Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest blog - Evan teaches us about electricity Maxwell-style!

So now Claudine wants me to write about why James Clerk Maxwell is one of my historical heroes (recall we saw him & his electromagnetic-scientist cronies - Gauss, Coulomb, Ampere, Roentgen, et al - grandly depicted at the Paris modern-art museum).

So I'm sure these four cryptic statements likely mean nothing to you...

But, actually they together represent one of the intellectual triumphs of our age.  Here at last is the most concise & elegant explanation of all of electromagnetism.  This doesn't just cover the light bulb - but includes the sun's heat, all of telecommunications (Internet, mobile phones, etc.), and, oh yeah... the ability to see everything.  I think what amazes me more than anything is that these 19th century theorists were able to hypothesize about how all might work & then devise ingenious experiments to prove it & then theorems to explain it all.  Harnessing this power has been quite liberating for humanity - revealing our capacity to ascertain mysteries of nature previously reserved for the holy fathers & laying the foundation for the industrial & communications revolutions to follow.  It's also fun to think about how crazy their contemporaries must have thought them all.

The other amazing thing about Maxwell is the use of 'simple' mathematics to explain complex phenomena.  Too often I hear people bemoan learning math wondering why this would ever be useful.  If I ever hear my kids say this, I'll ask them if they ever want to truly understand how planets move, how planes fly, or how a text-message gets sent.  I hope they say yes, and I'll be able to show them how only speaking this language will enable will enable this rare insight that only modern humans possess.

So appropriate in the Paris museum for these great thinkers to be positioned just below the gods of Olympus.  In the photo here, you can see my humbled attempt to join in the party

1 comment:

Lorene said...

Great! you made me smile!