Is the magnetic field a mathematical abstraction?

  1. Is the magnetic field purely a mathematical abstraction or is there actually something there? In other words, if a proton floating in deep space, is there actually something that shoots out in all directions from the proton that will interact with another charge particle?
  2. jcsd
  3. mfb

    Staff: Mentor

    That is a question of philosophy.
    You can measure the magnetic field, so I would say it is there. The proton does not "shoot" with anything, it just has a magnetic field around it, which is as real as the proton itself.
  4. If two protons are floating in space, they'll feel an electrical field between each other and repel, but if you see them zip by you in space at relativistic speeds, they'll behave differently from your point of view by repelling slower than they should, and you'll see a new force.

    But it doesn't matter -- the math was invented to describe the behavior, so ultimately it's all mathematical abstraction and you use whatever level of complexity is necessary to solve your problem.
  5. Drakkith

    Staff: Mentor

    I look at it this way. If the EM field isn't real, then how can an EM wave exist? It may not be physical like a baseball, but I'd say it's as real as anything else.

    From wiki:
  6. sophiecentaur

    sophiecentaur 13,407
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    If you consider the relativistic effect of the motion of electrons at snail's pace, in a wire, the resulting forces of attraction and repulsion can be calculated accurately by just looking at the resulting electric forces between two wires. Or you can work it out differently (using the Lorenz - magnetic - force idea).
    You can call it magnetism or not, as you please.
  7. DaleSpam

    Staff: Mentor

    Can a mathematical abstraction do all of the things that a magnetic field does?
Know someone interested in this topic? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Similar discussions for: Is the magnetic field a mathematical abstraction?