I wrote a poem today that included this word, “hysteresis.”  Years ago I learned all about it.  At one time in my life I could have given you a two-hour lecture on the subject complete with graphs, equations, and lab exercises. 

The word is used to describe one of the properties of an electrical transformer.  We’ve all heard of transformers – all of the electronic devices you plug into an AC outlet have one.  It’s basic use is to convert one voltage to another.  The transformer in your computer takes house current at 120 or 240 volts and reduces it to the 5 and 12 volt systems used by the computer.

Yes, it is, “transformed” the voltage using the magic of electrons and magnetism.  I won’t do the whole lecture, but the simple idea is that moving electrons creates a moving magnetic field and a moving magnetic field creates moving electrons.  The wires going into the transformer are wrapped around an iron core which creates a magnetic field. The wires going out of the transformer are wrapped around the same core where the magnetic field causes electrons to flow in the wire.

By controlling the wrappings and core, engineers control the amount of voltage change.

Hysteresis is the phenomenon in which the change in voltage lags behind the change in the magnetic field.  In order to tell you what state the transformer is in now, I have to know what the last state was – I have to know the past.  When the electrons start flowing in, it’s some time period before the magnetic field builds and then another time period before electrons are flowing through to the output.

Hysteresis is phenomenon where the state of a thing lags behind the changes in the effect that caused it.

In more simple human terms, a change in a person today was likely caused by something that happened yesterday.  If we’re to understand the current state of a person, we have to understand the person’s past.

Ask yourself why you are the way your are and have to recall your past.

If something happens to you today, it will affect your tomorrow.

Of course the time period can vary.  A kind word spoken now will make you feel better as soon as your brain processes the sounds and words.  Its effect might last for hours, days, or years.

Time – electrons move fast, but people move more slowly.  While a transformer is a physical device, it is also a metaphor.  In our lives there have been many transformers.

There have been people who’ve helped us, inspired us, given us energy, hurt us …

There have been events in our lives that have been transformers – marriage, school, accidents, sun rises, sun sets …

What we read, watch, and listen to are also transformers.

What have been the people, places and things that have been sources of hysteresis for you?  What effect in your past is changing your present?

What effect do you seek today for a change in your tomorrow?



About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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20 Responses to Hysteresis

  1. Studies show that people who read fiction tend to be more empathetic because they are exposed to, and absorbed in, viewpoints that differ from their own. So every time I read, I am transformed; and every book I publish is a potential transformer for thousands (or hundreds of thousands, if the download stats for my free book are any indication) of other people. How cool is that? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating on both the engineering and the human angle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. CJ Hartwell says:

    This was both educational and profound. I particularly like your last line. If we started each day asking ourselves that question, imagine how it would affect our lives — and the lives of those around us!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this Blast From the Past, Andrew. When I was just a young electrician’s apprentice I had a journeyman whose reason for every unexpected/unexplained event was, “Hysteresis.” He never explained further and my attempts to discover the meaning got a lot of strange reactions & laughs from the other guys on the job. I eventually found out what it meant and how it didn’t apply to any of the problems it was assigned to by my journeyman. That didn’t stop me from using from time to time over the years when I had no idea of the answer to a problem.

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  5. Debra says:

    There’s a word I’ve never heard before! I do understand the concept, thanks to your excellent explanation. I think in terms of everything and everyone being connected and nothing we do is without a consequence somewhere, to ourselves or others, often both. I feel quite aware of that these days. Thank you for a very thoughtful post, Andrew.

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  6. Hmmm . . . a new word and something profound to ponder. Thanks for the twofer, Andrew.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I just KNEW you’d have a “Hysteresis is a metaphor for life” moment. And thank you. I was glazing over a big up to that point.

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  8. Oh. My. Goodness. Too many instances of transformers to even mention. Interesting way to think about this!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pied Type says:

    I’d try to answer your questions but I’m still trying to understand what came before. It’s late, and all I know about electricity is that it makes things run, you can’t see it, and it can hurt you.

    Liked by 1 person

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