Tuesday, October 5

Electricity Is Magic: A Thought Experiment (Part 1)

Before electricity was championed for modern society by the innovative minds of the 19th and 20th centuries, the public's conception of electricity was an interesting mix of mystery and superstition. Electricity's searing image of seemingly supernatural energy unsurprisingly spawned many myths and legends for the time period, obviously including stories such as Frankenstein, and sensationalized caricatures of mad scientists and wizards, such as Nikola Tesla (Best depicted in the movie "The Prestige", which I highly recommend). This reaction is a natural responses to looming, unfamiliar power. Understanding this sort of thinking is especially useful for an interesting thought experiment:

Imagine yourself a common man of the 19th century.

In your mind, the word "electricity" produces a few fascinating, but rather vague images of white lighting, flashing fantastically and creating a magical ambiance. This dangerous force is rumored to miraculously resurrect life, and its extraordinary power could best the grand innovations of your time, such as the use of coal and oil. But this is all you know, and these thoughts rarely enter your mind... Electricity remains a part of the beyond.

Now imagine yourself in your brick home, late at night, writing a letter by the fireplace. Outside the window, you can see a single carriage being heftily pulled down a stone path by a large horse. A man sits in the driver's box, next to the yellow glow of an oil lamp. You ink your pen and worry that your letter won't arrive at its destination in time, as you try and judge the distance and time it will take for your letter to reach the next county.

As you wonder, your thoughts disconnect and repeat and you feel yourself being lulled to sleep. Awareness escapes you, and then...


Fear strikes you like sudden siren and before you can breathe, you are jolted with the shocking tremor of a lightning bolt. You feel the pull of gravity, and your legs impulsively brace themselves. As you realize you are now standing, the thick rush of mechanical engines, blinding lights, and the crushing rush of wind assault your senses.

You're in an intersection, and the year is 2010.

Consider now your mental state for this visit to the future. Being well acquainted with the busy intersections of 21st century, it's very easy for us to retroject our understanding onto the certainly overwhelmed mind of the 19th century man, to better understand his perplexing situation.

Here's a stimulating thought:

Think of every electronic device you have plugged into an outlet right now... How would you explain this, in detail, to the 19th century man?

Light Sources?
Computers?
Cellphones?
Satellite Television?
The Internet?

More tomorrow...

42 comments:

  1. Have always wondered about the images in your brain associated with wordds :\ lightnight and electricity are some compelling ones.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Electricity, the research into it might be shocking ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Without electricity, I don't know what my world would be like.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
    -Arthur C. Clarke

    This is definitely an amusing notion. Should have shown me an iPhone 15 years ago and I would have crapped my pants.

    ReplyDelete
  5. i'd say that the internet is like being god (not religious but it would be effective for a 19th century person), you can know everyone's thoughts and opinions within seconds.

    ReplyDelete
  6. it is really silly the things we have come to value now, huh?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'd tell him: fucking miracles!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I...don't know that I could. Or that I'd try.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is interesting!!

    love your blog man! going to follow this one for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  10. electricity really is magic, its just there in the air.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Magnets? how do they work?


    ...Miracles...

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is a very cool thought experiment! I'm sure a 19th century person would think we were gods.

    ReplyDelete
  13. very fun experiment! I'd be in shock for sure.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Woah, that was kinda trippy. Nice post.

    Following you.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I couldn't live in the 19th century, I'm too much of a geek.

    ReplyDelete
  16. light sources might be able to be explained, but as for the other stuff? i dunno

    ReplyDelete
  17. this makes me wonder what people will be saying in the 22nd century

    ReplyDelete
  18. This post of yours remind me a song of ICP, maybe you know it.
    Regards.

    ReplyDelete
  19. We have come to rely greatly on electricity...The evidence is when you get a power cut...

    ReplyDelete
  20. I wonder what will happen when we are raising our children in a world hundreds of years from now. You can't teach them the science quickly enough, they will have to start telling them it's all magic :P

    ReplyDelete
  21. I thank the person who invented electricity every day of my life.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Tesla didn't got any credit, even tho he certainly was very important.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I wonder how the world would be like today if we didn't have electrisity...

    ReplyDelete
  24. It actually would be fun to see the reactions of people of the 19th century about the world we're living in now.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I would tell him "Jesus".

    It's worked for the Christians.

    ReplyDelete
  26. 2030 is going to be a scary place...nice picture by the way

    ReplyDelete
  27. really interesting read here, raises some good points

    ReplyDelete
  28. I'd tell everyone, "I'm doing the electric sliiiide!"

    Then we'd all dance in formation.

    ReplyDelete