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Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Energy signature"

(This is a non-political weekend post) The plot of the not-altogether-successful-but-better-than-I-expected-although-it's-surprisingly-gory-and-I-prefer-the-expanded-DVD-cut Watchmen movie hinges on a never-defined term: "Energy signature." At two points in the story, the United States government locates Dr. Manhattan by recognizing his "energy signature" -- a phrase which, if I recall correctly, does not appear in the original comic.

The term also shows up in other science fiction-y stories. It has become a trope.

So what is an energy signature?

I'm 99 percent convinced that this phrase has no real meaning -- it's just a literary device used by somewhat lazy writers to make the plot work. (Sort of like "applied phlebotinum.") On the other hand, there's a lot about physics that I do not know and never will know. So let's throw the question open to the readers.

"Energy signature." Is it, like, a thing? Is it real? Does the term appear in any textbook, and if so, can anyone scare up a definition?

Question 2: The end of the Captain America movie. Couldn't Cap have at least tried to land the big Horten-style plane on a remote runway in Canada? The plane, incidentally, had computer screen read-outs, like a modern jet. If the Red Skull had such advanced tech, how did the Nazis manage to lose the war?
Sorry Joe, you're going to hate any definition one can offer (or worse, tell 'em take their tofu and shove it up their Blavatskys). Is hate too weak a word to describe your reaction to this following comment? anyway, what do you now about Nadis (allegedly there are +70,000 of them, like tubes within which energy (or chi, ki, prana...)flows. Nadis lead into the larger Meridians (again scoff if you must, but anyone who has done acupuncture.... and as any purple-wearing incense-burner will tell you, the meridians lead to the chakras... all this gobbeldygook to say that there's loads of this chi/prana energy stuff flowing through all these channels.

Thing is (and this is where the signature comes in) each one of us has our own blockages and leaks in the energy flow (something Ouspensky says you notice when doing 'Self Observation' where you get your "center of gravity" and see where your chi is imbalanced... it could be pent up anger or shame, or guilt, or egoism.. anything, but it won't just be in the brain, it will be in one's Body/Mind, and all that makes different shapes and lines in one's (urgh-hate-to-say-this-word-on-your-blog-Joseph) aura. But whether you balance it or not (or even can) is not the point when looking at one's energy signature.

Now if you can see energy then you can see these things.. the best i can do, personally, is feel energy with my hands when I 'open them' (really too hard to explain) mostly all i like to do is make energy balls like in tai chi. But I have been told that you can read all of these leaks and blockages with your hands the way they do in BuQi or how you can do it with Qigong... (am not a fan of the bastardized Reiki)

Sorry for answering your question.
Psychics often talk about energy signatures. They claim to perceive energy signatures in physical objects that pertain to the person who owned or handled the object. But I don't believe scientists talk about them.

The term calls to mind the patterns created by atom smashers--the little markings the subatomic particles leave. Those sound a bit like "energy signatures."

It's probably a plot device, like the metal-disssolving "organic acid" in "Alien" or the black hole in most sci-fi movies. Just something to keep the story moving along.
RFI is a form of energy signature. Take the cover off your desktop computer and turn it on with an AM radio next to it.
The BBC requires (required) that you buy a license for your TV or radio. How do you think they know you have one?
In Tom Clancy's SUM OF ALL FEARS, the CIA is able to deduce that the nuclear weapon was not of Russian origin, and avert WW3, by identifying the specific energy signature of the isotopes used in the weapon.

I am butchering this concept but I think that is what energy signature refers to - the specific isotopes that make up radioactivity.

Also, Watchmen ultimately disappoints because they change out the nature of the big supervillain plot at the end. It would be interesting to know why they did this.

It's a better movie than I thought it would be. The director's remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD is good too. He has a lot more going on than Michael Bay.

A random question related to a film mentioned above - why did zombies go from slow zombies to fast zombies? The answer I think is very culturally significant.
Coincidentally/synchronistically I was researching Alan Moore yesterday (with a view to doing a post about him) in relation to his story "V for Vendetta" - the only one of his I know anything about.

If he didn't use the term "energy signature" I'm pretty sure he'd understand it, being into all kinds of "woo" (magic, tarot, kabbalah, etc. etc.) Fascinating character!

I'd say that "energy signature" must be related to "aura". In the alternate reality in which Moore's stories take place technology has moved on to a point where auras are as recognisable as faces, and called "energy signatures". That'd be my interpretation, anway.
Well, Twi, CD -- within the terms of the story, "energy signature" is meant to be a scientific term, not a woo-woo term.
Joseph ~~ understood. Not having seen or read Watchmen I was guessing what the story's original author might have had in mind - he's not known for being "scientific" I think. But movie people are probably mostly like your goodself - dismissive of woo (I am too - up to a point)and they needed to insert something "scientific" or at least scientific-sounding for a large proportion of their audiences.
Actually, Twi, I don't think you understood. It's a work of fiction, not a treatise. (Unlike Moore's "Promothea," which manages to be both.) So it creates its own world. Within that world, you have scientists who work for the government, and these scientists say things like "We've tracked down Dr. Manhattan. According to his energy signature, he's on Mars."

This phrasing has become pretty common in other science fiction works. As in: "The Crogularians are no longer in this sector of space. There's no trace of their energy signature."

I think the authors who write these stories do not intend their characters to be making reference to anything mystical.
Hey Joseph,

Just my two cents. I think the lazy writers, producers and executives are just pushing the "suspension of disbelief" to far. There are other problems with the movies besides the complete lack science in science fiction. I think what they are trying to do is use quantum mechanics as a springboard for the energy nonsense. And for you blow hard idiots, quantum mechanics effects break down above the atomic level, newtonian physics predicts movement and energy where as quantum mechanics does not. Wat insterest's me more is how he gives off energy with out losing mass, can travel through space/time instantly. At least in books like Dune, Robotech etc, they give a explanation of the implausible, they at least respect the reader/viewer enough to know that they will ask the questions you just did. It's possible that he emits a particular wavelength of light not visible to the human eye, such as radio waves, micro waves or Far Infared waves. Perhaps this allows him to be tracked, why the Government has 3 (needed to triangulate location) satellites pointed at mars is beyond me. Electromagnetic waves are energy and particles (the photoelectric effect).

I was thinking something along the lines of radioactive isotopes, but that isn't an energy signature, it's a physical trait of a particular element. Perhaps the Government had developed a

What cosmic debris is saying is, "Joe you're going to hate my answer because I am an idiot who didn't read your question, I just want to talk about nonsense that can't be proven, or disproven" I am pretty sure they are not sorry for answering your question, since they didn't.

Cosmicdebris and Twilight if you haven't watched the movie, and don't know what is going on, why do you raise your hand to talk? Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? ye over estimate thine own skills.
Clayton ~ I hadn't realised that blogs such as Joseph's excellent pages carried the requirement that commenters must be fully informed, and be of the same views as the blog owner, before attempting to respond.
Twi: That's not the case, and I'm sorry for Clayton's harsh remark. Also sorry for my own notorious harshness. I run comments in the first place because I want to learn from the readers.
Thanks, appreciated Joseph. I need to grow a tougher shell (working on it). ;-)
I never said you had to share the views of the blog owner. He asked a question, about physics and energy signatures; he specifically asks "Energy signature." Is it, like, a thing? Is it real? Does the term appear in any textbook, and if so, can anyone scare up a definition?" I gathered from that question, that Joseph wasn't looking for paranormal speculation or psuedo scientific explanations. Particularly since he asked is there a theory or law that states such a thing. If I was harsh in pointing out that you hadn't read his question, nor were you answering it, I do apologize.

Joseph, the de Broglie wave or the de Broglie wavelength could be used describe an "energy signature." It's stretch, but it could explain it.
I would agree with you that the term energy signature is a literary device when used by the author of the comics.

This conversation reminds me of a high school science fiction class I took. The class room was set up for discussion of books, unfortunately most kids did not read the books, nor had the teacher in many years. He asked a question that was not open to interpretation; "how did the author propose people would react to meeting an alien life form?", we were discussing 2001 a space odyssey. After listening to a number of students wax poetically about what they thought, this is key, what they THOUGHT the author would say, I raised my hand and quoted the book almost verbatim. "when tested, the CIA found that…", the teacher asked me where it said that? I opened to page 75, 2nd paragraph and read the answer to my class. Creative answers are great when dealing with novel problems, but sometimes the answer is unmutable, the key is to know which question is being asked before one answers.
"The term also shows up in other science fiction-y stories."

I think the classic distinction between science fiction and fantasy is that science fiction is grounded in science. Fantasy just makes it up as needed.

No mystery. It is like a "chemical signature" or "wave signature" or "seismic signature" or anything else along those lines, meaning that it is a unique or relatively unique pattern of properties that can identify a feature or event. Here are a few sample uses:

In geology:

In astrophysics:

In Chemistry and Psychiatry:

If I were to take a stab at what they are talking about in the faux scenario in Watchman, I would say they mean a unique combination of wavelengths from across the electromagnetic spectrum. They could have said "electromagnetic signature," but for a general audience, "energy signature" probably does just as well.
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