Sunday, October 08, 2006

Doggerel #41: "Energy"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

One of the favorite words a lot of woos like to employ is "energy." Use it with just about any other word, and you've got a potential sciency-sounding Star Trek plot device. In the woo world, energy is typically non-physical, spiritual, and, in short, defined as immune to science. In the real world, however, energy is physical, and can even be made from matter. That's what E=mc2 is all about. Real world energy, unlike newage (rhymes with sewage) "energy," can be measured: We have joules, ergs, foot-pounds, and all those other units.

Woos have commonly cited conservation of energy as "evidence" of the afterlife, apparently assuming that the soul is made of the same kind of energy that real physicists talk about. The problem with this is that there's no proof of a dead body losing energy: If the soul is made of energy, we'd expect to see a loss as it flies off to wherever. Of course, there probably aren't that many good measurements out there, but if the woos want to assert that energy loss, they'll need to conduct good experiments.

On the altie front, there's no shortage of "energy" "medicine" out there, involving chi, qi, ki, chakras, prana, homeopathy, or whatever. The big problem these things face: Lack of good evidence. (As always, anecdotes don't count.) Though I suspect most actually believe they're doing something, I imagine the knowing frauds use the energy thing as a convenient way of avoiding causing harm: The wrong herbs can cause an allergic reaction or other problems, but waving your hands over someone typically can't hurt anyone... at least not in a positive harm way. (Negative harm comes if the "patient" drops real medicine.)

Yet another, slightly more mundane form of energy woo is the perpetual motion machine, now called a "free energy machine," probably because patent offices caught onto the former, which is supposed to violate the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy). They don't work. If they did work, they'd falsify thermodynamics and start a new revolution in physics. But for some reason, the people praising these devices seem to be quite reluctant to unplug them and let them run on their own.


Doggerel Index


Icequeen said...

If the soul is made of energy, we'd expect to see a loss as it flies off to wherever.

Ha, I refer to the thorough research of the honorable Dr. Duncan MacDougall.

Bronze Dog said...

Oh yeah, that guy. Too bad the difference is so small, it's well within the error range of the instruments.

Joshua said...

My personal favourite isn't the altie stuff, but rather the comic/sci-fi "being of pure energy". Such complete nonsense!

Bronze Dog said...

You only think it's nonsense because you haven't fully evolved. ;) Of course, after energy evolution, everything goes towards copper and tin, reaching that magical perfect value of 4.7% tin. Like me.

Icequeen said...

Oh bronze dog, I can just see your aura vibrate indigo through corrosion.

Bronze Dog said...

Cool. What's the wavelength?

0.4 um?

Icequeen said...

Sorry, I can't tell without a $300 reading. :)

(I'm reading up on the indigo children movement, and it's baffling.)