ELECTRICITY IS NOT
Many encyclopedias, dictionaries, and textbooks contain very clear statements about the nature of Electricity. They say this:
- Electricity is a type of energy.
- Electric current is a flow of energy.The above statements are wrong. Yes, electrical energy does exist. However, this energy cannot be called "Electricity," since Coulombs of electricity are very different from the Joules of electromagnetic energy. Energy and charge flow in completely different ways in a circuit. They are two different things, so they cannot both be the electricity.
It's not too difficult to demonstrate the
mistake. Below is a collection of simple facts which show that
Electricity, the stuff that flows within copper wires, is not
form of energy.
If this is confusing, just realize that this is a mistake about waves vs. medium. The wave is not the "medium" through which the wave travels. Consider sound waves which move through collections of air molecules. Electricity is a medium: electricity is like the air which is vibrating during sound waves. On the other hand, the electrical energy is like sound waves which fly through the air at extreme velocity. Sound and air are two entirely different things: a wave and it's medium. Electrical energy and electricity are two completely different things: the energy-waves and the medium which guides them along. Electricity wiggles back and forth inside the AC power lines, while the electrical energy races forward along those same wires.
Why is this a trick?
It's a trick because most people use the word "electricity" in a
completely different way. They begin by defining the word "electricity"
to mean electrical energy! Electric companies do this (think of
kilowatt-hours ...of electricity.) So do the science textbooks written
for grades K-6. So do many
dictionaries and encyclopedias. This causes endless confusion, because
the electricity flows in complete circles, while the energy does not.
Physicists try to tell us that the charges of electricity are not energy,
and that a flow of charges is not a flow of energy. But then what is an
electric current? Electric currents aren't flows of energy, so under the
altered definition of "electricity" used by all the grade-school
textbooks, an electric current IS NOT a flow of electricity!
Huh? Confused? You SHOULD be confused. There's something very wrong
Note: my above paragraphis, the fact-collection, would be accepted by most
scientists throughout history, including Ben Franklin, Michael Faraday,
and Robert Millikan. I'm using the word electricity in the same
as they did: electricity is the positive and negative "stuff" that's found
in all electrons and protons. It is the "substance" that flows along
inside of the wires. When it flows, these scientists would call it a
"current of electricity." They'd say that any charged object has a "charge
of electricity," and that electrons and protons are "particles of
Without realizing it, the electric companies and the K-6 science textbooks
are trying to re-define the original scientific meaning of the word
electricity. How can such a thing happen? I'll examine this, but
here first are more facts about "electricity" as scientists use the word.
Take the vector cross-product of the E and M components of the electromagnetic field at millions of points in a plane penetrated by the wires. We call this the Poynting Vector field. Add these measurements together, and this tells us the total energy-flow (the Joules of energy which flow each second through the plane.)In other words, in order to discover the rate of energy-flow, don't look at the flowing electrons. The electricity-flow tells us little. Instead look at the electromagnetic fields which surround the wires.
How can dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks make such a gigantic
error about electricity? I'm not certain, but I suspect that the mistake
was missed because it slowly crept into the books over many decades.
Most people only acquire new ideas, they only practice "learning" rather
than "unlearning" any wrong concepts. Since we
habitually accumulate knowledge rather than habitually busting
misconceptions, we never
stumbled across the problem. Since most people don't really understand
electrical physics, nobody complained, or even noticed. And if you raise
the temperature of the lobster pot slowly enough, the live lobsters won't
realize that they're in trouble! (grin)
Another big problem: all these important ideas are dealing with invisible
as invisible as air, invisible as sound waves. But at least with air,
and sound, we can learn these words, and recognize their differences
because we can perceive
something about them. Sound is not air. And balloons aren't full of
"wind." But with electric circuits, we never grasp the
difference between the "electric wind" versus the "electric sound," versus
the "electric oxygen." All three are there inside the wires. But
only one of them should be named "electricity."
What about the experts? Why don't the science experts complain?
Here's one reason: over the years, modern scientists used the term
less and less. Perhaps they're aware of the
creeping distortion of the word "electricity", and so they avoid using it.
Instead they adopted some improved terminology. Scientists of today don't
say "charges of electricity." Instead they call it "electric
charge." Also, modern scientists no longer say that electric current is
of electricity." Instead they call it "a flow of charge." They also say
that electrons are "charge carriers" rather than "particles of
electricity." Even Faraday's Law has been changed, and today
scientists usually speak of "quantities of charge" rather than the
of electricity" discussed in the ancient definition of Faraday's
If today's scientists see their textbooks asserting that
"electricity is energy", they will not necessarily realize that this is an
error. They will not realize that the phrase "electricity is energy"
makes the same mistake as the following statment: "electric charge is a type of energy." Scientists no longer use
word "electricity" in their day-to-day profession, they mostly use
it when explaining physics to children. As a result, they don't
rigorously police their own usage of the word "electricity" in uncritical
situations. So they may never notice when children's textbooks get it
Also, contemporary scientists are in the same position as anyone else:
they learned some of their terminology in elementary school, and if their
books were wrong, their minds might still retain those errors. If every
one of us learns in grade school that the charges of "electricity" are
supposed to be a form of energy, we may remain blind to the contradictions
even when we grow up to become top physicists. The scientists put the
mistakes in a mental pigeonhole and never use them during work, but they
still may bring them out when explaining electricity to non-experts. I
caught myself doing this at the start. I doubt I'm the only one with this
Another reason why the error was never fixed: if an error becomes
extremely widespread, and hundreds of thousands of people begin making the
same mistake, then the error will become invisible. Those people will
refuse to even acknowledge the error as being an error. After all,
this many people can never be wrong! Oh yeah? The majority rules? Not
where the real world is concerned! It doesn't matter how many people make
a factual error: the error remains just as wrong. However, any expert who
objects, and who tries to fix the massive error, they will perhaps be seen
living in ivory towers. The ones who have the ambition to point out the
errors are easily ignored because they are so few.
In all the non-science school subjects, majority
does rule, and any grammar-nitpickers are actually wrong, since slang
becomes proper usage over time. For example,
if millions of people use slang words in their daily speech, then
eventually those slang words will become acceptable. The words themselves
didn't change ...yet they're no longer mistakes. As the slang is used
over many years, dictionaries eventually include those words (dictionaries
RECORD definitions, they don't promote them, and the common mistakes are
recorded too.) Eventually all the dictionaries will include the slang
words, and those words will become proper English and will be slang no
longer. For this reason, people usually ignore Grammarians who object to
the "misuse" or "corruption" of the English language. Such misuse is a
matter of opinion.
But Science classes are different than English classes. In Science,
reality rules, and if a large group of non-scientists tries to change the
description of the real world, tries to define coulombs as being units of
energy, then that large group falls into error.
It doesn't matter how many people "vote" for the change, because Nature
isn't listening. If "electricity" originally means electric charge, and
if people try to change it so that the word "electricity" now means
energy, then we have a special word for their actions: MISTAKEN
I don't quite know how to solve the problem regarding the word
"electricity." Too many reference books contain the errors. The word has
been misused for so many decades that I am tempted to follow the lead of
the scientists: just give up! Just admit that the word Electricity
is irretrievably contaminated, and simply abandon it. Abandon it
silently. That way nobody has to be called out for public embarrassment.
Yet doing this silently
has caused serious problems in the past. It doesn't fix the problem, it
just covers it up.
Abandoning the word electricity might defend Science against the
brain-damage caused by contradictory terminology, but it does nothing to
fix all of the reference books which are filled with confusing
explanations of "electricity." More importantly, if we quietly abandon
the word "electricity" without discussion, this will do nothing to help
all of the poor souls who are currently confused by the incorrect
"electricity" concepts. Neither will it give any aid to all of the
science students who are butting their heads against the contradictory material
still present in their science textbooks.
 Can electrical energy be created or destroyed? Certainly, just as light or sound is created by an emitter or destroyed by an absorber. Energy itself, that's different. Energy itself can only change form, so whenever light is absorbed by black paint, thermal energy is created as the light is destroyed.
Here's a problem. Optical energy is called "Light," thermal energy is called "Heat" and acoustic energy is called "Sound." Unfortunately we have no simple word that means "Electrical energy." Nobody would complain if I said that light could be created, or that sound could be destroyed. But if I say that light bulbs destroy "electrical energy", people write angry letters telling me that energy can't be destroyed. But I never said that it could. ELECTRICAL ENERGY can be destroyed just the same as optical energy can be destroyed. This doesn't mean that energy itself can be destroyed.
We need a single word that means "electrical energy." If we can't use the word "electricity" any more, what shall we use instead of the phrase "electromagnetic energy" or "electrical energy?" Electrophee? Mezzelpiss? I don't know, choose something good, just as long as you remember that a flow of charges is circular, while a flow of EM energy goes one-way.