Does E = mc2 Imply Mysticism? |

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Does E = mc2 Imply Mysticism?

No word stolen from physics is (ab)used in the woo literature more than energy. The most famous equation in physics is often cited as proof that matter and soul are one and the same, a tenet of mysticism. Analyzing the concepts of energy and mass in physics reveals the fallacy of this abuse.

Pseudoscience is adamant about attaching itself to science. After all, maybe if it zooms in on the second half of its name repeatedly and intensively, the first half of the name will have a chance of fading away. The most popular science among pseudoscientists is no doubt physics. If they use words such as quantum, field, duality, complimentarity, and nonlocality—no matter how much they mutilate the words—they and their discipline will sound more “scientific” and will sell better to the unsuspecting public. This inimical association of pseudoscience with science ought to be vigorously and publicly rebutted.

Mystical Energy

No word has been mutilated more severely in the woo literature than energy. Positive energy, negative energy, healing energy, organic energy, mental energy, and karma energy are just a few examples of “energies” adrift in the vast ocean of pseudoscience. Mystics and mystery-mongers have abused the word so often that it has now acquired a mystical halo comparable to words such as holism, consciousness, natural, and wholesome. There appears to be a good reason for this: energy is, after all, nonmaterial, and the most famous equation in physics, E=mc2, equates it to mass, which is material. The equivalence of the nonmaterial spirit (or soul) and matter—which is at the heart of mysticism—is only one small step away! Take this example:

Since the mass of a particle increases with velocity, a particle can have any number of relativistic masses. . . . In other words, particle accelerators are misnamed. They do not increase the velocities of subatomic particles (the definition of “acceleration”) as much as they increase their mass. Particle accelerators are actually particle inlargers [sic] [massifiers?]. . . . Einstein’s formula E=mc2 says that mass is energy: energy is mass. Therefore, strictly speaking, mass is not a particular form of energy. Every form of energy is mass. Kinetic energy, for example, is mass. . . . Wherever energy goes, mass goes. (Zukav 1980, 203–204)

The first part of this quote reflects the confusion that arose in the early days of relativity, namely that mass is velocity-dependent. This confusion led to some absurd conclusions such as that a moving object exhibits two different masses (inertia) in reaction to a force, depending on whether the force is applied parallel or perpendicular to the velocity of the object! The confusion was so bothersome that Einstein, who at the beginning of relativity theory talked about a “relativistic mass,” wrote in a letter to Lincoln Barnett— an American journalist—dated June 19, 1948:

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About Skeptical Inquirer

Does Astrology Need to Be True? A Thirty-Year Update Does E = mc2 Imply Mysticism? Does the Universe Revolve around Me? A Skeptical Response to Science Denial Skeptical Inquirer’s 2016 Reader Survey Results