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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 9 2012: Er, this isn't an "imaginary" or even "virtual". Its real. Its why transistors work -- the current from emitter to collector is moderated by the charge stored in the base.
    That having been said, the question is "Can things we do not know about have physical manifestations?". The answer unfortunately seems to be obviously, Yes. The question is "why don't we know about them?".
    A number of reasons come to mind. In fact, Imre Lakatos and his book Proofs and Refutations comes to mind where he lists a bunch of reasons why we do not go directly from a real observation to the real underlying cause. We ignore the physical manifestation, we deny its existence, we call it a "monster", we pronounce it too small to be relevant, we call it god (i.e. of supernatural origin), etc.
    There are so many ways of ignoring reality that one is tempted to sing "Oh, frabjous day!"
    .

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