PseudoscienceScience education

Relativity and Mystical Equivalence of Soul and Matter

The number-one word stolen from physics and abused in the woo literature is “energy.” Positive energy, negative energy, healing energy, karma energy, and qi energy are just a few examples of “energies” adrift in the sea of mysticism. There appears to be a good reason for this: energy is, after all, non-material and the most famous equation in physics, E=mc2, equates it to mass, which is material. And the equivalence of the non-material spirit (or soul) and matter, which is at the heart of mysticism, is only one small step away!

Is Energy Non-material?

But is energy really non-material? As an example, consider kinetic energy (KE). KE is the energy associated with the motion (velocity) of an object. Asking whether KE is material is tantamount to asking whether velocity is material. Now you can see the absurdity in even phrasing the question. Velocity is a property of matter in motion, and there is no sense in asking whether a property is material. A red apple is material. Does it make sense to say that redness is non-material? This confusion of matter with one of its properties – energy – is a common pitfall in which even trained physicists can fall, and a dangerously effective tool that quack scientists use to promote their woo.

Energy is a property of a material object. It makes as much sense to say that energy is non-material as to say that the greenness of grass is non-material!

The most tantalizing example is when E=mc2 is applied to matter-antimatter annihilation, where matter — and its antimatter, which is also material — transforms completely into “pure energy.” However, the E on the left is the property of some material particles – which, by the way, can be massless, like photons.

Is Mass Material?

This question may seem strange, because many readers immediately answer “Of course!” But let’s dig a little deeper! Let’s see how mass is measured. After all, if we want to know whether or not mass is material, we have to know how to “see” it, i.e., measure it.

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