The concept of field was introduced by the English experimental physicist and chemist Michael Faraday in the early part of the nineteenth century. His great contribution was not just the introduction of the concept, but his emphasis on the reality of fields. He thought of an electric charge as a point in space to which electric field lines converge (negative charge) or from which they diverge (positive charge). Faraday also thought that the lines along which particles of iron filing arrange themselves on a cardboard, underneath which is held a magnet, actually exist and are real magnetic field lines. Having a very weak background in mathematics, Faraday’s motivation was purely intuitional. That is why many theorists did not pay attention to the concept of field.
James C. Maxwell was the first theoretical physicist to recognize the importance of the concept of field in electromagnetism and formulate that science entirely in the language of fields. This process revealed to him the inconsistency of the equations with the firmly established notion of electric charge conservation. As he discovered the way to remove the inconsistency by altering one of the equations, he also discovered the possibility of electromagnetic waves, of which light was one example.
The fields of Faraday and Maxwell have nothing in common with the “energy field” of the New Age mystics. The latter, borrowed from electromagnetism and modern physics, uses the word to give legitimacy to a non-material, spiritual, voodoo, modern witchcraft. Electromagnetic fields, on the other hand, are as material as the electricity that turns into images coming from a TV, sound waves coming from a cell phone, and the multimedia of your favorite website.
The way one can test for the materiality of anything is to have it interact with a suitable form of matter and note that it affects the physical characteristic of that form of matter. A finger approaching a hot stove top and quickly moving away from it is physical and therefore material. A fragrance coming from a flower and touching the nerves of our nose giving us a pleasant experience is physical (with a chemical formula describing the atoms forming its molecule) and therefore material. A waterfall hitting the turbines of an electric power plant and turning the energy of the water into electricity is physical and therefore material. A moving billiard ball hitting a stationary one and setting it in motion is physical and therefore material. Any physical quantity has this property; if it didn’t we would not call it “physical.”
Electromagnetic fields or waves affect the motion of charged matter. When they reach the receiver of your radio, or TV, or cell phone, they set in actual physical motion the charges in the receiver and create an electric current that can get magnified and its energy transformed into audiovisual energy. Therefore, these fields and waves are as physical and material as a billiard ball.
The New Age mystics’ “field,” or “energy,” or “energy field” is, by their own admission, non-material. These fields cannot be felt, cannot be detected by any physical instrument, do not have any visible or audible effect, and do not exist except in the minds of the mystics or the guru whom they follow.