Maps and territories: the very abstract nature of the energy concept

Over the previous three posts I’ve sketched out a high-level map of a conceptual landscape. The terrain we’ve been looking at, and for which we now have a very broad overview suitable for orienting our inquiry, is comprised of a set of interrelated ideas that together make up the modern energy concept. In other words, we’ve created our map not by looking directly at the physical phenomena to which the energy concept relates but by looking at the conceptual structures that others have developed on the basis of their own immediate encounter with physical phenomena and the perceptions that arose for them with these experiences. This is not to say that our map is not based on direct encounters with the particular terrain we’ve depicted—it’s just that the encounters are of a very different nature. The direct encounters upon which our map is based, rather than being of a physical nature, have their origin in the social realm of language and culture. The map represents a set of ideas already in widespread social circulation—and so the landscape it deals with is one comprising concepts formed and expressed in language.

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Thinking with systems—Part 3

This week’s post is the final in a three-part introduction to the formal language of energy, as a foundation for subsequent discussion about just what it is that the energy concept deals with. These posts are intended to provide a set of reference points for later inquiry into the higher-level relationships between energy and societal futures. A central purpose of the approach I’m advocating is to maintain a connection between our understanding and use of energy-related concepts, and day-to-day experience of our physical world. It’s my contention that we might then be better placed to appreciate and respond to the societal dilemmas we’re confronted with through clear eyes—as free as possible from the fog of confused conceptions. In Part 1, I presented an introduction to systems ideas as a way of thinking about any situation in which we’re interested, and then went on to introduce the first of three foundational energy laws, energy law 1 relating to energy conservation. In Part 2, I looked at energy law 2, relating to energy dispersal. In Part 3 the focus is on energy law 3, sometimes paraphrased as the ‘economy law’. I’ll wrap up the series with some brief comments on what this all implies for the way that we think about energy and how this will  prepare the way for subsequent inquiry into energy and societal futures.

Energy law 3: Action—what happens as energy disperses—is minimised through time

The last of the three foundational laws might in some respects be considered the most experientially obvious, while at the same time being the most challenging to deal with in the formal conceptual language available to us. This will bear further consideration down the track, as we look at the consequences following from the high level of abstraction involved in dealing with energy ideas. Given that in this post it’s the conceptual treatment we’re focusing on, this section will necessarily be the most arduous in terms of the formal ideas and language that we need to deal with—in fact I’ll need to resort to a mathematical function or two; there are also a couple of graphs coming up to represent the ideas. Continue reading