Renowned Astrophysicist Discusses Whether Sci-Fi 'Energy Beings' Could Exist

Monday, 23 March 2015 - 2:35PM
Weird Science
Monday, 23 March 2015 - 2:35PM
Renowned Astrophysicist Discusses Whether Sci-Fi 'Energy Beings' Could Exist
When science fiction imagines futuristic civilizations who "have it all figured out," they've often learned to shed their physical bodies in favor of becoming "energy beings," or beings made of pure energy. But could this ever happen? Ars Technica spoke with Professor Saurabh Jha, an astrophysicist at Rutgers University and a member of the first research team to provide evidence that the universe's expansion is accelerating, in order to get an expert's opinion on whether these "futuristic" beings could ever exist:



Predictably, the answer to whether a life form made solely of energy could exist is "not the way we define energy in physics." As of now, matter is very much necessary to compose a life form, at least the way we usually define the term "life form."

In order to explain some of the issues inherent to a being made entirely of energy, he uses the example of a being made out of light: "Is your energy being light photons moving outward in different directions, or maybe in one direction like a laser beam? Is that a being?"

He qualifies that, although humans or a similar life form couldn't really be made of light, we can manipulate light in many different ways. "So you can imagine that there were beings that communicate with light, or maybe their neurons instead of sending electrical signals could send light signals in their brains. But it's still light that's traveling between other things that are made of matter."

In conclusion, the only way an "energy being" could exist in real life is if the term "energy" had a different meaning than we've defined it in the field of physics, or if the universe simply surprises us. "The universe is often richer than our imaginations, so it's hard to say that something is definitely impossible," said Jha.

Like much of the "science" in science fiction, the more immediate question may be what this seemingly ubiquitous trope says about our collective psychology. Energy beings have appeared in Star Trek, Stargate, Watchmen, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon Five, Doctor Who, and so many more, probably because it's simply an attractive idea. When asked what the advantages to converting into pure energy might be, Jha responded with the usual: limited lifespan, our frailty, the fact that we can only occupy one plane of existence. "You can see the appeal... That idea of transcending all boundaries, which is a little bit the theme of a lot of science fiction."
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