What is energy?

May 8, 2008 at 2:41 am Leave a comment

Once someone asked me if I believe in “Chi energy”. I said, “I don’t know – can it do work?”. And by work, I’d meant force dotted into an infinitesimal displacement and integrated over a path (I probably should also have checked whether it might be thermal energy, but I’m getting off track!). She was a mathematician, and so she knew what I meant! Well, she might have been thinking “What kind of a blockhead answer is that?!” because next she said, “Do you think there are forms of energy that exist other than those defined in physics?”; at that point someone changed the subject. Whew!

Well, what about it? Do I think there could be forms of energy other than those defined in physics?? A philosopher once said (his name escapes me) that the dictionary should never be the last word, but that it should always be the first! So what does the dictionary say? I shall now read from the American Heritage Dictionary. Ahem:

energy n., pl. -gies. 1. a. Vigor or power in action. b. Vitality and intensity of expression. 2. The capacity for action or accomplishment: lacked energy to finish the job. 3. Physics. The work that a physical system is capable of doing in changing from its actual state to a specified reference state, the total including, in general, contributions of potential energy, kinetic energy, and rest energy. 4. Usable heat or electric power.

We’ve got the dictionary definition right here. Ha ha ha! Um, so what do we do now?

I’m glad you asked, Pleven!

Er, on second thought…

The dictionary is supposed to tell us what English speakers mean when they use a word. Well, most English speakers, anyway. Not Pleven.


Actually, it does better than that, it gives us several (fairly popular) usages. So what we have here is

a failure to communicate?!

What? No! Shut up Pleven!! Where was I, oh yeah. What we have here is like a kind of survey of what a certain segment of English speakers mean when they use the word “energy”. They are certainly not all equivalent with what physicists mean when they use the term “energy”! So there we have it. Yes, there are forms of energy not specifically defined in physics. BUT

Uh oh, I knew this was coming.

I would like to offer up a humble little argument. It uses these abbreviations (please refer to the Blogical symbols page if you are unfamiliar with the following symbols):

let A = “We have reason to believe that exotic energy E (not defined in physics) exists”; W = “Anything with exotic energy E can do work on some kind of object k”; M = “We can build a machine that measures the movement of objects of type k under the influence of things possessing energy E”; D = “We can detect exotic energy E in some way”.

Now for the argument:

A -> D

(W -> M)

(D -> W)


~M -> ~A

I’ll stick the sequence of steps showing that the argument is valid at the end of the post, so as not to bore the hell out of anyone.

слава Богу!!

We’ll talk about that later, Pleven. Right then, we have ~M -> ~A; that is, if we can’t build a machine to measure the movement of some kind of object that is influenced by something with energy E, then we have no reason to believe that energy E exists. We can quibble over premises, but if the premises are true, then so is this conclusion. Well, what about the premises? Are they any good? The third premise, D -> W, seems unshakable to me. What would it mean to be able to detect something that can’t move anything?! Alright I’ll admit to being a physicalist here, but I can’t talk about everything in one post!

Believe me folks, yes she can!

The first premise, A -> D, well let’s face it: only a blithering idiot would deny that one.

I deny it.

BLITHERING IDIOT!! Which brings me finally to premise number two, W -> M. Premise number two, you are… the weakest link!! There could well be crap that moves that we can’t build machines to measure yet. Like gravitons, for instance. Hopefully in time we will be able.

To conclude this post, I would just like to add that I am, at least for now, willing to make the following bet (don’t ask me for how much, I’m broke!):

If there is no currently existing machine, from the Hubble telescope to the tevatron particle collider, that can detect exotic energy E, then you, sans machine, can’t do it either!

Good night, Pleven.

Лека нощ, шефе!

Appendix – proof of the validity of the symbolized argument:

1 | A -> D Hyp

2 | (W -> M) Hyp

3 | (D -> W) Hyp


4 | | ~M Hyp

5 | | ~W 2, 4 MT

6 | | ~D 3, 5 MT

7 | | ~A 1, 6 MT

8 | ~M -> ~A 4-7 CP


Entry filed under: Physics.

Now it’s time for… Who cares what you think anyway?

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