Success vs Failure

Most of us have at least one or to stories about great failures or unrecognized genius. Common names that come to mind are Ford, Macy, Honda, Disney, Gates, Einstein, Goddard, Schultz, and Seuss Giesel. These individuals have become part of the common lore. Success doesn’t always come in a conventional way. These individuals had what at the time were perceived as radical ideas and were told it wouldn’t work or there was no market, or that they were …. You fill in the blank. While these individuals have been inspirations for current generations – who came before? What ideas were presented as success after failures??

Turns out that history has quite a few examples of success after abject failure or what may have been perceived as failures. And, with these the mix of huge successes seemly out of nowhere. Take for example, the development of electricity and ultimately electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics. There is a wonderful website that outlines a brief timeline of history. This timeline isn’t just about the observations, discoveries, and inventions as they relate to electricity – but it also conveys the foibles of individuals, the narrow view of the world, egos, money, and ultimately a history of society through the development of something that most don’t even think about anymore.

If you live in the United States – you probably think that electricity was a discovery of Benjamin Franklin. It is not the case, he was just continuing a tradition of scientific inquiry; but he is responsible for the selection of the direction of current (turns out he picked wrong, but we carry on with this assumption to this day). The scientific inquiry started with the Greeks or at least that is Western view. Because of the lack of documentation – who knows what was happening in Eastern Cultures or in Persia?

For those of you interested, the traditional view of electricity shows that Bradley, Gray, du Fray and others made observations of “static” electricity and in 1745, two years before Benjamin Franklin, Leyden Jars were invented. A Leyden Jar is a device that “stores” static electricity, a type of capacitor.

The story continues mixed with heated debates, creation of new languages, the language of science mathematics, and competitions. Laplace, Lagrange, and Gauss are all working toward explaining observed phenomena, but today are better known as mathematicians than scientists. (Of course, during this period they weren’t scientists either, but Natural Philosophers.) And, electricity wasn’t even the really big topic of the time, it was light and optics. The electrical observations were asides, interesting phenomena.

The 1840’s and 50’s appear to have been a hot bed of debate in science. You have Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), Henry, Faraday, Doppler, Helmholtz, and Kirchoff all working to explain various phenomena. New ideas about the nature of light – is it the same or different than sound? And, a couple of very radical ideas emerge – heat is a form of energy, and energy is conserved. These are two key ideas in the understanding of how the universe works. These ideas are so radical that the esteemed publication of the time Annalen der Physik rejects them for publication (Mayer in 1842 and Helmholtz in 1847). Yet, today these ideas are fundamental to physics and chemistry. They are fundamental to the development of much of our everyday life: the power we use to get us from point A to point B, devices we turn on with a flip of a switch, and allow us to travel to the edge of the solar system and land on comets. Yet, the ideas were initially rejected as “too speculative.”

These were the role models for Maxwell (mathematician/physicist), Planck, and Einstein. Which of course are the role models for Fermi, Feynman, Bohr, Rutherford, Oppenheimer, and the list goes on.

The history of electricity – is our history, It shows the development of us as a society. It has its ups and downs. Its disputes. Its family feuds. Its “I’ll prove you wrong”. And, ultimately our acknowledgements of who has the last say (at least for now). The question now is – what is that fundamental concept that has already been presented – that has been discounted by the knowledgeable establishment?

Remembering and honoring

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – World War I came to an end.  This day is celebrated today as Veteran’s day in the United States.  A Monday in November is set aside as a federal holiday to allow communities to honor those who have served and those who serve.

As homeschool families, this day provides an opportunity to integrate our various curriculum activities with what is happening in the community.  There is an opportunity to explore history, and conduct interviews with individuals who witnessed events first hand.  There is an opportunity to participate in community activities such as parades, concerts, flag raising and lowering ceremonies, and visiting cemeteries.

While we think primarily of history, writing, poetry, and literature for activities related to Veteran’s day – there are some science related topics that can be incorporated as well.

Weather influences history – a wind sock (you can find several craft ideas for making a wind sock) may be an excellent way to show a bit of patriotism as well as incorporating how weather may impact world events.

Technology – while it may have been developed for defense – there are a number of peace time applications of various technologies.  Infrared detection is a great example.  The infrared cameras can see flaws in metals, and help detect with early detection of equipment failures.  Medicine and medical treatments have been influenced by events on the battlefield.  Even how goods are transported to your local big box store – is the result of solving a problem during the Berlin Airlift.

Science can be reflected in a number of ways as you celebrate this holiday.  You can see it right in front of you in the form of medical devices, architecture, and the overall health of some of those participating in the parade.  Just take a quick second to recognize it.

But, don’t forget to thank that veteran for his/her service.  It is their dedication to our values that allow us to have the freedoms we hold dear.