We are constantly bombarded with marketing references to your body’s energy field. Is there such a thing?
Years after Skeptoid’s original episode #1 on New Age Energy, talk of energy fields — particular the human body’s energy fields — continues to permeate pop culture. A quick Google search for “human energy field” yields an avalanche of New Agey sciencey-sounding results: biofields, noetic balancing, auras, chakras, cleansing and activating your fields, bioenergetics, science unlocking the secrets, luminosity, sensing, negative energy, positive energy, and the human bioelectromagnetic field. Does the human body indeed have any characteristic that can be reasonably described as an energy field?
Although most of the usage you’ll hear of the term sounds like something from Deepak Chopra which is clearly without any factual meaning, the idea that a living body has some measurable effect on its immediate environment is not necessarily an unsound concept. Our bodies generate heat, we have mass, fluids move within us and millions of electric signals are constantly being transmitted through our nervous system. Might we not actually produce an energy field?
A useful place to begin is with definitions, namely those of “energy” and “field”. Energy is a measurement of something’s ability to perform work. A liter of gasoline has chemical energy stored in molecular bonds that, when broken, produce an exothermic chemical reaction. Put it into the engine, and this reaction will cause the engine to run, converting stored chemical energy into kinetic energy. We can precisely quantify the amount of energy stored in that liter of fuel. A basic unit of energy is called the joule, and a typical gasoline contains about 42 megajoules of energy per kilogram. A typical alkaline AA battery contains about 9,000 joules. The calories of chemical energy that my bloodstream absorbs when I eat a Power Bar charge up my muscles enough to dig some specific, and measurable, amount of dirt in my garden.
That’s all that energy is: a measurement of work capability. But in popular culture, “energy” has somehow become a noun. “Energy” is often spoken of as if it is a thing unto itself, like a region of glowing power, that can be contained and used. Here’s a good test. When you hear the word “energy” used, substitute the phrase “measurable work capability.” Does the usage still make sense? Remember, energy itself is not the thing being measured: energy is the measurement of work performed or of potential.
OK, so that’s energy, a measured, quantified amount of work capability. So let’s wipe the slate clean and look at what a field is.