My good friend and physics teacher, the nearly twice Dr Richard Taylor (he never finished his first PhD on how light bends around black holes), in a moment of exhaustion during our formative years as young teachers in a large comprehensive school in southern England, once misspelt this on the board:
Wok done = energy transfud
He later recalled how this had been a step too far for his bemused students, grappling now not only with an exciting but often mysterious insight into the measurement of this thing called ‘energy’ but also with the diminishing spelling ability of an over-worked Dr Taylor. Richard told me this story to highlight his need for a holiday but, as is so often the case with the bizarre, I have since never forgotten how the measurement of work done can be calculated by measuring all the energy transferred in a closed system.
As a biologist, I loved to talk about energy with Richard. I would clumsily try and explain pyramids of energy, as we tried to integrate our understanding of ecosystems and were thrown back into the realms of entropy, enthalpy and the seemingly odd conclusions that these measurements led us to. At other times we would discuss the shadowy (to me anyway) world of quantum theory and the interrelationship between energy and matter itself. Inquiring into the concept of energy to this day reveals the extraordinary insights that scientific investigation challenges us with as we observe phenomena, from sub-atomic to the universal scales. In Biology, we track the very nuts and bolts, pulses and flows of the life process back to, for example, the subatomic interactions between photons and electrons and how this simple step essentially builds an entire forest. When we sit with our back to a tree, what part of that experience is not energy?
As I write this, there seems a vital and valid place for this line of enquiry and it is a joy to delve into it each year with Brockwood students, but the world of scientific investigation is also so clearly limited to the conscious realm. What is energy before it is measured? I remember hearing an old story about a group of people gathering together to sit quietly in a rented room in New York City. Next door was a fire station and, as they began to sit, an emergency call came through to the fire station, leading to the predictable cacophony that accompanies an emergency response. Later on, a discussion started up about how difficult it was to sit quietly next to the din of what had happened. Amongst the concerned nods of agreement, one member of the group stayed silent and when asked his opinion said, “When the noise came in it was just pure energy and the whole room and space and myself were just filled with, and just were, pure energy”.
Looking at the world, it is painfully easy to see the consequences of division, inner and outer, so how do we live within the cacophony of this current emergency? How are we facing this? Are we swept away with the drama and the horror and the outrage or do we stubbornly stand rigid and try and force our views on others? What happens to energy in division? Krishnamurti once said that the essence of energy is meditation. We seem to be at a tipping point with a billion justifiable reasons to react in this way or that. What happens when we turn away from the effort to divide? I am struck at times at the immense energy that abounds in moments of silent stillness and here, inquiry can begin.