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Energy seems to me to be a very abstract thing, and while it clearly works out very nicely, I don't understand how anyone would have thought to come up with it. Where does the concept of energy find it's roots, and how was it settled down on as a 'useful' quantity as opposed to something else?

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A basic answer is that energy is a conserved quantity corresponding to a the invariance of physics laws by a time translation operation. – Trimok Jun 13 '13 at 18:43
Aren't there others? And that surely can't be the reason it was originally used. – user24082 Jun 13 '13 at 18:47
While this is apparently the way things went, isn't there some larger driving force that should have brought physicists to look for some non-physical quantity? Was it just found by guessing on things? Leibnetz got lucky with kinetic energy, but what if it was something worse-like velocity to the 15.43 power? Was there no stronger notion that pulled physicists towards energy? – user24082 Jun 15 '13 at 5:53

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energy (n.)
1590s, "force of expression," from Middle French énergie (16c.), from Late Latin energia, from Greek energeia "activity, operation," from energos "active, working," from en "at" (see en- (2)) + ergon "work, that which is wrought; business; action" (see urge (v.)).

Used by Aristotle with a sense of "force of expression;" broader meaning of "power" is first recorded in English 1660s. Scientific use is from 1807. Energy crisis first attested 1970.

Huygens (1650's) was the first to develop the terminology, stating that:

  • energy is not like matter
  • energy does not have size, shape or occupy space
  • energy does not have inertia

Instead, it was defined that energy is a measure of the ability of a physical system to perform work

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