Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Is There Such A "Thing" As Energy?

"There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened."
~~Douglas Adams


Previously, we've discussed force as an "interaction energy." The use of the word "interaction" suggests that this energy is found BETWEEN two objects. The implications of this are twofold: there is such a "thing" as energy - a real physical thing - and that it is possible for this thing to exist outside matter. Under modern theory mind, all sorts of complications arise when you start saying this kind of stuff. It seems to break every convention that physics has. That's mainly because energy is not seen as a substance, or indeed, anything in particular. It is observed strictly as an abstract concept.

With perhaps the exception of energy in the form of light, energy is not a thing per se. Rather, energy refers to a condition or state of a thing.

Getting to the core concept of energy is no mean feat, because we are now messing with fundamental laws of physics. These dictate that energy cannot exist outside matter because it is solely a property of matter. Properly defined, matter has energy, but in itself, is not energy per se. Matter needs energy, for without it, matter cannot exist.Described in this way, it suggests that energy is a different "thing" from matter.

A kind of cyclic argument ensues, which says that even if it was possible for energy to exist outside matter, it cannot physically exist as a thing, because energy only refers to the condition or state of an object. Consistently treating energy as only describing the energetic state of a material object, ensures that it remains indescribable as an independent substance. Once you do decide to try and seperate energy from matter, then out pops a big, wrestling squid in the shape of the laws of conservation. Basically, the laws all subscribe to the idea that energy has to belong to an object or body, and because of this, it is impossible for energy to simply enter, or exit a system, without it belonging to another object or body. This concept is known as the conservation of energy.

The conservation of energy is a fundamental concept of physics along with the conservation of mass and the conservation of momentum. Within some problem domain, the amount of energy remains constant and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Energy can be converted from one form to another (potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy) but the total energy within the domain remains fixed.

The law behind the conservation of energy refuses to admit that energy can exist outside matter. This means that the space around matter is strictly space - with nothing in it - nada, zip, donut, etc. However, something is still needed to explain how energy is transferred from one body to another. Because the energy is moving from one body to the other, regardless of how small that distance is, there must come a moment where energy is seen to exist by itself. This should give us the perfect opportunity to finally get a glimpse of "energy." What we find though is not energy in the buff - but energy dressed-up in a new outfit. To help explain energy transfer, modern theory devised a vehicle to carry the energy - the photon. Happily for modern theory, the photon is still maintained to be a particle of matter, even though this particle has no mass whatsoever.

Physics experiments over the past hundred years or so have demonstrated that light has a dual nature. In many instances, it is convenient to represent light as a "particle" phenomenon, thinking of light as discrete "packets" of energy that we call photons. Now in this way of thinking, not all photons are created equal, at least in terms of how much energy they contain. Each photon of X-ray light contains a lot of energy in comparison with, say, an optical or radio photon.

Conveniently, because the photon has no mass, it means that it does not have to obey the confines of space-time, and therefore does not experience our idea of "time." This allows the photon to quite literally arrive at its destination before it has even departed from its source - including distances which span the entire Universe!Because the photon can cross the divide between bodies instantaneously, modern theory is not obligated to explain how the photon might appear in the void. Modern theory persists in refusing to define energy, and maintains that the photon is only an energy carrier and not energy per se. Fortunately for us, this presents something of a crack for us to try and pry open.

Now that the photon has been emitted and begins its flight, we are purely in a relativistic mode. Einsteins equations for space distortion and time dilation tell us that the path in front of the photon shrinks to zero and the time of flight shrinks to zero as well. Now that the photon has been emitted and begins its flight, we are purely in a relativistic mode. Einsteins equations for space distortion and time dilation tell us that the path in front of the photon shrinks to zero and the time of flight shrinks to zero as well. This has always raised a troubling problem because we know that some photons take billions of years to fly across the universe and move about 1 nanosecond a foot of travel.

As the author of "Quantumweird" points out, how is it possible for instantaneous energy transfer to take place if the photon is physically restricted by a maximum speed limit? If the photon cannot physically travel faster than light, how is it possible for energy to do so? The only thing which makes any sense is to admit that it is only energy, and not the photon, which is capable of instantaneous transfer. Quite what this means is very open to debate, but I like the idea of a surrounding medium, a medium of surrounding energy, being responsible for the transfer of energy between bodies.

"As far as a photon is concerned the passage from point A to point B is instantaneous – and it always has been. It was instantaneous around 13.7 billion years ago when the entire universe was much smaller than a breadbox – and it still is now.

But once you decide that the speed of light is variable, this whole schema unravels. Without an absolute and intrinsic speed for relatively instantaneous information transfer, the actions of fundamental forces must be intimately linked to the particular point of evolution that the universe happens to be at.

For this to work, information about the evolutionary status of the universe must be constantly relayed to all the constituents of the universe – or otherwise those constituents must have their own internal clock that refers to some absolute cosmic time – or those constituents must be influenced by a change in state of an all-pervading luminiferous ether."

Science has long been able to avoid confronting the question of what energy is exactly, by using a formula which allows it to inter-change energy for mass. The formula, probably the most famous equation of all time, is unequivocal proof that energy and mass are equivalent. I am of course referring to E = mc2.

Einstein correctly described the equivalence of mass and energy as “the most important upshot of the special theory of relativity” (Einstein, 1919), for this result lies at the core of modern physics. According to Einstein's famous equation E = mc2, the energy E of a physical system is numerically equal to the product of its mass m and the speed of light c squared. It is customary to refer to this result as “the equivalence of mass and energy,” or simply “mass-energy equivalence,” because one can choose units in which c = 1, and hence E = m.

If science ever needs to draw upon a physical represention of energy, then it does so in the form of matter. What this does though, is screw around with our previous statement where we said "without energy, matter cannot exist." Because energy and matter are inter-changeable, the statement must also be able to read "without matter, energy cannot exist." Which is not what we agreed on at all. We know that matter cannot exist without energy, but nowhere have we said that energy cannot exist without matter. The problem with E=mc2 is that it can be manipulated in such a way, it forces us to accept the notion that energy cannot exist without matter, when in-fact, there is no direct proof that this is true.

If you remember, we agreed that "matter has energy, but in itself, is not energy per se." In this way, energy and matter can be seen as two different entities. If they are different, then it must be possible to seperate them. On one hand, we have matter which we know needs energy to exist, but on the other, we might find that energy, pure unadulterated energy, is more than able to exist as an entity in its' own right. Detractors will say that trying to seperate energy from matter, is a bit like trying to seperate butter from hot crumpets. I mean, why would you want to? Crumpets taste lovely with butter. To seperate the two is simply pointless. But of course it's not. Mankind's final understanding of what energy is, could represent our greatest adventure yet.

Many thanks: