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William Gilbert - De Magnete, De Mundo and selected extracts

de magnete gilbert graphic Homepage . William Gilbert . Rene Descartes . Isaac Newton . Albert Einstein .......... Gilbert's De Magnete ......... General Image Theory de magnete gilbert graphic

picture of Gilbert nanorobot atoms

William Gilbert's 'De Magnete' was written about 1583 when there was little if any science and anything half scientific risked imprisonment or execution, so its publication was delayed 'almost 18 years' till 1600 and many copies were sold with Book 6 backing Earth rotation and Copernicus cut out. Its two standard english translations were not done till about 300 years later, but even the translators admitted were very problematic. Some well selected extracts from the P.Fleury Mottelay translation can be read below, and the full S.P.Thompson translation at De Magnete. Or see the better improved 2015 English translation currently free online On The Magnet also in print as A4 book or ebook or combined with New Science Theory.

Gilbert's 'active matter' physics with its robot atoms emitting and responding to signals is very unlike other physics theories, and Newton very successfully used its 'attraction physics' basics so it may still merit some consideration. It was certainly bare-bones theory, needing some addition, but Gilbert certainly believed that it could provably explain magnetism, electricity, gravity and all the basics of the physical universe. And Newton seems to have privately agreed. Gilbert's second draft work De Mundo was not published till 1651 but tried to deal with the theory more in expanding on its astronomy, tides, weather and chemistry implications. Showing how his Magnetical or Attraction Physics could be a successful signal-response Theory Of Everything.

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William Gilbert's 'De Magnete' - P.Fleury Mottelay translation extracts.

That electric and other attractions are responses to signals and are not any kind of pushing.
(Book 2.2 pp.89-92 on rubbed-amber static electricity)

And that amber does not attract the air is thus proved : take a very slender wax candle giving a very small clear flame ; bring a broad flat piece of amber or jet, carefully prepared and rubbed thoroughly, within a couple of fingers' distance from it ; now an amber that will attract bodies from a considerable radius will cause no motion in the flame, though such motion would be inevitable if the air were moving, for the flame would follow the current of air. The amber attracts from as far as the effluvia are sent out; but as the body comes nearer the amber its motion is quickened, the forces pulling it being stronger, as is the case also in magnetic bodies and in all natural motion ; and the motion is not due to rarefaction of the air or to an action of the air impelling the body to take the vacated place ; for in that case the body would be pulled but not held, since, at first, approaching bodies would even be repelled just as the air itself would be: yet in fact the air is not in the least repelled even at the instant that the rubbed amber is brought near after very rapid friction. An effluvium is exhaled by the amber ....... A breath, then, proceeding from a body that is a concretion of moisture or aqueous fluid, reaches the body that is to be attracted, and as soon as it is reached it is united to the attracting electric; and a body in touch with another body by the peculiar radiation of effluvia makes of the two one: united, the two come into most intimate harmony, and that is what is meant by attraction. This unity is, according to Pythagoras, the principle, through participation, in which a thing is said to be one. For as no action can be performed by matter save by contact, these electric bodies do not appear to touch, but of necessity something is given out from the one to the other to come into close contact therewith, and be a cause of incitation to it.

and later (Book 2.2 pp.96-97)

The effluvia spread in all directions...... hold and take up straws, chaff, twigs, till their force is spent or vanishes; and then these small bodies, being set free again, are attracted by the earth itself and fall to the ground. The difference (distinction) between electric and magnetic bodies is this: all magnetic bodies come together by their joint forces (mutual strength); electric bodies attract the electric only, and the body attracted undergoes no modification through its own native force, but is drawn freely under impulsion in the ratio of its matter (composition). Bodies are attracted to electrics in a right line toward the centre of electricity: a loadstone approaches another loadstone on a line perpendicular to the circumference only at the poles, elsewhere obliquely and transversely, and adheres at the same angles. The electric motion is the motion of coacervation of matter ; the magnetic is that of arrangement and order. The matter of the earth's globe is brought together and held together by itself electrically. The earth's globe is directed and revolves magnetically; it both coheres and, to the end it may be solid, is in its interior fast joined.

Magnetism is by speed of light or faster signals with some effective signal range or distance. (Book 2.7 pp.123-124)

The magnetic force is given out in all directions around the body; around the terrella it is given out spherically; around loadstones of other shapes unevenly and less regularly. But the sphere of influence does not persist, nor is the force that is diffused through the air permanent or essential; the loadstone simply excites magnetic bodies situate at convenient distance. And as light - so opticians tell us - arrives instantly in the same way, with far greater instantaneousness, the magnetic energy is present within the limits of its forces; and because its act is far more subtile than light, and it does not accord with non-magnetic bodies, it has no relations with air, water, or other non-magnetic body; neither does it act on magnetic bodies by means of forces that rush upon them with any motion whatever, but being present solicits bodies that are in amicable relations to itself. And as a light impinges on whatever confronts it, so does the loadstone impinge upon a magnetic body and excites it. And as light does not remain in the atmosphere above the vapors and effluvia nor is reflected back by those spaces, so the magnetic ray is caught neither in air nor in water. The forms of things are in an instant taken in by the eye or by glasses; so does the magnetic force seize magnetic bodies. In the absence of light bodies and reflecting bodies, the forms of objects are neither apprehended nor reflected ; so, too, in the absence of magnetic objects neither is the magnetic force imbibed nor is it again given back to the magnetic body. But herein does the magnetic energy surpass light, - that it is not hindered by any dense or opaque body, but goes out freely and diffuses its force every whither.

Magnetism and gravity involve control signals that are more penetrating than electric charge signals. (Book 2.16 pp.135-136)

On the other hand, in all the bodies that have a material cause of attraction (eg. amber, jet, sulphur) action is hindered by interposition of a body (as paper, leaves, glass etc.). and the way is obstructed and blocked so that that which is exhaled cannot reach the light body that is to be attracted. But coition and movement of the earth and the loadstone, though corporeal hinderances be interposed, are shown also in the efficiencies of other chief bodies that possess the primary form. The moon, more than the rest of the heavenly bodies, is in accord with the inner parts of the earth because of her nearness and her likeness of form. The moon causes the movement of the waters and the tides of ocean ; makes the seashore to be covered and again exposed twice between the time she passes a given point of the heavens and reaches it again in the earth's daily rotation : this movement of the waters is produced and the seas rise and fall no less when the moon is below the horizon and in the nethermost heavens, than when she is high above the horizon. Thus the whole mass of the earth, when the moon is beneath the earth, does not prevent the action of the moon; and thus in certain positions of the heavens, when the moon is beneath the horizon, the seas nearest to our countries are moved, and, being stirred by the lunar power (though not struck by rays nor illumined by light), they rise, approach with great impetus, and recede. Of the reason of this we will treat elsewhere : suffice it here just to have touched the threshold of the question. Hence, here on earth, naught can be held aloof from the magnetic control of the earth and the loadstone, and all magnetic bodies are brought into orderly array by the supreme terrene form, and loadstone and iron sympathize with loadstone though solid bodies stand between.

Magnetism involves signals similar to light. (Book 5.11 pp307)

As in many other demonstrations, so in this most indisputable diagram of the forces magnetical effused by the form, we grasp the true efficient cause. And this (the form), though it is subject to none of our senses and is therefore less perceptible to the intellect, now appears manifest and visible before our very eyes through this formal act, which proceeds from it as light proceeds from a source of light.

Bodies respond to magnetic signals automatically and not by temperament (Book 2.3 pp.102)

For of what use can temperament be in magnetic movements that are calculable, definite, constant, comparable to the movements of the stars

Bodies need no senses or thoughts to respond to magnetic signals (Book 5.12 pp.311-312)

The human soul uses reason, sees many things, investigates many more ; but, however well equipped, it gets light and the beginnings of knowledge from the outer senses, as from beyond a barrier - hence the very many ignorances and foolishnesses whereby our judgments and our life-actions are confused, so that few or none do rightly and duly order their acts. But the earth's magnetic force and the formate soul or animate form of the globes, that are without senses, but without error and without the injuries of ills and diseases, exert an unending action, quick, definite, constant, directive, motive, imperant, harmonious, through the whole mass of matter .... Yet these movements in nature's founts are not produced by thoughts or reasonings or conjectures, like human acts, which are contingent, imperfect, and indeterminate, but connate in them are reason, knowledge, science, judgement, whence proceed acts positive and definite from the very foundations and beginnings of the world

Planets rotate and orbit in response to signals from the Sun (Book 6.4 pp.333-334)

The earth therefore rotates, and by a certain law of necessity, and by an energy that is innate, manifest, conspicuous, revolves in a circle toward the sun; through this motion it shares in the solar energies and influences; and its verticity holds it in this motion lest it stray into every region of the sky. The sun (chief inciter of action in nature), as he causes the planets to advance in their courses, so, too, doth bring about this revolution of the globe by sending forth the energies of his spheres - his light being effused .... So the earth seeks and seeks the sun again, turns from him, follows him, by her wondrous magnetical energy. ..... And such are the movements in the rest of the planets, the motion and light of other bodies especially urging. .... Thus each of the moving globes has circular motion, either in a great circular orbit or on its own axis or in both ways.

Bodies mutually attract in proportion to their mass (De Mundo....)

"The force which emanates from the moon reaches to the earth, and, in like manner, the 'magnetical virtue' of the earth pervades the region of the moon: both correspond and conspire by the joint action of both, according to a proportion and conformity of motions, but the earth has more effect in consequence of its superior mass ; the earth attracts and repels the moon, and the moon, within certain limits, the earth ; NOT so as to make the bodies come together as magnetic bodies do, but so that they may go on in a continuous course."

(There is now a good Lancaster University translateable online version of the original Latin 'De Mundo' at - De Mundo)

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Translating Gilbert's 'De Magnete' and 'De Mundo'.

At school myself having English as a first language and moving to concentrating on science, the other languages that I was taught were Gaelic, French, Scientific German, Scientific Russian, Scientific Greek and Scientific Latin.

Translating fiction literature must prioritise an attempt to conserve writing style as well as general meaning, and for old literature this will often involve conserving the flavour of the period in which that fiction literature was written. But translating original scientific work has to prioritise conserving its science meaning, so that writing style and period flavour must then be very much a secondary concern.

The two late translations of Gilbert's Latin De Magnete were unfortunately done more as translations of fiction literature, losing much of the science meaning. Even the title is poorly translated as in De Magnete's 'physiologia' being translated as 'philosophy' or 'physiology' when it should translate more accurately as 'natural science' or 'science'. Gilbert noted in its preface that he was assigning new specific scientific meanings to some words, and one of the chief words of his science is the word 'effluvium' or plural 'effluvia'. The only use of the word effluvium in science today is as meaning 'waste emission', but Gilbert certainly never used it with that meaning but used it with either the general meaning as 'emission' or with a science meaning in his 'magnetical' science as 'signal emission'. This term did have a range of uses in Gilbert's time, but is simply not translated in either the Mottelay or Thompson translations, though in translating Gilbert's science for today 'effluvium' certainly needs to be translated appropriately as maybe 'emission' or 'emission (signal emission)' since postulated natural magnetic, electric and gravitational signal emissions is clearly what Gilbert uses 'effluvium' to signify in his physics. But he was fully aware of and rather confusingly sometimes also used 'effluvia' with its other more general meaning, as in 'grosser effluvia' versus his physical forces 'rarer effluvia' though by that he was undoubtedly as elsewhere more dishinguishing 'corporeal' versus 'non-corporeal' emissions or 'particulate' versus 'energy' emissions.

In his De Magnete 'Definitions of Terms' Gilbert does not include his term 'effluvia' nor some of his other basic physics terms, taking their contextual uses as sufficiently explaining them. That Gilbert's is a non-push signal physics is clearly shown in his referring to magnetic action avoiding the more popular saying that magnets 'magnetisare' (or magnetize) for saying they 'excitatum' (or elicit response) - and Newton later did the same. Gilbert's physics likewise favours mutual action and more general actionlike or causelike terms over the single-actor Cartesian pushlike or forcelike terms. And when Gilbert's science refers to corporeal effluvia and non-corporeal effluvia it clearly means particle signal emissions and non-particle energy signal emissions. Again the two standard translations done to date fail to give clearly the intended science meanings.

Gilbert's De Magnete used several Latin terms that could translate as 'magnetic' or 'magnetical', but it seems clear that it is better translated simply with 'magnetic' as involving actual magnets and magnetism and 'magnetical' as a broader meaning of 'magnetism-related' or 'magnetic-like' as 'magnetic or electric or gravitational' - as to meaning 'attraction-physics-related' or 'remote-control-physics-related' or 'signal-physics-related'. Hence the only recorded English known of Gilbert is one letter to William Barlow that included calling mathematician Giovanni Francesco Sagredo (1571-1620) "a great magnetical man" though Sagredo seemingly at most aided Galileo and Sarpi in their replicating Gilbert's magnetic experiments but had studied De Magnete, and chiefly was a friend and maybe patron of the young Galileo for a time. (and whom Galileo made one of his characters in his 'Dialogues concerning Two New Sciences',1632) One clear example of its use as 'magnetic-like' is seen in the last De Mundo quote given above here, which many wrongly took as Gilbert claiming that Earth's tides and planetary orbits were caused by magnetism. Gilbert stated that he disapproved of using the term 'attraction' in physics as at the time it was commonly taken as signifying a simple pulling or pushing while his experiments showed more at work.

Gilbert coined the science term Electricity which stuck in physics and so needs no translation, but some of his terms like 'coition' did not stick and so had no physics meaning but still were not translated. Gilbert's 'coacervationis' got translated as the meaningless 'coacervation' when it should better be 'aggregation', and his 'coition' should maybe be 'coition (mutual attraction aggregation)'. De Magnete at times shortens the phrase translated as 'orbe of virtue' to just 'orbe' perhaps better translated as 'sphere of action (signal range)' and just 'range'. And he also confusingly used the term 'versorium' both for the magnetised Compass (a magnetism indicator) and also for his own invention the non-magnetised Electroscope (an electricity indicator) not clearly distinguished in translations. Gilbert used various Latin terms for Philosophy, Natural Philosophy and Science but too often his 'Natural Philosophy' is translated as 'Philosophy' and at times his 'Philosophy' really means 'Science' or 'Theory' as in 'Magnetic Philosophy'.

Gilbert's science is much concerned with forces and their effects on the motion of masses, and especially on remote-action forces - Magnetic, Electric and Gravitational in that order. He used 'moles' to mean 'mass' and 'mole gravata' to mean 'inertial mass' or 'what resists motion change' as did Kepler, but this is sometimes wrongly translated as eg 'bulk' or 'volume'. But certainly Gilbert did use some other words of his time problematically, like maybe form, anima and spirit, sometimes maybe as new science terms but sometimes maybe with their philosophy meanings or common meanings, so translation of some terms in Gilbert's works must remain uncertain. Hence the word 'form' in Gilbert often means simply 'shape', and in noting that physical forces are spherical he is making a real scientific point (in some respects perhaps mistakenly). But he did at times use 'form' as some at the time used 'spirit' as basically meaning energy and for his science he used 'form' more like modern electricity uses 'charge' as what determines the type of force (positive or negative) that a body has but for Gilbert distinguishing the magnetic, electric and gravitational forces. So bodies can have a magnetic form, an electric form or/and a gravitational form allowing them to emit and respond to the appropriate force signals - but Gilbert himself saw this applying to electricity only in some lesser way. This use is perhaps more in line with Aristotle usage, where an objects 'Form' was basically how its matter is organised or shaped to make it the kind of object that it is and its typical activity. (and a persons 'Soul' to Aristotle was basically the 'Form' of the person). Hence in his 1605 Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon wrote “When we speak of forms, we mean nothing else but those laws and determinations of the pure act which sets in order and constitutes a simple nature. The form of heat and the law of heat are the same thing.”

If early science Latin could be tricky, so also could early science English. Hence in England in William Gilbert's time the English term 'attraction' to most implied a push-physics action but by Isaac Newton's time the English term 'attraction' to most implied a Gilbert-physics action and Newton himself said that he used it to cover either type of action. Because some in his day used the term 'attract' to basically mean 'pull' as he noted, Gilbert also additionally used other terms besides 'attract' like 'allure', 'incite', 'excite' and his own 'coition' to clarify that his physics involved bodies responses to emitted signals and did not involve any mechanical pullings (or pushings). But this maybe did not so greatly clarify for every reader.

While the major physical forces seem to act spherically and produce only rectilinear motion towards or away from their centre of force, Gilbert noted that magnetism has opposite poles or verticity and produces orientation or rotation motions also which in a no-drag vacuum might give a persistent spin. It may be of some interest that only the sphere and the disc can have motion without it changing the space location that they occupy, and that uniform rotation/spin motion cannot itself be distinguished from rest by an external observer if the parts of the sphere or disc are not distinguishable. But Descartes and other physics theory largely proceeded to ignore non-rectilinear motion, though any snooker player could see ignoring spin as a big mistake. Gilbert has to date been almost impossible to study for any modern physics student or physicist, and does really need some much improved science translation.

Isaac Newton's Principia also suffered some similar Latin translation problems, especially in many places where he refers to Gilbertian attraction physics. Hence his Principia use of the term 'virtus' in Definition V11 was translated reasonably by Andrew Motte in 1729 as the science term 'force'. But Newton's use of the same term 'virtus' in Book 2 Section V Scholium was translated less reasonably for 1729 by Motte as the term 'virtue' which in science was later displaced by the term 'power', both strictly meaning the ability to generate a force. But both Newton and Gilbert did at times stretch their use of Latin. Where Gilbert's term 'effluvia' has to date always been untranslated remaining 'effluvia', Newton's use of a Latin equivalent in relation to gravity has always been translated but as the non-science term 'spirits emitted' rather than a more scientifically meaningful 'energy emissions' or 'signal emissions'. Yet it is very clear that Newton actually meant by it non-particle emissions that give power to or elicit responses from other bodies.

Gilbert's 'De Mundo'.

Galileo owned and studied a copy of Gilbert's De Magnete, though possibly without its Book 6, received from an Italian philosophy professor. But before its publication, something at least of some of his De Mundo was also known to at least Thomas Harriot and Francis Bacon - perhaps directly or indirectly through two manuscripts added to Prince Henry's library between 1603 and 1608 with one seemingly later transferred to the King's Library of the British Museum. It is unclear if the two manuscripts were similar or were both the full De Mundo like the current King's Library version. It seems that Francis Bacon (favoured by king James the First above Gilbert from 1603) must have got one of the Prince Henry's library copies, partial or complete, and only on his death in 1626 it passed to Sir William Boswell who (maybe using also some other manuscript) got it published in Holland in 1651. Between 1603 and 1651 England was politically much less settled than it was under Elizabeth. It is known that Thomas Harriot told Johannes Kepler about Gilbert's as then unpublished De Mundo manuscript in a 1608 letter and that Kepler requested a copy of it - though it is not known if he got a copy.

In 1965 Sister Suzanne Kelly got published in Amsterdam a facsimile of Gilbert's 1651-published De Mundo, being a good facsimile of an original copy of that held by Amsterdam University. An unusual case of a Catholic Nun helping keep alive a good bit of physics theory science, after hobby geneticist Gregor Mendel a Catholic Monk unusually helped found the science of genetics that was to underpin evolution theory science - early scientists of course suffered extreme oppression especially from the Catholic church and governments that it controlled. Suzanne Kelly's study of the De Mundo unpublished manuscript held by the King's Library of the British Museum led her to conclude that its Latin differs substantially from the published book Latin - but she could not establish the significance of the differences and the British Museum version remains unpublished still. The differences in Latin noted by Suzanne Kelly maybe suggest different translators into Latin of the same writing by Gilbert in English ? She also published a separate 142 page commentary on her facimile Gilbert's De Mundo, sometimes called Volume 2 of her De Mundo. And see a paper by her on this at Suzanne Kelly (Much of the writings left by early English scientists William Gilbert and Isaac Newton are still not 'open science', either still being entirely unpublished or being text only published in image form and not published as more useable text.)

Gilbert's posthumous 1651 De Mundo has in 2020 still been published in Latin only, though Dr Stephen Pumfrey and Dr Ian Stewart have for some time planned translating it into English. They have now put a good translateable online version of a London University copy of the 1965 De Mundo facsimile at - De Mundo.

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Some energy questions.

When some assign eg 'gravitational potential energy' to a body, it may be asked what is the gravitational potential energy of a stationary body half way between two planets of equal mass ? Or what happens to the energy of the body if it is moved closer to one of those planets ?

In any gravity theory where bodies are accelerated by external particle momentum being added to them (as from Descartes ether motion) or by external field energy being added to them (as from Maxwell/Einstein fields) them assigning 'gravitational potential energy' to bodies seems purely notional and not actually existing in the body but only existing notionally. An external energy source might not then add such energy as kinetic energy, not itself lose any energy to the body - but do so only when actual acceleration work is done on the body.

But in a gravity theory where bodies accelerate themselves as by emitting or converting part of their own mass in response to signals (as a William Gilbert style active-matter theory) then gravitational potential energy would actually does exist in the body itself ? Then actual gravitational acceleration would involve a body losing some energy to its environs, unless signals also triggered some endothermic reaction drawing energy from the environs ?

So if total energy is given by E=mc² then body mass when a body is gravitationally accelerated, should maybe slightly increase with an external energy theory but slightly decrease with an active-matter theory ?

What exactly are signals ?

Basically, physical signals are any physical properties of (or physical emissions from) an entity that some other entity can in any manner respond to and so can act as forces - and originating entities can be termed emitters and affected entities can be termed receivers or detectors. An attraction signal physics necessarily includes signal emission, signal transmission, signal reception and signal response, possibly subject to some affects by the environs giving variation in some physical signal forces. Emitters that have mental abilities may send intentional signals that may be termed messages, and receivers that have mental abilities can view signals as being intentional messages or as being unintentional information or data.

Any signal emitter or receiver that has mental abilities may also be able to produce and respond to non-physical or mental signals (as 'ideas'), and produce or respond to physical signal representations of such (as ie 'words').

William Gilbert's signal physics theory is concerned with only physical emission signals, chiefly physical force signals, though it could maybe be extended to deal with more than that. If light was a physical force signal then Gilbert-Newton physics would be as concerned with light's emission and detector responses to light as with light itself. If physical objects can respond to gravity signals then they are physical observers of gravity, but only if an object has mental ability can it be a mental observer. Einstein's relativity physics of course failed to consider physical observers at all, maybe making it only a mental relativity physics.

It can be taken that a Gilbert-Newton physical observer uses itself as its only reference frame.
A programmed mental observer may be programmed to use any one reference frame, or be programmed to conditionally choose from some set of reference frames.
A free-will mental Einstein observer can itself choose to use any alternative reference frames.
(But it may be difficult to distinguish some conditional choosing from free-will, and so some programmed observers from free-will observers.)

NOTE. Electrically charged bodies, in addition to producing charge signals or fields, seem to produce electromagnetic radiation when absolutely accelerated but not when only relatively accelerated. Hence charged-body electromagnetic radiation seems to be produced only by acceleration in the reference frame of the particle itself - which seems predicted properly only in a Gilbert-Newton signal physics theory or a valid image-theory of such theory. If some radiation emission events are caused by prior radiation reception events then their preferred frames of reference may be linked. It seems necessary to conclude that every physical signal radiation event has a unique reference frame, and this could be called the Reference Frame Exclusion Principle ?

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