THE STUFF THAT FLOWS THROUGH WIRES IS CALLED ‘ELECTRIC CURRENT’?


Horribly misleading! Most textbooks discuss a substance/energy called “current”. They constantly talk about flows of current. However, here is a pointed question: WHAT FLOWS IN RIVERS: Water, or “current?” If I fill a bucket from the faucet, is my bucket full of “current?” No! Another question: what if the English language had no word for “water”, but we called it “current” instead? What if we believed that rivers were full of “current” which flowed? Wouldn’t people tend to aquire many serious misconceptions about the nature of water? (They might imagine that it vanishes whenever it stops flowing, since a halted current is… nothing!) As far as elementary textbooks are concerned, we have no word for the stuff that flows inside of wires. The stuff, when it flows, is properly called “an electrical current”, but when the stuff *stops* flowing, what do we call it? Refer to advanced physics texts, and there we find its correct name: charge. An electric current is a FLOW OF CHARGE. Yet the K-6 books never mention this. Instead they say that “current” flows. Worse, most of them say that “current electricity” flows in wires. To this I say, “Is there a special kind of water called ‘current water?'” The answer obviously is NO. The same answer applies to electricity: electricity can flow and electricity can stop, and a flow of electricity (or charge) is called an Electric Current, but there is no such thing as “current” electricity. Here’s a useful hint for authors: in your articles, remove the word “current” and replace it with “charge flow”, then see if your sentence still makes sense. If the sentence states that charge-flow is flowing, then the sentence is confusing the students and teaching them to believe that a substance called “current” exists.

CURRENT ELECTRICITY IS THE OPPOSITE OF STATIC ELECTRICITY?


Wrong. “Static” appears whenever the negative charges within matter are separated from the positive charges. “Current” appears whenever the negative charges within matter are made to flow through the positive charges (or when positive flows through negative.) These are two separate kinds of events, they are not opposites. “Static” is a separation; it is a stretching-apart, and it really has little to do with anything remaining static or stationary. “Current” is a flowing motion. It has little to do with the separation of opposite charges. “Static electricity” was misnamed, and it really should be called “charge separation” or maybe “stretched electricity.” Since stretch is not the opposite of flow, Static is not the opposite of Current. And though electric current really exists and electric charge really exists, there is no such material as either “current electricity” or “static electricity.”

THE TWO KINDS OF ELECTRICITY ARE “STATIC” AND “CURRENT?


Nope. Static and Current are two ways in which electrical charges can behave. If we said that Electrical Science is divided into two fields of research called Electrostatics and Electrodynamics, we would be correct. But please realize that the study of WATER is divided into Hydrostatics and Hydrodynamics, yet we don’t go around claiming that “current water” is one type of water, while “static water” is a different type of water. The same applies to electricity. If you insist that “Static” and “Current” are two kinds of electricity, then please explain this: if positive and negative charges are forced to separate as they flow along a wire, then that wire becomes electrostatically charged… yet the charges are NOT STATIC. The wire will cause hair to rise, and it can attract fur or lint, yet the so-called “static electricity” is moving along as an electric current. Does this make your brain ache? The solution is simple: realize that “static” electricity is actually composed of separated opposite charges, and if those separated charges should flow along, they still behave as “static electricity” whether they move or not. The separation of the charges is key, and their “static-ness” is not important. For this reason, charges can exhibit both “static electricity” and “current electricity” at the same time. This is not so terrible, since water supplies a good illustration: water can be pressurized and it can flow at the same time. Fortunately we have not given the name “static water” to water that is pressurized. Maybe we should change the name of “Static electricity” to something sensible, like “charge imbalance”, or “pressurized electricity.” It would end a lot of confusion. Charges can flow, and opposite charges can be forced to separate, but this doesn’t mean that the two KINDS of charge are “flowing electricity” and “separated electricity.” Separation and flow are two electrical behaviors, they are not two “kinds of electricity.”

THE ELECTRIC ENERGY IN A CIRCUIT FLOWS IN A CIRCLE?


Wrong. When you connect a light bulb to a battery, energy moves from the battery to the bulb. This is a one-way flow. If this phenomena is examined in great detail, we find that electrical energy is composed of electromagnetic fields. We find that it moves as wave energy, that it exists only outside of the wires, and most importantly, that it TRAVELS ONE WAY ALONG BOTH WIRES on its trip from the battery to the bulb. The energy did not travel in a circle. So, when you plug a lamp into a wall socket, you should not imagine that the AC energy is a mysterious invisible entity traveling back and forth inside the wires. Instead you should think of it as a mysterious invisible flow that comes out of the outlet, runs along the outside of BOTH wires, then dives into the filament of the light bulb.

THE “ELECTRICITY” INSIDE OF WIRES MOVES AT THE SPEED OF LIGHT?


Wrong. In metals, electric current is a flow of electrons. Many books claim that these electrons flow at the speed of light. This is incorrect. Electrons actually flow quite slowly, at speeds on the order of centimeters per minute. It’s the energy in the circuit which flows fast, not the electrons. When the electrons at one point in the circuit are pumped, electrons in the entire loop of the circuit are forced to flow, and energy spreads almost instantly throughout the entire circuit. This happens even though the electrons move very slowly. To aid your understanding, imagine a large wheel. If you give it a spin, the entire wheel moves as a unit, and this is how you transmit mechanical energy almost instantly to all parts of the wheel’s rim. But the wheel itself didn’t move very fast. The material of the wheel is like the electrons in a wire. Electrical energy is like the “jerk,” the mechanical energy wave which you sent to all parts of the wheel when you gave it a spin. Mechanical energy moves incredibly quickly to all parts of the wheel, but the wheel’s atoms didn’t have to rapidly travel anywhere in order for this to happen.

ELECTRONS IN WIRES JUMP FROM ATOM TO ATOM DURING A CURRENT?


Wrong. When individual atoms of copper are brought together to form a bulk metal material, something unexpected happens. The outer electron of each copper atom leaves its parent atom. Rather than orbiting single atoms, the outer electrons all begin “orbiting” around and among ALL the atoms in the metal. In a sense, the metal’s electrons are “jumping” from atom to atom all the time, even when there is no electric current applied. As a result, metals act like a solid sponge which has been soaked with “liquid charge.” That’s what makes wires so wonderful: they act like pre-filled pipes. They are filled with “liquid electrons.” Not all of the electrons become “loose” and begin wandering. Many are held back, and they remain attached to the atoms. Only the outer electron(s) become part of the “electron sea.” Different metals donate different numbers of electrons to the sea: in some metals, each atom only loses one electron, while in other metals two or more become free. The metal is composed of a mixture: a solid grid of positively-charged atoms which are immersed in a see of movable electrons. When there is an electric current in a wire, it is these movable electrons which flow. These electrons are not stuck to individual metal atoms, so the electrons do not need to “jump” during an electric current. The orbiting motion of the metal’s “liquid” electrons takes place at high speed. However, this motion is similar to the random thermal vibrations of a gas. For this reason we normally ignore the electrons’ wandering motion, just as we ignore the vibration of air molecules when we talk about “wind.” Air molecules keep moving fast even when there is no wind at all. And electrons in metals always wander around at high velocity, even when the electric current is zero.

THE “ELECTRICITY” WHICH FLOWS IN WIRES IS SUPPLIED BY BATTERIES OR GENERATORS?


Wrong. Electric currents in copper wires are a flow of electrons, but these electrons are not supplied by batteries. They come from the copper atoms in the wire. The electrons were already in the circuit before the battery was connected. They were even there before the copper was mined and made into wires! Batteries and generators do not create these electrons, they merely pump them, and the electrons are like a pre-existing fluid that is always found within all wires. In order to understand electric circuits, we must imagine that all the wires are pre-filled with a sort of “liquid electricity.” To clarify this, get rid of the battery. Instead, use a hand-cranked generator as your power supply. Ask yourself exactly where the “electricity” comes from when a generator powers a light bulb. A generator takes electrons in from one terminal and simultaneously spits them out the other one. At the same time, the generator pushes electrons through the moving coil of wire inside itself and through the rest of the circuit. Unlike a battery-powered circuit, all we have is wires. Where is the source of “electricity?” When we include the generator in the circuit, we find that the circuit is a continuous closed loop of wire, and we can find no original source of the “electricity.” A generator or battery is like a closed-loop pump, but it does not supply the substance being pumped. But we were all taught that “batteries and generators create current electricity.” This phrase forms a serious conceptual stumbling block (at least it did for me!) To fix it, change the statement to read like this instead: “batteries and generators cause electric charge to flow.” To complete the picture, add this: all conductors are full of movable charge. A battery or generator is like your heart: it moves blood, but it does not create blood. When a generator stops, or when the metal circuit is opened, all the electrons stop where they are, and the wires remain filled with electric charges. But this isn’t unexpected, because the wires were full of vast quantities of charge in the first place.

ELECTRICITY” IS A PHENOMENON COMPOSED OF ENERGY?


Wrong. Actually, “Electricity” does not exist. The term “electricity” is a catch-all word with many meanings. Unfortunately these meanings are contradictory, and this leads to the unsettling fact that there is no single substance or energy called “electricity.” When we say “quantity of electricity,” we could be talking about quantities of charged particles. But we could also be talking about quantity of energy, quantity of current, or potential, forces, fields, net charge, power, or even about electrical phenomena. All of these are found as separate dictionary definitions of the word “electricity.” But current is not power, particles are not fields, and charge is not energy. “Quantity of Electricity” is a meaningless concept because of the contradictory definitions of the word “electricity.” Much of this problem would vanish if we used the word “electricity” only to refer to a field of science or class of phenomena. This is the way we use the words “physics” or “optics.” Then, if we needed to get down to details, we would never say “electricity.” Instead we would use words like “charges,” “energy”, “current,” etc. We do use the word “electricity” this way occasionally. But then we immediately turn around and do the equivalent of teaching our children that optics is a substance, or that physics is a kind of energy. “Optics” is a substance which comes out of the light bulb and passes through the lens, right? And when you ride a bicycle, “physics” comes out of your muscles and makes the wheels turn? That’s what we say when we tell kids that “electricity flows in wires”. Below are a few examples of errors caused by the contradictory meanings. In AC electric circuits the charges wiggle back and forth, but the energy moves continuously forward. This is analogous to the way that sound waves move continuously forward through the air, while the air itself wiggles back and forth. But if we teach our kids that “electricity” is made of electrons, and “electricity” is also energy, then we make a serious error. We unwittingly teach them that the electricity in wires sits in one spot and wiggles, but at the same time the electricity moves forward rapidly. Garbage! It’s like saying that sound and air are the same thing. And the error is directly traceable to the bogus “electricity” concept. Another: when a battery lights a lightbulb, we explain that the path of electricity is into, then through, then back out of the bulb, and that no electricity is used up. Then we say that electricity flows from the battery to bulb and is totally converted to light. Which one is correct? Does the bulb consume the electricity? Or, does all the electricity flow through the lightbulb and back out again? As far as students are concerned, we’ve just told them that it does both things at the same time! Another: There are two forms of electricity, positive electricity and negative. NO, the two forms of electricity are static and current. NO, there are many forms of electricity: triboelectricity, bioelectricity, myoelectricity, piezoelectricity. NO, electricity is a single form of energy called Electromagnetism. NO, electricity is power, it is watts, not energy. Which is right? All and none, because the word “electricity” has multiple contradictory definitions. None of the above statements are right because there is no “electricity” which is charge, energy, power, and phenomena all at once. And all the meanings are also correct, because the word “electricity” is commonly used to name all these different things, and these definitions appear in the dictionary. Who are we to argue with The Dictionary? Yet we SHOULD distrust the dictionary, since it just innocently records the words which people use. If people always use the word “electricity” in misleading and contradictory ways, then dictionaries will contain contradictory definitions.

Hello world!


This is going to be a slow process!

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