Chapter 50:

Structure of Space

It is a measure of just how “black” Townsend Brown’s activities were in California starting in the fall of 1942 that there is virtually no documentation available that might shed some light on just what he was doing during those crucial years. Aside from the mention of his work on the P-38 in his brief autobiography, the Brown family files are virtually devoid of any correspondence or documentation from the period that roughly covers the balance of World War II after Brown’s resignation from Navy.

Those family files —the source of such juicy crumpets as the NRL paperwork that proves Brown’s service there while the Lab itself was unable to locate any corroborating evidence — have very little to say about his activities at Vega Aircraft. It’s as if, once Josephine sent that postcard to her family from the Will Rogers Museum in Oklahoma, they vanished behind those fake palm trees and Hollywood-back-lot facades of the Vega facility in Burbank.

Well, OK. There is one thing.

There is a notebook.

The title page states simply

T. T. Brown
Vega Aircraft Corp
Burbank, Calif.


But if you’re looking for some evidence that he went immediately to work on the startling theoretical discovery that struck him as he watched Josephine hand those rumpled postcards to the clerk in Oklahoma, or that the reason for all the secrecy is because he immediately went to work on his gravity-defying, inter-dimensional, time-traveling transport device, then brace yourself for a disappointment.

Because it appears that, shortly after his arrival in Burbank he went to work on something far more prosaic. In December of 1942 T. Townsend Brown — the man who could control gravitation — was working on… an antenna.

The first notebook entry is dated December 1, 1942, and is a discussion entitled “Ultra-high frequency antenna (Multiple dipoles).” The entry is accompanied by numerous hand-drawings that illustrate the device. Granted, the antenna he was working on does appear to incorporate some of his discoveries regarding stress in dielectrics. He even describes the reactive thrust the antenna displays when its dielectric components are activated. For example, this summary:

It is indicated therefore that an infinite number of dipoles disposed along a transmission possessing “uniformly graduated” matched impedance throughout its length will radiate directionally toward the end of a the transmission line toward which the energy is traveling (Beverage Antenna).

The effect is analogous to a nozzle of a fire hose.

The mechanical reaction in the opposite sense is analogous to the “kick” of the hose nozzle.

This consideration now resolves itself into two objectives:

a) Production of highly directed (beamed) radiant energy;
b) The production of force or motion (reaction effect).

Both objectives will be borne in mind in the development of the method; both are equally important and useful.

Turning for a moment to the behavior of a dielectric in an intense electric field the following facts have been observed:

If transients are produced in a dielectric it is possible that they would travel in the direction of decreasing impedance. Just what effect the gradient (electric) has on the absorption of or transmission of transients remains to be seen. If the transients are absorbed it is probably because they are radiated. In that event, the high gradient might increase the impedance.

Somebody better versed in arcane sciences than I might be able to glean some hidden meaning from those passages, but I am satisfied that he was working on an antenna, even as he is still investigating the relationship between electric currents and thrust. At the very least, under the guise of antenna structures, he seems to be investigating various dielectric properties and configurations. But I think these notes also demonstrate the earliest ruminations on an entirely different kind of communications system, one that would not be demonstrated until well after the end of the war.

The notes in these pages are accompanied by delicate, hand-drawn illustrations of the principals and circuits Brown is contemplating. Here is the unmistakable evidence of the depth of his thought processes and his painstaking attention to detail, the quality and richness of his engineering skills, and his encyclopedic grasp of electronics and physics —despite the lack of academic credentials. It has been noted elsewhere that Brown was well respected for those qualities. In these pages, it is easy to see why his colleagues would almost naturally take to calling Mr. Brown “Doctor,” even if that honorific had never been bestowed by any institution.

* * *

Back in chapter 9, we talked about the evolution of scientific theory from Newton through Einstein, from the fundamentals of gravity to the mastery of electricity and the ensuing progression to relativity and quantum mechanics. The chapter begins by quoting Newton, who said of his own discoveries, “If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

And now, perhaps, we will begin to see how Townsend Brown stood on the shoulders of those who went before him.

The first half of the Vega notebook is filled with these arcane entries, mostly dealing with the dielectric effects of high-voltage in an ultra-high frequency dipole antenna. But the second half of the notebook, that’s where it gets very interesting, because there we find an extensive, theoretical essay called simply

Structure of Space

He begins by taking a sideways look at one of the generally accepted scientific axioms of the mid-twentieth century:

The failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment to detect a flow of aether does not necessarily indicate the non-existence of the aether. The results of the theory of relativity may be obtained with or without the aether.

For certain phenomenon it is desirable and almost necessary to assume the existence of an aether in order to evolve a satisfactory explanation. An example is the force of gravitation, particularly the electrogravitational effects; The phenomenon of the movement of a dielectric is such an example.

What’s this? Is Brown really questioning one of the fundamentals of 20th century science? Didn’t he know that ‘aether theory’ was dead and buried by the time he wrote that in the winter of 1943?

The idea of the “Luminiferous aether” is one that reaches back at least as far as Newton, who, in his 1704 treatise Opticks, postulated the existence of an "Aethereal Medium." By the mid 19th century, when Maxell’s equations first described light as a wave-like component of the electromagnetic spectrum, the idea of the “aether” was adopted as the medium that could carry light waves through the vacuum of space. Just as sound waves travel through the medium of air, the idea of a “luminiferous” (light bearing) aether became one of the generally accepted principals of physics until late in the 19th century. Maxwell himself even went so far as to propose a variety of mechanical models for the aether.

The trouble was, the more aether theory evolved over the years, the more contradictory it became. For starters, the aether could be neither solid, liquid, nor gas, but nevertheless be able transmit energy just as air can transmit sound waves. Furthermore, Maxwell’s equations mandated that all electromagnetic waves propagate at a single fixed velocity — the speed of light, “c” (for “celeritas,” the Latin word for “swiftness”). Thus the aether would have to be fixed, or “still” throughout the universe; otherwise “c” would vary along with any variations that might occur in its supportive medium. On the other hand, the aether had to be fluid in order to fill all the nooks and crannies of space. And, in addition to being simultaneously both fixed and fluid, the aether could not display any mass or viscosity, lest it interfere with the orbits of the planets in space.

Into this quagmire of apparent paradoxes stepped two physicists from (what is now) Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley. Given that the earth orbits around the sun at some 100km/hour, Michelson and Morley hypothesized that they would be able to detect the flow of the “aether wind” as the planet speeds through the ethereal vacuum of space. In 1887, the two constructed a clever apparatus that would enable them to measure the earth’s movement through the aether by splitting a beam of light at right angles and then observing the phase changes in the beams when they were re-converged.

Michelson constructed the first prototypes of this device — called an interferometer — in 1881, but the early experiments lacked sufficient precision to produce conclusive results. Michelson then joined forces with Morley, and together, the two invested considerable time and money developing a far more precise apparatus. To assure the accuracy of their readings, the equipment was constructed in the basement of s stone building, where it could be isolated from atmospheric effects like heat and vibration; then it was mounted on a huge block of marble, which in turn was floated on a pool of mercury so that the marble could be easily rotated and the experiments performed in a near infinite number of different directions.

Despite all the effort at achieving unparalleled precision in their experiments (or more precisely, because of the degree of precision…), the Michelson-Morley experiments have been remembered as “the most failed experiment” in all of scientific history. As revealed in an 1887 article in the American Journal of Science, the experiments was unable to detect the anticipated measurement of “aether wind,” leading Michelson and Morley — and the world of science at large — to conclude that there was something seriously amiss with the theory of a fixed and absolute “aether.”

Over the course of the next decade and a half, more experiments were conducted, each employing apparatus more sophisticated and precise than the one before, and all producing the same “null result.” In 1903, Frederick Trouton and H.R. Noble took a slightly different approach — using electrical fields (capacitors, actually) in place of light — but the Trouton-Noble experiment famously produced the same result as Michelson and Morley’s. Thus the conclusion that there simply is no aether.

The theory was given its final blow in 1905, in the works of Albert Einstein, not only in his theory of special relativity but even more so in his paper on the photoelectric effect, which redefined light as a “particle exhibiting wave-like qualities.” Since particles would obviously not need a “medium” to travel in the way a wave would, the particle theory of light eliminated the need for any kind of “Aethereal Medium.”

And now here’s Townsend Brown in 1943 — a scientist with no credentials to speak of, who in fact failed his first course of college physics, working under the cloak of a highly classified military facility saying, “yeah, well…. not so fast.”

* * *

Brown is not entirely alone in questioning the dismissal of aether theory. The concept remains controversial to this day, and resurfaces in myriad disguises, often as a consequence of the far-ranging and far-out discipline called “quantum mechanics.”

Back in the early twentieth century, no less a luminary of modern physics than Hendrik Lorentz continued for many years to profess the viability of some variant of aether theory. Curiously, Lorentz’s theories — most notably the Lorentz transformation and the Fitzgerald-Lorentz contraction — are among the mathematical foundations upon which Einstein built his theories of relativity.

And relativity, most proponents agree, discards once and for all the last vestiges of aether theory. Yet, despite supplying some of the theoretical foundations of relativity, Lorentz himself was still making allowances as late as 1911. In one lecture, he said,

"the theory of relativity …can be carried out independently of what one thinks of the aether …. whether there is an aether or not, electromagnetic fields certainly exist, and so also does the energy of the electrical oscillations…if we do not like the name of "aether", we must use another word as a peg to hang all these things upon."

Which is almost exactly what Townsend Brown is saying in the opening pages of “Structure of Space.” Indeed, the ideas Brown explores in “Structure of Space” are entirely consistent with what Lorentz says about electromagnetic fields.

Even Einstein reconsidered his dismissal of the aether; In a 1920 lecture at the University of Leiden, Einstein asserted that…

…we may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether.”

Einstein’s comment speaks directly to Brown’s musings on the “Structure of Space,” where, in the opening pages, he writes,

The aether would, then, have many interesting and hitherto unsuspected properties, and it is the purpose of these notes to explore the subject qualitatively and to set forth some of the more important properties. Much of the work is based on facts derived from actual experiments which cannot be satisfactorily explained without the existence of an aether possessing substantially these qualities.

In other words, Brown is attempting to come up with a unifying explanation for the effects he has observed in his own experiments; he is trying to reconcile the gap between his own unique experience and the conventional scientific wisdom of the day. But where Einstein was willing to concede that “space is endowed with physical qualities,” Brown goes one step further: “Structure of Space” is an expansive meditation on the electrical properties of space, and an exploration into the manner by which those electrical properties might explain the still-mysterious forces of gravitation.

In effect, “Structure of Space” is an affirmation of the “push not pull” theory of gravitation that Brown first expressed in the 1920s (which was an echo of Charles F Brush’s “Kinetic Theory of Gravitation"); By 1943, Brown has found an electrical corollary to Einstein’s “physical properties” of space, and develops a comprehensive explanation for of the phenomena that have commanded his interest and attention for more than twenty years.

* * *

The pages of “Structure of Space” are dominated by two symbols: The first is “K” — the symbol for dielectric value, or the measure of “permittivity,” which is defined as the “measure of the ability of a material to resist the formation of an electric field within it.”

The second symbol is “µ” — the lower case, Greek letter “mu,” which in this case represents magnetic permeability of a material, or the extent to which it can be penetrated by a magnetic field.

In “Structure of Space,” Brown is contemplating fluctuations in these electrical properties of space, and imagining how those electrical variations might explain the presence of what we call gravity:

Electromagnetic theory assigns real values of K and µ to “free space.” For the sake of simplicity, the “aether” may be imagined to represent merely these “real values.” It follows logically that space may not be uniform and that variations will occur in K and µ.

It is logical, also, to assume that space is “distorted” by the presence of matter and that this distortion actually may be a variation of K and µ….

Then, allowing for the deflection of light rays as they pass a massive body in space (like a star), Brown concludes

…the values of K and µ near a massive body are greater. As a matter of fact the gravitational “field” may be visualized as an area or region of higher K and µ. The force of gravitation would then be the tendency to migrate to the higher K and µ.

As Brown sees it, the presence of “massive bodies” causes variations in the electromagnetic properties of space, producing areas of “low pressure” associated with high K and µ values, and areas of “high pressure” associated with low K and µ values; An area of “low pressure” (high K and µ) would have a stronger ability to support electromagnetic lines of force than an area of “high pressure” (low K and µ).

Brown then suggests that the force of gravitation is results from these electrical “pressure” differentials, causing matter to literally “gravitate” from the areas of “high pressure” (low K and µ to the areas of “low pressure” (high and µ).

Amid all the conceptual, scientific language, Brown illustrates the fundamental idea with a simple analogy:

A glass globe (evacuated), submerged to its crushing depth in the deep sea, would suddenly disintegrate and send out a wave motion possessing energy. But, the energy was contained not in the evacuated globe, but in the pressure of the water surrounding the globe.

It might appear that mankind lives in an aether “sea” of tremendous pressure, an aether “sea” of likewise unbelievable energy.

The rest of “Structure of Space” Brown then tries to interpolate his ideas from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic, contemplating the relevance of his theory across the spectrum from intergalactic space to the nucleus of an atom, looking for consistencies between the cosmic and the quantum applications of the idea.

* * *

Structure of Space is the kind document that a lay person — a biographer, for example — can stare at for days at a time and never quite comprehend. I know whereof I speak, because it took me the better part of two weeks to make my way through a document is fewer than forty hand-written pages. As I was not even familiar with the symbols or their meaning myself, I had to have somebody explain “K and µ” to me before I could even begin to embrace Brown’s thought processes. I kept thinking that if I just kept reading, suddenly it would all make sense. I’d read a passage like

The electrogravitational equivalence revealed by the potential of the atmosphere would indicate that an acceleration (or a gravitational field) induces a potential difference (electrical) such that the incorporated mass would tend to move…

…and think, “I’m never gonna get this…” But once I got some help — and continued reading and re-reading — the lights started to come on.

As when Brown starts to expound on the electrical nature of the solar system amid a passage on “Electro-gravitational equilibrium:”

So it can be interpreted that pure space energy is essentially equivalent to electricity and that extra-galactic space is negatively charged. Any gravitational field will possess an electric field, the direction of which is from negative to positive. In this way, gravitational or space potential is inversely related to electrical potential. A freely insulated body assumes an electric charge which is related to the gravitational potential of the space in which it exists.

As an example, in the solar system, the electrical potential of the planets is of negative sign and that of the sun is positive. The more distant the planets are, the more negative.

In a sense, one may imagine the gravitational potential as inversely related to the electric potential.

Brown expands on this theme a little further on:

It has been estimated, as a matter of fact, that the potential of the sun is on the order of a billion volts positive with respect to the Earth. Other investigations (Heaviside, Electromagnetic Theorem) have indicated the potential of the Earth a 400kv negative with respect to the higher ionized layers. By the same token one may predict the electric potential of Venus to be positive with respect to the Earth and that of Mars negative. Both, however, are negative with respect to the sun or positive with respect to Jupiter and Saturn.

It is probable that the potential difference between the sun and its planets increases more slowly as the distance from the sun decreases.

By the same reasoning, the potential of the moon is negative with respect to the Earth, due to is inclusion in the dominating field (gravitational) of the earth.

When I read that I thought… “wait…where have I’ve that before….?”

And then I remembered: Early in our correspondence, Morgan directed me to look up a little-known (outside of his field, anyway) Nobel Laureate named Hannes Alfven.

Hannes Alfven was very much a contemporary of Townsend Brown’s. Born in Sweden in 1908, Alfven was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1970. Though he worked well enough within the academic mainstream most of his life, Alfven was considered something of a heretic among his peers for promoting ideas not unlike those Brown wrote about in “Structure of Space.” According to a biographical sketch published after his death in 1995,

Alfvén was the first to predict (in 1963) the large scale filamentary structure of the universe, a discovery that confounded astrophysicists in 1991 and added to the woes of Big Bang cosmology. Hannes Alfvén has played a central role in the development of several modern fields of physics, including plasma physics, the physics of charged particle beams, and interplanetary and magnetospheric physics. He is also usually regarded as the father of the branch of plasma physics known as magnetohydrodynamics.

Indeed, to contemporary investigators, Hannes Alfven is regarded as the patron saint of the “Electric Cosmos,” an unorthodox school of cosmology that is just beginning to find its way from the outer orbits of scientific doctrine into somewhere closer to the periphery of the mainstream. Advocates of the Electric Cosmos contend that the sun is not just a deep-space fusion reactor, spewing heat and radiation from the thermonuclear cauldron at its core, but is also a celestial dynamo, generating great waves of electrical energy into the cosmos as well.

Once I started sifting through my notes on the subject, I discovered that Linda Brown had speculated that her father and Hannes Alfven may have had more than the kind casual awareness of each other that you might expect of contemporaries in similar fields. When she learned that Alfven held two esteemed academic posts — one as a professor of plasma physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and the other as a professor of electrical engineering at both the University of California, San Diego —Linda surmised that…

…Alfven and Dad were actually working together. That would explain why Dad went through a long thought process about "moving to Sweden" while we were living in the Philadelphia area in 1966. We were all going to move there. Take a freighter or something like that. We wound up in California instead, and Dad spent a lot of time down in San Diego and I had never figured out why there, either. It’s almost as if Alfven, with his connections to UC San Diego was in the "white world" and Dad was in the "black world.” Dad was unable to write some of his findings because they were so "in the black." But this other fellow could…

We will likely never know for sure whether Townsend Brown and Hannes Alfven ever spent any face time together, comparing notes about the Electric Cosmos or the Kinetic Theory of Gravitation. But we can safely conclude that the two had a great deal in common — not the least of which was the way they thought and arrived at their conclusions.

As one biography of Alfven notes, "It is a mark of his genius that his initial understanding came primarily from physical reasoning, the mathematical demonstrations came only after he had, in his minds eye, determined the physical process.” He was not a theoretical scientist like Einstein who dealt strictly with abstractions and found the justifications for novel theories in the extrapolations of higher mathematics. Alfven instead dealt with the observation of physical processes and thought through their causes.

Townsend Brown was the same way, arriving in “Structure of Space” at conclusions based on what he had observed in his own experiments. “Structure of Space” was Brown’s declaration that “this is what I’m seeing in my experiments” and offered a theoretical foundation for the physical results his experiments had produced. This the reverse of the more common sequene of events, where one starts out with a theory and then sets about to prove it experimentally.

One day soon, we may look back and recall that Townsend Brown deserves to be recognized as one of the pioneers of this field. Unfortunately, at the time of which we are presently writing — the early to mid 1940s — Brown was a pioneer working under a cloak of silence, perhaps to protect the lethal secrets embodied in such ideas.

Where others like Hannes Alfven were allowed to publish their ideas because they were only theories, Townsend Brown was kept behind the curtain, because he alone knew how to turn those ideas into actual machines.

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