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Is Life a form of energy?

  1. Nov 17, 2009 #1
    In the chinese art of Tai Chi, the word chi is usually translated as energy. The exercises are designed to keep our energy flowing through the body.

    What does physics have to say about this idea? Could life be considered a form of energy?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2009 #2


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    Not energy in the physics sense
    Good for them but it's nothing to do with science.
    No, life isn't a form of energy
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2009
  4. Nov 17, 2009 #3
    Physics says that it's crap.
    Medical science says its placebo.

    Its basically mystical nonesense created by people, who were ignorant of actual biological processes, to explain why some things move about, and other things don't.

  5. Nov 17, 2009 #4
    Your link about vitalism says - "In physics, energy is a term to express the power to move things, either potential or actual. Energy is not a thing itself, but an attribute of something."

    Why can't this be applied to living bodies? They can move things. Why not a form of energy?
  6. Nov 17, 2009 #5
    just watched this today:

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  7. Nov 17, 2009 #6
    Living bodies do have energy, but so do dead bodies.

    Life is not a body.
    Life is a process.
    The fact that the word 'life' is a noun, doesn't mean the word represents a physical thing.

    Why? Because that's the way it is. Show us a way to measure chi and I'm sure you'll get the Nobel prize. Until then, what you are saying just doesn't describe reality.
  8. Nov 17, 2009 #7
    Sigh. Physics is so mystical, I mean mysterious. Especially their idea of energy. I can't seem to wrap my head around it.

    Dead bodies have energy? They can measure this? Can you say more?

    But energy is a "property of a body" and so is life. A process is by definition dynamic, so it seems to correspond to energy.

    In physics, is energy a physical thing? What exactly do you mean by 'thing'? Confusingly, my dictionary defines thing as - material object without life or consciousness. What about light - is it a thing or a process?

    I still don't get it:confused:
  9. Nov 17, 2009 #8


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    Miles per gallon?
    Dead bodies have pretty much the same chemical energy of live bodies.

    Color is a property of a pencil, so is sharpness it doesn't mean sharpness and color are related.

    Energy is a real measurable thing in physics, it is the basis of a lot of laws and predictions.
    You can calculate the energy of a photon of light and so the effects it will have on matter.

    Life is a set of chemical processes which involve energy, but there's nothing particularly special about life from a physics point of view. Pretty much all the chemical reactions in a living body you can do in a test tube with varying degrees of difficulty.

    Using words like 'energy' in a philosophical sense to describe a martial art or a dance or a poem is fine but you have to be careful not to read too much into it.
  10. Nov 17, 2009 #9
    I think you're purposely attempting to make it seem like a bigger problem than it is to allow your own position to have more firm ground.

    Life is a property of objects; energy is a property of objects.
    Does this mean they are the same? No.

    Life: the organic phenomenon that distinguishes living organisms from nonliving ones.
    Energy: a thermodynamic quantity equivalent to the capacity of a physical system to do work; the units of energy are joules or ergs.

    Is energy a physical thing?
    Well does the capacity of a physical system to do work sound like it's a physical thing?

    You ask if light is a physical thing or a process... I do not understand this question. Physical things go through processes all the time so this isn't a 'one or the other option'.

    http://www.andor.com/learning/light/ <This site will teach you about the different forms of radiation.

    Why wouldn't dead bodies have energy?
    Dead has to do with somethings current state of life... (The end... so no more life.)

    I don't see how this relates to energy at all...
  11. Nov 17, 2009 #10
    You can light a dead body on fire. That's energy being converted from flesh to heat/light and ash. Living people also burn. That's energy.
    Living people are capable of more complex 'work', because the energy involved is part of system... a process, as opposed to just simple combustion.
    Life is a description of a process. Energy is not a process it is the ability to do work.
    Energy is physical. Light is physical. You dictionary was written for a general audience. In English, a noun is a person, place or thing. English distinguishes between people and things, physics, not so much. In physics, if its physical, its a thing.

    Life is not a physical object, its a concept that describes a process.
  12. Nov 17, 2009 #11
    Unfair - I have no position - only questions. I know there’s alot of rubbish associated with new age energy ideas, but this is a serious question I have wondered about for a long time. I don’t read new age stuff because it’s mostly meaningless, feel good dribble. I read physics stuff to try and understand it and have a basic understanding of what energy means from the physics point of view. I really cannot understand why physics doesn’t classify life as some sort of energy.

    Life even seems to fulfil their definition of energy. All living things are a ‘physical system with the capacity to do work’. Isn’t this property of movement or work one of the essential qualities that distinguish living things from dead things?

    Your definition of life is not very useful – it doesn’t mean anything. It defines life in terms of life and non-life. Your definition of energy seems more useful at describing life. Why not consider the idea that life could be some form of energy not fully understood at present?

    Isn’t that just the energy within the mass or matter of the physical object?

    I don’t understand this. Doesn’t chemical activity cease at death? Doesn’t all movement, metabolism and processes cease? Apart from the mass of the body – how does a dead body have energy?

    Yes, I understand that. I can’t see how you could measure life energy, but then I can’t see how you could measure the energy of a photon either. Just because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean it’s not some sort of energy. I wouldn’t dare to suggest it’s non-physical energy on a physics website, but what would you think if I said - life is a system for using energy? How would a physicist feel about that?

    I assume you mean that the physical ingredients of organic bodies aren’t special. But the behaviour or activity of those ordinary atoms, chemicals etc is pretty special from a physics point of view isn't it? Special or even enigmatic?
  13. Nov 18, 2009 #12
    That is essentially the only 'energy' that is measurable.
    Well, no, decomposition involves "chemical activity". Certainly the biological processes of the organism cease at, or around death. But that just means the body is no longer converting energy into action.
    You measure something via the effects it has on other things. We can measure light this way. Getting a sunburn for instance, shows you that you have been exposed to an excessive amount of sunlight. Physicists have tools that are more precise for measuring light than you skin. But the idea is the same.
    And it doesn't mean it is some sort of energy, either.
    If you can measure it, however, then you do know it is energy.
    Its not 'a system', its actually quite a few.

    Your big problem here seems to be that you equate life with some physical measurable thing. "life" is a generalization that defines a wide variety of processes. It's convenient to lump them together into one idea, but its still just a generalization.

    "Running" is another generalization. In order to run, a creature must convert energy from one form to another. Running is a description of an action, it doesn't spring into existense when someone starts running and disappear when they stop. Running is an activity, so is life.

    Life is a complicated thing. But that doesn't make it magical. One of the problems in biology is defining what life is. It comes in so much variety, and different levels of complexity. If you are really interested, you should study biology.

    Ancient chinese medicine describes life in a highly superficial, and inaccurate, way. Modern biology goes much deeper and gives a better understanding of how things actually work.

    Science also uses words in very precise ways.
  14. Nov 18, 2009 #13
    Yes, you do have a position. You seem to be under the impression that life=energy.
    I've defined what life is to you from a biological standpoint if you don't understand it that's your problem. Yes life is definitely a difficult word to define I think my definition I have posted describes it adequately enough without taking an excessive time to write or type.
    Life is just a term that distinguishes those objects that are organisms from those that are inanimate. So yes by definition life is a process that is defined by if an object is living or not.
    If you don't like this then let's change up the words?

    Life: objects that have self-sustaining biological processes opposed to none. Objects that have none are either dead or have always lacked these processes and they are called inanimate.
    This sounds nothing like what energy is and energy does not give a better defnition of what life is.(I don't even know why you made that comment... it just sounds to me like you already know what life is in your mind)

    Let yourself note that: Human bodies are composed of MANY cells. When the human heart stops it no longer has the capability to self-sustain through biological processes. Cells in the body are, however, still living.
    Some cells in your body are not living while you live. Hair and nails are examples (keratin protein).
    So we have looked at life we can address the energy part of your position... er question.

    Energy does not differentiate if you are living or if you are dead.
    Try this experiment:
    Push a living person out of a plane at some given altitude... What happens? (The person falls)
    Push a dead body out of a plane at same given altitude... What happens? (Body falls)
    WHAT? It can't be true that both bodies will fall to the Earth. The dead body is dead and according to you has no energy! Ergo, it should float! (Stupid I know.)

    Let us go over the laws of thermodynamics:
    First Law: You can not get something from nothing. Energy is always conserved.(Energy can not be created or destroyed)
    Second Law: Puts an arrow on this conservation of energy which is entropy.
    Third Law: Absolute zero is impossible to obtain.

    The only law that has to do with this post is the first law. Where does this energy come from? We would be able to measure the transfer of some form of energy into new 'life energy'. Well, we can't because it doesn't exist.

    you mistakenly say:
    This is not true I assume if I shot you with a bullet that you wouldn't like it. I wonder why? (Possibly because the work done on the bullet which is from an inanimate source.)
    Sure someone has to pull the trigger. Get rid of all life on Earth. Work still happens... meteor impacts are a good example.

    The last thing you say about life being 'special'... why do you think this? Conciousness is definitely something special but organic materials? Not at all. Explainable and understood... nothing by the way involving mystic life energy.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2009
  15. Nov 18, 2009 #14


    Staff: Mentor

    You have already been given some good answers, but I will point out some of the important physical properties of energy.

    Energy is a conserved quantity, meaning that for an isolated system its value is constant over time. Do you think that life is a conserved quantity whose value remains constant over time?

    Energy can be converted from one form to another, in particular energy can be converted into kinetic energy or thermal energy (kinetic energy at a molecular level). Do you think that life (as distinct from an otherwise identical dead body) can be converted into kinetic energy?

    Energy is the potential to do work and work is a force applied over a distance. Do you think that life (again, as distinct from an otherwise identical dead body) has the potential to apply a force over a distance (e.g. could you propel a car by sacrificing rats other than using the chemical energy stored in their body)?
  16. Nov 18, 2009 #15
    That it is complete bunk and that you don't understand what energy means.
  17. Nov 18, 2009 #16
    I’m discussing the possibility. I don’t know the answer. It seems to me the idea has some merit and to arrogantly dismiss it without giving any logical and rational explanation why is just narrow minded. It’s you who has reached a conclusion.

    Is it doesn’t exist the only possibility? If something can’t be measured is it necessarily true that it doesn’t exist? Maybe its nature is somehow different from all presently known forms of energy? Will you admit the possibility that maybe it cannot be measured by present methods and instruments and its nature is more subtle than people at present conceive or have the knowledge to understand?

    Before Faraday no one thought electricity and magnetism were linked. Before Einstein no one thought mass and energy were linked. Before the laws of thermodynamics no one conceived of heat as movement of atoms. Do you want to close the patents office? I posted this in the philosophy section and the physics police haven’t locked the thread – so what’s your problem?

    If we are talking in general concepts rather than strict mathematical definitions – yes - there is ‘something’ that is conserved. Any word I use to describe that something is loaded with dogmatic connotations - but somehow there is this constant - sense of self - personality - wave - energy - this ‘something’ is conserved or constant in some way. Metabolism shows the exchange of all physical matter in the body – biology concludes life is a process, system, organization. I am just trying to explore the possibility that it is some sort of energy. The physics concepts of energy seem like they could be stretched to include life.

    The live body could push the car. Isn’t that work – applying a force over a distance?
  18. Nov 18, 2009 #17
    Yet you refuse to accept the responses of those who do know.
    You've been given lots of explanations. You just refuse to accept them.
    There's a difference between them and you. They knew what they were talking about. You have confessed that you don't.
    Neither personality nor sense of self are conserved after death.
    Life is a process that involves energy in many different forms, but to say that life is energy is a meaningless statement.
    A person pushing a car is converting chemical energy (in the form of the sugars in their blood/their stored fat/the food they eat) into kinetic energy (the velocity of the car).

    There is no definition of life that isn't arbitrary. The division between life and non-life is completely arbitrary. In some cases, like the difference between a rock and a human, the difference is clear. In the case of something like a virus, it depends completely on how you define life. Whether to consider a virus alive or not is arbitrary. Life is not a fundamental property of matter. The fact is: there exist a set of chemical reactions that, for reasons of convenience, we classify as "life". "Life" is not a property of these reactions, it is a categorisation that we have imposed on them.
  19. Nov 18, 2009 #18
    Another car could do that too. Are you saying that cars are alive?

    I'm thinking the word you are looking for is not 'life' or 'energy', but rather soul/spirit.

    But there is no evidence, or need, for those latter two concepts in modern science. Its not that we just haven't figured out the connection between spirit and electricity. Its that we have no reason to think spirit exists at all. Life is a process, energy is physical and measurable.

    You're free to believe in the supernatural, but it won't get you much respect from scientists. You might as well be suggesting that unicorns are quantum phenomena, and that god is a superposition of consciousness. Amusing, but not very enlightening.
  20. Nov 19, 2009 #19


    Staff: Mentor

    You are asking about science, so a strict physical definition is required. I.e. how do you measure the amount of "personality" and how many joules are in a unit of "personality". Also, if "sense of self" is a conserved quantity then it is hard to see how anything can die.
    Sure, but the question isn't whether or not a living being can convert chemical potential energy into kinetic energy, but if life itself can be converted into kinetic energy. Do you believe that you can take a bunch of rats, convert them from alive to dead, and use the released life energy to push something? (other than doing something mechanical or chemical with the body, like burning it)
  21. Nov 19, 2009 #20
    I don’t think soul/spirit is a good choice – those words evoke emotional responses. If you use them some people make assumptions and associations that destroy any opportunity for a rational discussion. What about calling it ‘sense of self’ or the “I” or the ‘me” because everyone has experience of what that is.

    But if we are relying on science to discover the truth – it has a need and even a responsibility to find some concept to enhance our understanding. Unless science resolves this issue the passionate debate about it in society will continue.

    Do you have any ideas about what concepts science could use? I suggested the concept of energy might be a good one – not because you can measure an aura – but because it is a concept that has been used within science to encompass and unify many phenomena that were previously seen as completely distinct.

    Is ‘all energy’ physical and measurable - Or ‘all energy we know about’ physical and measurable? Can you think of any possible way to stretch this concept to include this ‘sense of self’?

    What does that mean exactly – a strict physical definition? Does that apply to all science or just physics? I don’t know how to measure it or even if you can– but Joe Dawg might have an idea. He said – “You measure something via the effects it has on other things.”

    Yet doesn’t the fact that this “sense of self” is constant while the physical matter in the body is always changing suggest that “sense of self” is somehow similar to energy because it is constant while the matter is transforming from one form or body to another physically distinct body?

    Thanks for this - it’s a really good explanation. This released life energy – Obviously it’s not going to convert into a form of physical energy that you guys can measure or we wouldn't be having this discussion. But does that necessarily mean it must be a form of supernatural energy? I think I’ll quote Schrodinger’s - What is Life - "What I wish to make clear in this last chapter is, in short, that from all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics. And that not on the ground that there is any 'new force' or what not, directing the behaviour of the single atoms within a living organism, but because the construction is different from a anything we have yet tested in the physical laboratory. To put it crudely, an engineer, familiar with heat engines only, will, after inspecting the construction of an electric motor, be prepared to find it working along principles which he does not yet understand. He finds the copper familiar to him in kettles used here in the form of long, wires wound in coils; the iron familiar to him in levers and bars and steam cylinders here filling the interior of those coils of copper wire. He will be convinced that it is the same copper and the same iron, subject to the same laws of Nature, and he is right in that. The difference in construction is enough to prepare him for an entirely different way of functioning. He will not suspect that an electric motor is driven by a ghost because it is set spinning by the turn of a switch, without boiler and steam."

    Everyone is free to believe whatever they like. Personally I think we should insist on it. Luckily, our society is enlightened enough to have laws that protect these freedoms of belief and speech etc.

    I’m not seeking respect from anybody – I just came here looking for a discussion with rational and open minded people.

    That may or may not be true – But if they are conserved or constant throughout life and metabolism changes the physical form constantly – isn’t it more logical to assume that they could be? Do you know what this “I” is? Can you provide any explanation as to its nature? If not - how can you definitely say whether or not it is conserved after death?

    I wasn’t comparing myself to those scientists – I was comparing people like you to the ones who wanted to close the patent office.

    Arbitary – not attributable to any law. Or possibly – not attributable to any “known’ law. I am suggesting that movement is a distinction between life and non-life. Can you expand on this idea or just quote known laws to me?
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