It seems clear from even a modest perusal of various ancient sources that philosophers of many cultures tried to incorporate ether into their world view. Most seem to attribute "divine" attributes to the invisible substance. The Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, Plato, Xenocrates and Apollonius of Tyana, thought of "the aether" as a fifth substance. To them the ether was another substance like earth, air, fire, and water. However, unlike the four "base" elements which could be transformed from one into another, they viewed ether as immutable. In their philosophy ether resided outside the bounds of Earth, and was what made the gods immortal. Appollonius, who travelled quite extensively was told around 3AD by Indian sages that, " There is the ether which we must regard as the stuff of which the gods are made; for just as all mortal creatures inhale the air, so do immortal and divine creatures inhale the ether. "
The ether concept evolved into a more modern form as science and rationalism overtook the prevailing religious dogma of the day. As the "flat earth" teachings of the Catholic Church gave way to regular voyages off the 'edge of the Earth' while exploring and colonizing the Americas, and the realization began to set in that the force that makes an apple fall 'down' from a tree was the same force that dictated the motion of the planets, the concept of an ether began blooming anew.
It was probably René Descartes (1596-1650), the brilliant French philosopher/ mathematician, who espoused the idea of an ether, that was primarily responsible for its early acceptance. According to Descartes there was no such thing as a vacuum or void. Rather, he believed "in a continuous ether that completely fills the space not occupied by solid bodies and mediates their interactions by means of a system of vortices" . Descartes held that the planets were carried in a sea of ether, and their motions were attributed to the motions of vortices within the ether.
Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 1695), a Dutch mathematician from a wealthy family, hypothesized that light consisted of longitudinal waves that travelled through an aether. While that explained refractance, it could not explain birefringence, which makes two polarizations of the same light source refract differently in the same crystal.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) countered Huygens with his "corpuscular theory" which postulated light as being particles, rather than waves, to explain lights property of travelling in straight lines, and its symmetrical reflections. To explain refraction, Newton used a complex theory in his 1704 publication of Opticks that required "vibrations" travelling faster than light to overtake light and cause it to refract. He rejected the notion of an aether because it would have to pervade all of space and would " disturb and retard the Motions of those great Bodies" (the planets and comets) and thus "as it [light's medium] is of no use, and hinders the Operation of Nature, and makes her languish, so there is no evidence for its Existence, and therefore it ought to be rejected ". 1
At the opening of the nineteenth century Thomas Young (1773 - 1829) brought the wave theory of light back into prominence after making the correlation between interference patterns in water and light. Young used as simple ripple tank to demonstrating how water waves, as do light beams, interfere with each other after passing through two narrow slits in a baffle. In 1804 Young described an experiment that demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that light was a wavephenomenon.
With light now being thought of as a wave phenomenon, the theory of the "Luminiferous Ether" came into full prominence. The reasoning went: if all known vibrating energy, such as sound in the air, waves in water, and mechanical oscillations, must have a medium to travel through, and if light was a vibration, then light must have a medium to travel through. Furthermore, since light could travel through glass, and other solid substances, the medium that light travelled upon must be exceedingly fine and able to permeate all matter. Thus, the concept of the "Luminiferous Ether" was born.
It was not until 1821 when Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788–1827), a French engineer and physicist, after experimenting with polarized light, was able to show mathematically that light had no longitudinal component to it. He proved that light was entirely a transverse phenomena. At this point Newton's theory of "corpuscular light" was completely abandoned in favor of Fresnel's wave theory. With Young and Fresnel's wave theories in full sway, the luminiferous ether concept gained great popularity, however it was not without its issues.
Theories surrounding the luminiferous ether were becoming increasingly difficult to support by the end of the Nineteenth Century. The mechanical properties of the ether were becoming more and more fanciful. Ether " had to be a fluid in order to fill space, but one that was millions of times more rigid than steel in order to support the high frequencies of light waves. It also had to be massless and without viscosity, otherwise it would visibly affect the orbits of planets. " 2 In the end there were two competing theories concerning the luminiferous ether.
One theory stated that the Earth moved through the ether and thus the speed of light should vary depending on the direction it travelled relative to the Earth. The other theory hypothesized that the Earth dragged the ether with it as it travelled through space, and thus would be static relative to the Earth.
The famous Michelson-Morley experiments, performed in 1887, were the beginning of the end for the luminiferous ether theory. Those experiments were designed to measure the ether drift by bouncing light from a single split beam off of two distant mirrors placed so that the beams traveled out and back at right angles to each other. It was expected that one beam would be slightly slowed down in respect to the other one if a moving luminiferous ether existed. The experiment detected nothing. The experiment was repeated many times over the years with higher and higher precision, but no evidence of an ether drag could be detected. This experiment was hailed as proof that there is no such thing as an ether, but the Michelson-Morley experiment only proves that light travels independently of an ether. Einstien's Theory of Special Relativity provided a testable framework for light that sidestepped any need for an luminiferous ether, and thus the luminiferous ether theory was abandoned.
The trance discourses of Edgar Cayce, known as "the readings", first mentioned the term "ether" on February 14, 1924. That reading was given in the Phillips Hotel in Dayton, Ohio and was requested by three people who were not present for the reading. 3 The reading was the fifth in a series of readings consisting of philosopy questions which started eight months earlier. The preceeding question to the one that follows was concerning the concept of evolution and Darwinism.
47. (Q) Where does the soul come from, and how does it enter
the physical body?
(A) It is already there. "and He breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul", as the breath, the ether from the forces as come into the body of the human when born breathes the breath of life, as it becomes a living soul, provided it has reached that developing in the creation where the soul may enter and find the lodging place. All souls were created in the beginning, and are finding their way back to whence they came.
48. (Q) Where does
the soul go when fully developed?
(A) To its Maker.
The readings make it clear that the term "ether" is meant to apply to the energy and substance of the soul. Interestingly, although the scientific community had abandoned the concept of the luminiferous ether by the turn of the 20th century, the Cayce readings were still using it in the mid-1920'. This is most likely because the Cayce readings were trying to convey a concept to the recipients of the reading for which the word "ether" was the best fit.
This concept we will expand upon further.