Edison, Feynman, and the Mystery of Energy

edison the man movie poster

1940, MGM

I’ve already covered some of the notable energy references in the biopic, Edison, The Man (1940) in my previous post linked here.  But I couldn’t help looping back to comment on one great line summing up how energy was seen in Edison’s time, which remains true today.

There is a fun verbal exchange when Edison (played by Spencer Tracy) is courting his love interest, Mary Stillwell. She asks, “What is electricity? I’ve been working around it for over a year, and don’t even know what it is.”  Edison replies, “Nobody does,” which reminds me of Nobel Prize-winning physics professor Richard Feynman’s famous quote about the mystery of energy.  He famously stated, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is.”¹

We like energy.  We see evidence of it all around us.  But electricity is still as difficult to define as when Edison lived and as when this film was made.

¹ Feynman, Richard.  (1964).  The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Lecture 4.

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