagation of light near the Earth in a way we can hope to understand via further measurements, and the difference in the velocity of light waves and that of Earth's orbital motion causes the annual cycle of apparent positional change of the stars.

 

Obviously even the slightest interaction between the aether and terrestrial matter would cause drastic, if not cataclysmic, effects upon objects on the Earth. Indeed, with Earth moving in its orbit around the Sun with a speed of about sixteen statute miles per second, if the Earth did suddenly interact with the exceedingly stiff aether, our planet would be instantly torn to shreds the size of house-dust, when caught suddenly in the unyielding grip of the aetherial substance. (As yet, the shells fired from the most powerful naval rifles rarely reach a muzzle velocity of half a mile per second.)

 

We hypothesize that this does not happen because the aether, like minerals and metals on Earth, has an internal structure which is layered. Solids on Earth show, when examined with a microscope, a clear uniform layered structure whose precise arrangement is a characteristic of the substance. We suspect a similar layered structure exists in the aether. Experiments with crystals in the laboratory -- indeed, the very phenomenon of cleavage of crystals -- indicates that the mechanical strength of a purely ordered sample of a material is dependent upon the angle between the applied force and the orientation of the layers of symmetry of the material sample. Tough materials like steel or granite are aggregates of very many individual crystals massed together without regard to each others' orientations, so that approximately equal strength is present in all directions for such a mass.

 

If the aether is simply layered -- and its extreme tenuousness suggests that this ought to be, as we have discussed in Notebook XXIV, dated August 1873, then we can explain the observed unperturbed motion of the planets through the aether by the matter being confined in its motion to those planes parallel to the principal layers of the crystal structure of the aether, in which directions the tenuous aether has vanishingly little strength. Light necessarily being a transverse wave -- one where the vibrational motions of the infinitesimal elements of the medium carrying the wave are at right angles to the direction of motion of the wave itself -- clearly has some component of its vibrational motion along the "strong axis" of the aether's crystal structure, and in this way light propagates through the aether at its nearly unimaginable speed, while the planets, being confined in their motions to the "weak axes" of the aether, suffer no effects of the aether's highly directional stiffness.

 

Planetary motions, however, are not confined to only two dimensions in space, as the wanderings of the comets and asteroids clearly demonstrate. Yet the spectro-scopic observations by William Huggins in England and Father Angelo Secchi in Rome incontrovertibly show (despite Auguste Comte's short-sighted declaration in 1848) that the comets are certainly matter like that of Earth. How, then, can the "weak axis" of the aether lie in all material directions? There is no perceivable direction remaining for the "strong axis" of the aether in which the vibrations of light occur.

 

We hypothesize an immaterial direction, one at right angles to all of North-South, East-West, and Zenith-Nadir, being the "strong axis" orientation of the aether. Being material ourselves, we do not, indeed can not, perceive this direction. (Indeed if we could, we would be instantly annihilated by the sudden collision with the stiff aether which we must contact to perceive it.)

 

(I note here that I write of this immaterial direction as if I was confident there was only one of them. Nothing restricts there being more than one such direction; indeed, for the variety of optical polarization effects we observe, I suspect there must be at least two immaterial directions. For our development, however, the number of such directions is unimportant as long as there is at least one, and for purposes of discussion it is most convenient to proceed in these notes as if there were exactly one. So we proceed as if there was known to be exactly one such immaterial direction, understanding that this is strictly for convenience of language.)

 

How can this be? Where can lie a direction not perceivable by any material being? We cannot know! But we can infer that such a direction exists. I have been in long fruitful correspondence with Master Edwin Abbott of the City of London School on these questions; he has a manuscript in preparation about them. Details are available in my files of that correspondence; I give an abbreviated explanation for posterity's sake in this notebook.

 

An analogy is for a two-dimensional structure embedded in a three-dimensional space. A strip of paper, given a single half-twist and then having its ends pasted together, is the crucial example. (This sort of structure was discovered by the late Professor August Möbius and Professor Johann Listing in 1858.) An entity confined to that twisted strip is in a purely two-dimensional shape. But the peculiar properties of that shape remain inherent to the shape, and by measurements akin to the great mappings and surveys made by mathematically accomplished surveyors of the great nations' geographical programs in progress today, it would be possible for the strip-living entities to deduce the properties of the shape in which they dwell: that being a loop, it has no end, and that it has only a single continuous edge. Such a shape cannot possibly be constructed within the confines of their two-dimensional world, so they cannot build a satisfactory model of their world as we can construct a globe to model the shape of our world in three dimensions. But they can deduce that there must exist at least one additional dimension in which their twisted strip-world is embedded, even if it is not in their power to perceive any such dimension.

 

So it is, I believe, with the world in which we live. The aether is a medium which exists with a manifestation in an additional dimension, and the aether scarcely -- barely -- interacts with our own three dimensions via the phenomenon of light. The electrico-magnetical fields which are the substance of the aether vibrate in that additional direction, but whose electrico-magnetical influences couple to matter in our "ordinary" three dimensions in ways we can observe.

 

I give the label diastrefopolarization (from διαστρέφω, the Greek for twist) to this inter-spatial cosmology of embedded dimensional influences, wherein the aether has its strong axis in a space with more than three cardinal directions, and that strong axis is perpendicular to the three axes of ordinary matter. Our earlier arguments indicate that direct detection of diastrefopolarization will necessarily be absolutely and instantly destructive to the material instrument in which the detection occurs, owing to the astronomical speed of motion of Earth.* We must therefore detect

---

* (footnote): It could be possible for an observer to be precisely at rest with respect to the aether at one of exactly two points on Earth, at a single point in its elliptical orbit around the Sun, at a maximum of exactly one moment of time in a year. It seems wildly unlikely that even one such moment would actually exist.

---

diastrefopolarization remotely or indirectly. This can be done by observing the utter destruction of any matter present in a region of space wherein we can lift, however slightly, the complete diastrefopolarizational perpendicularity of ordinary matter to the aether's strong axis.

 

 

Part B: Rotating the diastrefopolarizational axis of matter

 

Assuming the overlying hypotheses in Part A to be correct, how can one hope to cause matter to undergo the slightest alteration of its primary directions so as to cause its necessarily violent collision with the aether's strong axis? Once again, phenomena involving light and electrico-magnetical effects point the way.

 

The late Michael Faraday in 1845 discovered that when polarized light is made to propagate through a space containing a dielectric material medium in which a strong magnetic field exists, the direction of polarization of light changes as it traverses the medium. Very recently it has been shown that light can cause matter to rotate as well, in the invention of the "light mill" by William Crookes. Less directly, if magnetic fields in a material medium can cause light to rotate its plane of polarization, then from Newton's Third Law it follows that the inverse process must also be possible: sending polarized light through magnetized matter while constraining the polarization plane to remain fixed must cause the matter to rotate.

 

It is that rotation which we seek to bring about. The instant annihilation of matter which is rotated by an angle into the immaterial direction of the strong axis of the aether by these

electrico-magnetical circumstances would be the direct verification of our theory of diastrefopolarization of matter.

 

Our experimental apparatus, then, must do three things.

 

First, it must create polarized light and send it through the experimental volume of space.

 

Second, the experimental volume must contain a magnetic field whose strength can be adjusted smoothly and maintained.

 

Third, the experimental volume must constrain the light's polarization orientation to remain constant.

 

Item 1 is simply done. Thomas Young did this nearly a century ago. Calcite crystals, cut to a specific thickness and cemented to a mirror, can convert light of any available intensity into polarized light of half the original intensity.

 

Item 2 can be done with a solenoid and an adequately strong Voltaic pile or other source of electric current. I anticipate soon completing an electric dynamo of the kind developed by Andre-Marie Ampere. The dynamo is to be driven by a steam engine, with more than ample currents thereby generated. Thus this requirement also is easy fulfilled.

 

Item 3 is the least familiar requirement. A column of properly cut and cemented calcite crystals can do this: the well-known Nicol prism and Wollaston prism. Rutile would be a superior medium but there is no source known for adequately large crystals. Calcite is, unfortunately, expensive and hard to work, needing gem-cutters' skills and implements for satisfactory results. An acceptable substitute is likely to be crystals of borate of barium. It also has the requisite birefringence, though it is weaker than that of calcite. However, borate is much cheaper, as the world's leading supply of borate is present in the nearby desert: we can purchase literally tons of the material more cheaply than an equivalent weight of common coal! Solutions of the borate of barium can be prepared in the lab and crystals of adequate size and quality grown. It is a slow process, but simple in method, calling for little in the way of daily attention, and requiring only patience. The weak toxicity of the borate solution is easily managed.

 

 

Part C: Practical considerations

 

Assuming the diastrefopolarizational rotator is built and functions as intended, what should be expected? This depends upon the instantaneous velocity of the rotated mass with respect to the aether, which is not known. We can expect it to be no less than the Earth's orbital speed around the Sun, sixteen statute miles per second. If the Sun also is moving with respect to the aether -- for which utterly no evidence exists either way, but it seems reasonable to assume -- this velocity must added per vector with the Earth's. For exploratory calculations, we use the round figure of 25 statute miles per second, which is comparable to most of the values of the measured space velocities of stars with respect to the Sun. (We note with trepidation, however, that star 1830 in Steven Groombridge's catalog of stellar motions possesses a velocity seven and a half times this value, raising the possibility of a drastically higher velocity of the Sun, and hence the Earth, with respect to the aether.)

 

We assume the aether is exceedingly stiff, which means that all of the energy of motion of the matter will be released as heat, as per the demonstrations of Professor Joule in England. This is exactly as occurs when the chemical latent heat of explosion of an explosive is released into heat when the substance is detonated. For a velocity of 25 miles per second the violence is scarcely imaginable. If a single 320-grain .50 calibre rifle bullet were brought to an absolute halt with the aether, the heat liberated I estimate to be approximately that delivered by the explosion of seven sticks of ordinary dynamite, a truly appalling amplification of destructive power.

 

(The velocity of 190 miles per second increases the destructive energy by a factor of 58: the detonation of 320 avoirdupois pounds, more than 750 sticks of dynamite, from the specified bullet.)

 

This violent capacity indicates that use of a diastrefopolarizational rotator must be governed by due concern for the survival of the device! Any table-top experimental prototype, set to work on a pennyweight sample within the apparatus, would likely be destroyed in the same way as carelessly dropping a tablespoon of nitroglycerin onto the device. It is therefore essential to design any practical diastrefopolarizational rotator so that the volume to be rotated lies at a considerable distance from the apparatus, and the distance must be controlled, or at least known, with as great a precision as possible, and the distance must be scaled upwards as the volume of space to be rotated increases. Conventional firing ranges use scores of yards of space between the physical location of even a single stick of dynamite and the fortifications in which the observers are confined during the firing. Prudence suggests that even the smallest initial experiments should be arranged for there to be a distance of several miles between the rotated volume and anything of value, be it apparatus, experimenter, or witness, and observations of the experiment be carried out with a reflecting telescope whose final image is diverted by several plane mirrors to a safe fortification below ground level.

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