Monday, May 30, 2011

"energy" misuse

The prevailing ideas of a culture change over time. Not terribly long ago, and less than an eye-blink in geological time, my ancestors would've observed reality through the eyes of spirits. Demons and angels hindering and assisting humans. God willing the sun to rise each day. And perhaps the most persistent idea of all: a soul operating the body like so many levers.

Around the time in history that I live, humans have moved on to naturalistic theories supported by reproducible experiments and communicated by mathematical relationships. Atoms aren't considered nearly as controversial. The inferred forces are impersonal; no empathy is necessary to calculate the operations. Public education has taught (hopefully...) the essentials of a scientific interpretation of the universe.

With these differences in belief, common vocabulary has shifted also. Presently it's much more expected for someone to use the word "energy" for mysterious substances to explain everything in moral and egocentric terms. "Bad energy" in place of "demon", "good energy" in place of "angel", "weak energy" in place of "phlegmatic humour". As we've all learned, energy is everywhere and in everything, so why couldn't there be energy of "spirit" in the same way? Energy is seen by its effects. Confounding effects could just be psi energy. Ghosts and souls are sentient clouds of energy.

My complaint is that the scientific definition of "energy" isn't applicable to those contexts. There's no compatible theory to back up the use of that highly technical word. Central to the notion of energy is that it's convertible and measurable. Energy does stuff. Mystical energy isn't "energy" as understood by scientists unless it's clear how to turn other forms of energy into it or turn it into other forms of energy. Even the most "intangible" of energy can be rated by what precisely happens when the energy is converted. How does it affect temperature and motion of matter? In the scientific understanding, one can't posit as many new types of energy as one wishes. There's a detectable balance of energetic quantities (subject to quantum indeterminacy at the truly tiny scales). If the entire energy equation has no missing "terms" within a reasonable bound of error, no mystery energy is there.

Therefore, to avoid giving the wrong impression, I propose that spiritual hypotheses change their terminology from "energy", which has firm physical definitions, to "mana". Speaking in good faith, "mana" is a more effective reflection of the level of discourse. Say "naughty mana" rather than "negative energy". "Think-y mana" rather than "mental energy". "Ghoulish mana" rather than "disembodied energy". "Clogged mana" rather than "blocked energy flow". 

Simply by adjusting word usage to match the distinction, the mana experts can more effectively move on to research the open question of how mana relates to energy. For instance, how high in meters can the mana in the average human soul lift an object of mass 102 grams?

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