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There is no such 'thing' as energy
"There is no such thing as matter. Everything is energy." Statements such as this have entered into popular belief and are implicit in the mathematics of every physics textbook. Everyone with a high-school education 'knows' that it is true; yet not only is it incorrect, it implies something that very few understand. The explanation here may be the only one publicly available.
The statement is based on 'the most famous equation in the world': E = mc². This is a reformulation of of an idea examined in Einstein's 1905 paper Does the inertia of a body depend upon its energy-content? although it was presented, not as an equation, but as a statement in words. It took several years for its present form to emerge, gaining direct empirical proof in the 1930s with the discovery of the neutron and the so-called 'mass defect' in atomic nuclei. Most crucially, it was imprinted indelibly in the public mind with the arrival of atomic bombs. Since then it has been universally accepted as unquestionably true, which indeed it is as a mathematical statement. The fundamental conceptual errors to which it has given rise derive from its interpretation, and are never discussed because they are all but unrecognized.
In order to understand this, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between three things that are often conflated: mathematical statements, intellectual concepts, and manifest realities. The material objects around us are manifest realities, or at least we commonly define them as such; but not always. Some philosophies teach that the whole physical universe is a gigantic illusion: a fantasy created in human minds by imagination, appearing real to us only because of the power of belief. Maybe it is; but anyone who chooses so to believe exists in a quandary. If brick walls are only illusions, it should be possible to walk through them. No credible report exists of a living human being who has done so, and any determined attempt will result in injury, possibly severe. Philosophers are free to indulge all manner of speculation, and modern scientists often exercise similar liberties. Here we will adopt commonsense practicalities as our guide to sound judgement, unadventurous though they may be. We assert that brick walls are real, solid, massive objects, and that the same is true of all material objects. This provides a fundamental definition of physical reality for practical purposes. Closer consideration requires greater detail: clouds are also real, but not solid in the accepted sense; but ordinary commonsense suffices for understanding what is intended.
All material objects have mass - bricks, walls, clouds, whatever - and again this is an obvious statement about reality for educated folk. But what do we mean by 'mass'? This is more difficult. In general, it means that all objects near the Earth's surface possess weight, and also that they possess inertia, two more facts well known to high-school students. Mass is commonly defined as 'the amount of matter in a body', more accurately as 'the property of matter that measures its resistance to acceleration'. We can say that 'mass' is the quantification of matter that finds manifestation in weight and inertia. Both of these are observables: they can be detected, sensed, and measured; that is, quantified. They are qualities or properties of material objects that can be given a value on a scale of measurement.
Similar statements are true of motion. Generally speaking, all objects around us are either stationary or in motion relative to us, as determined by observation. Motion is also a manifest reality that can be quantified. If we know the mass and motion of an object, we can make statements and deductions about it. A tennis ball rolling along level ground will slow down and stop, whereas on a slope it will continue to move. In either case, appropriate measurements allow us to calculate the ball's motion to any desired degree of accuracy using well-established mathematical statements, and to calculate much else besides: velocity, acceleration, force of impact and so on. These properties can be called parameters of the object from the Greek para meaning beside and metron meaning measure.
Thus matter demonstrates mass, whilst radiation demonstrates motion; yet matter can also move, and radiation has an effective mass. This agrees with our initial postulate: that matter and radiation are fundamental components of Physical Reality.
A most useful parameter of a material object is its momentum, a mathematical term that is difficult to conceptualize: it is the product of an object's mass and velocity. μ = mv. Although derived from mass and motion, momentum is not an observable, but a calculated parameter. Neither is it a manifest reality as are mass and motion. If an object's momentum changes, it is not the case that momentum has been added to or subtracted from it: rather has its mass or its motion changed, and the calculated value of its momentum changes accordingly. Conservation of Momentum is one of the most valuable laws in the study of Dynamics; but momentum is a concept: a product of the human mind, not a component of Physical Reality.
A similar parameter is kinetic energy. This, too, is a concept: a mathematical term naming the product of mass and the square of velocity: E = ½mv². What applies to momentum applies equally to kinetic energy, and to energy in general. It is a calculated quantity, neither an observable, nor a manifest reality. Energy cannot be added to or taken from an object; rather does it change in accord with mass, motion, position and composition.
All calculation of energy requires the inclusion of a value for mass. If mass is unknown, energy cannot be calculated.
Recall now the first statement of this chapter, "There is no such thing as matter. Everything is energy." Here we take the alternative view stated above: that matter is real - a manifest observable - and that all matter has mass. To claim that matter and radiation are both energy is to replace manifest realities with a mathematical parameter, and this is absurd.
It is true that all substance - sc. matter - is ultimately vibration, a contained, stationary resonance rather than the propagating vibrations of radiation; but vibration is not energy, even though it can be assigned an energetic value. In the case of electromagnetism, Planck's constant substitutes for the mechanical aspects of mass and motion: E = hν
This is one reason why MWS claims to have arrived at insights and conclusions similar to those of the Oriental mystery traditions, another false and misleading boast. The mystery traditions originally obtained their insights using advanced forms of meditation that permit direct subjective perception of subtle aspects of reality. Most have today decayed into psychism and religion, but their core teachings remain valid when correctly understood. MWS obtains its 'mystical' conclusions from flawed observations and faulty reasoning: its 'mysteries' are quandaries or fallacies that deny reality, whereas meditative insights confirm reality.
In spite of the foregoing, energy has proved to be one of the most valuable concepts in modern science, which is undoubtedly why it has been reified: that is, turned into a 'thing'. For more than a century, scientists have treated it as an actual physical reality instead of as a useful concept. In the vernacular, of course, this happened much earlier, since the word has a different meaning in common speech. We are all accustomed to saying such things as "I'm full of energy this morning", or "I'm tired and low on energy", which are perfectly correct uses of language; but when a scientist speaks of "the energy within an atom" he is bordering on loose language, whilst to deny the very existence of matter yet insist that it is a form of energy is patent nonsense.
The solution to this quandary is to realize that the remarkable properties ascribed to energy belong instead to mass, motion and radiation. This may seem inconceivable, since they appear so commonplace and well understood as to be incapable of so fundamental a revision. Only those who have pondered long and deep on them can realize that they are three of the deepest mysteries in Nature.
What is needed is a new conceptual understanding of mass and motion; and because they are fundamental aspects of Physical Reality, this necessitates a new Physical Theory. Having established the first requirement of this new theory, let us proceed to another.