Ever since I was a toddler I've celebrated Xmas. Not being a Christian, I couldn't have cared less about the "Christ" business. But the whole holiday thing? Just my cup of tea! And "X" plays an important part in that.
X is the symbol for the unknown and the mysterious. It's the unpredictable and the novel in our lives. It's what makes the world so much more interesting, that element that transcends the known.
But what makes it especially great is that it's about the answerable. Implicit in X's invocation is that there is an answer that will be revealed.
Xmas morning was all about X. You never knew what was wrapped in those seductive boxes under the tree—but you knew you'd be finding out. Art's like that. You capture that photo in your camera and you can't really know what you've got until you develop the film or pull the image up on the computer. Anticipating and imagining how wonderful it's going to be is a big part of what's so much fun about art—you know you'll get there, but you don't really know where you'll wind up. That's the miraculous power of X.
X makes physics work. It would be just as hard to have modern physics without X as modern math without zero. X is a source of wonderment. So's physics. Take a jaunt with me; this'll be about you...eventually.
We live in a universe governed by gravitational force, the strong force, and the electroweak (EW) force. Forces are the noodges of creation. They make things happen. No forces, and it'd just be an undifferentiated, amorphous sea of indifferent quarks waiting for the end of time. Terrible fodder for photographs. Not to mention no way to make them!
Forces are strange beasts. They're not just noodges, they're particles as well. You can talk about a gravitational field or graviton particles and you're talking about the same thing (here there be devilish details). That'll matter to us, but gravity itself doesn't matter much for photographers, 'cept as it holds our tripods in place.
The EW force is odd even for a force. It has dual identities. One is the weak force, an atomic-scale force that controls the decay of certain subatomic particles. You may think it 's irrelevant to photographers, and you'd be wrong.
The other is the electromagnetic (EM) force. It's lingua franca for the whole universe. Anything that has charge engages the EM force. Y'see, particles with like charges repel each other; unlike charges attract. But what means these words "repel" and "attract"? AHA! Force! The particles push and pull on each other. They can't help it; the EM force obligates them to jostle each other about. And that makes weird, relevant-to-shutterbug things happen. (Finally!)
A charge has an electric field. It's what does the pushing and pulling (that field's "really"—for a loose use of the word "real"—a cloud of charged particles popping in and out of existence in the vacuum). A jiggling charge creates something else, called a magnetic field. A magnetic field, in turn, moves charges and so can change an electric field. It's the yin to electric's yang.
Miraculously, a blessed cycle arises. An oscillating electric field creates an oscillating magnetic field. In turn, an oscillating magnetic field creates an oscillating electric field. Each bootstraps the other, and those interlinked fields go racing off at the speed of light. Photons, my boy, the future's in photons! These are the particles of the EM force.
Photons carry energy. Charged particles that generate them send some of their energy elsewhere. Charged particles that absorb them acquire that energy. Most of the energy that moves through space travels via the EM force, packaged up in handy, bite-sized photons created by jiggling charges. What makes charges jiggle? Mostly, it's heat. And where does most heat come from?
Surprise—it's the weak force, the other facet of EW. The weak force lets neutrons convert into electrons and protons and vice-versa. That's of more than passing interest, because without those conversions, hydrogen fusion doesn't work. And the sun goes out. All the suns go out. There are still photons about, but they're a much scarcer resource.
It'd be really hard to make photographs from the thin EM soup that would be left. Heck, it'd be really hard to make photographers (maybe life, but not as we know it, Jim). We'd not be having this conversation were it not for the electroweak force's dual identity, and the peculiar yin-yang nature of electricity and magnetism.
Our art is predicated on some obscure and unlikely physics. Ain't that a wonder?! There's something to celebrate. So, enjoy your solstice and have a happy holiday for whatever that means for you. And remember—everyone gets to find happiness their own way.