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Maxwell and Faraday on Fields

How the magnetic force is transferred through bodies or through space we know not: – whether the result is merely action at a distance, as in the case of gravity; or by some intermediate agency, as in the cases of light. heat, the electric current, and (as I believe) static electric action. –

Michael Faraday, 1851

The electromagnetic field is that part of space which contains and surrounds bodies in electric or magnetic conditions,

“lt appears therefore that in the space surrounding a wire transmitting an electric current a magnet is acted on by forces dependent on the position of the wire and on the strength of the current, The space in ‘which these forces act may therefore be considered as a magnetic field…”

James Clerk Maxwell, 1864


Having both died before the 20th century began, neither of these scientists had the benefit of Relativity or Quantum Theory to point toward a participatory universe. Had they known how profoundly permeable the boundaries of space, time, mass and energy were, and how quantum particles can become entangled at a distance, I imagine that the ether-like concept of the electromagnetic field would be very different.

Faraday and Maxwell were reluctant to hypothesize on what electromagnetic fields were, other than simply regions near magnets or electrified wires in which electromagnetic effects could be encountered. Such encounters, then as now, consist only of changes in the behavior of material objects which we use as instruments. We can imagine that there are particles radiating out in space, but we can’t ever know that is really true, since we have to capture the presumed particles with some kind of material which is more substantial than a vacuum.

We could say ‘if it looks like a particle, and quacks like a particle, then it is probably a particle’, however given Heisenberg’s uncertainty and Bell’s inequality, it is questionable whether it is the target of the experiment or the method of the experiment which is doing the quacking. In the 20th century, I think that we began to glimpse a new frontier of physics which brought us full circle from Newton and Descartes, to find that objectivity itself is no less of a model-making process than subjectivity. What we observe is that just as our own perception fills itself in with seamless continuity, so too does measurement on the microphysical and astrophysical scales defy our expectations of objective realism.

For me, the key could be in the re-thinking the 19th century idea of a field. Forces and fields are purely exterior mechanisms – apparitions which are nothing but ‘that which makes things happen to things’. Turning that inside out, and adding an ‘outside-in’ dynamic, I think we should think of all forces and fields as sensory-motive experiences. Because electromagnetism is a fundamental force of physics, we may not only dealing with physical interactions through space and time, but perhaps rhythms and amplitudes of felt experience through which the relational abstractions of space and time are localized. This is different from saying that the universe is made of energy, or that everything is relative. Instead what I propose is that relation is intrinsically sensible and that every location within the cosmos lies at the inflection point of certainty and uncertainty in which both appear to be winning. It’s not *only* certainty though, not a quantifiable skeleton of logical states, it is the appreciation of sensory experience that leads to certainty. Certainty itself is ultimately just another feeling; another way of measuring our sense of progress.

  1. April 26, 2016 at 3:18 am

    I think that everything published was very logical. But, what about this?
    what if you wrote a catchier post title? I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t good., however suppose
    you added something to maybe grab people’s attention? I mean Maxwell and Faraday on Fields | Multisense Realism is a little plain. You
    ought to peek at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create
    article headlines to grab viewers to click. You
    might add a related video or a related picture or two to get people
    excited about everything’ve written. Just my opinion, it might make your website a
    little bit more interesting.

    • April 26, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Thanks, its a valid suggestion. I guess part of me feels like I shouldn’t try to intentionally seek traffic, but just put it out there in a natural form. Sometimes I go for a punchier title.

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