120 Years of the Electron

Hello there skeptics,

This month, June (its June on Australia already, so I’m celebrating), is marking a very special occasion. It was 120 years ago that Hendrik Lorentz published his paper, which is now known as the birth of the electron. The electron is one of the most pivotal ideas in physics, and is crucial to our understanding of electromagnetism, but it was only an idea for most of the 19th century.

For a long time, electrons were thought about in relation to electricity and magnetism, ad was theorized by quite a lot of physicists, but there was no maths for it, until 1864. It was that year that James Maxwell put forward his theory of electrical and magnetic fields. To some people’s surprise, the equations many physicists learn today as ‘Maxwell’s equations’ are not what Maxwell wrote about in 1864. Maxwell’s equations where messy and complicated. Maxwell did not know that what he was writing could have become the biggest set of equations in physics history, he was only¬† thinking about making his fundamental equations fit with the phenomena observed. He just put the equations on paper as best as he could. The equations today known as Maxwell’s are only a readers digest of the many symbols, scribbles and sprawls which can be found in his exposition.

It took Lorentz, in 1892, to tidy it all up, purify the jumble of equations and symbols in Maxwell’s work, and make physics poetry for the next century. Lorentz had to sort the signals and beauties of Maxwell’s work from the mess. The signal: four equations which describe how electrical and magnetic fields respond to electric charges, and one equation that specifies that force the fields exert on charge. The noise: Pages upon pages of scrawling, jottings, symbols and messiness left behind by Maxwell.

Now that some (relatively) simple equations where around, physicists started to wonder if these equations could be used to rebuild how we think matter works, starting ground up from the electron, and pave the way for particle physics. Lorentz and others set out to test it, and sure enough, they could use this equation to explain phenomenons of the universe one after the other; conduction of heat, conduction of electricity, reflection of light, refraction of light, and many more electron related things.

In 1897, Joseph Thompson provided experimental proof that electrons really do exist, considered now the birth of the electron, after its conception in 1892.

This work set up the next century of physics and beyond, with a lot of the quantum mechanics, special relativity and general relativity work relying upon these equations. One must not forget the role that Maxwell played, but it was Lorentz who paved the way for particle and astro physics for they next 120 years and beyond. Even today, we still use these equations in our physics, and in almost every physics domain, you trace back its roots to Lorentz and his electron, because electrons rule our world.


Roy Williams Is at it Again

Hello… there,

That’s right, you guessed it, Roy Williams is at it again with his constant crusade of logical fallacies with yet another Seemingly intelligent argument, which, upon some investigation, turns out to be of no particular interest or value. In his most recent hashing of facts and evidence, Roy Williams has made the claim that humans’ ability to articulate the underlying laws of physics is proof of god. He says that there is no evolutionary advantage to us being able to understand, “The deep underlying reason why the apple fell to the ground” as opposed to, “Oh look, the apple fell towards the ground.” In today’s post, I am going to be showing how, 1. We aren’t actually very good with the understanding of the things, 2. We need a lot of help to try to understand the things, and 3. Evolution accounts for our apparent ability to understand the things.

First of all, the fact that we aren’t actually very good at maths. Here is a little thought experiment. Take a dozen or so coins, and ask somebody to be a volunteer for your experiment. Tell them that they are to tell you how many coins are in your hand, without using any sort of counting system. if they played by the rules, they will be clueless as to how many coins you are holding. This is because humans are not very good at counting, believe it or not, humans suck at math. Everything we know about maths, had to be learnt. Humans are good at the talking and the language and the problem solving, but not the math.

That brings me to my second point, If we never taught ourselves a number system to count things, we would be clueless. If you are counting things past about ten, then when you are counting it, you won’t be thinking about the actual amount of things, you are thinking about how many times you have counted one unit. We say, “I counted 43 sheep”, but really we are just adding one more to the clicker, we don’t actually know how much that 43 is.

On to my next and final point, Evolution accounts for our ability to discover the maths of black holes, and the big bang. We are humans, and humans, face it, are not very strong. We are very weak, and we are very slow, so we must have something to survive with, that is our humongous brains. So obviously, it benefits us to be able to problem solve, and communicate, and count things to a small degree. When we learnt how to count up to the number of appendages on the ends of our arms, we had to be able to describe it to people, so we gave all the appendages on our arms names, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. With this we had maths, from there, everything flowed, because our problem solving ability leads us to question things, and so we used math to figure out those questions. Then the human condition of curiosity took over, looking into the world around us. It is possible to explain our maths ability through evolution.

I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “Bertrand Russell used a hypothetical teapot in orbit about Mars for the same didactic purpose. You have to be agnostic about the teapot, but that doesn’t mean you treat the likelihood of its existence as being on all fours with its non-existence.” Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist, writer and atheist of some note.