Can We See the Wind?

by Johnny Carlton

Johnny Carlton is a writer of suspense thrillers available as e-books at

This morning I was sitting in our sunroom, looking out the window and enjoying the bright new day and watching a breeze gently moving the branches of a large evergreen.  Not for the first time, the following question came into my mind:  Is it possible to see wind?

W. O. Mitchell asked a similar question when he titled his 1947 book, WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND?  And it seems he borrowed that title from a poem of the same name by the English poet, Christina Rossetti, 1830—1894.

Rossetti’s poem is a pretty little thing (you can find it on the internet) but does not answer the question to a physicist’s satisfaction.  As for Mitchell’s novel, I haven’t read it; but, going by the movie based on the novel, it comes across as a confused atheist’s pathetic mixed-up philosophizing.  After seeing it I can no longer fully enjoy anything by Mitchell, including the play, “Jake and the Kid,” which keeps coming around to little theatres.  (However, I think his play about the Amish people, “The Devil’s Instrument,” has a lot going for it.)  In any case, he has never answered his question about the wind–not that he ever intended to or needed to.

But that question, “Who has seen the wind?” when taken out of its purely sentimental, artistic application and looked at through the horn-rimmed spectacles of a bushy-haired physicist, takes on a whole new interest.  Just for a brief moment let’s slip on those glasses and take a look.

Is it possible to see wind?  What is wind?

You can see the tree branch moving as the wind strikes it, but does that mean you’re seeing the wind?  Maybe, but one is tempted to say that you’re not really seeing the wind, only the branch being affected by the wind.  Well, then, what is it, actually, that’s making the branch move?  And if we identify it, can we see it?

Well, we all know, from high-school physics, that what is making the branch move is air molecules beating against it.  Is it possible to see air molecules?  Yes, because they’re physical entities, so if we magnify them sufficiently we should be able to see them clearly.

So let’s imagine that someone builds a special magnifying device, which he calls a wind viewer, and aims it at the tree branch.  We look into it and, sure enough, we see the air molecules hurtling through space and striking the tree branch, causing it to move.

Have we seen the wind?

Maybe.  Or not.  We originally saw the branch move but more or less decided that we were not seeing the wind, only what the wind was doing, namely moving the branch.  Now, when we’re watching the air molecules moving, we can’t help but ask:  “Are we seeing the wind, or, rather, are we seeing what the wind is doing to the air molecules?”  If the movement of the branch is not the wind, but rather what the wind is doing to it, then why should the movement of the air molecules be any different?  Again, I’m tempted to conclude that the moving air molecules are not the wind any more than the moving branch is, but just another thing being manipulated by the wind.

All right, then, we’ve got the tiger by the tail, let’s not let him go.  The next question in our search for the wind is:  What is causing the air molecules to move?

Well, science has already told us something about that, right?  What happens is that when air heats up it rises and this creates a vacuum; so the surrounding, cooler air molecules rush in to fill the space–hence wind.

Now, if we want to know what wind really is, we have to ask ourselves:  What causes the air molecules to fill the vacuum?  Why don’t they just stay where they are in spite of the vacuum?

Well, first of all, it’s because there’s more pressure on them on one side than on the other.  Nothing is pushing them on the vacuum side, but from the other side, where there are lots of air molecules, each wanting its own space, there is obviously some sort of pressure; thus the molecules move toward the area where there are less molecules and more space.

We are now leaving high-school science behind, and not only that, we’re leaving behind some of the cutting edge of professor-type physics.  Why the latter?  Because professor-type physics (including Newton’s, Einstein’s, and Hawkings’) have not yet dealt with the matter of repulsive force.  These great thinkers have become very intrigued with the attractive force of gravity, but have neglected interest in the basic repulsive force in nature.  This is really strange since they believe that the universe came into being with a big bang–an explosion, not an implosion–so, if that’s the case, a repulsive force manifested itself before an attractive force did.

In my non-fiction book, GEOMETRIC DYNAMICS: A New Foundation for Theoretical Physics, I look into this matter of the basic repulsive force in detail.  Here and now, I will just say that there is an overlooked, taken-for-granted law of nature (and all laws of nature are God’s laws) that proclaims that two or more physical objects shall not occupy the same space at the same time.

Here is a brief quote from my theoretical physics book:  “To many people Newton is the man who watched an apple or something falling toward the ground and wondered why it was moving in that direction.  In regard to theoretical physics, I wish to go down in history as the man who saw an apple or something falling and asked why it stopped moving when it reached the ground.”

All right, so I’m promoting my book on physics.  (Strangely enough, it’s presently selling better than any of my fiction.)  GEOMETRIC DYNAMICS is available as an e-book at

Now, let’s get back to the matter of, what is wind and is it possible to see it?

Looking at the matter from a strictly scientific viewpoint we might decide that since at its roots wind is a law (or, actually, a combination of several laws) we can’t see it physically.  However, our conclusion might be changed as we realize that the whole thing is also a matter of semantics:  People as a whole, along with some influence from linguistic professors, decide on the definition of words.

My Webster defines wind as movement of air.  My Thorndike-Barnhart agrees.  Therefore, according to these official definitions, if wind is moving air, then we can assume that it might be feasible to see wind, providing we had a way to magnify these air molecules sufficiently as well as to observe them in motion.

Next week:  Can we see the wind of a long-winded essay like the one you’ve just read?  Just kidding.

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