Why Understanding Energy Feels Impossible (But Isn’t)

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Lord Kelvin, the 19th century physicist who formulated the first two laws of thermodynamics, thought that science would never understand how human intent causes muscles to move: “The influence of animal or vegetable life on matter is infinitely beyond the range of any scientific inquiry hitherto entered on.”

It wasn’t merely “not yet understood.” It was “infinitely beyond.”

(“Hitherto” gives some wiggle room, but by his time scientists were already exploring nerves, the brain, and electricity.)

Friends who work with energy (or ritual magick) sometimes say that we’ll never understand why human intent causes energy to move, that energy is immune to scientific inquiry.

Like Lord Kelvin, they’ve thought about the phenomenon, considered at a few ways to explore it, and realized those paths won’t work. Usually, they’ve thought about placebo-controlled energy healing studies (to see which conditions benefit from which systems of healing), or testing which rituals produce better results. They’ve noticed how little that research would tell us about what energy is at a fundamental level. And they’re correct: Existing paths are unlikely to lead to a deep understanding of energy.

The mistake, of course, is to stop after examining those existing paths, rather than searching for new paths forward (like the sensory connections I use to watch energy structures as you work). And yet, I understand the impulse: Considering existing paths takes effort. In school, writing a paper on why the existing paths won’t work earns a good grade. That’s all you’re asked to do. And discovering a new solution isn’t just a little harder, it’s orders of magnitude harder.

Part of this, I think, is in how we teach science: As a series of successes, without any of the struggle or false turns. We forget that, from the dawn of human history up until the point we understood it, every phenomenon was a mystery, and the path to understanding was equally mysterious. We teach with the clarity of hindsight, and students learn to expect that clarity when facing new problems. Then, when we encounter our first truly new phenomenon, we have no tools or no frame of reference for exploring it, and we quickly conclude it’s impossible.

Next time exploring feels impossible, remember: Most of what we know today seemed impossible right up until it was understood.

Keep exploring.

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