“A general definition of energy is that energy is tied to an object’s ability to do some work. So, biological energy would be the ability of a biological object to do some work. At closer inspection this can be further analyzed into two parts: the objects potential ability to do some work and the actual work being done by the object.
In physics we talk about an object’s potential energy and its kinetic energy. An object gains potential energy if it is positioned higher above the ground and it can use the energy to gain speed (kinetic energy). A steel ball that is moved in this way is intact and “has” and “loses” energy while remaining the same object. The opposite is true if we look at nuclear energy. When we extract nuclear energy the object losing energy does not remain the same. Obviously, therefore, there are two kinds of energy in regard to a system or an object. The one kind permits the object to gain and lose energy while being intact whereas the other kind of energy destroys the object carrying the energy if it is used.
Concerning biological objects this distinction is crucial but previously unnoticed in the literature. Traditional “biological “energy is mixed up with chemical energy. What we look for is a concept of biological energy that permits the object to do some work while remaining intact. It should therefore correspond to the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in physics. Since there is no concept of biological energy as such in the literature the first step towards such a concept is a leap into the unknown. From an abstract perspective, however, we can construe all biological activities as efforts of biological organisms to recover from load upon them. From here the next step is easy. We let biological energy be defined as the biological object’s ability to recover from load upon it.
The suggested definition of biological energy is that biological energy is the biological object’s ability to recover from load upon it. For practical reasons we will not say much about load as such. The basic assumption is that biological organisms constantly need to recover and they need to recover from the load that is put on them. One thing, however, must be sorted out immediately. We have discussed that ability to recover, or, energy, is related to load. We have also stated that the organism has an amount of energy, at any given moment, that it either uses or has to its disposal, or any mix of the two. The thing that has to be sorted out is the relation between load and energy.
As noted above the basic assumption is that biological organisms constantly need to recover and they need to recover from the load that is put on them. We can therefore postulate that load and need of recovery has a positive relation; the more load, the more need of recovery. We can now use the concept of need of recovery to link load to energy or ability to recover.
As need of recovery can be thought of as increasing with load up until a point where the organism simply collapses (dies), the organism’s level of kinetic energy will not increase in the same manner. An implicit basic assumption behind the energy-concept is that biological organisms allocate resources for recovery continuously. The organism allocates more resources for recovery purposes, if it can, the more it needs to, that is, the more load there is. At low levels of load, therefore, the kinetic energy is low whereas the potential energy is high. At intermediate levels of load the kinetic energy also is intermediate. At the same time the level of potential energy is intermediate.
The hypothesis is that need of recovery has a positive relation with load. At low and moderate levels of load the level of kinetic energy matches what is needed for recovery. When load exceeds what is possible to recover from right away the level of kinetic energy decreases.” (Revised excerpt from Gamper, 2021.)
Gamper, J (2021). Biological Energy and the Experiencing Subject. Axiomathes 31, 497–506.