I'm a noob trying to understand concepts before details (which itself could be a mistake cuz I think my head is about to explode) A big part of my difficulty is terms - they are blocking my conceptual comprehension. From what I can divine, energy is “potential work” evidenced by both being measured in Joules. So what is potential energy? Potential potential work? Does that have a meaning I am not grasping kinda like seconds cubed is real and useful but hard to envision? Or is it imprecise terminology so I don't need to be trying to figure out if this is like a 2nd order derivative of work? Also if kinetic energy is moving “potential work”? That implies that potential energy (potential potential work) really means stationary potential work. My current internal paradigm is that when work is done on something it ALWAYS gets stored as potential future work. It can be stored in ONLY 2 ways. Either as motion in space-time OR as part of a deformation of space time itself (in the form a field of some sort (gravitational, magnetic , electric or nuclear). Well to be clear there would be a 3rd way which is a combo of movement and field (ya know akin to Mechanical energy = Potential + Kinetic). Also my internal model says chemical electromagnetic and nuclear energy is really mechanical – it is all about something moving, just when the motion falls under scale that is nicely ergonomic we give it a different name.. like electrical or chemical or nuclear. Oh which reminds… potential is even more confusing cuz is also used for is electric “potential” and “potential difference” - I will save that for another day. But for now, please disabuse me of any and all flawed notions I currently entertain and maybe clear up this potential ^2 issue.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't get caught in terminology. Look straight to the meaning. "Work" is a process of converting one form of energy to another. That's it. No puzzles. For example, a compressed spring lifts up a body . The potential energy of the compressed spring converts to the potential gravitational energy of the body (also involving the kinetic energy of the movement in the process). You can phrase this process with many repetitions of the word "potential" through the terminology of "work", but it would not change what actually happens. $\endgroup$
    – safesphere
    Aug 26 '18 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ I like that way of thinking of it.. work is just a change in form. Kinda like getting 4 quarters fior a dollar. Nothing new has been created. you still have what you had before, but sometimes quarters are more adavatages that bills. It is tuff to look striaght to te meaning since the meaning is often unclear, but your point is still taken thanks $\endgroup$
    – A Anderson
    Aug 26 '18 at 21:40

The concept of "energy" is indeed hard to explain. It has become consensus for people working in the field to explain it as "the ability to do work". Or "the potential to do work", if you will. This may feel fluffy, but at least it is a quite tangible definition.

Objects with kinetic energy can do work (when impacting something), those with thermal energy can as well (they can cause expansion) etc. All those are just different kinds of energy that can all do work under the right circumstances. Therefore they have the potential to do work.

So what is potential energy? Potential potential work?

Well, yes, you can actually say it like that, if you wish. Sometimes energy is stored in some way. Compress a spring and wrap a rubber band around it - you have stored some energy. We can call it elastic energy. But because it is stored, it can later be released. If it is released it can do work (the spring can push on something).

You could even dare say that it has a potential to do work.

So, it has become common terminology to call any kind of stored energy potential. We would call it elastic potential energy as well as gravitational potential energy, electric potential energy, magnetic potential energy etc.

You may find the terminology a bit pleonasm - a bit of a "doubled" potential. But just think of this as poor wording. You know understand the meaning of the terms, and if something can do work, then it can do work regardless of how "doubled" it is expressed in the term. Just get used to the term "potential" only being used when energy is stored - in other cases people don't call it that. Although energy is always a potential to do work.

Also if kinetic energy is moving “potential work”? That implies that potential energy (potential potential work) really means stationary potential work.

Yes. Now you are talking about the different types of energy. All motion energy is called kinetic. Therefore potential energy can be considered not related to motion, or "stationary" if you will - a thrown taught spring contains both kinetic energy and elastic potential energy at the same time.

[Energy] can be stored in ONLY 2 ways. Either as motion in space-time OR as part of a deformation of space time itself (in the form a field of some sort (gravitational, magnetic , electric or nuclear).

That really depends on your scale, as you mention yourself. At the macro-scale, you can also have thermal energy for instance. At the micro-scale, that thermal energy actually comes from atoms and particles in rapid random motion and vibration - so it is kinetic energy.

So, on the micro-scale, yes, I would agree with you. On the macro-scale it is often much more convenient to group the types of micro-scale kinetic energies and field energies and invent concepts such as elastic energy, thermal energy etc. As long as you understand what they are while you remember where they come from at the micro-scale, you are good to go.

  • $\begingroup$ Very helpful. my internal model is that Energy is not the abilty to do work nor the potential, it is, as you basiclly said, STORED work. Potential (to me anyway) implies a gain of some sort - as in "that kid has potnetial" - he will be more than he is currently. But referring to it as stored work keeps the idea of conservatrion of energy at the fore and it is more intuitive (to me) that energy would be measure in joules. Since having a unit for a somethign that does t exit (it is merely pootential) kinda messes with my head. You helped cement that idea, and maybe others will use it too. $\endgroup$
    – A Anderson
    Aug 26 '18 at 21:53

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