'Star Wars' and The Universe as an Energy Force: An Ontological Claim

1.0 'Star Wars' and The Force

1.1 In the sci-fi movie series "Star Wars", a metaphysical power called "The Force" is introduced. The Force is described by the Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the following terms: "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together". As a product of living things, when there is large scale destruction of life sensitive individuals refer to "a disturbance in the Force". In later releases of the series (earlier in the sequence) it is established that the Force is biological, the result of midi-chlorians, described by George Lucas as being "a loose depiction of mitochondria, which are necessary components for cells to divide".
1.2 Some of the exotic powers that those who have control over the Force include unnatural strength, levitation, telekinesis, telepathy, suggestive hypnosis ("Jedi mind control"), enhanced reflexes and speed, long-distance empathy, precognition, directional lightning, and ghostly projection. Force sensitivity represents a potential from birth and is trainable to that potential. It is expressed entirely through ego projection (Yoda: "Do. Or do not. There is no try.")
1.3 The physicalist of midi-chlorians explanation has been largely rejected by the Star Wars fan-base, and especially by followers of Jediism, a nontheistic religious or religious parody movement which claims adherence to the ideas behind the force and the associated ethic which recognises the existence of a "dark side" to The Force. Yoda says "Anger, fear, aggression! The dark side of The Force are they. ... A Jedi uses The Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack." One of the activities of the adherents of Jediism is to proclaim and advocate such recognition in census forms. This has been particularly notable in Australia (65,000 in 2011), New Zealand (20,000 in 2011), England and Wales (176,632 in 2011).

2.0 Primitive and Traditional Examples
2.1 Historically, the idea of an all-encompassing energy is common throughout human history, which at least partially accounts for the popularity of the concept in the series. As a common and basic principle of primitive societies, animism represents a metaphysical that all objects in the universe (animals, plants, rocks etc) possess a spirit, personality, and will. In this sense, animism is even more radical than the Force. Some early anthropologists (including Tylor, who originally developed the term) argued that the worldview represented underdeveloped cognitive development. More contemporary studies locate the belief as either the limits of societal knowledge or in some sophisticated cases, as a structured knowledge through metaphor (e.g., Levi-Strauss). According to standard anthropology, animism develops into to fetishism and totemism, and then to ancestor veneration.
2.2 In the Vedic religious tradition, "prana" is the Sanskrit word for "life force", with appearance in religious literature c1500 to 1000 BCE. The notion is particularly important to yogic practise, where prana is the practise of breath, heartbeat, circulation, and the activity of pranayama - yoga that concentrates on breathing. A very close relationship is with lung in Tibetan Buddhism, also with reference with yogic practise and with tradition Tibetan medicine. A third associated notion is Qi (pronounced chi), from traditional Chinese culture can be found in Mozi (c400 BCE), Confucius (c500 BCE), Mencius (c350 BCE) refer to the concept, like the Vedics, referring to "breath". Traditional Chinese medicine asserts that the body has natural patterns of qi that circulates through meridians. Contemporary science does not agree with these claims.
2.3 In the Western tradion, Plato exposed the concept of anima mundi (world soul), a pantheistic animism. In Timaeus, Plato says: ".. this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related". This notion was followed in particular by various Neoplatonists and Stoics. Prior to Plato, Thales (c.600 BCE), argued for panpsychism as demonstrated by magnets. Other Hellenic philosophers associed with panpsychism include Anaxagoras (the arche of nous), Anaximenes (arche as pneuma or spirit) and Heraclitus. In addition to this there was the western medical tradition of vitalism, where temperaments and illnesses could be associated with an imbalance with vital forces which combined both spiritual energy in material form as humours (sanguine blood, choleric bile, melancholic black bile, phlegmatic phlegm). Contemporary science does not agree with these claims.

3.0 Modern Concepts
3.1 Early modern pantheism is evident in Giordano Bruno, who claimed an immanent and infinite God beyond human comprehension (he was burned at the stake in 1600 for espousing such a belief). In Spinoza's Ethics (1677) an argument is presented that the universe consists of only one substance; infinite, self-caused, and eternal - "God" or "Nature" the two terms being synonymous (the phrase he uses is "Deus sive Natura"). Joseph Raphson, who coined the term pantheism, distinguished in De Spatio Reali (1697) between atheistic "panhylists" (all matter) and pantheists ("a certain universal substance, material as well as intelligent, that fashions all things that exist out of its own essence"). A similar expression can obviously be seen in George Berkeley's empirical and subjective idealism ( Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, 1713), and G.W.F. Hegel's ontological claim of absolute idealism (starting with Phenomenology of Spirit, 1807).
3.2 A very different perspective comes from early 20th century research into quantum mechanics. Erwin Schrodinger, apart from being an advocate of nontheistic panpsychism via Vedanta Hinduism, developed the proposal of wave mechanics in Quantization as an Eigenvalue Problem (1926). On one level it is a partial differential equation that describes how the quantum state of some physical system changes with time; it is also an explanation of how matter can also be expressed as a wave. These matter waves were exponded by Louis de Broglie in 1924 in his PhD thesis. All matter exhibits the properties of not only particles, which have mass, but also waves, which transfer energy. The debate continues to this day; there are at least twenty different major theories of interpretation of quantum mechanics (a potential topic in its own right!).

"All matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves....." From the comedian Bill Hicks (Sane Man, 1989)

3.3 Despite the charming proposition from Bill Hicks energy and mass are still considered distinct by most physicists. Matter is anything that has mass and occupies space; energy does not occupy space. They do have equivalence, represented by Einstein's famous equation E=mc^2 and electrons and positrons do annihilate each other, converting to energy. However at least scientist, Carver Mead, Collective Electrodynamics: Quantum Foundations of Electromagnetism (2000) argues all is energy waves. "Matter is 'incoherent' when all its waves have a different wavelength, implying a different momentum. On the other hand, if you take a pure quantum system – the electrons in a superconducting magnet, or the atoms in a laser – they are all in phase with one another, and they demonstrate the wave nature of matter on a large scale."

Presentation to the Philosophy Forum by Lev Lafayette, May 4th, 2014