Feynman on visualizaing the electromagnetic field

  • Thread starter weichi
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There was a question several days ago related to visualizing the electro-magnetic field. I reminded me of a great passage from the Feynman Lectures on Physics. I won't quote the whole thing, but it is in section 20-3, "Scientific Imagination" (unfortunately I don't think the lectures are available on google books). I highly recommend this passage; it discusses more than just the electromagnetic field.

A brief excerpt:

So you say, 'Professor, please give me an approximate description of the electromagnetic waves ...' ... I'm sorry to say that I can't do that for you. I don't know how. I have no picture of the electromagnetic field that is in any sense accurate. ... So if you have some difficulty in making such a picture, you should not be too worried that your difficulty is unusual.
Can we represent the electric field by something ... like the displacement of a piece of jello? ... it turned out that the attempt to imagine the electromagnetic field in that way was really standing in the way of progress. We are unfortunately limited to abstractions, to using instruments to detect the field, to using mathematical symbols to describe the field, etc.
Note his use of the word "unfortunately"!

For my own part, these visualizations are also very vague for me, but I do think that with the advent of electromagnetic simulators it is perhaps a little easier for us today to get visualizations of the fields.
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