No one really knows what electricity is

Ed Flynn, a columnist for Bergen County’s “Town Journal” and other local papers, wrote on November 4 of his difficulty in explaining electricity to his two great-grandsons:

You just switch it on and wondrous things happen. The truth, of, course, is that no one, not even the most brilliant scientists, really knows what electricity is. It just exists. Look it up in the dictionary and you’ll get some vague definition about “energy created by the movement of charged particles such as electrons, positrons, and ions.”

Even as I type this blog post, I take electricity for granted. If a blackout occurred, I could define electricity by its absence: “That substance without which I couldn’t write a blog post.” If I touched an open wire I’d sense another aspect.

What is it? Can we explain it in words, or only categorize it according to its usefulness to us? Does electricity move? Is it a particle, a wave, a fluid?

More questions: as electrons flow into this computer or into the lamp lighting this room, are these electrons identical to the ones that arrived a few seconds ago? Are they the same or different?

How am I like an electron? Do I have an objective reality as a separate unit at a moment in time? If so, who can perceive that reality? Or am I a flow that can’t be defined in words or evaluated as units? Am I the same “me” as a few seconds ago?

Meditation may never help me know what electricity really is, but it helps me ask better questions and get with that flow.

About Alan

I've been an active meditator for over 10 years with Heart Circle Sangha, a warm and supportive Zen practice center in suburban New Jersey. Led by our teacher, Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, the Sangha offers a place to start a meditation practice and then to deepen that practice over the years.
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One Response to No one really knows what electricity is

  1. Sharon says:

    In my career in technical theatre, I taught the theories of electricity to young actors and future technicians. When I was finished with the the illustrations of magnets and the analogies of electrons moving through conductors like water through a hose, I would admit the truth. It is, simply and truly – magic!

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