Energy from friction

You are no doubt familiar with XKCD: the latest cartoon at is a pretty typical example, and teaches a lot of physics by means of jokes. Look at the bottom right hand corner – why does rubbing a ballon on your hair make your hair stand on end? As it says, the solution should be “easy to look up”. But apparently the problem is “extremely hard, currently unsolved”. That’s my type of problem. Of course, I have no idea how to solve this problem, but if no-one else has any idea either, then we’re on a level playing field.

Obviously we need to work out why the electrons on the outside of the molecules migrate preferentially from one side to the other, not the other side to the one. Complicated molecules, of course. Complicated quantum mechanics. Think outside the box – might quantum gravity have something to do with it? Are the virtual photons sufficient to explain the phenomenon? Maybe not. How about the virtual neutrinos? Ah well, we have no idea what the virtual neutrinos might do, so maybe there is a way in to the problem?

Quantum anti-gravity? What do you think? Well, you can’t rule out the possibility, can you? It is clear that in the ultimate unified theory, quantum electrodynamics and quantum gravity couple together, so that there are phenomena which require essential use of this coupling for their solution. Might this be one of those problems? I have no idea, but surely it is worth thinking about? The electrons, once dislodged from their atoms, migrate preferentially from the lighter body (the balloon) to the heavier one (your head), or is it perhaps the other way around?

What about lightning? A very similar phenomenon, wouldn’t you say? If I remember what I learnt at school, the electrons migrate upwards from the ground to the clouds, don’t they? Anti-gravity perhaps? Or is the fact that electrons actually have zero gravitational mass, compared to their very small inertial mass? Should we actually call a thunderstorm a gravitational storm, rather than an electrical storm? Is it the fact that the normal balance of gravity and electromagnetism has been disturbed, and gravity puts its foot down, and says, enough of this nonsense, get back to your rightful homes?

I have no idea, but I’ll add it to the already long list of unsolved problems that a proper theory of quantum gravity might have something useful to say about.


One Response to “Energy from friction”

  1. brodix Says:

    I still think we are running in circles, because the energy and any form it expresses, go opposite directions of time. The energy, manifesting this presence, goes to the future, because any patterns it expresses rise and fall, coalesce and dissolve, ie, go future to past.
    Energy drives the wave, while the fluctuations rise and fall. No tiny strings necessary.
    Consciousness goes past to future, while the perceptions, emotions and thoughts giving it form and structure go future to past. Though it’s the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems processing the energy and feeding the flame, while the central nervous system sorts the information. Motor and steering. So our minds tend to obsess over the patterns and ignore the processes driving them.
    The left, logical side of the brain is the clock and ruler, while the right, emotional side is the thermostat and barometer.
    Galaxies are energy radiating out, as structure coalesces in. The energy harmonizes across the universe, while the patterns synchronize into equilibrium, by which time, all energy has radiated back out. Black body radiation versus black holes.
    So nodes and networks, organisms and ecosystems, particles and fields.
    We seem hollow inside, because we are just that interface between the body and its situation. We are as much the network, as the node.
    It isn’t that reality is too complicated, but the basics are too sublime. Complexity is just part of the cycle, of building up and breaking down.
    The models only grow because the funding is still feeding them. Energy.

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