What is energy?

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Post by Amadeus » Wed Oct 04, 2006 6:40 pm

After finding a little time outside of work, and a lot of head-banging on the wall, here's another attempt at this tangled web (which I helped create):
IreneY wrote:People who talk about mathematics as being so rational and so on and so forth forget to take into account that there is no such thing as minus 1 in nature. I am not talking about substraction I am talking about e.g. the temperature falling below zero. Below nothing? (there are other examples of how theoretical the science of maths is but that's one of the simplest examples I could think of).
Degrees are a conventional, relative form of measuring temperature; water's boiling and freezing points were assigned the numbers 100 and 0 respectively. Minus 1 is not below nothing, but below water's assigned 0, its freezing temperature. I see nothing complicated or irrational about that.

There's another zero in relation to temperature, namely: Absolute zero, which is the lowest temperature imaginable, as all movement of particles and all friction has stopped. It isn't found in nature and scientists have not been able to produce it, but it is intelligible.
If you think of rational as something that is based in reason as I did when I used this word then in nature nothing can be "below zero".
My mistake. What can be conceived in the mind cannot be rational or irrational, only intelligible or inintelligible. Rationality comes afteward. Still, I don't really get your point. 0 Celsius is just a point of reference, it doesn't mean "nothing".
ThomasGR wrote:Energy began as a rational concept, or a tool if you prefer, that existed only inside our (limited?) minds, and suddenly we can even produre matter out of it, even if we don't know what's energy. It looks our mind can manipulate reality.
You have to distinguish between 1) Energy, as the "thing", the reality found in the universe, and 2) Energy, as a concept formed by the mind from other ideas (such as force). Energy (1) was already in the universe before we understood what it was (2) and gave it a name. We did not invent it. How do we know we have understood it? Because we can manipulate it.

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Homer: Well it's always in the last place you look.

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Post by cdm2003 » Sat Oct 21, 2006 8:45 pm

IreneY wrote:c) As for the cat, thanks Tyro but I still don't get it. I can't say that I understand what I've read about quantum mechanics but I still don't get the cat example :( Bad example/parallelism maybe?
It took me quite a while to get the cat thing...I understood it in different terms:

Imagine (instead of the horrifying prospect of dumping poison, uranium, and a live cat into a box and taping it shut :shock: ) that you have a simple voting booth. Inside the voting booth is a single switch with which people choose a new victor. One side of the switch says "John" and the other side says "George." In the back of the simple voting machine is a small computer with a single red button which will automatically tally the results and spit out a little piece of paper with the name of the winner when the button is pressed. Now, you're a voting official. Your job is to make sure that people can vote undisturbed and confidentially. At the end of the day, it's also your job to push that button to get the paper with name of the winner. There's no trick to this example...no tampering, no mysterious workings of the computer, just straight-forward voting.

People come in and out all day long and vote for either "John" or "George." As an objective voting official, you keep the peace and certainly do not ask anyone who they are voting for when they enter the booth nor do you ask them who they voted for when they leave. Your day ends and it's time to push that button and tell the reporter next to you who won the election. You head to the little computer and push the red button. Out comes the slip of paper...but oh snap! In your haste to get things ready for the day's election you forgot to check the ink cartridge inside of the machine! The paper containing the name of the official winner is blank!

Schroedinger's poor abused cat is in the same situation as this election. Now, the election result does not depend upon a quantum event like the cat. However, like Schroedinger's cat, the election result does depend on a statistical result, which, in this case, is the number of votes for "John" weighed against the number of votes for "George." Schroedinger's cat, inside of the box, has a 50% chance of being alive. In this election, both "John" and "George" have a 50% chance of being the winner (i.e., there were only two possible outcomes). Now, that reporter that was standing next to you is demanding the result. He says that his readers must know immediately who won! You know someone won...after all, the computer did it's job...you just don't know who won...as the sheet is devoid of ink. That's Schroedinger's rub...someone actually did win this election, some people actually voted for "John," some for "George." However, because of the statistical uncertainty (that 50/50 chance for either candidate) you have no idea. Technically, election day is over. People did vote...people did choose...votes were tallied. Only the election is in bizarre state of uncertainty and not because anything out-of-the-ordinary happened during the election. It is because the election results hinged on a statistical result which, all things being equal, gave each of the two candidates a 50% chance of winning.

As the vitality of Schroedinger's cat is unknown until we open the box, so too will remain uncertain the results of our election, at least until we pop in a new ink cartridge and finally find out who's the better backup singer for the Beatles. 8)

Quantum mechanics offer the same sort of statistical uncertainties. We don't know if an electron is here or there but we know it is one of the two places. We could guess it's here, but by the time we look to be certain it's over there, or worse yet, our looking has bumped it over to there. Then, we look over there to see it, but it's now it's moved back to here. It's too small and too fast to grab on to to check, so we're forever guessing. Wild, huh? :D

Hope this helps,
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Post by Amadeus » Mon Oct 23, 2006 5:53 pm


I was going to reply at length to your post when I realized that I don't get what your point is. If science doesn't give you a satisfactory definition of energy, then... what? Is it your contention that energy does not exist or that science is not rational?

Apologies, maybe I'm just a little obtuse. :?
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Post by IreneY » Mon Oct 23, 2006 8:33 pm

cdm 2003 thanks! :D

It clears things up a bit although I still have objections with the example which probably means I haven't got it.

Now let's see if I am capable of making myself understood on a matter I don't really understand that well (given my history in making myself understood in general I bet it'll be a complete and utter failure but oh well!)

We've got these particles who we can make change position or whatver by just looking at them so to speak. OK, I don't really get it (the mechanism I mean) but I think I understand the concept.
Now let's take the cat. The cat is slightly bigger and more complex than a particle. I know I can't make a cat move just by looking at her. Heck, at times I can't make my cat move even when I yell at her to although just making as if I'm going to start hoovering the place works wonders.

Now let's say that cat inna box is dead. How would my looking at her make her live again? She's dead and that's it. The only thing different in the world is that I don't know about it and therefore, after I find out my perception of the world will have to change and will include a dead cat instead of having a question mark as far as its state of health is concerned.

The cat is dead or alive and there's nothing I can do to change it unless it's alive and I let her out of the damn box and give her some help after being scratched almost to oblivion if she's up to it (if not she'll save it up for later, trust me).

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Post by Democritus » Tue Nov 14, 2006 7:22 am

ThomasGR wrote:I don’t think this is always the case. We can do lot of things, without having a clue what’s going on. My preferable example for this case is electricity. What’s electricity? Like energy, we don’t know. It’s just there and we can measure it, calculate its effects. We see the difference of an electron and its counterpart the positron, but what’s making the difference?
This might be interesting for you: http://www.fotuva.org/feynman/what_is_science.html

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Post by Arvid » Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:06 am

This thread seems to have petered out a while ago, but it is an interesting question, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents.

First of all, Erwin Schrödinger intended the cat scenario as a reductio ad absurdum, but so many people have taken it seriously that Stephen Hawking was moved to paraphrase Hermann Göring and say: "Whenever I hear of Schrödinger's cat, I reach for my gun!" The orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics is unfortunately Bohr's mystical mumbo-jumbo about the "collapse of the wave function" of a quantum object being dependent on measurement by an "observer." The decay of the nucleus that triggers the mechanism that delivers the poison with 50% probability during the time interval in question is a quantum event, that is, completely random. Therefore, until we "measure" the outcome of the experiment, the state of the system is in a "superposition" of the two states. In this case, though, there's a macroscopic object that's entangled with the outcome of this quantum process: the cat. Is the cat in a superposition of two states, alive and dead, until we open the box to find out? Schrödinger thought this was ridiculous, and so do I. Why is the cat not a good enough "observer" anyway?

As for what energy "is," that's a little harder question. Operationally, what it is is a conserved quantity. The histories make you think that energy was something we discovered and then later found out to stay the same in every reaction and transformation it underwent. Really, we found a mathematical quantity that stayed the same in every reaction and labeled it "energy."

Fundamentally, Noether's Theorem tells us that to every symmetry we discover of space and time, there corresponds a conserved quantity. Space is homogeneous, it doesn't change from place to place: therefore momentum is conserved. Space is isotropic, the same in every direction: therefore angular momentum is conserved. And, since time flows homogeneously, therefore energy is conserved. To say one is the same as saying the other. So if we ever find some process where energy is not conserved, we will have demonstrated that time doesn't always flow homogeneously, a pretty radical conclusion from the measuring of a quantity that we can't even define!

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Post by petka » Thu Dec 20, 2007 6:35 pm

Of course, energy is a philosophical term and consecrated by Aristotle metaphysics. His intuition of the term was quite great since it meets such philosophers as Thomas Aquinas and especially Palamas/ But I think his definition of energy is that: activity, simply activity, any kind of activity. The latin translation was actus purus. No matter if we are referring to it in any kind of science or metascience, either physics or metaphysics. It is activity, or in Christian philosophical understanding is any kind of "operation". What Aristotle did wrong in its definition of energy is that he tended to confuse, if I remember well, the godhead, the divine with energeia. Christian thinkers who dealt with this matter of energeia st. John of Damascus, st. Gregory Palamas define energy rather as separated of nature, but as an active emanation of nature and also an attribute of the nature by which nature manifests itself as active and actual. Somebody used the term kynetic energeia, though kinesis in itself is an energeia. but this shows exactly what happened within the divine plane. It is the kinesis of the divine nature beyond itself to manifest itself in diferent hypostases : that of Creator of the universe, goodness, kindness, mercifulness, forgiveness are also energies by which the absolute transcendent divinity makes itself manifest within the world. Another term which the energy combines well is dynamis. In Aristotelic sense these two terms are in a slight opposition, because, there, the energeia as activity is something actual, something that really happens, really "works" and acts. Mind is such a self-subsistent energy. While dynamis is quite different because it implies something that could be, but it is not yet happened, so it is not actual but virtual, dynamis is in potentia, as a promise which awaits the entelecheia of the energy to become actus, activity from virtuality to actuality. In Christian thought these terms are rather synonims . The energies, because they are different, are the way by which God communicates with the created world, the way He manifests in the world, the way He works in the world, intereferes in time and space while remaning totally transcendent, uncircumscribed (aperigraptos) temporally or spatially in His nature, because the nature, to on is acategorial. That is why the uncreated energies are any "kynetic" activity of God manifested in time and space, but they are not self subsistent so they are not enhypostasiated that is to say they don't exist in a hypostasis being just a radiance of nature. It belongs to it essentially but without confounding with essence, nature, it is uncreated and also it has all the characteristics of divinity without confounding with the divine nature, because they exist in time when they manifest in time, but there is not a moment when nature existed without energy, because if we light a fire in the same time that fire manifest as fire, heat and light appear all the same. and they could not exist or rather subsist independently of fire but they are an emanation a result of the activity of fire. As the sun could not ever appear without its rays, without stopping to be sun. As for the mind itself it never stop thinking in that sense it is energy, pure energy, but the effect of its activity is the thought. the thought exists as a manifestation of the mind as an energeia not as actus purus, because it is not self subsistent as the mind is.

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Post by Kyneto Valesio » Mon Jan 14, 2008 2:16 am

Wow Petka I am really amazed at the depth and insight of your post from December which I have just gotten around to partially digesting. Of Aristotle I know nothing yet I can't help agreeing -if I understood you correctly -- that philosophically there must be a distinction between the godhead and his manifold energies. You wrote
What Aristotle did wrong in its definition of energy is that he tended to confuse, if I remember well, the godhead, the divine with energeia.
If the godhead is the source of all energy then there is a logical distinction between the "energetic" and his/its energies as manifested in material nature and also in the hearts of man. By way of analogy (imperfect of course) the godhead can be thoughout of as the powerplant (the energetic) which is distinct from the electricity in the transmission lines. Another analogy (also imperfect) might be found in the sun and rays of the sun. The rays are not the sun yet they have their origin in the sun. So by analogy (so it seems to me) there must be a distinction between the godhead and his activities so to speak. On the other hand since the godhead is absolutely the origin of everything, everthing including all of the godhead's manifestations must in some reduced degree participate in the godhead. If the human soul is considered to be "an energy" of the godhead, which i believe, then we also are divine as having our origin in the divine - but we cannot then go around claiming that we are the godhead because of distinction outlined above, because we are not the original source of all manifestations ourselves. To summarize my view, which i have adapted from the the vaishnava philosphers of bengal, whose erudition on these matters I follow, the godhead and his energies are inconceivably one and different. I myself am not a philosopher like you so obviously are petka. Nevertheless I hope I have been able to have been understood by you.

I am not unaware that I owe you a response concerning your hymn written on the occasion of the nativity (posted in the composition section). Please accept my apologies for the delay. I will work up something soon. In the meantime please post more often. Yours Cynetus Valesius

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