What is woo-woo “energy”? A conversational theory…

July 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

The Portrait Machine by Carlo Van de Roer

One evening I was having dinner with a research biologist. For some reason we arrived ar the topic of woo woo ‘energy’ and he was highly skeptical of the term, obviously. Wine in hand, I took up the challenge to explain it.

What do people mean when they mention this ‘energy’?

Is it the kind that flows through and within bodies, like Chi, or subtle energy in eastern medicine. Or does it refer to an experience felt in places (around leylines or old houses) and people. Good or bad vibes are properties of this ‘energy’. It is unmeasurable and undectable.

It’s like people are tuning into a frequency or a force when out on their walk looking out at the sea… or at a party with new people…

According to Merriam Webster, energy is either physical : the ability to do work, or dynamic like a description of a dance say, or a person’s capacity of acting or being active. Lastly, there is a spiritual energy which flows through and around things. Maybe this is what the Energy is? Mostly people seem to be using this metaphor. “Sending you healing energy”, or ” Clear the energy in the room by burning sage “… I propose something else though.

Say you walk into that party, absorbing the scene on coming in the door with your five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Hang on, there might be a lot more than that considering proprioception, nociception, thermoception, pressure, equilibrioception, stretch receptors, magnetoception to name a few.

So really, at a specific moment there’s a lot of information flowing: the atmospheric pressure and temperature of the room, all those complex subtle smells, low and high frequency sounds, continuous and minute shifts in facial expressions and body language.

However, we only process a limited bandwidth of information and cognitively form a picture of reality based on this narrow stream.

data-visualization-bandwidth-of-senese

Tor Nørretranders’ “Bandwidth of Senses” – the small corner represents that we are only aware of 0.7% of the information we experience  

All of the the rest of the sensory information not processed – but still ingested – forms an aggregated felt-sense. This cannot be verbalised as it has not been consciously processed. This party feels strange I’m leaving, or, even though I don’t know anyone, this party has a welcoming energy.

I experience this aggregated felt-sense as a kind of informational visceral “texture”, not particularly as a force that flows through me. It is clear ‘feeling’ like an overall tasteness, or feelingness. Maybe it is pure qualia, or maybe when I tune my senses in stillness it could be conceptualised.

Because we aren’t aware of it, the Energy is experienced without categorisation or conceptualisation. It is undifferentiated, a ‘henid’ … nevertheless it is valuable, as is a source of rich information. Maybe this is what ‘gut instinct’ is. Certain kinds of meditation tune and refine the sense-perception of this through body-scanning.

In the end, the biologist accepted this explanation as less silly-sounding than he previously thought. What do you think? Did any of this make sense or simply reveal my ignorance of Chi or phenomonology? Have you read about this in a more in-depth context? I’d love to get some references if you know of any.

Main image from The Portrait Machine by Carlo Van de Roer, a book of full color polaroid aura portraits, camera print-outs and contributed texts, 2012. 

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