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In a world where magic exists, a specific character can channel electricity in whatever way you might imagine. They are relatively immune to suffering physical injury even for high voltage or current. Their body is somehow a close-to-ideal conductor. Let's not worry about how that makes sense and just leave it as a prerequisite.

This character would have an intuitive understanding of current and voltage without ever having encountering the formal terms, I would imagine. They'd say a higher voltage "feels like x" and a higher current "feels like y."

The question is, how might they describe the sensational difference between these two measures? I haven't been able to pin down a fluid way an uneducated (not stupid, just literally lacking formal education) person who only has an intuitive understanding might put this into words.

EDIT: I am refraining from the obvious experiment of electrocuting myself. Believe me, I'd like to, however I have just enough sense to avoid that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, as magic I would say - whatever you want for the story. But, if you are looking for comparison, perhaps try this yourself at low voltage and currents (in a safe way which is possible - best conducted with medical and electrical supervision) and describe the effects in the same way as your low-voltage/current experiments and assume the experience is the same in the magically protected person at high voltage and currents). I do not recommend you actually do this of course. However, many people can describe what they have experienced in non-intentional shocks. Suggest you poll friends. $\endgroup$ – Gary Walker Jul 29 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ It's amperes that kill (regardless of volts): asc.ohio-state.edu/physics/p616/safety/fatal_current.html Based on my own experiences, electricity passing through body feels like muscle cramps and tremors. $\endgroup$ – Bald Bear Jul 29 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ Oh just lick a 9 volt battery already. Sheesh, can't believe there are people who never did that as a kid. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Jul 29 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ This character - if still an animal, should feel paralyzed. The current that flow through his/her body will "override" the electronic signal that his cells/neurons talk to each other. $\endgroup$ – Chenxi GE Jul 29 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @GaryWalker Everyone has experienced shocks in one way or another, but I'm hoping to isolate what specifically the sensational difference is between voltage and current. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 29 at 21:16
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TL;DR: Comparisons to temperature and pressure for voltage, comparison to movement of the body for current

Using the sensations of ordinary humans who have experienced electrocution seems like a poor idea, because that's the experience of someone having their sensory mechanisms slammed by something that overrides them. This guy clearly has a nervous system that isn't affected by electricity, because otherwise he would have stopped his own heart as a kid or something.

What words would you use to describe looking at a blank sheet of paper if your language was invented by blind aliens? And no one else around you could see?

The reason I brought that there's no one else who has the same perceptions he does, of having electricity flowing through his body without setting off every nerve it touches. And there's no words in the English language to describe the feeling of pure voltage or pure current flow.

We all have internal perceptions based on the sensations our sensory organs send us, but we can't compare our internal perceptions directly. We have to compare based on what we consider common sensations. For instance, unless you've installed a stylesheet for this website, the background is white. What's my internal perception of white? I don't know how to put it into words. Just look at the website.

So, what does this mean for your character? They'll have to come up with analogies to other senses to describe it. Voltage would be compared to pressure or temperature. If your character can directly perceive current (instead of just feeling the shifts in voltage) then they might compare it to feeling the motion of their body. (See: proprioception)

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  • $\begingroup$ That's what I'm saying. I'm trying to find good words that this person might use to make analogies. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 30 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'm going to mark this response as the answer because it most appropriately answers the question asked without getting too derailed by the semantics of how the character wouldn't die. EDIT: But I do mean to say other responses provided some useful bits. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 30 at 14:21
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The fundamental problem is your claim to immunity and close-to-ideal conductor. With this the feeling is nothing at all.

The reason why is for electricity to produce a sensation it has to do work. Work can only be done your character is less than ideal at conducting. Super conductors can let a current whip around inside them without any loss only because the current isn't doing any work. If you're willing to dial that back though there are some sensations that would make sense.

"A light buzz" would be a fitting description for AC current that cycles polarity 50-60 times a second (depends where you live).

"Warm" fits for DC current that keeps the same polarity.

"Itchy" fits for static electricity buildup. Here the current isn't moving through the character, charge is accumulating and could discharge the moment they touch something with a lesser charge or simply when the buildup is enough to overcome the air gap. That's how lightning works. And speaking of which...

"Like I got my picture taken" fits for taking a lightning strike. This is over to fast to feel anything but any damage you allow to happen.

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  • $\begingroup$ Trying to approach it as if the laws of thermodynamics don't exist and the electrons can act on their body without losing energy. This is fundamentally impossible, I am aware, but so are many things in fiction. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 29 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ Ugg why? $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Jul 29 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ I do try to reconcile laws of physics and magic at some point, but I've got to make concessions now-and-then. In this case, I really would like a sensation to be described by a character invoking magic and unfortunately that means breaking a few rules. At least I'm not trying to have sound in the vacuum of space. However, that did make me laugh. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 29 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ If you want me to suspend my disbelief then any breaking of the law of thermodynamics had better be accompanied by scientists going to great lengths to dissect this character so they can start a new branch of physics. $\endgroup$ – candied_orange Jul 29 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ Pfft, time to get the CIA scientists to round up pretty much every fairy tale creature, then. Maybe that was the real subplot behind Shrek. $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 29 at 21:44
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Your guy would have to be cocooned in a skin-tight layer of "magic" that acts as a superconductor, with the interface acting as a perfect insulator. So the electricity doesn't actually go through him, only the magic does.

The two different effects required - decrease the impedance of the magic layer to allow more and more current to flow, and increase the impedance and permittivity of the interface to avoid current leaks and other side effects - can then be felt by the guy: the increase in voltage might be felt as a "tightening", the increase in conductivity maybe as a coolness.

If you want to know what current really feels like - for some, at least - at low voltages, a DC current is a burning, acidic sensation, while AC current is a buzzing under your skin. At higher voltages, AC current is like a hit from a whip or a strong slap, and will leave your muscles aching; despite several close calls, I never experienced high DC voltages. This all depends on where the current goes through the body though: for example, even a low AC current through the appropriate points in the neck and chest will likely kill you.

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Conducting electricity through the human body is a little tricky but I'll try my best.

Electricity is essentially the movement of electrons through matter. Voltage and charge describe this movement, and are fundamentally different but related.

Voltage, in essence, is the difference in the amount of electrons between two specific points. So, a circuit with a full battery would have its full potential voltage, minus some resistance. This means that voltage is essentially the amount of energy that a power source has to do work, such as light a bulb or heat an object.

A current on the other hand is the actual movement of electrons. The more electrons that move through a medium, the higher the current. For example, imagine a contraption with two tanks hanging in the air connected by a pipe. Only one of these tanks are full, and the water flowing between these represents the current. However, in a human body this causes the contraction of muscles, which explains how people are blown away when electrocuted; all their muscles contract at the same time.

I would imagine that voltage feels like a tingling sensation throughout your body caused by twitching muscles and fidgeting, while a current feels like a concerted push away from a certain direction, like Newton's 3rd law.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have those backwards? Wouldn't voltage be a "push" and current be a "tingling" if we go by that? $\endgroup$ – Tim Morris Jul 29 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ I dont think so, since voltage is essentially stored energy, so it is not moving anywhere. Current, on the other hand, moves in a direction. $\endgroup$ – Ishan Phadke Jul 29 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ "Voltage is essentially the amount of energy that a power source has to do work": this is completely and utterly false. One can have very high voltage sources with very little available energy, and low voltage sources with lots of available energy. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 29 at 21:45

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