“Energy cannot exist except in connection with matter.”
(James Clerk Maxwell, 1877, “Matter and Motion”)
Energy can be a vague term, even at its most precise. Electromagnetism is one phenomenon which we call energy, but so too is thermal and kinetic energy, or even more puzzling “potential energy”. Aha, this may be a clue as to what physicists mean by energy. Energy can be thought of as an abstraction which is like the ‘money’ of physics. It is a way to keep track of the exchanges which characterize the behavior of matter, specifically how ‘work’ is distributed in material systems. Energy in physics is a conceptual category of units like joules, newton-meters, calories, electron volts, foot pounds, British Thermal Units, horsepower, kilowatt hours, megatons, reciprocal centimeters. This science of calculating work; what is necessary, what is wasted, what is expected, etc, is applicable to many different functions of engineering. Everything from jet engines to jacuzzis can be understood in terms of work, mass, temperature, acceleration, illumination, momentum, power (work per unit time), etc.
I have heard it said that energy is simply the canonical conjugate to time – i.e. everything that happens in time or through time but which is not time itself. Energy is what happens to matter when observed from the outside. The idea potential energy is about an expectation of what *can* happen with a given set of interacting objects or substances. If you ask a physicist about emotional ‘energy’ you will likely see their expression change to one of a restrained growl and they will, in their most polite and tolerant voice, explain that they really have nothing to do with each other, other than perhaps some loose correlation with action potentials among neurons in the brain. Indeed, the energy content of a brain in profound distress and one which is effused with excitement is likely indistinguishable.
Neo-phrenological views of consciousness will attribute the difference to the location of the excitement within the brain, but the energy itself, the volts, are neither good or bad, happy or sad.Energy is just physical oomph. Newton meters refer to the abstract quantity of net force required to accelerate a mass of one kilogram at a rate of one meter per second squared, for a distance of one meter. Since temperature is really the same thing as the aggregate measure of moving molecules, it can be seen that energy could not actually refer to substance-like things which occupy space, but rather energy is a way of keeping track of how substances are being pushed around. It happens in a precisely ordered way, governed by immutable tendencies toward conservation, symmetry and equilibrium. This does not, in my opinion mean that the more poetic, human connotations of energy as human experience are mislabeled. Bridging the two, however, I think requires extending both the physical concepts of energy to meet us halfway and the concepts of experience should be extended halfway to meet physics. Instead of seeing human consciousness as a high level qualitative effect produced by low level quantitative functions, we should consider that all phenomena are a mosaic of quantitative-seeming public events and qualitative-seeming private events. In this way, physics is modeled as a continuum between outer, impersonal locations and inner experiences of a sub-personal, personal, and super-signifying nature (i.e. sensation, cognition, intuition).
Experienced from the inside, energy is like ‘effort’ and ‘sanity’ – a throttling of countless conflicting agendas, semantic momenta set into motion through meaning and experience, intention and will on many levels. When we see this from a distance, it makes a completely different (public) kind of sense. It isn’t a question of wondering if your charge will ever be released and hoping that the nearby quantum ensemble will be the opportunity you have been waiting for. When you can see the Bird’s Eye view of the story, it isn’t as much of a story. If you’ve seen one chemical reaction, you’ve seen em all. You know how it ends. From the inside, energy really is all about sorting out incoming significance (affects) and controlling one’s outgoing effects (motives). This is what work is all about. The better your discernment on the input, the more efficient and focused you can be on your output. From this, it’s a short leap to see how the importance of refining and purity figures into industry and mass production. Minor tweaks in the work being done translates into major improvements in performance when scaled up.
Getting deeper into what energy really is – the canonical conjugate of time is a good place to start. It’s a very esoteric place to start, but it is the most accurate cosmologically. Energy is the pointyness of the arrow of time. It is the Go! and the show, while what we think of as time is really a mirage as seen from the point of one arrow looking at the collective sea of points from every other arrow in the universe which we can relate to perceptually and intuitively. Energy is the gate which filters our what might happen into what can and can’t happen, and what does happen. Energy is the inflection point from which the fluid timeless now intersects with spatially fixed objecthood, that spacetime divider of flux and state known known as ‘reality’ – different from every vantage point, but united in primitive contexts.
Energy is not the uni-verse, which unites and reconciles eternal psyche and existential space perspectives as a boundaryless whole, bur rather it is the trigger which initiates irreversible effects into the public half of the cosmos from the private dream. Energy is the expression of motive intention as motor effect. The collapse of the wave function if you will. QM has it upside down in order to preserve the continuity of a universe evacuated of intention (always a funny intention to have – to intentionally model the universe as devoid of the possibility of what your theory is made of). It can be seen that way too, with intention as background and probability in the foreground, and on that level it is almost as true.
I would imagine there isn’t much difference between the choices that ‘energy particles’ make and randomness, but as with other kinds of emergent properties, that small sliver of intentionality hidden in the noise has a way of finding that same quality in its neighbors and amplifying it deliberately. That’s what’s going on now, I think, as ‘I’ write these words. I am not energy, but I am using energy to turn myself inside out – to spend my interior capital in an irreversible way that moves the story of my life, as well as yours along – not through time, but time through experience. Energy records sense in matter. It is how we *make* a difference that makes a difference.
A while ago I brought up a friend’s discussion of ‘isness’ and ‘aboutness’ as primordial principles, which I like, and which coincide with some of my own ideas about absolute primitives. I was able to link a lot of ideas about space and time to these, as well as the idea of private phenomenology or subjectivity correlating to time and public realism or objectivity correlating to space. Not just correlating perhaps, but ontologically identical. Two canonical conjugates as dual aspects of a neutral monism of awareness/discernment (same thing) called sense.
Tonight I am adding another dyad to the mix: position and disposition. Since the Cartesian revolution, we in the West have succumbed completely to portrait of the universe as particles in space. With quantum mechanics, energy itself has been quantized as positions of probabilistic selector-beings – pure position-ness suspended in fields of non-position. The uncertainty principle (if it still holds) underscores the unique relevance of the mutually exclusive nature of position and momentum.
We know what position is. At least, through Descartes vision we think we know what position is well enough that we are very comfortable with the appearance of it. Points on a line, grid on a manifold, etc. If we try to bring this model into the real world however, that’s where the uncertainty sets in. Our notion of position really depends on our capacity to compare the dispositions of what we are using to measure something’s position. x=5, y=-1 is a description of how far a point is from x=0, y=0 on a rigid reference body of abstractly calibrated distance units. It’s an ordered manifold of dispositions. These are literal dispositions – expectations of where something must be relative to the places which it is not, but could be*.
I would extend this notion of disposition to encompass all qualities about the thing in question other than position. Momentum, for instance is a story about where something has been and where it will go, and what the consequences might be for other bodies involved. Energy, whether potential (a measure of what dispositions can be produced) or kinetic (a one dimensional measure of actualized dis-position), thermal, chromatic, emotional (tactile, visual, limbic disposition qualities, respectively), acoustic, etc. All of these are dispositions – stories about what’s been going on and what might happen next.
Think of the hands of a clock. Each tick is a disposition. Telling time requires that we can detect the change from one position to another, and that we can infer a story of sequence through that change. The position of the hands must be understood as a snapshot of repeating cycles. This is all happening in our imagination. It’s not really in the hands of the clock, they are just gears or circuits cycling meaninglessly. They are not taking the time temperature of the universe, because there is no such thing.
Position, in a more Einsteinian sense, is a temporary agreement of dispositions about other dispositions. If you knew precisely where you were relative to the major bodies of the solar system, you would know exactly what time it is. They are the same thing. Your exact position in space is the only objective measure of time that there can ever be – and space is only a figure of speech. What we are really talking about is your position relative to Earth, Sun, Moon, the rest of the galaxy, etc. If you were to suddenly anchor yourself to some absolute Cartesian coordinate of ‘space’ you would be hurtled off of the planet at a speed of hundreds of thousands of miles per hour.
I’ve already tried to say too much here (what else is new?), but where I was going with this is that position is a public agreement of dispositions and disposition is a private affect. What is an affect? It’s an emotion or state of mind, feeling, etc, but I think that it can be defined in these physical terms as the private disposition. Taking it further, the private disposition as affect is actualized as a public disposition (effect).
I don’t know if I can communicate why this is important, but I think that if we take these simple ideas about position and disposition, we get bodies and biographies. Dispositions as an affective charge behind the effects and behaviors which we participate in over a lifetime. It’s not a field or a force, not energy or light (though all of those qualities give us clues), it is experience. It is time, but not clock time (which is a spatial derivative of averaged time), memory time. Dream time. Proto-psyche is the primordial landscape of the universe, and cosmos is the grand disposition from which all positions find (and lose) their mooring.
*To quote my friend Stephen’s definition of space.
Posted by multisenserealism on May 17, 2012
Would you have any objection to postulating that all matter is a form of concentrated energy (E = mcc), and that all energy is aware-ized?
I agree in a sense but I think we can go further than that. I would say that energy is nothing except awareness in the efferent-output mode (motive), and matter is awareness in the afferent-input mode (sense). E=mc² gives us the measure of how the two modes relate to each other. When we talk about energy, we are referring to a quality of dynamism of experienced events to persist through time and across space. The idea that matter is concentrated energy is more true if we mean concentrated in time than concentrated in space as density.
To say that matter is concentrated energy conjures an image of a bright glowing haze being squeezed into a particle, which I think we could say is figuratively true, but not literally. It is *as if* that were happening as far as particles can be destroyed and there is an explosive dynamism produced in surrounding matter, but I don’t think that there is actually any bright glowing haze to begin with. If we use a sense-based model instead, with energy as nothing more or less than the experience-behavior of things (particles, objects, cells, bodies), so that empty space cannot in any way contain energy, I think it makes more sense in addressing our experience, and no less sense as far as interpreting physics. Energy is a notational concept of how things happen to matter statistically, but I think our mistake is to model it as a pseudosubstance that literally exists.
Instead, energy condenses as matter not through space but through time. It is not frozen energy but an accumulated history which has been perceptually collapsed due to the defining conditions of our subjectivity. We see a slice of the whole history of the thing from the outside as a 3D object.
Remember too that both fission and fusion produce energy. Most of that energy is not from particles being turned into energy but from mass being lost as nuclei either “move into the same apartment together” under fusion and thus save on “rent”, or in fission by breaking up big businesses by selling off divisions. It’s interesting that it works both way – apparently because of the Iron Peak: Matter lighter than iron wants to be heavier – it’s looking for roommates. Matter heavier than iron wants to get rid of employees. That’s my goofy understanding anyhow. I think that particles can actually be lost but the amount of energy generated by that is surprisingly low. The power is in changing the relation of materials, not in converting them directly to energy.
It’s really a whole different way of looking at energy that I’m trying to get across. Once we can let go of our inherited 20th century models of energy and try out the sense-primitive model instead, I think we recover a great deal of our native realism. We experience energy directly. We see light, we feel heat, we hear sound. None of those things can be described in any meaningful way as objects in space. Our instruments and observations only tell us what they are experiencing, how the event changes them. The 20th century gave us a brilliant unifying vision of energy as an underlying quantitative omnipotence, but I think that is only true in the most physical and qualitatively flat sense.
I think a new understanding of energy must recognize the disunity of sense channels; the qualitative deepening of material experiences driven from top down significance attraction as well as bottom up accumulation. By breaking up the monolith of physics, we unify the outermost definition of the cosmos with the definitions which are evolving within (biology, neurology, anthropology, psychology, etc.). By breaking up Einsteinian spacetime relativity into sense-motive perception, we unify qualitative subjectivity with quantitative objectivity.