The scientific study of light has more than 1500 years of illustrious history. Beginning with Euclid and his geometrical study of light beams, the list of luminaries includes the great scientist/mathematicians Descartes, Galileo, Snell, Fermat, Boyle, Hooke, Newton, Euler, Fourier, Bartholinus, Huygens, Malus, Gauss, Laplace, Fresnel, Hamilton, Cauchy, Poisson, Faraday, and Maxwell. From those classical beginnings, the theories have evolved into atomic and quantum mechanical theories of light, developed by the great physicists Planck, Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Born, Dirac, and Einstein. With such brainpower as driving force, the subsequent profound understanding of light should not have been unexpected.
The first mathematical treatments of light however quickly became mired in an ineluctable æther; that is, the early physical theory of action at a distance required the presence of an all-pervasive, elastic, and very subtle material to serve as the medium through which forces could transfer their effect. Simply put, although often not easy to apply, the interaction between two separate bodies is determined by a mechanical transfer of force acting along a line connecting the bodies, that force weakening with the distance between the bodies. The action at a distance theory could successfully describe many observations in common experience, the most cogent example being sea waves. But this “æthereal” view of Nature confounded even its proponents when faced with ...