Q: What is energy? What is “pure energy” like?

Physicist: Unfortunately, “pure energy” isn’t really a thing.  Whenever you hear someone talking about something or other being “turned into pure energy”, you’re listening to someone who could stand to be a little more specific about what kind of energy.  And whenever you hear someone talking about something being “made of pure energy”, you’re probably listening to someone who’s mistaken.

Pure energy.

“Pure energy” shows up a lot in fiction, and most sci-fi/fantasy fans have some notion of what it’s like, but it isn’t a thing you’ll find in reality.

Energy comes in a hell of a lot of forms, but they’re all pretty mundane.  For example, when “energy is released” in an explosion (most explosions) that energy mostly takes the form of kinetic energy (things moving and heat).  Light is about the closest anything comes to being pure energy, but it’s not pure energy so much as it’s one of the several kinds of energy that isn’t tied up in matter.  It’s “matterless”, sure, but that doesn’t mean that electromagnetic fields (light) are any closer to being pure than, say, gravity fields (another, very different, massless form of energy).  “Pure” energy: nope.  Some form of energy without matter: that happens.

So, energy can change from one form into another into another into another, etc., but the question remains: what is energy?  The answer to that is a little unsatisfying.

There’s this quantity, that takes a lot of forms (physical movement, electromagnetic fields, being physically high in a gravitational well, chemical potential, etc., etc.).  We can measure each of them, and we know that the total value between all of the various forms stays constant, and just like every other every constant, measurable thing it gets a name; energy.

If fusion in the Sun releases energy*, then the amount released is E = (Δm)c2 (where Δm is the change in mass between the hydrogen input and helium output and c is the speed of light).  If that energy travels from the Sun to the Earth as light, then each photon of that light carries E=hν (Planck’s constant times frequency), of it.  If those photons then fall onto a solar panel, that light energy can be converted into electrical energy.  If that electrical energy runs a motor, then the energy used is E = VIT (voltage times current times time).  If that motor is used to compress a spring, then the energy stored in the spring is E=0.5kA2 (where k is a spring constant, and A is the distance it’s compressed).  If that spring tosses a stone into the air, then at the top of its flight it will have converted all of that energy into gravitational potential, in the amount of E = mgh (mass of the stone times the acceleration of gravity times height).  When it falls back to the ground that energy will become kinetic energy again, E=0.5mv2 (where m is the stone’s mass and v is its velocity).  If that stone falls into water and stirs it up, then the water will heat up by an amount given by E = C(ΔT) (where C is the heat capacity of water, and ΔT is the change in temperature).

The “same energy” is being used at every stage of this example (assuming perfect efficiency).  But there’s no “carry through” that makes it from the beginning to the end.  The only thing that really stays the same is the somewhat artificial constant number that we Humans (or more precisely: Newton) call “energy”.

When you want to explain the heck out of something that’s a little abstract, it’s best to leave it to professional bongo player, and sometimes-physicist Richard Feynman:

“There is a fact, or if you wish, a law governing all natural phenomena that are known to date.  There is no known exception to this law – it is exact so far as we know.  The law is called the conservation of energy.  It states that there is a certain quantity, which we call “energy,” that does not change in the manifold changes that nature undergoes.  That is a most abstract idea, because it is a mathematical principle; it says there is a numerical quantity which does not change when something happens.  It is not a description of a mechanism, or anything concrete; it is a strange fact that when we calculate some number and when we finish watching nature go through her tricks and calculate the number again, it is the same.  (Something like a bishop on a red square, and after a number of moves – details unknown – it is still on some red square.  It is a law of this nature.)

(…) It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy ‘is’.  We do not have a picture that energy comes in little blobs of a definite amount.  It is not that way.  It is an abstract thing in that it does not tell us the mechanism or the reason for the various formulas.” -Dick Feynman


The Green Lantern picture is from here.

*Every time energy is released from anything, that thing ends up weighing less. It’s just that outside of nuclear reactions (either fission or fusion) the change is so small that it’s not worth mentioning.

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28 Responses to Q: What is energy? What is “pure energy” like?

  1. Mursalin says:

    Undoubtedly, one of the best posts on science I’ve ever read!

  2. Hasan says:

    What about in the first few seconds after the Big Bang where there was no matter. As far as I understand all the matter we see around us came from energy from the Big Bang. What sort of energy existed back then?

  3. Dan says:

    If the total energy contained within the universe is a constant, can we calculate that constant, what would it look like? Could we incorporate it into physics equations/are there physics equations that use a constant like this?

  4. John David Dunson says:

    @Hasan: I expect it was like one single infinite black hole.
    @Dan: sort of…

  5. John David Dunson says:

    Ok, my link didn’t work. I’ll try again, Dan…

  6. Phyllis McLemore says:

    I am so sorry that I write so much. But then nobody has to read it. I am just so frustrated by the state of this world and the reasons why it is changing and needs to change. I need to change it because I feel that I have been severely abused by its belief system of death and disease, which are images of solidity. Solidity does not actually exist. Have the people that want to be the owners of the world confused us all by paying off the physicists and other teachers, so we will be their slaves? So all of the 99% of the people that don’t keep all the money to themselves can work and work and work and then lose it all? And then the owners of the banks that cause the failure don’t go to prison? Is that slavery or what? Isn’t that the essence of communism, but very well hidden? Now it is called credit cards, the need to be rich before death gets here. Because this world is all about hidden slavery, rather than teaching what gods we are literally, able to heal ourselves at a moments notice. Imagine how I felt when I learned this about people. It is in books.
    We are all energy beings that constantly vibrate pictures that we believe to be true, in a holographic frequency domain of the implicate and explicit. And still people believe that murder and death of any kind exists.
    It is slavery if the people don’t know that they could learn to vibrate so fast they could disappear, go through walls, leave the body at will. It is the spirit of the electron that does it. we are already spirit. That is the game. I am already vibrating what I am looking for. My mother and father is the energy source that vibrates as everything. We can never leave it. God is the electromagnetic energy units we breathe and eat and feel with. When that is put in that context then I understand it a whole lot better.
    Who was the first person to see that all of our atoms are buzzing and spinning with electrons, and know what each other are doing in plasma? Then who was the first person to know that our bodies are full of these same atoms, pulsating and buzzing and spinning, picturing for us our images with electrons?
    who was the first person to call it magic? Spinning electromagnetic energy is a lot of magic and we are it. So who is fabricating the belief in death when there is no death? Is it the people on this earth in particular? because I know there are a whole lot of dimensions everywhere and I don’t have to stay here. You can’t enslave me anymore.
    I have healed myself many times and if I don’t leave this earth soon, I will continue to teach people that they are the magic of spinning electrons around every nucleus that exists. My mission on earth is to stop the rumors of solidity, which is causing all of the wars and torture I have experienced.
    Almost every question I read has to do with the question of whether there is solidity or not. Is there existence or not? If we are solid, then how did we live so that we could die? But if we are spirit, then we fly. How fast do the electrons spin around the nucleus of every atom that exists? So fast that the electron cloud must be spirit. Without the spirit we would not exist. Without the implicate we would not exist.
    So everybody everywhere!!!! Stop teaching solidity!!!! It is slowing torturing all of us.

    I wish a trillion times that somebody would make up their minds. Is there solidity or is there not solidity? Because this whole earth is screwy because nobody can agree about anything all at once. Aren’t we supposed to be swimming as ONE like those quanta in that plasma? Hint , Hint Aren’t we exactly the quanta that compose us because we wish for them to? In a holographic frequency domain where everything is pulsating frequencies into pictures, we ARE the pictures. Aren’t we wishing ourselves into existence consistently millions of times a second, pulsating full of all those electromagnetic electrons and quanta? We are literally gods somebody said, but then how come I didn’t know it as a kid? That is a bad joke.
    I was bullied and I acted out a lot. Then I was bullied more. If somebody told me I was here with a mission constantly with every pulsate of my electrons, then chances are there would have been nobody to hate me to begin with. Then I would have been a special being vibrating all that God vibrates. There would be no wars. And disease would be seen as the vibratory pulse that it is—pulsating into existence constantly as the pictures we constantly create of ourselves. We are gods. We don’t make the energy that pulses as everything, but we sure seem to take some of it to guide it, as if it is our own. But it will never be. We will always have to vibrate the same speed as the ONE energy that is the source of the energy, or we will go off balance. If Our series of waves and coils go off balance and our resonance with that source/God becomes off balance…then we call it disease, when it is really dis-ease. Dis-ease is the frequency of stress, vibrating a different speed than the energy source that is constantly creating us–in balance .
    that is where people are confused. It is an illusion that there is a past and a future. all those pictures have faded away from this reality. They really do not exist. They are probable, but don’t have to be anymore. We can change those pictures and make our “past” different and then we can actually act as if we have changed into what we pictured as a future, rather than a past. Memories are pictures. They vibrate in a electromagnetic frequency domain.
    But if a person takes that energy that is implicate and guides it, then it becomes explicit–it changes form from one set of frequencies to the next. From one dimension to the next, in and out. We pulsate in and out of different dimensions all the time.

    People win Nobel awards for this information. Why do the school children not know that they are vibrating frequencies in a holographic frequency domain that is implicate and explicate in nature? Meaning that we are inward and outward of different frequencies all the time, right now, constantly. The Big Bang is right now with every pulsate of my energy units. That is what they are and we are full of them. They picture for us what we want. We are our own hologram decks like on Star Trek and that is the secret that nobody knows or doesn’t tell. Is it just good for the movies, or did I see recently that computer that creates out of flatness–3D form!!!
    Nobody told me that ever. I was called stupid and ugly and a liar. Thanks a lot physicists. How many times do I have to think these things? I believe that I am an energy being that is holographic totally vibrating pictures consistently. That is my statement for when I leave this place. I may come back and try to tell someone about it, but who would I choose? I don’t know anybody. Because nobody rescued me as a child I did not bond with people. I have never had a best friend—yet I am trying to save everybody from their stresses. I read somewhere that I am ONE with everybody. What they vibrate I feel. It is resonance. Our oneness.

    Energy is not a real thing? It is everything. It is the buzz in our ears. It is the wave that connects everything and makes everything ONE thing. If it weren’t a quantum reality spinning energy in and out of everything then we would not exist. Vibration exists.
    Did someone not get it right? Weren’t there awards handed out for the quantum theory of everything? of waves? Rocks exist and they vibrate. Put their atoms into the collider. won’t you find spinning electrons? That is pure energy. Spinning electrons and quanta. They are all out there zooning around like an ocean. We breathe them.
    If spinning electrons and quanta aren’t pure energy, then that means you are talking about something even smaller still. they already named quarks and muons, etc. Aren’t all of these pure energy? Why isn’t the spin of an electron pure energy? And how would you know? You can’t even see the electron. Are you saying God is this pure energy? And why isn’t everything pure energy when everything vibrates God?
    Now there is a question.
    If we weren’t quantum we would not vibrate. We totally vibrate 100% energy of the frequency domain that we come from. The implicate order says Pribram. Isn’t that saying that we are revealed/manifested from a vibration that vibrates so differently than this one that we have forgotten that it exists? Yet people are told that it is bad to commit suicide and to murder. But people are frequencies from the frequency domain that we vibrate in.
    How can you have it both ways? Are we frequencies of powerful energies at least as strong and as enduring as the quanta that come together to form us?

  7. Vivek says:

    Phyllics…wht a comment. I’m out of my mind, how could u write sumthng like this….

  8. Phyllis McLemore says:

    To Vivek:
    Why are you out of your mind? Write something like what? I have read all of those books leading me to write this. I have had many experiences of the magical kind. Got to know why.

  9. Skooter says:

    Phyllis’ comment is a good illustration of how common definitions of terms like “energy” or “entropy” differ from the scientific meaning of such terms. Context clearly matters. Energy can be thought of as a metaphor for describing something we see in nature, and it can be useful to use the term, metaphorically, in other areas of interest. It would be interesting to know the history of such terms as ‘energy’, and where bifurcations in meaning may have taken place. Was it a popular term, adopted by Science at some point? Or could the term be seen as having been refined in the pursuit of Science and then adopted as a common metaphor? Maybe both?

  10. Phyllis McLemore says:

    Since at the core of reality is a wave, the wave a photon makes as it shoots across the universe, then why is this not pure energy? Are you looking for the thought that caused the photon to shoot off across the universe? Is the thought the pure energy you are looking for?
    I like the language that physicists use when they talk about quantum mechanics. I like the language of the physicists that win awards. Their language is the language of gurus and Buddhists and Hindus when they talk about the behavior of quanta as being eternal and miraculous and weird. The behavior of quanta and electrons is what I am interested in. You are interested in the math.
    Energy may be a common metaphor, but only because it is not thought of as being alive and eternal and magical and holographic. People cannot make pure energy. It already exists in our electromagnetic atmosphere. We breathe it. We live in an ocean of it. There is not space between us. Space is charged with quanta. We live in a grid of quanta. The grid is pure energy itself. Quanta are pure energy. The wave is pure energy. Energy is movement and causes nothing to be solid. We live in God’s mind. God’s mind vibrates as us.
    That is what physicists say that have seen quanta move in plasmas. Higgs Boson anyone?

  11. Cassandra says:

    @phyllis McLemore
    I understand the truth of your message. Email me at ”[email protected]” some time if you still pay attention to this page.

    As for the original article, I have one thing that just gets me. If there are different forms of energy that go around randomly transferring into other forms of energy, how does it produce such complex and intelligent patterns (Fibonacci spiral, etc.) everywhere in the universe, yet energy is not considered intelligent….I say that because science says the universe happened by chance. But computers don’t build themselves so how can life without a subtle intelligence that influences every aspect of it.

    I think that science is a great tool but it is trying to understand something that is creative from a logical point of view.
    You can’t understand it until you experience it yourself either.

  12. Jovanx says:

    Phyllis McLemore, I wish you had told us more about energy and your experience…

  13. Singing Rain says:

    Pure energy is a vast field of waves that we turn into wave packets with the energy of our intents.

  14. Donato says:

    I thought in that moment before the Big Bang all we had was a point of very hot and very dense pure energy. If that is true, then what kind of pure energy was that?

  15. Pingback: My researches on ISP | My Integrated Studio Project

  16. Singing Rain says:

    Hey [email protected]
    I sent you an email with this info and it was returned.

    The Seth Material
    Page 301

    The conscious ego rises, indeed, out of the “unconscious,” but the unconscious, being the creator of the ego, is necessarily far more conscious than its offspring. The ego is simply not conscious enough to be able to contain the vast knowledge that belongs to the inner conscious self from which it springs.
    It is this inner self, out of massive knowledge and the unlimited scope of its consciousness, that forms this physical world and provides stimuli to keep the outer ego constantly at the job of awareness. It is the inner self, here termed the inner ego, that organizes, initiates, projects, and controls the EE (electromagnetic energy) units of which we have been speaking, transforming energy into objects, into matter.
    The energy of this inner self used by it to form from itself–from inner experience–a material counterpart in which the outer ego then can act out its role. The outer ego then acts out a play that the inner self has written. This is not to say that the outer ego is a puppet. It is to say that the outer ego is far less conscious than the inner ego, that its perception is less, that it is far less stable though it makes great pretense of stability, that it springs from the inner self and is therefore less, rather than more, aware.
    The outer ego is spoon-fed, being given only those feelings and emotions, only that data, that it can handle. This data is presented to it in a highly specialized manner, usually in terms of information picked up by the physical senses.
    It organizes, initiates, projects and controls the EE units we are made of. We are not solid.

    WOW!! get a grip on that. This is what people call God, All That Is, magic and miracles. This science fiction creature which has massive knowledge and unlimited scope transforms energy into objects, into matter. We are constantly being organized, intiated, projected and controled by an energy being vaster than we are. And apparently, it is the self that IS us, except on this planet the dumbing down of society has won, mostly. That is why our egos seem so stupid. People teach each other that they are stupid. This whole society is set up to teach stupidity, the whole time quantum physics says that this field of waves does not stop until there is a look upon these waves, a stare, and intent and then POOF!! there is a frequency that can be measured on any hospital screen. People are literally frequencies because there has been intent within this field of waves that IS the projection, IS the EE units. The energy of Intent/want/desire itself is what pulls/magnetizes these EE units to come together to form–US. This look or intent or desire literally bunches up this field of waves. On the internet site wisc.edu under the physics department and wave/particle duality you can find a picture of a wave and the particle/wave/light point that rides on it when it bunches up.
    We are holographic energy wave packet projections, literally being projected from another frequency domain where this inner ego lives/vibrates–at that non local level where we are all one energy/being–which is where our electrons vibrate/oscillate. It is all a game and we are the players–very much like the players of a video game, but we are conscious of the game (except in this world where people are taught they are solid and then die).
    A few more books:
    The Holographic Universe by Talbot
    Hands of Light by Barbara Brennan
    Psychic Healers by St. Clair
    Healers and the Healing Process by Meeks
    Healing Yourself by Rossman
    An Ascension Handbook by Tony Stubbs

  17. Xerenarcy says:

    i realize the significance of philosophical and metaphysical debate around this topic, but the question was asked from a physics (scientific) perspective, so can we stick to the relevant please?

    that said, it is easiest to think of energy as a currency of physical action – the more energy there is, the more ‘action’ can take place. action therefore could be said to be the exchange of energy between the locally available forms and residence.

  18. Joseph Killsnight says:

    That was interesting. When I first started reading Phyllis McLemore comment, I thought to myself that’s sound like AI. Good stuff

  19. Pingback: Q: What does “E=mc2” mean? | Ask a Mathematician / Ask a Physicist

  20. lAura Ketron says:

    I have a question regarding a personal experience. I would have been skeptical if I hadn’t been a witness. Soon after my grandmother’s death my father and I returned to her home to retrieve personal items for the upcoming funeral. Once inside we separated until my father called to me and I followed his voice into kitchen. “Erie isn’t it?” He said as my eyes followed his glance to the hanging (battery operated) clock. The short hand was still and pointing directly to the number 2, while the second hand flickered , vacillating between the numbers 46 & 47, the recorded time of my grandmother’s death. I have since wondered about many physical and mathematical possibilities. Do you have any explanations or theories about this phenomena?
    Thank you for the time and consideration

  21. Xerenarcy says:

    @lAura Ketron
    breaking it down, clocks (analogue) would likely behave this way once the battery runs out. had a few do just that. the question comes down to timing – is it a coincidence that it happened at just the right time?

    maybe. back-of-envelope, there are 86400 seconds in a day – of these, one specific combination of the hour hand and second hand (or minute hand i suspect would have been noteworthy too, if it had stopped at 46-47) occurred. for that hour, there were 60 times the second hand could have stopped in the right place, and 60 times the minute hand could have stopped at the right place (60 seconds between minutes 46-47; 60 minutes with second hand on 46-47).

    at any given time of day, there was 1/24 chance the hour would coincide. in that hour, there are 3600 seconds / positions, and of those, 120 would coincide. so all in all there is a 1 in 720 possibility that this happened purely by chance, (1 in 360 if you don’t count 24 hour time). this is not a large number, so it is quite possible that it happened solely by chance. problem is we notice things that coincide far more often than when they don’t, which is a type of cognitive bias.

    disclaimer: i’m a skeptic.

  22. Slick rick says:

    Where did energy come from then? If energy can neither be created nor destroyed, that would imply energy has always existed. Wouldn’t that make energy an infinite quantity since it would have no starting nor finishing point. Isn’t that somewhat paradoxical. Also I’ve often seen quoted that during black holes information is lost doesn’t that violate the laws of conservation of energy.

  23. Robbie says:

    What about when matter and anti-matter collide and annihilate each other? I’ve heard that creates pure energy

  24. Stuart Shepherd says:

    This “answering mathemetician-physicist”is just amazing in his perceptiveness. His fluid integration of the factual/mathematical, conceptual, logical, even quasi-philosophical in such colorful, poowerfully metaphorical, and humorous/”down-to-earth” language is truly a manifestation of a profoundly keen intellect. I really feel blessed to be able to read what he has written on a variety of topics. I’m sure he’s not absolutely 100 percent correct in every last word he “utters” in every last article but who cares?! I’m also sure he’s pretty darn close and I’m 100 percent sure I wouldn’t know the difference! Totally fantastic and really a public service, in my opinion, that is very commendable and admirable.

  25. Carl says:

    Are your eyes dim? Do you not see? Since Galileo the world of physics has confined its domain to that of the physical. By its very own rules anything outside of that it has no authority to talk or coment on other than informally. By this constraint it has gained, but it will also suffer.
    What is reality? When we reduce objects to atoms and atoms to almost massless fundamental particles what do we have left? Does it not look like the trend of reductionism is showing us that all is energy? Then what is this so called ‘energy’?
    The concept of energy does not exist without the concept of time, but the problem is that , as Einstein put it time is “stuff made in clocks”, it is abstract. So then is energy. An abstraction is a generalisation of something that is objective, so what is it that is the object of our research then? Is there anything in our fundamental discoveries that has a dynamic aspect to it? Why yes – Paul Dirac discovered that the electron has spin and the electron is fundamental and it is, as far as we can tell, eternal. So, we should ask ourselves, since this spin is a feature of the make up of all constructions up to the level of the atom is it at all possible that this spin is the cause of time, energy, forces?
    Looking at the question generally the answer has to be yes because the spin is four dimensional. We live in a 3 dimensional (spatially) world so we are constrained to see the atom as a 3D phenomenon. When I say ‘we live in’ what I mean is that we too are apparently made of 3D atoms, so we will react to other external atoms accordingly. Look I’m sorry I’m not going to give you everything here it would take too long so it will just be teasers I’m afraid. Let us take the starting point of the Paul Dirac’s electron: a four dimensional rotation of zero extent: does anyone know any different? From this ‘particle’ and its cousins we are able to create a 3D atom WITH extent. I.e. from pure PROCESS (in 4D) to extent in 3D with the appearance of a connected 4th dimension of dynamic time.
    It is 3 dimensional extent which is the illusion. It is the abstract understanding we have put on time which is non-existent. The fundamental is ‘process’, it is what goes on in the eternal electron. This process gives rise to the appearance of something dynamic which we try to characterise as time.
    Sorry for the teaser, I will be formalising this as I get ‘time’.

  26. Pingback: Q: Why does kinetic energy increase as velocity squared? | Ask a Mathematician / Ask a Physicist

  27. Aiso says:

    I’m not a mathematician or physicist, But those “theories” about pure energy and spiritual beings are absolute nonsense. Computers/Phones on which these “spiritual” comments are being written are made with the help of science (laws of physics, mathematical calculations), they didn’t come from spirituality or sacred focused mind.

    I’ve read articles stating that atoms are made of pure energy vortexes, but we know that energy is just a property that MUST be tied to some kind of objects/matter.

    I’m quite fascinated with the theory of information, that universe is computing at a quantum scale, there are only bits of information being processed every second, that’s the same process our DNA evolved!

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