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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity


Quantum Mechanics

J.J. Thompson discovers the electron. The atom has component parts after all and is not a "solid sphere" as Dalton theorized.



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Editor's note:

The scientific detective work leading to the discovery of the electron I find particularly interesting, and so I’ll outline the process in some detail. The artwork and graphics below, in the main, are from two sources,

(1) the “Kathy Loves Physics And History” youtube channel. While many others offer an outline of the electron’s debut, Kathy investigates original documents of the time to offer a sharper view; also,

(2) Tyler Dewitt, a young MIT doctorate, one of the very best teachers anywhere.






Joseph John "J.J." Thompson (1856 - 1940)


‘coming in strollers’ to university

Born to a middle-class family, and at the tender age of 14 (1870), with the aid of scholarships, Thompson applied for entrance to Owens College (later, the Victoria University of Manchester, England). In his autobiography, he recounts that the college administration considered it a “scandal” that somehow such a young person had slipped through the admissions process. University authorities promptly passed by-laws prohibiting freshmen students “coming in strollers.”

Cavendish on a lark

In 1884, when he was only 28, Thompson applied for the chief position of the prestigious Cavendish Research Institute (of the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge). He didn’t expect to win the appointment and put forward his name as a lark; however, to his great surprise, he was accepted. Suddenly Thompson found himself with the world’s best scientific resources at his disposal allowing him to investigate whatever he pleased.

Thompson exhibited an uncanny ability to bring out the best in his students

Look at this photo - Thompson's students, including his own son, who would later win a Nobel Prize!!


the dismay of discovering the world as it is 

As a young man in bible college, I was not prepared to encounter a poisonous cultish atmosphere of in-fighting, grandstanding, and “me-ism.” I speak of some of this in the "spirituality 3" article.

However, in the midst of this dark cloud of egoism, there existed a few and precious excellent spirits, a shimmering oasis of high-mindedness.

One of these noteworthies was Bob Morton. He had been a field pastor, but now temporarily assigned to teach public speaking, management, and human relations to the ministerial trainees.

standing-room only

Bob was soon well known at the college for bringing to the fore startling insights from the book of Proverbs concerning successful business-personal relationship practices. What a thrill to witness this, to hear him speak. Let me tell you, it was a true anomaly, standing room only -- and not just students attending, but, of their own free will, department heads and middle-management, filling, crowding the aisles, of the lecture room. This was absolutely unheard of, and I’m sure he made enemies among aspiring empty-suit Dear Leaders, envious of his stellar and captivating insights.

Editor's note: The church's "Dear Leadership" would tend to promote and ordain those who could be controlled, those who could be counted on to preach the party line, and not think too much; those who wouldn't ask questions as reliable goose-steppers. But in Bob Morton we found something quite new: authentic authority from the inside-out, a "pure silver dollar" and not debased currency. Somehow, for a time, he'd slipped through the filtering devices designed to protect the fragile "Potemkin-Village" images of upper church-management.

raiding your department when others need to hire a good person for their team

But I still recall, 50+ years ago, something he said - and I was reminded of it when I saw Thompson’s gallery of student Nobel Prize winners - to the effect:

what does it mean to be a great person

“The truly great man or woman is deemed to be so, not just for personal accomplishments, not only for heroic action, but for the success and development of those who labor under his teaching authority. This kind of governance brings out the best in people, inspires, encourages, elevates those in subordinate roles to come out of themselves, to reach for their own personal height of human potential. People blossom and shine under this kind of leadership; they're not afraid to trust themselves to put forward new ideas. And this sort of leader will have a reputation as a kind of ‘go-to person’ by other department heads, when they’re looking for a candidate to fill a job opening; in other words, those who have worked under this order of beneficent mentorship are sought after, as likely to have found their own competence and capability, to contribute and serve at a high level of proficiency.”

an astonished and dumbfounded quiescence

I still remember the hushed and stunned silence by the audience to hear this kind of lofty perspective. Bob was a man out of time and place in that setting of poisonous rivalry. We know, however, that human relations, in the “better neighborhoods” of Summerland, are conducted just this way. He speaks with authentic authority, the kind that comes from one's own sanctified mind and person and not from flimflam political "ordination" by external other. There's a gravitas in his words reminiscent of the teaching of Elizabeth Fry. But how rare to find this kind of magnanimity in our world of cultish totalitarianism, of "look at me, notice me, see how special I am" at every level of factious society.



JJ Thompson's famous cathode ray tube experiment:

What is a cathode tube?

Think of a sealed glass bottle.

The bottle, or the tube, needs to be sealed because a vacuum pump will be attached to the tube to pump out the air.

What does 'cathode' mean?

"Cathode" is from a Greek word ("kata") meaning "down" or "on its way down."


The word was coined in 1834 from the Greek κ?θοδος (kathodos), 'descent' or 'way down', by William Whewell, who had been consulted by Michael Faraday over some new names needed to complete a paper on the recently discovered process of electrolysis. In that paper Faraday explained that when an electrolytic cell is oriented so that electric current traverses the "decomposing body" (electrolyte) in a direction "from East to West, or, which will strengthen this help to the memory, that in which the sun appears to move", the cathode is where the current leaves the electrolyte, on the West side: "kata downwards, `odos a way ; the way which the sun sets". The use of 'West' to mean the 'out' direction (actually 'out' → 'West' → 'sunset' → 'down', i.e. 'out of view') may appear unnecessarily contrived... cathode, from the Greek kathodos, 'way down', 'the way (down) into the cell (or other device) for electrons'.

Yes, the term “cathode” may be “unnecessarily contrived” and convoluted, but the general idea relates to the direction of electrical current, a seemingly natural direction, just as the sun appears to move predictably across the sky from east to west, on its “way down” toward the horizon at eventide. That said, this term needs some make-over.


How did the experiment work?

The air was pumped out of the tube. Two pieces of metal were placed in the tube (see on the left of the tube). The metal on the far left was the "cathode," which would be negatively charged.


Thompson connected the two pieces of metal to a power source.


When he did, a ray, a beam of light, shot across the tube, originating from the cathode, and hit the far right side of the tube which was specially coated for detection, a fluorescent screen.

What was happening?

At this stage of the experiment, Thompson did not yet understand what was happening. In fact, electrons were streaming out of the negatively-charged cathode (on the far left) and were attracted to the nearby piece of metal, the positively-charged anode. However, the electrons were shooting so fast that they shot right by the anode and hit the far-right end of the tube.


Thompson asks the question, what is the ray made of?

Whatever the ray is made of, he wants to know if it has an electrical charge.

He creates an additional experiment to see what the ray will do when exposed to an electric current or to magnetic forces.



Thompson positions two metal plates on either side of the tube, then runs an electric current through them.

In our example here, the top plate has a “plus” or positive charge, and the bottom plate has a “minus” or negative charge.

See what happens now to the cathode ray.


Now the cathode ray bends upward, toward the positively-charged plate.

Thompson knows that opposite electrical charges attract, and so, based on these findings, he reasons that the cathode ray is made of something that’s negatively charged because it’s attracted to the positively-charge plate.

However, Thompson seeks for confirmation. He then surrounds the tube with a magnet. Without going into the details, he understood that, if the cathode ray were, indeed, negatively charged, the ray would react in a particular way to the magnetic forces. What he theorized, in fact, occurred, and now he had two major points of evidence pointing toward a negatively-charged cathode ray.

Thompson’s experiment suggested to him that, not only is the cathode ray composed of a negatively-charged essence but that, it’s also extremely small.

From the data obtained from his experiment, plus other information at his disposal concerning what was known at the time, Thompson was led to perceive that the negatively-charged “stuff” of the cathode ray, in round figures, was 1000 times smaller than the smallest atom, hydrogen. Later, it was more accurately determined to be 1800 times.

This tiny essence of matter would come to be called the “electron.”


Editor’s note: The word "electron" was coined in 1891 by G. Johnstone Stoney in his studies of electrical charge. It was George Francis Fitzgerald, however, in 1897 who put forward the idea that “electron” be specifically applied to what Thomson had discovered.



Editor's last word:

Who really discovered the electron?

There is good evidence that both the famed Nikola Tesla and William Crookes independently discovered the electron prior to Thompson’s 1897 effort. In fact, Tesla communicated his beginning findings to Thompson, and Crookes may have invented the “cathode ray tube” as there’s a version of it called the “Crookes tube.”

Sir William Crookes, Nobel Prize winner, is also an important researcher in the field of post-mortem survival. He investigated direct-materialization mediumship.

Read about Crookes' work on the “afterlife” page.