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Nicolette Sinensky


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How does virtuality translate into reality?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we spoke about electrical stimulation of nerves. One method of stimulation is to place a electrode directly on the surface of a nerve. One of the considerations of this method, however, is that the anode (positively charged side) and cathode (negatively charged side) of the electrode each cause a redistribution of charge around the electrode. Consequently, the anode induces a complementary "virtual cathode" and the cathode creates a complementary "virtual anode." These components aren't actually there, but we can observe a similar redistribution of charge that implies that something unseen is going on. Despite the fact that these components are not physically present, they have real effects on the functionality of both the electrode and the nerve. The virtual cathode and anode can cause a very real, measurable voltage change in the nerve, and can effectively block a nerve signal, which is dependent on the voltage.

In what other ways can intangible entities have physical manifestations? In this case, the unintended effect has a negative consequence, but can we find useful applications of such a circumstance?

Also, if these imaginary aspects can effect reality, what does that say about our definition of what is real and what isn't?


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  • Apr 7 2012: It has long been said that Ideas are intangible which is a just statement. Just as with your "Virtual Cathode" and "Virtual Anode" Ideas have a very physical manifestations. Idea's are the root of all things man made and by default, they are the origin of many things physical. We must question our knowledge of the external world and the perception of all things physical. It is largely accepted that sense data makes up for much of our knowledge on the external world however the Noumenal world is too a part of the External world but a part of which sense data has no way of measuring. In comes the power of reason and the world of idea's - Intangible things but with a very real effect on the physical world. All this leads me to believe that our definition of what is real leaves much to be desired. Until we can look further into how what is incorporeal effects the material world or discover some method of measuring what is incorporeal, we cannot have a complete definition of the word real.
    • Apr 8 2012: I am reminded of the concept of evanescent waves which carry information even though they do not transport any energy and their direction of propagation includes one or more imaginary components. Like others have said, words like “real” tend to refer to things we can only touch or see and makes our view narrow. When considering what effects reality, intangible concepts should be kept in mind as they do influence the real world.
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        Apr 10 2012: Hi Andrew, I love that you brought up electromagnetics and evanescence. You seem to be the only one on here who discusses the notion of imaginary numbers (as in, sqrt(-1)). I agree this is a great reminder of how "real" should not just be referred to as tangible. Another example of imaginary components having a huge impact on the "real world" is the quadrature phase of a complex-valued signal. The field of communication theory heavily relies on the propagation and processing of these signals that carry information.

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