Faraday’s limited formal education, curiously enough, turned out to be a great advantage. This doesn’t happen often, because when a scientific subject reaches an advanced level, a lack of education usually makes it impossible for outsiders to get started. The doors are closed, the papers unreadable. But in these early days of understanding energy it was a different story. Most science students had been trained to show that any complicated motion could be broken down into a mix of pushes and pulls that worked in straight lines. It was natural for them, accordingly, to try to see if there were any straight-line pulls between magnets and electricity. But this approach didn’t show how the power of electricity might tunnel through space to affect magnetism.
Because Faraday did not have that bias of thinking in straight lines, he could turn to the Bible for inspiration. The Sandemanian religious group he belonged to believed in a different geometric pattern: the circle. Humans are holy, they said, and we all owe an obligation to one another based on our holy nature. I will help you, and you will help the next person, and that person will help another, and so on until the circle is complete. This circle wasn’t merely an abstract concept. Faraday had spent much of his free time for years either at the church talking about this circular relation, or engaged in charity and mutual helping to carry it out.
(on Michael Faraday’s discovery of the relationship between magnetic and electrical power in E=mc2: a biography of the world’s most famous equation by David Bodanis)