Is energy the “thing” that makes matter move or act?


Is energy the “thing” that makes matter move or act?

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I would say energy is the potential to move or act, rather than the cause.

If by move you mean accelerate, I would say an unbalanced force is what makes it happen. Such a force multiplied by the distance traveled in the direction of that force is energy.

Potential energy can sort of be interpreted this way, but not all forms of energy can have this simple interpretation. Say you shoot a bullet into a steel plate. The bullet stops suddenly when it hits the plate, where did all of its energy go? It went into the steel plate, dissipating as sound waves and heat, the energy now being in a form that is not useful for anything. But it still is energy.

Energy is an accounting term in physics. Meaning that while it doesn’t really stand for anything, it can be used to balance the books so to speak to figure out what will occur given starting conditions.

Think about energy as dollars. What do dollars represent? Nothing! They aren’t backed by anything, however, they represent the ability to make purchases. They are super useful for accounting economic activity, but themselves aren’t anything.

Energy can be thought of as a physical property something has relative to something else. If something has kinetic energy, then it is in motion relative to you. If something has potential energy, then it has the theoretical ability to move. If something has heat energy, it’s molecules are in a kind of vibration and so on.