Sunday, 5 October 2014

Magneticism, a go, go

Mr Maxwell, in repose, Bugger, you could loose a Badger in that beard  
How can you not be fascinated by magnetism? It is a mysterious force, indeed. Of course the phenomenon of magnetism is well described and understood, up to a point. In fact we should use the word, 'electromagnetism', as electricity and magnetism are essentially the same and are mediated at the atomic level by the movement of electrons.  

The synthesis of our understanding of electromagnetism came about when James Clerk Maxwell, in the 19th century, formulated his famous equations unifying the concepts of electricity and magnetism. But for all our knowledge the fundamental question still remains. What, exactly, is magnetic force? We know that it acts in a vacuum, without a transmitting medium. Is it a wave, or is it streaming particles? Or does it exhibit wave, particle, duality, just like light? The answer seems to be neither. This aspect of magnetism has never been identified. Physicists refer to 'virtual photons' as if this concept has an actual meaning. In truth, it is just a mathematical construct and really a cipher for 'we just don't know'. You could argue that the force of gravity also fits into this category. But not quite. Since Einstein, and his theory of relativity, gravity seems to be readily explained as an artefact of mass distorting space/time.

Magnetism puzzles scientists, and lay people alike, and is unavailable to rational description. And yet it is a readily observable, every day phenomenon. There are some physicists who venture into quasi-multidimensional realms in a desperate attempt to provide an explanation. But trying to describe the rational with the irrational is an exercise in scientific futility.

In the final analysis, magnetic force defies our intuitive grasp of the world. Like other quantum phenomena it is simply weird. Maybe, one day, we will have a coherent explanation, or could it be that magnetism will always remain beyond the reach of our limited intellect? 


  1. I often come on by to peruse your satiric contemporary adaptations of all manner history, science and travel subjects. Your latest article about Magnetic-ism is an informative and entertaining read in that respect.

    I am really here 1) - to thank you for your recent generous comment about my Shifty literary project. 2) to let you know your lonely friendless existence is not forgotten, and when I get around to it will post a Flaxen Saxon link on my new Shifty George blog site. I have also informed Shifty Chicken not to include you on her lists of potential chickens.

  2. Utterly fascinating stuff - as are your other posts, both the factual and also the satirical (or when yow'm tekkin the piss, as I once would have said).

    Keep it up, Flax old lad.

    Ted (the one-time YamYam)