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A Mental Model of Circuits

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“What even is this?” Do you understand this? Chances are that if you studied electronics, you probably do; otherwise, you probably don’t. That’s okay! This confused me a lot as well when first learning about this.

As a previous tutor for power electronics, I’ve seen students come to me while first learning about circuitry confused and irritated by the onslaught of circuit diagrams handed out in their first semester. And I don’t blame them! This diagram, to the un-indoctrinated, looks more like abstract art than anything meaningful. A triangle connected to a line represents a diode. How does that represent one way of travel? A squiggle represents a resistor. I can’t see the resistance that the electrons encounter though. And usually, a small line and a big line represents a power supply. If those exist, how are those not a little and a big barrier just like what the diode shows? And that’s not to call out where the electrons go, what they do, or how they behave.

There’s a lot of bootstrapping in these first few months.

The mental model of circuitry

Instead of going into that, here’s a succinct mental model of circuits that can be applied to any domain, in a single sentence:

A circuit, based on the frequency of the input events entering, filters its behavior to reflect the intention of the designer.

That’s it. I already hear the firestorm of r/electronics brewing, so I’ll amend this with “for now”. At gigahertz frequencies and the boundaries to which modern engineering pushes electronics, this only partially holds. But for now, and really for most hobbyist concerns, this holds.

The reason to stray away from anything technical lies in the applicability and far reach of the statement. “Filtering” applies not only to electronics but also to daily life. Psychologists filter patient information and events by frequency and significance to identify trauma. Artists manipulate visual and auditory spectra to highlight and convey information. And electrical engineers use this for…well…everything.

For the rest of these posts, I’m going to dive into some circuitry. But for now, and as a hello to the internet, I thought I’d share my interpretation of this. In the next article, I’m going to go into the graphical interpretation of circuits and abstract on the model presented here.

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Hi! My name is Matthew Daiter, and I help interactive technologists create unforgettable experiences through my software and hardware skillset. Feel free to look around the site, and please reach out if you'd like to get in contact.

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