Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nature of Energy and Spirit

I participate in a question and answer service online called Yedda in which people ask questions and others answer them. Pretty straightforward. Today I got an interesting question:

What is the nature of energy? How does it differ from spirit?

And here is my response:

Energy and Spirit from a Scientific Perspective
Energy in physics is a broad term that can mean a number of different quantities. Among many possible examples: Kinetic energy is the energy of a moving body, potential energy is energy yet to be released (such as gravitational potential - a rock at the top of a mountain if pushed will show a lot of energy as it rolls down the mountain), and light has energy proportional to its frequency.

Perhaps the broadest approach to the nature of energy was Einstein's, who's equations show us that matter and energy are essentially the same substance and can be converted back and forth. This is the meaning of the equation E=mc^2, where E is energy, m mass, and c^2 is the speed of light squared. This equation shows that even a small amount of mass when multiplied by the extremely large c^2 term will yield a lot of energy. This is the process by which nuclear fusion and fission produce energy - a small amount of mass "disappears" and turns into energy. This energy takes the form of heat mostly.

Spirit is not a measured or observed quantity, so therefore science has nothing to say about it. This doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means that it is not in the realm of science at this time. There are many things that exist in the world that science can't quantify, such as the beauty of music or love. These things are real, but are very difficult or impossible to measure with a scientific instrument. Don't fall into the trap that just because science can't explain or understand something that that means it doesn't exist.

Energy and Spirit from a (Narrow) Religious Perspective
I am not an expert on world religions, so all I can say is what I believe and hope that people of other faiths will answer this question after me. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – but people often refer to us as Mormons.

I believe that matter, energy, light, spirit, and truth are the same substance – just in different forms. A few quotations from some of the scriptures of my faith will show my point – even if they offer no explanation on the subject:

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
Whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:33
The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
You should read the surrounding verses of those I have cited so that you can understand the little context there is for these somewhat out-of-the-blue statements.

I'll readily admit that I don't understand this as well as I do the science side of it, but nevertheless it is there in my belief system and I gladly accept it. I like to keep in mind that my understanding of both science and religion is always growing, so I am content to temporarily have incomplete understanding of some of these fringe topics of my faith. Nevertheless I look forward to the day when I can learn the true nature of the universe – and therefore energy and spirit – without the lens of my limited understanding, whether that understanding is religious or scientific.

Perhaps a Buddhist with knowledge of this subject can offer an explanation? I seem to remember there's more of this type of discussion in that faith.

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