My first experience with this simple equation was in many ways life-changing for me, a critical step in my immersion in the world of Albert Einstein. While there were and are a variety of responses to the equation, mine was focused on energy. For me, it seemed Einstein had theoretically documented a relationship between two valued conceptual maps: chemistry and physics.
These two maps, which enchanted me as a young scholar, had often been largely separate universes of thought, and were suddenly dramatically linked. I had always thought that scholarship in the US suffered from a “mass” bias: we attended to the physical world as if physical dimensionality exhausts the knowable about what exists. We shied away from actually looking at some of the more elusive dimensions of planetary existence, one being subtle manifestations of energy, particularly human energy.
There were scientifically acceptable discussions of energy, focused on phenomena “outside” the human, or at least treated as it they were outside the human. This, it seemed to me, was a particularly deliberate pattern of Western science. Electricity in our homes, mechanical energy of our machines, energy sources such as coal, wind and solar…we refer to energy a great deal in our day-to-day existence. These references are not, however determined by a tidy collection of constructs in the same way that the periodic chart tells us the precise nature and number of our elements, of “mass”. “Energy” seems a bit less tidy, and many dimensions actually seem ignored or denied. There are clear boundaries on what we are “permitted” to focus on when exploring energy, particularly human energy.
Nonetheless, I have always been interested in “human energy”; I still am. An easy way to grasp this phenomenon, a demonstration that many US citizens accept, is the “energy” generated by passionate sports fans in an arena or stadium. We even accept “home game” advantage, where the local community can attend the sports event and create a certain intense presence, and we comment on the “energy” they generate and how this influences the outcome of the event. We also believe the “energy” of a team is a critical factor in performance outcomes, lamenting its absence after a loss.
I use this example because it is both familiar and common place. It does, however, posit that humans can create “energy fields”, perhaps are “energy fields”, and that these “energy fields” can have an impact. Fine to think this about a favorite sports team; we then shut down when we have to grapple with the concept of human energy in communities, families, ourselves. Indeed, we often dismiss or denigrate those who acknowledge, explore, or provide services relative to human energy fields. The seemingly objective scholar assesses these with terms such as “voodoo” and ”woo woo”.
This is dramatically apparent in the practice of Western medicine through formalized and institutionalized “health care” services. Disease, the focal point of such “health care” is persistently reduced to descriptors of “mass”: the physical status of the person of interest. While vague lip service is offered to support concepts like “patient attitude”, “healthy life choices” and “emotional status”, both the service and the funding for health care in the US is “mass” based. If you want care and you want it financed, you consent to being merely a physical body. Indeed, your well-being is discussed almost exclusively as your physical status, treatment modalities are designed to alter “mass”, and essential “physical” metrics reveal both your current progress and your recovery. To posit human energy as a factor in the entire process is a sign of intellectual waywardness, magical thinking, or denialism, among other knee-jerk judgments made by "health care providers".
It is not much of a mental stretch to notice that my human energy is valued when I cheer for my favorite team in their stadium, yet is denied existence when I interface with a “health care system” that not only usually ignores human energy as a phenomenon but often treats interest in the relationship between health status and personal energy field as an indicator of mental instability!
Not surprisingly, we as a nation completely dismantled our public mental health services during the term of President Ronald Reagan and now find ourselves befuddled by our lack of viable services. The indigent or abandoned mentally ill who once lived in our state hospitals were essentially discharged to live on the streets. (For those who find this uncomfortable or imagined, I was there; I am a witness!) Equally unsettling, many existing mental health services today focus only on medication, on the “physical” dimension of the illness. The vast majority of US mental health patients today are found living on the streets, in homeless shelters or in prisons.
I have some personal human energy skills that are central to my biography and career. I am a psychiatric/mental health nurse, my first professional identity. I am good at reading the energy between myself and another human and adapting to its shifts. I am good at reading the energy in a room, in a meeting, in a large human gathering, and when appropriate, adapting to its shifts. I am good at identifying dangerous or hostile energy directed at me or others, and I recognize the energy of lies and deceptions. These skills have shaped my career success. As is obvious, I am not alone or unique in this.
Yet, writing what I just wrote seems “odd” or even “dangerous”, publicly rejecting the insistence that the only dimension of being a human that is “real” is physical, mass. Whole scientific careers have been dedicated to trying to prove that human reality is “only” mass, physicality, the body. I often wonder what exactly everyone is “afraid of”! If indeed e=mc2 is real, that scholarship investment seems foolish and grandiose.
Many of the Sparkles that bring me joy are human efforts to insist that our shared enterprise involves both mass and energy, and that their relationships may be worthy of our consideration and reflection. Globalization has made it increasingly difficult to ignore cultures and conceptual systems that not only assume the centrality of human energy in our shared existence, but tap into that energy in creative and constructive initiatives. Another opportunity to cheer on the Sparkles, wherever they manifest!
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
- Albert Einstein-
PS: Perhaps as an inevitable indicator of my "age" and "tech limitations", I spent a long time trying to find out how to make the title equation accurate within this platform's constraints, presenting the number 2 as a superscript exponent. I gave up, acknowledging defeat! I encourage you to adapt to this tragic distortion in a spirit of compassion.
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