Friday, June 20, 2014

Interstitial: My Shortcomings Squared by My Rage at the Unfairness of It All

I have occupied my life with questions about what was happening around me, or to me. Sometimes I found myself buying into the answers that were provided to me and sometimes I just did not. To provide a tangible example: I had questions early in my life about electricity. It was a very mysterious thing and it provided me my favorite childhood innovation: television. I think I was 5 years old when I saw one initially. I was thus obligated to understand it.

My father was somewhat of an expert in electronics having served as a radar technician in World War II and throughout the rest of his time in service thereafter. In that early period of my life there was no man greater than my dad in mathematics and anything electronic. He helped me with mathematics in such a way that I later excelled in this subject. He was a brilliant teacher. Yet I never quite bought his answers to my questions about the whys of electricity. Electrons...again. Sorry Dad.

I could not understand the answers to the questions I was bringing into play probably because these answers were well over my head. For instance (and for digression) a child asking moral questions is a rather striking example of this. Who can effectively explain to a child why one should not cheat? Who among you wants to be the first to throw a stone? All around the child are obvious aspects of cheating taking place by adults.

I remember wanting my Hot Wheels cars, speedy little matchbox car type of toys, to jump and do flips like they did on television commercials. My mother said that my toys simply would not do those things. So commercials clearly exaggerated copiously or, in my book, they did not tell the truth. Why was I not allowed to lie while a major company run by adults could do so to children? It was not simply a double standard like "smoking is not good for you, so do not smoke like I do." Lying was doing wrong to other people, not only oneself. Deceit was a rather strong transgression.

This toy company had the wherewithal to create an expensive television commercial while I was not trusted with much more than two dollars at a time. Surely they were smarter than me, wealthier than me, and just plain better than me in the eyes of the world by virtue of the fact that they could tell magnificent lies.

Worse, my mother appeared to accept this behavior as commonplace. There were no value judgments. There was no hand wringing over ethics. I simply did not understand why my toy cars continued to under-perform the cars on the commercials which were racking up ever greater accomplishments on television. I had wasted a market-priced Christmas wish on them. That was a persuasive lesson as the lies continued.

Through numerous similar disappointments, I came to distrust the legitimacy of the facts I was being given. Statements by parents, experts, news anchormen, or pretty much anyone at all were in doubt. It was simple logical deduction coupled with my unwillingness to believe things that were mythical. I think it is an innate human characteristic to yearn for someone to trust. A probably universal consequence of this desire is that any trust given will be broken enough times to cast a dark shadow upon everyone except only a few... then, after a while, the shadow will fall upon a few of those few as well. Oh, 'tis a gloomy outlook.

I definitely, and more or less defiantly, feel cheating is wrong, but I see that cheating is often what propels people ahead in society's idea of success which, after all, is usually in monetary terms. I did not understand that money was the quest as a child. I had such lofty goals. But from grade school onward, cheating seemed to work more often than not for those engaged in it. Cheerleaders copied my work with abandon while at the same time they were the most popular girls in the school.

Perhaps somewhere there were lucky people out there who decided that cheating was morally wrong, never actually cheated, and were ultimately successful by the standards of everyday society. There were obviously a lot of people who cheated, were caught and became dreadful failures because of their inability to cheat effectively. Evolutionary forces decide the winners among the cheaters. It is not a natural trait so I am afraid it must be one of nurture, which is the point really. Silver spoons are often a good start, but sometimes not.

It seems logical that there must be people who earned their huge accomplishments with a heavy dose of luck and skill. They must lead the best of lives, having conquered the obstacles in their way with no reason for remorse about their methods or the pathway they chose towards those accomplishments. But after a long life, I have many reasons for believing that there are few in this category. I suspect that moral consequences are either deeply hidden from these successful folks, or they know exactly where they cheated.

Undigressing, Thomas Edison defined electricity as "a mode of motion" and "a system of vibrations." link Edison was a success on so many levels and yet I find him not answering the question I put to my father about what electricity was, exactly. This probably proves that one does not have to know the ultimate answer to function in a highly effective manner.

I certainly was a persistent young man, at least in my unwillingness to accept the short answer. I just could not accept these vague descriptions of electricity. I cannot remember the details of how my father answered question after question but I either never fully understood his answers, or these were "Edison answers."  Yet, I had been pretty darned specific in my questions about how electricity came to flow down a copper wire and, typically, I was relentless in my efforts to nail down a logical answer. Add this to the fact that my dad never got frustrated when he was teaching science or math; and, you can guess the number of times this subject came up in various conversations.

In the article I linked above where I quoted Thomas Edison, there is a phrase that I remember my father using. "A generator is simply a device that moves a magnet near a wire to create a steady flow of electrons."

Here is where I had my problem, with the flow of electrons. It appeared to me that a generator could not produce electrons, as electrons were particles in an atom. That would be magic to produce a thing from the act of turning a wheel. I was fine with the idea that perhaps energy would displace electrons and at the end of the wire would be the electrons displaced by a chained reaction all along the way. My problem was in visualizing how this "flow" of "water" could be maintained without the introduction of more "water" at the beginning. Why wouldn't the beginning of the wire simply peter out in time and have no electrons left to push forward? The obvious answer is that energy was being transferred, not electrons, but... there it is in black and white just as my father explained: "a flow of electrons."

Obviously, I must have this wrong. I must do more research. Yet, I have tried a number of times in my life and just still find no analogy that helps me with the problem. Maybe if I understood how a cathode ray tube (television screen of the day) worked as it streamed electrons flying through a vacuum. But where did it come up with the endless electrons to strike the screen? I haven't the faintest. Could it be like the sun which constantly converts hydrogen to helium while never running out for billions of years? I have my doubts.


I wrote this earlier with the intent of doing that research and ending the entry... but... left as is, it should serve to illustrate the nature of this blog. So I won't. :) I think it is possible that I could actually have understood the theory of electricity's movement through wires if I put my mind to it, but for all these years I have never done so or been successful when I tried. You see, I refused to cheat. I could just say I understood that the contradictions are irrelevant to the practical certainty that electricity exists and has rules... but I cannot simply say I understand.

Dear reader, please take the totality of this blog with about as many grains of salt that could cover a beach. I admit to my own ignorance and sometimes the lack of willingness to correct it. However, there is a certain amount of thought I have put into things. I may not have answers that you like or that inform, but I have my own theories. And insolent, though I may be, in my pursuit of knowledge of all things, I still prefer to write it down and click the "publish" button, defective though my ideas may be.

[ About the title: I remember music that fills silences in drama as "interstitial" music, and short announcements on television or radio as being called interstitials.

The word interstitial means "between spaces", and is commonly used to denote "in-betweenness" in several different cultural contexts. ]

By the way, I did not miss the following explanation from the link when it refered to conductivity: "Most metals, however, have electrons that can detach from their atoms and zip around. These are called free electrons. The loose electrons make it easy for electricity to flow through these materials, so they're known as electrical conductors. They conduct electricity. The moving electrons transmit electrical energy from one point to another."

What is this "zip around" of which you speak?

So the electricity is in the form of energy transmitted through excitable electrons? There is no "flow" of electrons here but a flow of energy? I can handle that, but what IS electricity? I'll guess it is the binding force that holds the electrons into their orbits. If you increase this force by adding... magnetism, whatever mysterious thing that is... maybe, then the atom overloads and loses the energy that it gained from magnetism and passes it on. I'm just guessing. I have to guess this though while this article promises to tell readers what electricity "is" while it dances all around the question. First it is a flow of electrons, then a flow of energy. I'll admit, I got tired of reading it so I may have missed some salient point. I have been down this path before much too many times. Never mind that we cannot pin down where an electron is at any given time.

There it is, Dad. I miss your patience in these matters. I miss you.

by Michael DeVore