Saturday, August 25, 2007

An Elementary Particle with Two Properties

I suspect that the habit of naming particles for effects and then thinking that the name described the effect began with the discovery of electricity. The development of electrical theory is probably one of the more perverted areas of science. It reaches back into the mysterious effects of magnetism, where the well-known principle of likes repel and opposites attract became seated in the human mind for all eternity. Take two magnets, determine which side is which by allowing one of the sides to point to the north, mark that side on each magnet. The marked sides will repel while the unmarked sides will attract the marked sides.
Magnets were beyond understanding, so studies were devoted to merely describing their effects, a habit that has carried over into all areas of science, and especially electricity. This is a deadly process. It destroys understanding. People think that being able to describe what’s happening, they understand what’s happening. Description replaces understanding, but because we have a complex description, we think we understand. Saying monkey-like that likes repel and opposites attract doesn’t tell us anything about how magnets work, and when we don’t know how something works, we shouldn't analogize it to other things.
But that’s what happened when the first batteries generated a steady current. The battery needed two metals with what is now known as potential differences (a very important reality to the development of our understanding of how the universe operates). With two poles attached to each metal, connecting a conductor between the two produced an electric flow. With something flowing, science wanted an answer, what is causing that something to move? It’s an obvious question, and it’s a simple fact of reality that things don’t move without something causing them to move (unless we’re talking about the planets). There had to be something causing the current to move from one pole to the other.
Unfortunately, it was quickly discovered that the electrical current would deflect a magnet in the form of a compass. This meant that there was something about magnets and electricity that was similar. In casting about for an explanation for the movement of the current, it occurred to science that opposites attract. It therefore concluded, without any evidence, that the two poles of the battery were like the opposite ends of a magnet, and that when they were connected, electricity flowed from the positive to the negative (nowadays it is understood to flow from negative to positive).
The notion that electricity needs a positive pole in order to move, that whatever causes it can’t move on its own, was set in science’s thought process when the next advance in electricity occurred some three decades later. With batteries providing a constant source of electricity, scientists were able to conduct repeatable experiments and build on the results. It was finally discovered that moving a wire that had been formed into a circuit perpendicular to the electrical flow itself produced an electrical flow.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that science became obsessed with particles so no one knew what the electricity was, but here was a distinct phenomenon, the flow of electricity itself creating a flow, a fact that was to become the basis of our modern technological society in the form of generators and electric motors. Needing names to describe what was happening, science named the area around the electric flow that could produce electricity in a circuit moving perpendicular to it the inductive field, something that will become of the utmost importance in our subsequent discussions as it is the force generated by electromagnetic emissions that produces gravity and planetary rotation and orbiting.
Edison, using simply the facts of electricity rather than the hazy theories about what electricity was, produced thousands of inventions that eventually lit up the world. He was a direct current advocate, which is the process of using a generator to induce an electrical flow in one direction. Tesla, another inventor, realized that by manipulating the way the rotors moved though the magnetic fields of the generator, he could produce alternating current, current that at one instant flows in one direction, and in the next, in the opposite direction. Tesla was responsible for our modern electrical system because alternating current could be manipulated better than direct current and travel longer distances.
The point of both, however, is that they were working with what they conceived to be flows of electricity and these flows needed something to make them move. Just like the concept that electricity moved from negative to positive became embedded in the universal mind, the concept of flows of electricity became inherent in electrical concepts without much reference to flows of what. However, J. J. Thomson altered that view by proposing that electricity was made up of flows of electrons, and interestingly enough, he thought that all matter was ultimately made up of electrons, a novel idea that, if it had been followed, would have probably made this book unnecessary (and my life not as exciting as it has been figuring all this out).
Here we end up with two assumptions. The first is that electricity needs a current force to cause it to move. The second is that a particle can be created to explain physical effects.
The idea that electricity needs a current force to cause it to move seems logical when we look at a battery, but seems illogical when we look at currents induced by inductive fields. In the battery, we have two potential differences that, when connected, produce an electrical flow. The normal question is to ask, what is causing the flow, now we can say electrons, to flow? However, when we move a conductor in an inductive field, electrons begin to flow if the conductor is formed into a circuit.
The idea for positive negative, plus minus came from a magnet. Did anyone bother to ask what is causing the magnetic fields around the magnet? No, because they were considered this mysterious force that was associated with magnetic material. But moving a conducting circuit in a magnetic field produces a flow of electricity too. More to the point, the circuit is a circuit with no negative or positive poles like the magnet, so where’s the explanation for the current movement of the electrons?
When Thomson hypothesized the electron, he was setting up the second assumption, one that has overpowered science. This assumption is that we can simply explain effects by calling them a particle and assigning a name to them. Rutherford was the first to do this in his very useful concept of an atom. Taking Thomson’s electron as a starting point, he hypothesized that these electrons were orbiting the nuclei of atoms in shells, depending on the type of atom involved. Atoms became heavier according to the periodic table set out by Dmitry Mendeleyev in the 1870s. Rutherford accounted for weight by creating a particle he called a neutron and putting it in the nucleus of the atom. He then had to explain what was keeping the electrons in orbit. True to his ingrained teaching about negative and positive, he created a proton, a positive particle, and also placed it in the nucleus of the atom. The neutrons provided weight, the protons provided an attraction for the electrons, and the electrons, nestled in neat little orbits, provided the way atoms were put together into matter.
Rutherford, however, overlooked one small aspect of his model. The electrons were moving. They didn’t have batteries for polarity, they didn’t have a circuit in which lazy minds could overlook the lack of polarity, they were just, well, moving.
To be continued

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