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They're just complementary qualities. You could call them red and blue, day, night, zombo and fruvious.

(In fact quarks are divided up into 'colours' which are just another example of complementary qualities, grouped in threes instead of twos, and don't imply actual colour.)

It works like this - things behave in a certain way, and you have to label them with something. So historically scientists pick a word that sort of fits - often not very well, and sometimes out of context - and leave it at that. The people who do the exploring get to choose the words. If their exploring is good, everyone else copies them. If the words are not so good - too bad, everyone is stuck with them.

But you've illustrated a point I've tried to make before about the difference between scientific and creative types.

Creative types view the world through their feelings, and feeling is a moral process. So if they're excited about something - that's good. It's positive! If they're not excited about it - and feeling negative - that's bad.

Scientific types just describe what happens. There's no moral imperative, and while they do excited about things, getting excited - or not - isn't the main point of the exercise. The main point is describing what happens accurately, precisely, and reliably.

So with charge what matters is that opposing charges attract, and identical charges repel. You can put some numbers in and calculate exactly how much this happens.

E.g. to make an old-style cathode ray TV or monitor, you need to flick a beam of electrons around to paint the picture. Because you know the charge, it's easy to calculate how much flicking is needed, and how to build something that does it.

And - this would still be true if you went through the whole of physics and swapped the negative and positive signs around.

The current (sorry...) convention is actually rather stupid, because in a battery electrons flow from the negative terminal to the positive one. So if you think of it in terms of water flowing - which is sometimes useful for electricity - there's a flow from negative to positive.

This makes no sense at all, and it's really just an accident of history that the labelling is as it is.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Mar 14th, 2008 at 10:48:25 AM EST
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