Matter & Energy

Is clay a property of the pot? Is H20 a property of water, steam, and ice? Is George a property of the store clerk where he works?

When something can changed from one thing to another, remaining the precisely same thing/quantity in those changes, should it really be called a property of the things it happens to be in at a particular time? I don’t think so!

To be sure there is something significantly different with energy. Because energy can also be found in actions (like motion) and not just in objects. But the same quantity of energy remains even when changing its form from motion to matter in a particle accelerator. I suppose another disturbing thing is that the measure of energy can be different measured from different inertial frames. And in this it might be thought similar to properties such as mass and length which are also measured differently from different inertial frames. But that may only mean that the MEASURE of energy is a property and not that the energy itself is a property – any more than the mass measurement of clay, H20, and George should be confused with the things themselves.

The definition of energy is the ability of a system to do work. If we are talking about kinetic energy, then we are talking about the velocity of matter in the system. A photon is massless, so that could take us away from purely matter, but the ability of photons to do work depends on how it alters matter.

Anyway, just thinking out loud.

Clay is a constituent of a pot. Water, steam, and ice are phases of H2O. George is an abstract term that we use to describe the store clerk. I don’t think these quite get where I am going.

Mass is a property of the pot. The pot could be magnetic, yet another property. The brittleness of the pot would be a property. The specific heat capacity of the pot is a property. Clay is not a property, at least the way I look at it.

A pot on a high shelf has more potential energy than a pot on a lower shelf. Are the two pots intrinsically different because of this? Can we look through a microscope and see this potential energy?

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And all this energy can be converted from one form to another. It is not a property added to these things just because of the form it is in.

But while there are processes by which these properties of the pot can be converted to forms without those properties, the energy remains the same unless energy is added or removed in the process. The clay itself can be altered to other forms and thus the clay is MORE of a property than the energy itself is.

Sure. There are many forms of energy. The potential energy of the pot does not alter the other properties of the pot because this energy is completely different than the other energy of the pot. IF you required the pot to supply that potential energy then YES the resulting pot would have to be intrinsically different.

That is like asking if a thermometer can measure this potential energy? Sight and microscope only observes the electromagnetic radiation emitted and reflected by objects. It is obviously the wrong way to measure an object’s potential energy. The way to observe that particular type of energy is the difference between the pot on the higher shelf such as the effect on your head when it falls on you.

From wiki:

They define it as a property measured in the ability to do work and in the production of heat and light. Seems to be what I am saying.

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And the word “property” is not used in most other definitions.

Merriam Webster: no
Britannica: no no no
Collins dictionary: no

Of course you can call anything a property if you want. semantics. But energy would be an odd sort of property like “being” as a property of everything and which does not change. Physically you could equate energy with “being.”

And I still say it is like calling H20 a property of water, steam, and ice – no difference I can see at all, except that H20 is more like a property than energy is since there are processes which will make the H20 go away and become some other form of energy.

And yet energy is equated with mass e=mc2

The equation does not mean that mass and energy are the same thing. For example, there are massless particles (like photons) and they have energy (E = h * v, i.e. plank’s constant times frequency).

The equation means that mass is another form of energy, like so many other things.

You have similar equations for other forms of energy such as motion, heat, light, gravitational potential, chemical potential, …

I am imagining a conversation…

Man: I ask so few things of you. Can you please clean up the leaves and mow the grass.


Man: Don’t tell me that you cannot do it. E = m c squared, so you have energy which is defined as the capability of doing work.


Man: Still so stubborn and uncooperative, aren’t you?

Yes that was the initial definition of energy BEFORE it was shown that this same quantity could be found in everything. And not all energy is actually usable. We often have to make a distinction between energy which can actually be used to do work and energy which cannot. Thus, I think this original definition of energy is largely outdated.

Agreed, but we are faced with an intriguing notion, that we measure (or detect) things (or properties) that are comprehended using the term ‘energy, or energies’ - and I for one (and perhaps others) struggle to imagine or visualize this thing termed energy. I am not a physicist so I do not mind admitting that I find areas such as vacuum energy, dark energy, difficult to comprehend.

I am aware that some Christian physicists have endeavored to discuss the theological teachings of divine energies with some of these areas. Are you in this group of phycisists?

No. That is a different use of the word “energy.”

My only thoughts on “divine energy” is that this, along with any use of “energy” for spiritual things, would be that this is an extension of the idea of energy to outside the space-time structure of the physical universe according to which the word “energy” is defined in physics. It is an idea quite compatible with my monistic hylomorphic way thinking (that all things are different forms of some energy-like substance).

I guess I can also say that I believe God is an infinite form and source of this energy-like stuff for all things (including the physical universe). But perhaps this is not the same use as in what the orthodox mean when they talk about “divine energy” – I really don’t know.

I am drawn to the orthodox view by a number of passages in scripture that, more or less say, God works with us in growing the attributes revealed in Christ. These passages use the Greek term for energy (or energies). This ties with our scientific view in that energy is known by work done. This elaborated in Patristic writings.

I don’t think God needs any special magical “divine energy” in order to help us develop good attributes any more than human parents do. I think God is involved in the events of the world the same as those parents working much the same way they do to bring about a better result. I don’t believe in magical solutions whether divine or otherwise. Perhaps I misunderstand, but its all divine energy as far as I can see.

I am not advocating anything magical LOL. Indeed, God is the father who cares for His children.

I think you may misunderstand, or I have stated this in a clumsy way. Scripture shows how the saints and apostles could do many works, such as heal the sick, care for the poor, and many other acts, and these were the result of God working with them. Christians have performed such acts because they grew into the attributed revealed by Christ, and worked with the Holy Spirit.

Be that as it may, I think our views on energy is not that far apart. Thanks for the discussion.

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Quantity of what? How do we quantify energy?

Hence the definition “the ability of a system to do work”. An increase in entropy is a loss in the ability to do work.

But again, I’m not an expert in physics. I would be curious what the physicists have to say.

There are a number of ways.

Instead of starting with mechanical work, we can start with other forms of energy and the reasons why it is important, such as the energy of motion and the fact that this is conserved in elastic collisions (or even inelastic collisions when you account for where the lost energy goes).

Or it can be defined using Noether’s theorem as the conserved quantity derived from time invariance, just as we get (angular) momentum conservation from (rotational) translation invariance.

The idea that physics can only be done in one way (the way in which we happened to have uncovered it) is as flawed as the idea that there is only one way of doing mathematics. The flaw isn’t that the answers are not singular but that the questions they answer must always be the same. We can always start with different questions and thus define quantities according to those different lines of inquiry. The thing about energy is that it is involved in answering so many many different questions, so the number of ways of defining it is greater than most physical quantities.

And yet the energy remains the same. Thus the definition of energy as the ability to do work is ultimately somewhat flawed – because it is tied to just this one particular application of the concept of energy in kinetics and the effect of forces. It works as an introduction to the concept, but is wrong to make this the sum total of what “energy” means.

BTW… is there a philosophical reason why this idea of energy as a substance of all things bothers you so much? Is there some argument where this has been used which you disagree with? It may be that there are alternatives and ways of dispensing with such an argument. Too often people replace their original convictions with the arguments they are used to using. The original conviction can be true even when the argument they use is flawed.


Just wondering how you’re doing and if the current discussion is of interest to you. Very often a new thread will veer in directions the original poster doesn’t have in mind at the start. Many times these other directions will also wind up being of interest if only tangentially.

If any of it looks interesting and you wanted to ask the poster something to see how it might relate to your initial intent, there is nothing wrong with doing so. Of course the new poster may not see a connection to your original question or just not be all that interested in going there in the same way it is okay if their response to your original question doesn’t spark any interest for you.

Hope you’re enjoying your non lurking experience. :wink:


I’m doing great, thanks! Hope you and your family are also.

The discussion, I’m loving it! Most of the other topics also, it’s all fascinating to me. If I had been able to complete more college, I probably would have ended up in something related to astronomy and mathematics. But you know… young family, full-time job, yadda yadda… Now the kids are out on their own and doing well, I often think about going back, just for the enjoyment of it.

Everyone has been so gracious and patient with me in their responses, I don’t feel like the imbecile I was afraid I might. Truly loving this. Thanks to your encouragement, I may never lurk again. :wink:



I love that. I even quoted that to my sister, hope you don’t mind. I gave you the credit.


Never hesitate. I feel the same way about my photos anyone is welcome to use them as they may. I don’t imagine I’m taking anything with me and my expiration date fast approaches. Now that I serve no explicit useful role I can only be gratified if anyone finds anything I leave behind useful.

You might like to invite your sister to take over your lurker ‘s spot to have a look around. I’m especially excited a the moment by what I’m reading of David Hart which I mention in the Pithy Quotes thread and then link to a new thread for sharing from that book.

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That would be describing energy as a property of matter, specifically the velocity of matter

Perhaps that is one flaw. Most definitions involve classical views of systems, such as the Carnot cycles. For example, no steam engine is 100% efficient. Some of that heat energy goes into making sound waves, overcoming friction, and heating parts of the engine that don’t produce motion within the machine. However, we can still measure that waste energy, so it isn’t as if it is ignored in the calculations.

Nothing is bothering me other than wanting to have an accurate understanding of the relation between matter and energy.