Chapter 12: Stand in Your Son’s Shoes
You also know how electricity works. You press the switch, that’s all. So simple. But has anybody really got any idea of how electricity works? And I am not talking about you and I am not talking about the professor. Even the man who worked miracles with electricity, Thomas Alva Edison. had no idea how it worked.
It happened once that he went to a summer resort where people did not know anything about him at least, nobody recognized his face. He was very happy - because famous people become very tired of being recognized the whole day, they are never at ease. So he was very happy, running on the beach, collecting pebbles. He had again become a child.
Somebody invited him to come to a high school exhibition. Looking at his childishness on the beach, at how he was running and playing with the foam and the pebbles and the sea-shells, somebody said, “Come to our high school. We are having an exhibition and the children have done many beautiful things.” So he went. They had made an electric fan - Edison was the inventor of the electric fan - and a small boy was explaining how it worked. Edison became interested and he asked, “Do you know how electricity works? What is electricity?” And the boy said, “That I don’t know. I will call my teacher.”
So the teacher was called to explain - of course, he did not know who was asking the question. He was a graduate in science and he tried to explain the mechanism of the fan. But electricity itself? Electricity in itself is inexpressible. Nobody knows.
And Edison insisted, “Tell me, what is electricity? You are explaining how the fan moves, how the switch works, how the motor works, but I am not asking about the motor and the fan and the switch, I am asking about electricity, the power behind it. What is it?” And the man said, “You are asking a difficult question. I am just a graduate. I will ask my principal to come - he is a DSc. He will explain!”
The principal came and he tried hard to explain but Edison insisted. The D.Sc. principal was very puzzled about this man asking such a significant question, and he became very embarrassed because he could not explain. So he said, “Sorry, I will inquire from some higher people who are more in the know.” Then Edison said, “I don’t think anybody is going to help.” He said, “What do you mean?” “I am Thomas Alva Edison and I don’t know myself what electricity is, so from whom are you going to inquire?” He had invented one thousand things which worked through electricity - the radio, the gramophone, the fan and a thousand and one things - he was one of the greatest inventors of the world, but he said, I myself don’t know what electricity is. I play with it, I manage it, it works. That’s all we know how it works. But what it is, nobody knows. So don’t be puzzled and don’t feel embarrassed.’