Michael Faraday recreated things from scratch to establish “ownership” over ideas

Nabeel Qureshi writes:

The physicist Michael Faraday believed nothing without being able to experimentally demonstrate it himself, no matter how tedious the demonstration.

Understanding something really deeply is connected to our physical intuition. A simple “words based” understanding can only go so far. Visualizing something, in three dimensions, can help you with a concrete “hook” that your brain can grasp onto and use as a model; understanding then has a physical context that it can “take place in”.

Faraday had this quality in spades — the book [see below] makes it clear that this is partly because he was bad at mathematics and thus understood everything through the medium of experiments, and contrasts this with the French scientists (such as André-Marie Ampère) who understood everything in a highly abstract way. But Faraday’s physical intuition led him to some of the most crucial discoveries in all of science [like electromagnetic induction and many others].

Qureshi also quotes directly from the book Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics:

Simply hearing or reading of such things was never enough for Faraday. When assessing the work of others, he always had to repeat, and perhaps extend, their experiments. It became a lifelong habit — his way of establishing ownership over an idea.

Just as he did countless times later in other settings, he set out to demonstrate this new phenomenon [a voltaic pile] to his own satisfaction. When he had saved enough money to buy the materials, he made a battery from seven copper halfpennies and seven discs cut from a sheet of zinc, interleaved with pieces of paper soaked in salt water. He fixed a copper wire to each end plate, dipped the other ends of the wires in a solution of Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and watched.


Category  Learning & Teaching
Tags  Nabeel Qureshi · Michael Faraday · Biographical Anecdotes
Source  Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics