Back in year 2000, Halton Arp held this lecture on his career as an astronomer, and his…
Energy is often talked about as if it is a thing rather than a property, and this leads to a lot of confusion, with some people talking about pure energy as if such a thing exists.
I was reminded of this the other day when I came across a comment making the bold statement that “everything is pure energy”. That’s a profound sounding statement. But it holds no meaning. If everything is pure energy, then what more is there to discuss? No model can be devised. Nothing can be explained.
In a world where everything is pure energy, matter is energy, motion is energy, forces are energy. My fingernails are pure energy, and they grow because of energy. It’s a nonsensical model from which nothing can be devised or constructed.
The confusion surrounding energy is due to the fact that it’s a property that takes a wide range of forms. There’s potential energy, kinetic energy, chemical energy, nuclear energy, etc.
Energy can also be transformed into mass, which is often confused with matter. Since matter is a thing, the logic goes that matter must be energy. But this logic is based on the false assumption that matter and mass is the same thing. But mass is not the same as matter. Mass is a property of matter, and it’s not even a well defined property. It’s an abstraction, sometimes meaning inertia and sometimes meaning gravity.
No-one has ever seen energy. It’s mysterious, and therefore something that attracts the attention of ethereal thinkers. Everyone from Yogi gurus to science experts talk about energy as something essential and profound, which of course it is. But that doesn’t make energy a thing in itself.
Energy is a property of particles, and to talk of energy as anything separate from particles is a little like talking about height or width without reference to anything material. There is no pure height or pure width anywhere, nor is there any pure energy, and energy is never converted into anything but a different kind of energy.
Nuclear processes never convert energy into matter, nor do they convert matter into energy. A nuclear reactor doesn’t convert uranium into energy, it converts uranium into lighter materials, and high energy photons are released in the process. It is the high energy photons that heat the water that powers the nuclear reactor. Nuclear binding energy is transferred from uranium onto photons.
There’s also the process of electron-positron annihilation where an electron and positron meet to form a high energy photon. But here again, we see that energy is merely moved from a potential state in the electron-positron pair, to a kinetic state in the high energy photon. At no point is energy in a pure state, separate form particles.
There simply aren’t any situations in which energy is observed in a pure form. Energy is always associated with particles. The idea that it’s a thing rather than a property is wrong and leads to nonsensical statements that have no bearing on reality.