New Age Energy

An examination of energy, as new agers use the term.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Fads, General Science, Paranormal

Skeptoid #01
October 3, 2006
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I'm feeling a little low today, so let's tap into a source of energy from a neighboring dimension as a quick upper.

Faith in pseudoscience is rampant. Everywhere you turn, intelligent people fully accept the existence of anything from psychic phenomena, to angels, to new age healing techniques, to ancient health schemes based on mysterious energy fields not understood by science. Most of these paranormal phenomena rely on "energy," and when the performers are asked to explain, they'll gladly lecture about the body's energy fields, the universe's energy fields, Chi, Prana, Orgone, negative energy, positive energy, and just about anything else that needs a familiar sounding word to explain and justify it. Clearly, there are too many loose interpretations of the word energy, to the point where most people probably have no idea exactly what energy really is.

I believe that if more people had a clear understanding of energy — and it's not complicated — there would be less susceptibility to pseudoscience, and more attention paid to actual technologies and methods that are truly constructive and useful.

A friend told me of her ability to perform minor healings, and her best explanation was that she drew energy from another dimension. She had recently rented What the Bleep Do We Know, so she was well prepared to explain that alternate dimensions and realities should be taken for granted, since science doesn't really know anything, and thus those things cannot be disproven. That's fine, I'll concede that she can make contact with another dimension: after all, the latest M theories posit that there are probably ten or eleven of them floating around, and I'll just hope that my friend's is not one of those that are collapsed into impossibly small spaces. What I was really interested in was the nature of this vaguely defined energy that she could contact.

I asked what type of energy is it, and how is it stored? Is it heat? Is it a spinning flywheel? Is it an explosive compound? Is it food? These are examples of actual ways that energy can be stored.

In popular New Age culture, "energy" has somehow become a noun unto itself. "Energy" is considered to be literally like a glowing, hovering, shimmering cloud, from which adepts can draw power, and feel rejuvenated. Imagine a vaporous creature from the original Star Trek series, and you'll have a good idea of what New Agers think energy is.

In fact, energy is not really a noun at all. Energy is a measurement of something's ability to perform work. Given this context, when spiritualists talk about your body's energy fields, they're really saying nothing that's even remotely meaningful. Yet this kind of talk has become so pervasive in our society that the vast majority of Americans accept that energy exists as a self-contained force, floating around in glowing clouds, and can be commanded by spiritualist adepts to do just about anything.

There is well known authority for the simple, concrete, scientific definition of energy. Take Einstein's equation, E=mc2, that every schoolchild knows but so few spend the 30 seconds it takes to understand. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Simplify it. Mass can be expressed in grams, and speed can be expressed in meters per second. Thus, an object's energy equals the amount of work it takes to move a few grams a few meters in a few seconds. Energy is a measurement of work. If I lift a rock, I'm inputting enough potential energy to dent the surface of the table one centimeter when I drop it. The calories of chemical potential energy that my bloodstream absorbs when I eat a Power Bar charge up my muscles enough to dig two hundred pounds of dirt in my garden. Nowhere did Einstein discuss hovering glowing clouds, or fields of mystical power generated by human spirits.

When spiritualists discuss energy, don't blindly accept what they're saying simply because energy is a word you're familiar with, and that sounds scientific. In many cases, their usage of the word is meaningless. When you hear the word "energy" casually used to explain a mystical force or capability, require clarification. Require that the energy be defined. Is it heat? Is it a spinning flywheel?

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

Here's a good test. When you hear the word "energy" used in a spiritual or paranormal sense, substitute the phrase "measurable work capability." Does the usage still make sense? Are you actually being given any information that supports the claim being made? Remember, energy itself is not the thing being measured: energy is the measurement of work performed or of potential.

Take the following claim of Kundalini Yoga as an example: "The release and ascent of the dormant spiritual energy enables the aspirant to transcend the effects of the elements and achieve consciousness." This would be a great thing if energy was indeed that shimmering cloud that can go wherever it's needed and perform miracles. But it's not, so in this case, we substitute the phrase "measurable work capability" and find that the sentence is not attempting to measure or quantify anything other than the word "energy" itself. We have a "dormant spiritual measurable work capability," and no further information. That's pretty vague, isn't it? For this claim to have any merit, they must at least describe how this energy is being stored or manifested. Is it potential energy stored in the chemistry of fat cells? Is it heat that can spread through the body? Is it a measurable amount of electromagnetism, and if so, where's the magnet? In any event, it must be measurable and precisely quantifiable, or it can't be called energy, by definition.

There's a good reason why you don't hear medical doctors or pharmacists talking about energy fields: it's meaningless. I think it's generally good policy to remain open minded and be ready to hear claims that involve energy, but approach them skeptically, and scientifically. The next time you hear such a claim, substitute the phrase "measurable work capability" and you'll be well equipped to separate the silly from the solid.

Brian Dunning

© 2006 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

CEC. "Energy Story. Chapter 1. What is Energy?" Energy Quest. California Energy Commission, 22 Apr. 2002. Web. 6 Dec. 2009. <http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter01.html>

Duff, M. The world in eleven dimensions: supergravity, supermembranes and M-theory. Bristol: Institute of Physics Publishing, 1999. 1-4.

Hoffman, F., Bailey, W. Mind and Society Fads. Binghamton: The Haworth Press, 1992. 198-201.

Kurtz, P., Stenger, V. Skeptical Odysseys: Personal accounts by the world's leading paranormal inquirers. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2001. 363-374.

Sanatan Society. "Raising Kundalini energy with Kundalini Yoga through the chakras." Kundalini Yoga. Sanatan Society, 8 Apr. 2004. Web. 13 Dec. 2009. <http://www.sanatansociety.org/chakras/kundalini_yoga.htm>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "New Age Energy." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 3 Oct 2006. Web. 31 Oct 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4002>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 137 comments

I certainly have no conspiracy problems whatsoever, Mud.

I have promoted very few CT's on Skeptoid, in fact only one comes to mind, the Pearl Harbour official story which Brian promoted in his article.

Despite the overall fairness of Brian's articles in general, the PH has some factual errors which I addressed and as usual, provided links for "skeptics" to follow, in order to confirm through non-contentious mainstream evidence, that what I have asserted on PH has strong validity.

America's economy was already progressing towards a war footing prior to PH, the Lend/Lease program was already under way, 17 aircraft carriers were either on the high seas or under construction, and Japan had been the target of US war games for over a decade.

Nimitz himself said that nothing that happened in the Pacific war (apart from the Kamikaze attacks towards the end) was a surprise. It was all planned for, and to think that despite Roosevelt's own naval experience, Richardson's warnings ten months before PH, successful mock attacks on PH, and that the naval war-games planners somehow didn't take into consideration PH's vulnerable position, Roosevelt got a dreadful shock because of the attack at PH, is just blind belief in another American popular version of war history.

The one hitch in all the war plans was the US public majority against full war.

The attack by the naughty IJN on a carefully placed decoy solved that problem overnight, and the US public flocked to enlist.

Macky, Auckland
August 8, 2013 4:23pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-ray_computed_tomography

a revealing article on CT.

and obviously;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theory

No CT was abused in the latter.

I used Wiki as its available to some after much effort.

Mortal Dilpin, Greenacres by the sea Oz
September 13, 2013 3:11am

Examining the wiki in the sub-sections of the general wiki/CT...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pearl_Harbor_advance-knowledge_conspiracy_theory
...the importance of James O Richardson to the whole Pearl Harbour story is vastly understated, with only two sentences out of this rather large wiki devoted to him and his considered warnings to Roosevelt and other top staff, and finally his refusal to order the Pacific Fleet berthed in Pearl Harbour.
Indeed the two meager sentences don't even mention that Richardson was the Fleet commander at the time he was demoted and removed, nor that he was considered the top authority on Japanese naval warfare.

The paragraph on aircraft carriers fail to mention that at least 14 others besides the existing three were in various stages on construction, nor anything about the role of submarines before, during and after the attack.
Nimitz, a key player in the Pacific war, is not even mentioned at all regarding his naval service which extended back before WW1, and his involvement and promotion of submarines and aircraft carriers.

Nothing is mentioned about Roosevelt's US naval experience and ongoing interest in things navy, including a successful (1938) attack on Pearl Harbour which he himself attended nearby as part of a general naval exercise.

Overall, the article while certainly containing much truthful information in places, is another piece of American pseudo-history by implication, that Roosevelt was surprised by the PH attack.

Macky, Auckland
September 14, 2013 7:40pm

Has anyone tried the tricks you can do to display your New Age energy skills and cred?

You dont have to be worried about charlatans capturing you. Youve been immunised by reading Brian's skeptoid.

I personally can attest that the myriad of misconceptions can keep you entertained for over a year!

No, none of its science and nary a mention of energy..Well not in terms that a modern person would understand energy.

Muck Dissemination Destringer, The flu house, Greenacres by the sea Oz
September 29, 2013 12:10am

I haven't got any "new age" skills nor creed.

I have merely suggested that those that are interested may train themselves to view the "etheric" glow, and I have had a few but significant successes with dowsing.

The only other thing I might be accused of being "new age", is a belief (belief it IS) of a basic fundamental life force of some sort underlying all living things, perhaps all things in existence.

Of course, none of it is science, simply because none of it stands up to scientific testing, and that is exactly what I have assured Skeptoid, and I have never promoted it as anything resembling scientific.

If that is what you are referring to by your New Age comments in your post, then I do not regard any of those three items as new age whatsoever.

To me they are as much a (minor) part of my life as any other person's beliefs, and I see no harm in any of them. They do not influence my everyday decisions in any way, and I especially would never take money from anyone on that basis, or press them to agree with my universal views.

By your posts over the last 18 months, your universal view seems to include, that nothing exists unless it is scientifically proven, which itself is unprovable, and numerous examples of the extreme nature of your posts reflect the attitude of a religious fanatic, rather than a talented scientist, which I actually regard you as being.

As such, you have often displayed the behaviour of one whose science is their religion.

Macky, Auckland
October 18, 2013 11:45pm

My first post, new member.

I am not a skeptic of a few of the posts on this site. Why, because I have experienced them personally. I wonder if something about certain people attracts experiences that most people would see as being mysterious or unexplainable by scientific methods.

We know about the differences between left brain/right thinkers, to an earthy person, I would be more spiritual.

But to this specific post on spiritual "energy", yes I have "felt" this "energy" as I have moved in and around my body. This was self taught through Chi Gong mostly, with help from Kundalini Yoga and Shiatsu.

I think most people can feel the energy somewhat with a simple Chi Gong exercise where you bring your finger tips of your hands close to one another feel their closeness and the slowly separating and bringing them close together, with a little practice you can feel this "energy". Surprisingly, I did this exercise as a child at night as I was laying down to go to sleep. With the practice of Chi Gong you can take this energy and move it through a circuit through or around your body.

The patience of meditative, visualization is very important when trying to practice.

Off topic again, but same thing with seeing aura's I self taught myself that as well when I used to practice the mystical arts mentioned. Also, fairly simple to learn how to do and honestly caused me to remember being able to see them a little bit as a child.

I am about ready to run out of characters.

Cheers,

Rusty, VB, AR
October 23, 2013 1:09pm

Hi Rusty - What you describe is a normal sense called proprioception. There is no need to introduce the supernatural to explain it. People often don't give the human body enough credit.

Brian Dunning, Laguna Niguel, CA
October 23, 2013 1:59pm

The conscious moving of "energy", beginning in the abdominal (hara or dantien) area and then circulating in (say) down to the perineum, up the spine, over the top of the head and down the front of the body in a circuit, is not proprioception.

It can be done completely motionless.

Certainly there is nothing supernatural about it, and anybody can gain some sensation of feeling with a bit of practice.
Some will feel warmth, others will feeling a sort of tingling.

It is directed entirely by the mind, and is like any other natural skill, the more diligently one practices, the more the results, although as always, some people will be better at it than others.

Visualizing the "energy" as a ball will help.

That's another thing that anybody interested can try for themselves, and I do not present it as any form of scientific experiment, nor do I regard it as supernatural.

Macky, Auckland
October 24, 2013 12:49am

Great post! I do have a nit to pick, but it is semantic.

"Energy", as a word, IS technically a noun. That is unquestionable and verifiable. What I think you are trying to say is that "energy" is an abstract noun, not a concrete noun.

I totally agree with what you're saying and I'm not tying to be a dick, although I might be succeeding at it. Yep, I'm being a grammar Nazi (though I've never been a very good one).

B Moate, Savannah, Ga
August 9, 2014 1:59pm

"There's a good reason why you don't hear medical doctors or pharmacists talking about energy fields: it's meaningless."

To them.

All doctors are interested in is diagnosis of illnesses and then looking up the latest book of drugs to find an appropriate treatment, the writing of a script to take to the pharmacist, and then your taking of said chemicals in order to hopefully get better.

And that's all right. Nothing wrong with that.

But it's hardly any sort of an argument against "energy fields".

"The next time you hear such a claim, substitute the phrase "measurable work capability"...."

Why ? Heat, electricity, light, are all forms of energy (noun). They are commonly understood from school textbooks, as forms of energy.

When one practices chi kung one can feel heat, tingling etc as directed by the mind.
How is it felt ? By the nerves. What drives the nervous system ? Electricity. What is electricity ? A form of energy !

The body is driven by electricity even at the cellular level. No thought would take place without electricity in the brain.

Why shouldn't it be possible for electrically-driven thought to produce enhanced electrical feeling in the parts of the body that are being concentrated on ?

Since any electrical current also produces a magnetic field, and the body is an electrical "machine", can the scientists on Skeptoid, including Skeptoid itself, get out of their so-called skepticism and start using their electrical brains for a change ?

Macky, Auckland
August 12, 2014 9:03pm

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