What (exactly) is energy?

What is energy?

A recent post on a LinkedIn web discussion poses this question, with conditions. It rules out, wisely, simple mathematical expressions and the like, along with the typical circular, non-realistic explanations you get about gravity or magnetism or forces. The questioner seems to want at least a verifiable description of an object, an event, or a phenomenon that can be examined, evaluated. I am afraid he will be disappointed. I’ll try to explain why.

For me, “what is energy?” is the fundamental question that underlies all the theories of physics, cosmology, origins, etc., from the universe to even life, itself.

It is, like gravity and magnetism, actually two of its manifestations, something that many experts will claim to understand, without a clue as to its sources or origins. We have teased out many of its patterns which we then designated as its “laws.” We know its effects at a wide range of its power, from high to low. We know it exists and, within limits, how to manage and control it. What we lack is a truly physical description and any theory of its ultimate sources and origins.

I have been wrestling with these questions for a long time and in my own model, called modestly, the simple universe, energy is the only remaining fundamental mystery, so don’t expect an answer, beamed down from on high. It is the only remaining mystery, as opposed to the dozens that you find everywhere in the theories of thinkers from Democritus to Bohr, including everything from the Hindu Vedas to “strings.”

I can describe energy—as a fundamental vibrations across a null point of the elemental constituent of everything— everything, that is, all objects, events, and phenomena of the real world. The real world, for me, is what exists outside of our heads; everything that, as the novelist Robert Heinlein once described, as “what is still there after you have stopped believing in it.”

How do we perceive energy and how do we ‘know’ it exists? Well, we can detect it at its possibly lowest point on our detectors and collectors as what has come to be known (mistakenly, I’m convinced) as the CMBR—a generalized level of vibration throughout the cosmos— a boiling pot, at a very low temperature by our measuring techniques, but still apparent in every direction and at all distances we can reach.

Its more directly perceptible manifestations are, of course, in its local concentrations, in everything from a tiny refrigerator magnet up to galactic scales in the furthest reaches of our universe.

The way these manifestations have occurred and become known to us have been by processes themselves known to us, that is, by random interactions in that field, by reinforcements, resonances and phase transitions leading to temporarily stable entities of which we ourselves are a part. And, of course, in cosmic terms, ‘temporary’ can mean billions of years.

Albert Einstein postulated a universe describable by four ‘dimensions.’ Three of these are obvious, length, breadth, and height, although many more are available to us for describing the more complex entities we encounter. He also proposed a fourth descriptor which he denoted as ‘time,’ although it is better termed as ‘duration’ or ‘persistence,’ without which no real entity could exist. In any universe so described. However, the other ‘killer variable’, fundamental and essential to the existence of anything, must be energy, the very stuff of creation, the root of all that exists, even though we may never know precisely its constituents, its origins, or its source.

These are the principal arguments in my forthcoming book, imagine darkness, in which I lay out more detailed explanations of how all of this originated and ultimately has played out in the world today. Expect its publication in the next few weeks.

Postscript, July 19, 2015. imagine darkness has now been published, on February 17 of this year.

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About Charles Scurlock

Charles is a recently retired architect/planner and generalist problem-solver with a lifelong interest in science, physics, and cosmology, and the workings of the human mind. He has started this blog in the interest of sharing his ideas with others of like-(or not so like) minds.
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