What is electricity?

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I've recently been trying to come up with a novice level discussion explaining "What is electricity?" and I kept messing up because of a problem I've had since I studied EE. I know a lot about what electricity does, but I don't have a clue as to what it is. And IMHO neither does any honest person.

About midway through my EE program I realized that nobody knows what electricity is, that all we were being taught were some extended metaphors that weren't particualarly accurate and a lot of very accurate math that fits the observations that just don't make sense. This was a very uneasy time for me in that I wasn't sure wether I was just not getting it or if the professors were running some kind of scam. Later, as I got more Physics I realized that my discomfort was actually a reasonable response to this topic. The concept embedded in the book title: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" helped most of all, and now I am comfortable with the realization that my problem is with what constitutes authentic knowledge, that is: what it means to 'understand' something. I understood the stuff as well as anybody, I just didn't beleive that I understood it. And this lack of belief nearly caused me to quit the program.

My problem now is how to do a quick introduction to electricity without falling all over myself with my philosophical ruminations about the nature of knowledge. Normal folks want an idea why you need a 300 ohm resistor in series with an LED, not a tortured soul epistemological ramble. But, I also think lots of folks get an introductory view of electricity, think they don't undestand it because the are too dense and then quit trying. But I want to get across the point that 'not getting it' is actually getting it. I keep myself awake at night thinking about this kind of stuff. Anyway, I just ran across a 50 year old explanation of 'what is electricity' in the book Basic Electronic by the US Navy and was surprised to see that they discussed the very point that I was stumbling over, and did an excellent IMHO job of covering it. Here is what they say where I've put what are the key concepts to me in bold:

Quote:
What is electricity?
The word "electric' is actually a Greek-derived word meaning AMBER. Amber is a translucent (semitransparent) yellowish mineral, which, in the natural form, is composed of fossilized resin. The ancient Greeks used the words "electric force" in referring to the mysterious forces of attraction and repulsion exhibited by amber when it was rubbed with a cloth. They did not understand the fundamental nature of this force. They could not answer the question, "What is electricity?". This question is still unanswered. Though electricity might be as "that force which moves electrons," this would be the same as defining an engine as " that force which moves an automobile." The effect has been described, not the force.

Presently little more is known than the ancient Greeks knew about the fundamental nature of electricity, but tremendous strides have been made in harnessing and using it. Elaborate theories concerning the nature and behavior of electricity have been advanced, and have gained wide acceptance because of their apparent truth and demonstrated workability.

From time to time various scientists have found that electricity seems to behave in a constant and predictable manner in given situations, or when subjected to given conditions. These scientists, such as Faraday, Ohm, Lenz, and Kirchhoff, to name only a few, observed and described the predictable characteristics of electricity and electric current in the form of certain rules. These rules are often referred to as " laws." Thus, though electricity itself has never been clearly defined, its predictable nature and easily used form of energy ahs made it one of the most widely used power sources in modern time. By learning the rules, or laws, applying to the behavior of electricity, and by understanding the methods of producing, controlling, and using it, electricity may be "learned" without ever having determined its fundamental identity.

So question one: does anyone have any newer information that would contradict anything in this statement?

And question two: did anybody else find this a conceptual hurdle to get over?

Smiley

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Hello, Smiley -

Well, as a guy with multiple degrees in Physics and Electrical Engineering, I would have to say that you are at least somewhat correct. What you have stumbled into is a philosophical quagmire generated largely by a very fuzzy word. That word is "electricity". That word simply has no clear, widely recognized, technical definition.

We know, pretty much, what electrons are. We know a lot of things about how they behave. We know how they "flow" in various materials. We know about the fields which their presence or motion create and we know a lot about the properties and behaviour of those fields. If we did NOT know these things, we would not have radio communications, electron tubes or semiconductors, circuits, or much else.

I think the hang up is that the name "electricity" is a hang-over from the late 18th century. The understanding of the physics and technolgy of the manipulation of charges has grown far beyond the concept of electricity, but it has hung on in popular culture. So, we are left with a word that nobody can really define.

In its early days, "electricity" referred to what was thought to be a fluid-like substance, much like ether that was used to explain the propagation of radio waves. While ether was demonstrated, pretty conclusively, not to exist, the same is not entirely so with electricity. While thinking of electricity as a physical fluid has gone out of vogue, hydraulic analogies to various electrical phenomona still abound. I think that the common use of these anologies foster the continued popular concept of electricity as some sort of fluid.

So I suggest that you don't get hung up over trying to define something that is essentially undefinable. Electrical Engineering is the technology of manipulating charges and their associated fields. That is good enough, for me.

In short, I propose that you abandon the term "electricity" and choose something else that is definable. One candidate might be "electrical circuits".

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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I have also pondered this myself, i am currently doing my engineering degree. i have 2 answers, which are both purely opinions, i have no reasoning for for them, just puts my mind to ease.

1. electricity is just a name to a phenomenon that early scientist could not explain. kinda like "Aether". just a name to what was not understood.

2. i came up with this theory (opinion) after reading an article saying, that no one can explain what "life" or a "life force" is. thus my theory is that electricity is that unknown, unmeasurable life force.

like i said i have no reason for these explanations except to put my mind to ease, other wise i to stay up all night thinking about these kind of things. to show how messed up my mind really is, i once spent days trying to come up with a definition of the word "the", yes there is a definition in the dictionary but i am still not convinced.

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Electricity and the electron may very well be abstractions. Perhaps there are better and more concise theories to be discovered that give a better description as to the real nature of electricity and what we call an electron.

There might not really be a real electron as we know it today, it might not actually move from a higher potential to a lower one but it just looks that way to us.

I have never seen a picture of an electron, I need something as primal as a picture of a little ball bouncing around to convince myself that everything I learned so far is a reasonably accurate description of reality and not just a mish mash of abstractions which hide our ignorance of what the universe really is about.

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I think science tells you how to describe phenomena
and to answer questions of the type "What will happen
if...". I think there are only philosophical answers
to the "what is.." type of questions.

If you know what sort of "what happens if.."
questions you want to answer, you know how far
you have to develop the theory. Going from
the more simple type asOhms law for DC circuits
you may need relativity theory or quantum physics for
more advanced questions.

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Hi Smiley,

I believe that you must have the guts to make a question like that, but you win the game because of the way you place it.

Looking at your photo (I think it must be you) I see a man that must have spend a lot of hours of working in the labs. In your age you must have seen at least one electron with your open eyes.

Here in Greece after some years of work people say "f... them all, I am going for fishing", like my father does in his 65 now.

Using these words I am trying to tell you that philosophy is a good activity, but after all for things that cannot "frazzle" the brain. Things like how a tree grows up only with water on the same position of earth, how beautiful it is, or even which kind of ground bait does "my lovely" gilthead likes more. You know things like that.

To tell you the truth, I never imagine that the word "electricity" hasn't defined yet.

If someone would ask me your question I would answer like this:
"Electricity is just a science that tries to describe the reason that makes electrons flow through meterials. And after all our brain understanding spectrum is too young and short to feel what NATURE is. If it could........it would be too bad......."

Michael.

User of:
IAR Embedded Workbench C/C++ Compiler
Altium Designer

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Joe!

Somewhat a side note, but since it fits the topic and I know you are interested in writing to make things both understandeable, interesting and fun: Have you read "Ther are no electrons: Electronics For Earthlings" by Kenn Amdahl? This is the most odd and also the most amusing take on the subject that I have ever come across.

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"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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Well, I don't think electricity is all that mysterious. The way I see it, there are jillions of electrons jiggling under enormous forces that almost exactly balance. If you could freeze time and look at the static potentials, each point has a 3D gradient which, starting time again, the electron tends to move along. Gauss had all that figured out.

But once electrons start to move another factor arises which is much more mysterious, althought not incomprehensibly so. Because of the finite speed of light, and the fact that it appears the same to all observers, even tiny electron observers, electrons in relative motion also interact with an apparent transverse magnetic "force", which is really a purely electrostatic force, as a transformation to an observer in the Coulomb gauge shows. Hence the magnetic "force" is ~v/c weaker than the actual enormous electrostatic force. Maxwell figured most of that out, and Einstein the rest.

Another wonderful thing happens when electrons are in a periodic structure such as a silicon lattice. Since momentum and energy are conserved the allowable electron motions concentrate into discrete bands, and the energy and momentum differences between these bands can be exploited to make very useful electronic components such as the transistor. I have two theories on how that was figured out, the first involves hypothesizing someone smarter than Gauss, Maxwell, or Einstein; the second that integrated circuits were discovered in an alien spacecraft that landed on Earth :)

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Quote:
The way I see it, there are jillions of electrons jiggling under enormous forces that almost exactly balance. If you could freeze time and look at the static potentials, each point has a 3D gradient which, starting time again, the electron tends to move along. Gauss had all that figured out.

Until you do things like constrain the movement to a single dimension material:
http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/ALS-spinons-holons.html

Quote:
Maxwell figured most of that out,

What most people refer to as "Maxwell's Equations" is actually the work of Heaviside.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Heaviside
A few important points might have been lost in Heaviside's "simplification".

A Ridiculously Brief History of Electricity and Magnetism Mostly from E. T. Whittaker's A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity
http://maxwell.byu.edu/~spencerr/phys442/history.pdf

Problem with that paper is that it stops in 1905 with Einstein. A few modern physicists think Relativity is only a subset of something, and they don't agree on what. They have a leaning to a "Dynamic Aether", rather than the old "Static Aether". Whittaker's papers are worth reading, as are T.J.J.See's. http://www.rexresearch.com/see/see.htm

Things continue to advance since 1905, for example:

E. W. Silvertooth, "Experimental detection of the ether," Speculations in Science and Technology, vol. 10, no. 1, May 1986.

Magnetic Monopoles Detected In A Real Magnet For The First Time
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163725.htm

http://arxiv.org/ is always an interesting place to find modern papers and abstracts as well.

The bottom line is that the answer to "What is electricity?" is that no one still knows. Which doesn't mean we can't use the effects to build useful gadgets...

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bpaddock wrote:

What most people refer to as "Maxwell's Equations" is actually the work of Heaviside.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver_Heaviside

In the USA J.W.Gibbs is generally given the lion's share of credit. It is true that few today would have the time or inclination to study electrostatics without the elegance and apparent simplification of vector calculus.

I've never seen the need to postulate magnetic monopoles, but de gustibus non est disputandum.

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I think Maxwell was the first to include the
"displacement current" into the equations. Adding
this term made the wave-like solutions possible
which made the speed of light appear in the equations.

I own a German edition of Maxwell's treatise.

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Solution 1: For anyone that disagrees with your take on it, apply some serrated clamps and repeatedly invoke the mysterious force until the doubter accedes.

Solution 2: Fuggeddaboudit. I guess I'm not a deep thinker. And there is certainly a place for the deep thinking and we need physicists and the like. But why should that have much bearing on becoming an EE or electrician or a lineman for the county?

I'm an old farm boy, and have a stint as a dairy farmer in a past life. While some biology/botany/agronomy certainly doesn't hurt, should I have questioned the career choice every day because I don't understand exactly how a seed germinates at the enzyme or similar level? It never bothered me; if my seeds were sufficiently fertile and planted under the proper conditions I'd get an expected germination rate. I never lost any sleep over which enzymes were involved.

I have only a rudimentary knowledge of DNA and RNA and zygotes and the like. But I know that if I introduce bull semen (naturally or artificially) to the cow's egg during the fertile time that there is a high percentage that I will be presented with a calf 9+ months later.

I have no idea how mammary glands make milk. I don't know (or really care) which hormones and the like are needed to continue lactation. It was good enough to know what conditions of care needed to be taken for good milk production.

I was also ignorant during that career without knowing exactly how the welder repaired the broken metal piece, or how the ensilation process worked for corn or alfalfa, and undoubtedly many many more things. It never bothered me.

Although I learned my computers from the insider out many years ago, I'd have no idea how the gates etc. of the AVR's ADC theoretically work. But I use it in nearly every app.

Lee

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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Theusch: Nobody is saying that an engineer should know everything and all the theory behind everything in his field, but it certainly can't hurt.

There are pointy haired bald people.
Time flies when you have a bad prescaler selected.

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Quote:

Nobody is saying that an engineer should know everything and all the theory behind everything in his field, but it certainly can't hurt.

Are you sure? :wink:

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"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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OK, I'm not saying :-) Sorry for the generalisation.

There are pointy haired bald people.
Time flies when you have a bad prescaler selected.

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When the apple hit Newton on the head, he must have gotten all philosophical about 'How does this strange force that attracts us to the earth work?' and started trying to describe it mathematically. So while the smart guys are working on that, us engineers will just call it gravity and keep our seat belts fastened when cornering near 1G.

Imagecraft compiler user

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And we still do not know what gravity is. (Or did someone find a graviton?)

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"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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Johan has raised an interesting point and probably an apt comparison.

We know even less about what "gravity" is that we do "electricity. One difference, perhaps not a small one, is that gravity is a specific force that obeys certain rules (e.g. inverse square law, proportional to the product of the masses).

Electricity is not even a specific force, If I say "I am going to study electricity", what do I study? I study the forces created by the presence of electrons and their movement and how electrons respond to those forces and I study how to manipulate the flow of electrons (with wires, switches, generators, transistors, resistors, etc).

So, that must be what "electricity" is!

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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If we figure out how electricity, magnetism, gravity, and the nuclear weak and strong forces work, do we get a prize?

Imagecraft compiler user

Last Edited: Sun. Sep 6, 2009 - 08:52 PM
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dak664 wrote:
I have two theories on how that was figured out, the first involves hypothesizing someone smarter than Gauss, Maxwell, or Einstein; the second that integrated circuits were discovered in an alien spacecraft that landed on Earth :)

As someone who has flown into Area 51 let me just say, "You may be correct!" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_J._Corso And that's all I have to say.

Greg

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bobgardner wrote:
If we figure out how electricity, magnetism, gravity, and the nuclear weak and strong forces work, do we get a prize?

Each one for itself, we have come a substantial way.

Understanding them all together in a coherent way (combining particle physics and cosmology into one, if you like) is the challenge. GUT, strings, 11 dimensions, new ring at CERN and upgrade of FermiLab..

The person(s) that nails it will likely get all the prizes there are.

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No guarantees, but if we don't report problems they won't get much of  a chance to be fixed! Details/discussions at link given just above.

 

"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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I found out and understood what electicity is at the age of 3 or 4 when I unscrewed the top off a light switch and started to touch the bright metal bits inside.. :(

John Samperi

Ampertronics Pty. Ltd.

www.ampertronics.com.au

* Electronic Design * Custom Products * Contract Assembly

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well that explains your energetic personality!

[I seem to remind myself about once a year through accidental contact]

Writing code is like having sex.... make one little mistake, and you're supporting it for life.

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JohanEkdahl wrote:
And we still do not know what gravity is. (Or did someone find a graviton?)
But here is the thing that disturbs me most about 'knowing': we do know what gravity is. We have an intuitive deep feeling about gravity (possibly acquired when we were toddlers).

We are (okay, I am) also perfectly okay with the concept of three dimensional space and the concept of time. But telling me that each of these dimensions are just different ways of measuring one thing is just intuitively baffling. Sure, I've read the theories and accept that the equations explain some things, but I experience the dimensions of space one way and the dimension of time an entirely different way such that I can't comfortable feel that I 'understand' that all four are the same sort of thing.

And as much as I stumbled around feeling that I just didn't get electricity, that is a piece of cake compared to the feelings I got about magnetism. I recently bought some dangerously powerful neodymium magnets and played with them for a while (pinched the tee-total crap out of myself) but when I hold these things near each other and feel that tug or repulsion or I put one of them on the top of a table and the other on the bottom and move the top one around, I feel like I'm witnessing magic. How can these things exert such powerful influence over each other - what is this invisible rubbery feeling stuff that on one side pulls them together and on the other pushes them apart. I find this truly spooky, but if I get too occupied playing with those magnets and fall out of my chair, me accelerating to the floor and hurting like hell seems perfectly natural and a completely understandable and expected event in the real world.

I sometimes wonder if there is something about how we evolved as biological organisms such that forces or things in the real world that can affect our survival are clear and understandable, but things that don't directly impact our survival in any way that we can do anything about anyway, seem somehow bizarre or unnatural. Visible light is fine, but X-rays are darn spooky - even though they are the same sort of stuff. I can move across a landscape intuitively understanding the three dimensions of space and I can understand that tomorrow I'll be some where else, but I can't get my head around the concept that there is the one thing that has three measurable aspects that I can of my own volition move through, but I am passively forced to move through the fourth one at a constant rate that I cannot do anything about. I think I need to retire and go back to college and major in Physics and Philosophy and spend the rest of may days hanging out in the cafeteria having rap sessions with other awed and baffled students.

Anyway, this has been a great discussion IMHO (to me) and I really appreciate the input. I know that I should just get over it, like Lee suggests, and I may be over-explaining things to make a statement about this in an introduction to electricity, but I'm going to throw it any anyway if only because I find it so fascinating, and I really write for myself anyway. Now, if I can only do this and not sound like a lunatic like I'm sure I'm coming across in this thread...

Smiley

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js wrote:
I found out and understood what electicity is at the age of 3 or 4 when I unscrewed the top off a light switch and started to touch the bright metal bits inside.. :(
Ah... like minds and etc. I start the electricity section with the appended picture and this text:
Quote:
When I was about five, my older brother made me mad so I took a pair of scissors and cut the wire to his record player (which was playing some fool yelling about his ‘bucket has a hole in it’ - yes it was that long ago) and the next thing I knew I was up against the opposite wall staring at a melted gap on the scissor blades and glancing over at wall socket which was still smoking and sparking. I will never forget the smell (the burned insulation smelled bad too). I clearly remember the before and after, but the in between escapes me. I still have those scissors kind of as a reminder that I’m living on a lot of borrowed time. I suspect that the reason I survived was the position of my legs right before I cut the wire. I was scrunched up to the socket with my knees bent and legs to either side thus the shock made my legs straighten out instantly (like in those very creepy frog-leg experiments) and the waxed wood floor provided a nice low friction surface over which my sorry butt could shoot to the opposite wall. I further suspect that my guardian angel was standing next to me slapping out flames on her wings while looking up and begging for a new assignment. [I know that the reality is that I wasn’t grounded, if I’d had my other hand on something properly grounded, I wouldn’t be writing this.]
This could also help explain my problem with 'understanding' stuff, maybe I got a bit of drain bramage.

Attachment(s): 

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Quote:
I think I need to retire and go back to college and major in Physics and Philosophy and spend the rest of may days hanging out in the cafeteria having rap sessions with other awed and baffled students.

Interesting reading...Tesla spent his last years fascinated with the number 3! And, on that note I am surprised he has yet to be mentioned in this thread? Especially since so much of his accomplishments are still not completely understood. He seemed to have an intuitive insight into what "electricity" was capable of.

As for Smiley's topic: I just assumed that everyone had the same revelation that I did while in college, (though perhaps at different times)which was, "they really don't know!" In other words, I had two semesters of Newtonian physics and one of Einstein. So, that's two men??? Now, I am no physicist but, it seems to me that most of my higher level theory (both math and science) came primarily from two people!! In the case of electricity there have been many contributors - each adding another piece - but in the case of unification there were really only two!!

I most remember being amazed by how little we understood about light, regardless of our ability to measure its speed, and electricity I considered sort of a "sub" heading under light. Mainly because of electromagnetics (essentially massless) wavelengths and their paradoxical(to me)tremendous potential energy levels.

It is sobering realization for a youngster when he begins to question the content of the books that his conditioning has trained him to trust. If you simply look at the history of scientific discovery in our world you realize that even men as brilliant as Newton have come to be proven wrong....and...I have about one-millionth of the gray matter of Newton! So, in another 1000 years will our threads be laughable? Well, how many guys already laugh to the old C64's we used to bang on??

And, don't underestimate our need to "SEE" E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G in order to understand it. We learn in a certain way and perhaps it is that process which hinders us the most. Many people talk about "thinking outside the box" but, learning is a structured process of accumulation and, our universe if not!!

John

Just some guy

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Smiley -

I think you hit the nail on the head about 4 posts up. We have a strong intuition of what "gravity" is, even if we don't REALLY know what it is. How do we have this intuition? By experiencing its effects, as you describe.

Yet, you bemoan the fact that all we have with electricity is a description of effects. How is that different? The electrical effects are, arguably, more numerous (witness your little "illustration") and we know more about the origin of these effects at the sub-atomic level. We are certainly more adept at manipulating electrical phenomena. But, when it comes right down to it, as far as common human experience is concerned, few of us have any more definitive experience with electricity than we do with gravity.

Will the fact that we don't know what electricity is prevent us from using a tuned circuit in a radio receiver? I hope not. Nor, from creating circuits using logic devices or resistors pr diodes or wires? I hope not.

I argue that it is important to recognize this aspect of human experience, that our experience tells us very little about what electricity "is", then get on with it. After all, does our inability to define "life" keep us from living?

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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Well smiley the picture explains why you did it, you were blonde!! :lol:

...don't know why I did what I did....

John Samperi

Ampertronics Pty. Ltd.

www.ampertronics.com.au

* Electronic Design * Custom Products * Contract Assembly

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Richard Feynman used a throw-away line in one of his lectures that, it seemed to me, was the tip of a very important undiscovered theory. He said, "We're traveling through time at the speed of light". I was hoping he'd go back and build on it, but if he ever did, I haven't heard. The statement expressed like that is meaningless, because you can't have a "speed" independent of "time" in our understanding of things, but it left an interesting picture in my mind. If you're speeding through space/time and you come into a curved section distorted by a mass, you will experience acceleration as you follow the curve. As Einstein showed, you can't tell the difference between acceleration and gravity. I think it's because there is no difference, and the search for gravity particles and waves and a unified theory is unlikely to be successful. There still needs to be some explanation for mass but I don't think we'll see a proper "theory of everything" without a fundamental change in the way we understand time.

I don't understand what is the problem with electricity, if you accept the fundamental concepts of charge and the electrostatic force. At one end of a wire you apply an electrostatic force, let's say a negative one. The nearest electrons are repelled and shuffle away. Their neighbors are repelled in turn, and so on to the other end of the wire. If it's open circuit, the electrostatic force at the open end is the same as at the generator. If it's connected back to the opposite side of the generator, electrons flow in the loop at a rate determined by the magnitude of the applied electrostatic force. There's no need to get all philosophical about whether electrons exist or not - just call them carriers of unit charge. The units of electrical theory are sufficiently refined that you can express nearly any of them in terms of actual numbers of electrons. It doesn't get much more real than that.

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Interestingly light is also an electromaagnetic
phenomenon. And when traveling in free space,
there are no electrons involoved.

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And the two shall become one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ele...

Just some guy

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As we've moved into light and stuff, I have this that I need to share:

I used to be a vivid reader of both Sky&Telescope and Astronomy. In one S&T column the writer describes explaining cosmological distances for someone. He points to the Andromeda Galaxy and states that it is 2 million light years away, and goes on with something like

"When you are looking at it you are blinking occasionally. Just imagine a photon traveling for 2 million years on the way to your retina, just to fail with less than an inch to go - at your eye-lid!".

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"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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Quote:
If we figure out how electricity, magnetism, gravity, and the nuclear weak and strong forces work, do we get a prize?

Go for it, Bob. It would be a noble endeavor.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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IMHO, electricity is a term that does not need to be used (nor should be used), by electronics or electrical engineers.
Electricity however, is a great term for the laymen who have no idea to put a handle on all those things electrical & electronic that they do not understand and probably don't care whether they either. If they do care, all they need to pick is pick up any text book that starts with atomic structure , introduces emf's, current, resistance, power etc. etc. and by so doing demystifies electricity and the word then becomes meaningless.

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?

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Quote:
It is sobering realization for a youngster when he begins to question the content of the books that his conditioning has trained him to trust.

The following is from Gravitational Reflections in Plain English and Cold Stones by Pierre Charles:
Quote:

Introduction:

I hesitate to discuss the new physics with most of the population, not that I do not want people to know, but because of the built-in opposition from the population's academic training and the possible misuse of this recently rediscovered source of understanding and power. Following close behind is the possible impact on the economic and control systems over the masses.

We are all slaves to this closed system of things to a degree. For example, we now live in a world of great knowledge and power; unfortunately, it is misdirected, so to live in relative comfort we hold an 8 to 5 job, wear clothes, drive cars, eat food all brought to us by others, and live in a house built by others and usually owned by the bank. Net result: both partners must work away from the home to support it. Meanwhile, the government takes back [more than] 50% to support those who cannot or will not work, and, of course, maintain the existing framework. The children spend most of the day being trained by others to fit into the existing framework, etc., etc.

This bring us to the opposition from academic-trained people, most are copies of copies, 10th generation receivers of what is unquestioningly taught as the eternal truth. Most are so far removed from the original information and thoughts that they do not recognize it and they oppose with great tenacity anyone who dares to defy their implanted ideas. This information will also disturb the traditionally religious people; I don't need to expand on the dangers there...

The New Physics:

To Truly grasp the new physics we must keep two things present in our minds:

1) The New Physics is actually a retrieval of the old or ancient physics,

2) The ancient physics encompassed all things; therefore, you must look at all things, you must remove all academic barriers from your present, considerably large body of knowledge and merge this with the eastern and ancient thoughts. If you find yourself laughing or ridiculing, then you will not find the valuable thread of information that you need...

Little remains of the ancient physics but it can be found nevertheless - for it has been preserved, often by those who had little or no true knowledge of the symbols that they considered sacred..."

How many of us have actually read the original works of Ampere, Faraday, Gibbs, Maxwell, Volta, etc?
Do we not have "anti-gravity" because we have been conditioned perhaps?

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Last night I actually looked up the Wikipedia article, and wrote a post somewhere but I seem to have missed hitting the Submit button. Wikipedia concurs, the term "electricity" is vague and used to describe several physical phenomena. Worth a read.

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No guarantees, but if we don't report problems they won't get much of  a chance to be fixed! Details/discussions at link given just above.

 

"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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What is electricity? Well, this is a very good question, Joe!
A question that is difficult to be answered and more hard to be asked.

We can always start with the etymology and the meaning of the word itself, since those who coined this term (and their whole language, actually) were always giving descriptive names to every object, place or situation they were coming across.
For example, the term "table" has no specific meaning in English nor is it associated to any other terms or concepts; it is a name coined by an arbitrarily chosen sequence of letters. On the contrary, the Greek term for "table" is «τραπέζι» in Modern Greek or «τετραπέζιον» in Classical Greek, denoting the object that has four legs («τέτρα-» means "quad", from «τέσσερα» meaning "four"; «πεζά» meaning "legs" or "limbs", from «πους» meaning "foot")!

"Electricity", or «Ηλεκτρισμός» in Greek, are nouns that come from the Classical Greek word «ήλεκτρον» (pronounced: i-lec-tron), a noun meaning "amber", since it was observed back then that amber rubbed with fur was able to attract light objects like feathers and straws. This observation was made by Thales of Miletos while comparing the amber with magnetite («μαγνητίτης»), the natural magnet («μαγνήτης», a stone that attracted metals, named after the city of «Μαγνησία» ("Magnesia" in Asia Minor) where it was firstly found) that would attract --or magnetize («μαγνητίζει»)-- iron ores without the rubbing procedure.
So, if we were challenged to coin an English term for "electricity", that would most probably be "ambericity"!

Then, of course, came Christianity, the second and longest tentacle of this most racist Pharisaic dogmatic invention called Abrahamic religions, that was initially started by rabbi Joshua as a more humane reformation of the bloodthirsty Pharisaic dogma called Judaism, the first of the tentacles mentioned before. This dogmatic invention viciously started a long offensive war hunting down and literally burning down and killing everyone and anything had to do with science, philosophy, logic, art, culture and accumulation of the Classical knowledge (i.e. hundreds of obliterated libraries), since free-thinking and knowledgeable people were (and still are) the gravest enemies of that literally-bloody dogma that led humanity to the abyss of The Dark Ages.

A much later term, equivalent to «ήλεκτρον», is «κεχριμπάρι» which comes from the Arabic "kahruba" meaning "substance that attracts straws" («ουσία που έλκει άχυρα»), courtesy of the Arab scientists who tried to revive parts of the lost Classical knowledge; until, of course, the establishment of Islam, the third tentacle of the Abrahamic religions which took care of them, too...

This viciously imposed obscurantism («σκοταδισμός») lasted for the next 1500 years since its official birth, until the early 19th century where lots of anonymous and eponymous bright men took over... The rest is history.

Oh, boy, what a vent! :-)

In the bottom line, I think that it would be safe for anyone to accept electricity as a set of phenomena associated with moving or stationary electric charges.

-George

I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free. (Nikos Kazantzakis)

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For more entymology see http://ia340916.us.archive.org/0/items/EuropaHouseTheozoology/Theozoology.pdf.
It was revealed to von Liebenfels that the gods were living electrical transceivers who could thereby impart divine knowledge to sensitive individuals. By means of genetic selection, the human race could aspire to its own electrical divinity. Some of his theology was used by Hitler.

I trust this thread is now ended?

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The point I made earlier still stands....

We are not able to define "life" yet that does not prevent life from being lived, studied, and manipulated.

If this is true of life, why make an exception for "electricity"?

Jim

Jim Wagner Oregon Research Electronics, Consulting Div. Tangent, OR, USA http://www.orelectronics.net

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A college English professor of mine once told the class something like “Engineers/scientists can never absolutely know everything about their craft. Once you get down to the basics of a scientific experiment, there will always be a certain level of theories, metaphors, hand waving, etc.”
The idea was the only thing that humans truly completely understand is something we have created, like a board game, grammar, punctuation, etc. Apparently, the English instructor never dealt with software development.
Matt

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Matt--

Please take this with the best of intentions: Although you might be a nerd/geek/'Freak, you MUST try to get a bit of sun once in a while.

Quote:

English professor of mine

Who KNOWs what an Australian professor might have said!?!

Lee

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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Quote:
Australian professor

In Chanute, Kansas?

From Kansas edelweiss and kangaroos look about the same. I'm an alum of (probably) the same distinguished institution as Matt: the U of K, best known for basketball. Electricity is what fills the basketball stadium on game day (and the bars that night).

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Possilby Lee was referring to the difference between Kansan and Australian English professors. In Australia, for instance the cat might well have been dead long before the box was openned, but in Kansas it might well have been neither dead nor alive until the box was openned. They are on opposite sides of the planet after all.

But what Matt (definately more sun) said is very relevant to my situation since I felt that I fully understood transforms, both Laplacean and Fourier. I even felt quite comfortable writing an FFT on one of the original IBM PCs. To me math is entirely a human invention and it is possible to understand it (it is a lot of work, but possible) whereas things that are beyond my evolved senses just give me the creepy feeling that every thing I read about them is and elaborate game invented to disguise the fact that we are really talking about magic. And, yes I know this has more to do with my personal neurosis than with the true nature of human knowledge. But, jeez folks, now they are saying that 90% of the Universe has gone missing... I wonder if they've checked the vaults in Gringott's on Diagon alley?

Smiley

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Quote:
To me math is entirely a human invention and it is possible to understand it

But Smiley, the new theories of the universe are entirely based on mathematics... They describe things that can't be described in any material sense, but hey, the equations work out and the math is really elegant, so it must be right, right? I share your discomfort with this state of affairs, and your suspicion that they are really talking about magic. I flogged my way through a difficult book on Bell's Theorem last month that ended up with the proposition that human consciousness exists in some alternative universe outside the material world. To me, that is.. um.. religion? (Well, it's an easier leap of faith than string theory).

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peret wrote:
Quote:
To me math is entirely a human invention and it is possible to understand it

But Smiley, the new theories of the universe are entirely based on mathematics...

Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality. - Nikola Tesla, Modern Mechanics and Inventions, July, 1934

Didn't someone complain about the lack of Tesla in this thread earlier? Fixed now.

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peret wrote:
Quote:
To me math is entirely a human invention and it is possible to understand it

But Smiley, the new theories of the universe are entirely based on mathematics... They describe things that can't be described in any material sense, but hey, the equations work out and the math is really elegant, so it must be right, right? I share your discomfort with this state of affairs, and your suspicion that they are really talking about magic. I flogged my way through a difficult book on Bell's Theorem last month that ended up with the proposition that human consciousness exists in some alternative universe outside the material world. To me, that is.. um.. religion? (Well, it's an easier leap of faith than string theory).

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What is electricity? My livelihood! :)

Math is cool.
jevinskie.com

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Re the comic that Joe posted: I've seen code that was fairly well commented, but in some intricate piece of it , all that was in the comment was "TTMO", to be read "Then The Miracle Occurs".

Almost as priceless as what my former colleague once saw. A Complicated FORTRAN program had a comment stating "There was a bug here", and nothing more.

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No guarantees, but if we don't report problems they won't get much of  a chance to be fixed! Details/discussions at link given just above.

 

"Some questions have no answers."[C Baird] "There comes a point where the spoon-feeding has to stop and the independent thinking has to start." [C Lawson] "There are always ways to disagree, without being disagreeable."[E Weddington] "Words represent concepts. Use the wrong words, communicate the wrong concept." [J Morin] "Persistence only goes so far if you set yourself up for failure." [Kartman]

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To me the fact that mathematics always seem to explain a difficult, previously considered unsolvable problem, indicates one of two things; either we have over the years adapted mathematics to the problems we encountered, or the problems were from the beginning derived from mathematics. The former would seem to suggest that in reality, mathematics are the real problem, and the problem, or phenomenon we are trying to explain is the real solution.

I won't dare to go dwelve into the world of intelligent design conjectures, but it seems to me we are finding mathematical solutions to problems arising in a mostly chaotic world FAR too easily.

BTW I am an atheist, and to me the notion of a God is complete and utter invention. Unless we define God as the apparent order amongst the chaos of the Universe.

Maybe our "intuitions" about how these things work, those that inevitably lead to an extraordinary discovery eventually, are simply a natural progression of our brain chemistry. After all, we are made from the very stuff we are trying to explain. Every single molecule of our bodies is and has been subjected since the dawn of time to every force we cannot fully understand. We are all made of stardust! Molecular-level "training" if you will?

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Maybe our whole universe is just a simulation running on an AVR :)

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Hey UNiXWHoRe,

I think it is in his book THE PROBLEM OF PAIN (surely it wasn't in MERE CHRISTIANITY too!!!) where CS Lewis describes Atheism as a belief system or "religion" also. No offense, just an observation...I am not a thumper either since it would stand that such a divine creator would be well beyond our level of understanding or comprehension anyway. I was raised in such a way that branded my belief system and I have tried to deconstruct it logically in much the same way that we are waxing about the interrelationship of our physical world! Perhaps that makes me Agnostic?/ I don't know.(I think we have seen the profound damage that "images of God" have done to our society.)

Quote:
Maybe our "intuitions" about how these things work, those that inevitably lead to an extraordinary discovery eventually, are simply a natural progression of our brain chemistry. After all, we are made from the very stuff we are trying to explain. Every single molecule of our bodies is and has been subjected since the dawn of time to every force we cannot fully understand. We are all made of stardust! Molecular-level "training" if you will?

That is a profound observation and, as ordered as anything suggested above. I think we have all had the experience of contemplating an engineering problem for days until our intellect eventually generates a unique and brilliant solution. The brains ability to evolve solutions (even without our conscious awareness) is something that I have experienced many times but, never without amazement.

I still hold that much of our maligned approaches to "understanding" processes and developing hypothesis can be tied to our visual cortex and how it modifies our perceptions. This (to me) is a huge obstacle to infinite perspective!

As for the definition of "electricity" I suppose I could construct a logical lengthy definition based on my acquired knowledge and understanding but, most of my insight is experiential. I would be explaining an abstract phenomena based on it's capabilities and my conclusions may be woefully inadequate compared to the masters here.

John

Just some guy

Last Edited: Thu. Sep 10, 2009 - 07:34 PM
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Quote:

Possilby Lee was referring to the difference between Kansan and Australian English professors.

Actually, I was wondering why the ethnicity of the professor had anything to do with it? So what if the professor came from England. It could have been a Chinese professor, or a South African professor, or a Brazilian professor, or an American professor.

Lee

ok so I was reaching...

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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dak664 wrote:
For more entymology see http://ia340916.us.archive.org/0/items/EuropaHouseTheozoology/Theozoology.pdf.
It was revealed to von Liebenfels that the gods were living electrical transceivers who could thereby impart divine knowledge to sensitive individuals. By means of genetic selection, the human race could aspire to its own electrical divinity. Some of his theology was used by Hitler.

I trust this thread is now ended?

[.pdf link corrected]

Dear dak664,

Firstly, I am sorry if any of my arguments were found to be disturbing because I only tried to provoke critical thinking. Actually, the whole History of mankind is disturbing. And by "History" I do not mean the fairy-tales the history textbooks teach the masses, nor the versions of History being sold to the general public by the Hollywood system, the Mass Media outlets or any nefarious lobbies.

Please, let me ask you a question in a civilized and respectful manner: Do you have any decent arguments, other than discrediting attempts of my views using ridicule and tangents into group supremacy theorists, whose beliefs you seem to imply that are in a kind of agreement with a couple of my points? For the sake of the argument, just point me at a theory you detest and I will find within that theory more than a couple of points you will be in total agreement with.
I am sure that you did not mean to get there; but it happened and if I ignore your points it will be like accepting them.

Your implication of Hitler's name as a contemptible evil parallel makes me wonder: Why did you bring up Hitler only, who is held responsible for 22 million deaths of soldiery and civilians, and you exempted Stalin who is responsible for the deaths of more than 45 million civilians only, or Mao for the deaths of more than 65 million civilians only, too. Are Stalin and Mao better human beings than Hitler because they murdered multiple amounts of people than he did, or because they murdered civilians only?
Please note that I am not trying to defend Hitler, neither I want to, since he is responsible for massive human deaths -after all he made his choices. My point is that we have been conditioned to demonize only him and not Stalin or Mao or any other mass murderers (and there are many of them recorded by History, but I will not go there right now), even if the other ones were much worse than Hitler in terms of human losses or brutality.

Is the theistic revelation thing, you mentioned in your message, implying that whatever I have written is unverifiable and based on "revelations", which in my case equals to "fictions"? Even though the WWW search engines are still widely accessible and free for everyone to use?

Peace,
George.
___________

I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free. (Nikos Kazantzakis)

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Giorgos, may I point out that this is the GENERAL ELECTRONICS FORUM? You have taken this thread off in a direction that's highly inappropriate here. We have an off-topic forum for discussions of this nature.

Peret - moderator, General Electronics

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A smile on that one, Peret.

You are of course correct. This thread quickly wandered given our attempts to be clever with the "What is electricity?" title.

Quote:

the gods were living electrical transceivers

... and note the [weak] link to the thread title in the discussion. ;)

Lee

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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Oops.. You are right, Peret. My mistake; this is not the Off-topic forum...

Please feel free to move whatever needs to be moved to the Off-topic section. I am saying this because though my second message is unrelated to the thread's subject, there are references to religion in both of my messages.

Thank you,
-George

I hope for nothing; I fear nothing; I am free. (Nikos Kazantzakis)

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How about this: Electricity was a peculiar phenomenon observed in our atmosphere until man developed a use (and market) for it:/

Just some guy

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The priesthood invented electricity as a convenient pretext for imposing RoHS on the masses.

Chuck Baird

"I wish I were dumber so I could be more certain about my opinions. It looks fun." -- Scott Adams

http://www.cbaird.org

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Removed...

I was trying to be a comedian in good fun but the post added little to the thread!

Or you could say it like this: "OBJECTION, the statement is argumentative!" "Sustained, the court will ignore the previous statements!" :0)

John

Just some guy

Last Edited: Mon. Sep 14, 2009 - 03:15 PM
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Giorgos_K wrote:

Your implication of Hitler's name as a contemptible evil parallel makes me wonder: Why did you bring up Hitler only,

Well, the thread seemed going off topic so I thought an allusion to Godwin's law was appropriate. I am surprised no one seemed to pick up on it, I guess it is not as well-known as I had thought. Actually etymology is a hobby of mine, particularly in trying to trace everything to ancient Greek roots (or ῤίζα).

Eddington gave an interpretation of General Relativity that involved masses (the Moon in his example) moving randomly anywhere they "wanted" to. Since the motion of the masses sets the metric then by definition they will appear to move "according to" general relativity. GR is the perfect theory, it has to be correct and it explains nothing!

Similarly in relativistic quantum electrodynamics one could posit that the Green's or "propagator" wavefunction sets the metric, with the interaction amplitude attenuated by the number of wavelengths between two interacting bodies rather than the distance between them. By definition this makes the electric force inverse-square no matter how whimsical the actual motions of the charges.

Seen in this way, RQED, a remarkably accurate and consistent theory, doesn't actually need the existence of space or time. Photons are mathematical constructs having no space-time extent, that account for the quantized action transfer between two points.

This is in line with Einstein's later thinking, that it is only interactions between bodies that have any reality. Why they bother to interact at all is the real question, although it is true that if they did not interact then the question would never arise.

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I believe that the problem is that we do not understand the fundamental nature of the universe. We do not understand the nature of matter and why matter exits at all. It is just another form of energy, but why it exits as matter is a complete mystery. Perhaps the LHC will shed some light on this if it finds (or doesn't find) the Higgs boson. There is no way we can understand electricity until we understand the building blocks of the universe at the most fundamental level. I find it astonishing that physicists accept that the laws of nature, (speed of light and all that) did not exist during the inflationary period of the big bang and yet conclude that those laws govern the universe now. Seems to me that they either do or they don't, and if they didn't operate during some known time, they are an incomplete explanation of things.