In science, living force, aka vis viva, is a 17th century theory that perfectly elastic colliding spheres possess a conserved property, quantified by the value of the mass of the object times its velocity squared, mv², which into the 19th century was extrapolated or molded into the theory that what distinguishes “life”, animates “living beings”, and initiated the origin of life is special physical or in some variations metaphysical “force”, distinct or in some way from the standard forces of nature or unified force of the universe.

The etymology of the concept of “living force”, in its original sense of the definition, seems to have originated in 1686 coining of the term “vis viva”, which is Latin for living force, German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, in regard to Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens’ mathematical quantity mv², and the postulate or rather experimental finding that this quantity is conserved during inelastic collisions of hard spherical balls.

In 1847, English physicist James Joule, in his lecture “On Matter, Living Force, and Heat”, was employing the term ‘living force’ explicitly to mean ‘the force of bodies in motion’. Historically, says Joule, ‘the force possessed by moving bodies is termed by mechanical philosophers vis viva, or living force.’ Curiously, in this historical lecture, which is given in the reading room of a local library, Joule uses the term living force to argue from a quantitative physics point of view, having done a numerous experiments on this topic, that the premise of a “conserved” un-destroyable living force can be used to explain or give support to the Biblical genesis creation myth to the effect that following the great deluge, which Joule says occurred 4000 to 6000 years ago, the friction occurring between the water and the wind over this interval of time does not annihilate the living force, but rather: [1]

“Wherever living force is apparently destroyed, an equivalent is produced which in process of time may be reconverted into living force. This equivalent is heat. Experiment has shown that wherever living force is apparently destroyed or absorbed, heat is produced.”

This is one of the first statements of the mechanical equivalent of heat, the forerunner to the concept of energy and the tricky-to-explain as well as conceptualize unit of the "joule", the unit of energy, work, and heat. In the years to follow the publication of English naturalist Charles Darwin’s 1859 Origin of Species, a blend of Bible-themed origins of life soon followed.

In 1886, Alexander Hall, in his The Problem of Human Life, stated the following:

“According to Darwin's view, logically and consistently carried out (not illogically as he describes the process of evolution), god, in breathing into one protozoan such living force and mental power, absolutely transferred a sufficient fraction of his own intelligence and vitality to stock the whole realm of living organisms which should afterwards arise is the lineal descendants of that first imperfectly developed animal.”

Some time thereafter, the living force theory of animal motion seem to have migrated over to explain human motion in terms of living force. Many new age publications can be found promoting this viewpoint with abandon.

Jedi religion
In 1974, American philosopher Carlos Castaneda, penned his Tales of Power, wherein, based on his own experience of taking peyote (a "power plant"), the lead character, the "apprentice" communicates with his two alter-egos, a Don Juan (bright side) and Don Genero (dark side), two types of luminous beings, while high, in the desert, envisioning the ability to levitate things, such as rocks, therein philosophizing about the universe, being, and awareness; all the while ruminating on a derivative of the fundamentals of the Yaqui Indian religion-philosophy. [3]

In 1977, American writer George Lucas, after reading Castaneda's Tales of Power, reformulated parts of this into his now-famous film Star Wars, introduced the concept of the “force” and the “living force”, a "dark side", the aim to restore "balance" in the universe, wherein the part of Luke, the apprentice, in the swamp talking to Obi-Wan Kenobi (the bright force, i.e. Don Juan) and Darth Vader (the dark force, i.e. Don Genero). The force, in the film, is described by as follows:

“The force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”
— Obi-Wan Kenobi (1977), Star Wars [4]

“You must feel the force around you.”
— Yoda (1977), Star Wars

In 2001, this Lucas-Castaneda basis of understanding has created a belief system, for many people, so much so that, in a UK census, supposedly as a joke, on in many cases a true identification, some 390,000 people, or 0.7% of the population, identified as Jedi in religion (see: Jedi religion). [5] The general Lucas-Castaneda force model is in need of a thorough Beg analysis.

The first to make a general objection to "living force" models was the Helmholtz school and their famous anti-vitalism pledge:

“We pledge to put in power this truth: no other forces than the common physical chemical ones are active within the organism. In those cases which cannot at the time be explained by these forces one has either to find a specific way or form of their action by means of physical mathematical method, or to assume new forces equal in dignity to the chemical-physical forces inherent in matter, reducible to the force of attraction and repulsion.”
Emil Reymond (1842), written in collaboration with Ernst Brucke; soon after, Helmholtz and Karl Ludwig joined in (see: Reymond-Brucke oath), and as legend has it they each signed it with their own blood

This is a step in the right direction; but not a full jump to the abandonment of the concept of "life" as a whole, which is something that would take another century (see: life does not exist). If they would have referred to the forces active "between" organisms or moving organisms, that would have been a whole different ballgame; an assertion that would have butted heads directly with theological theory.

The first to take issues with the term "living force" or "live force", as thermodynamics would see things, was Italian engineer Vilfredo Pareto, but he did so only in passing, and the end of his large four-volume treatise, suggesting that one should consult a standard textbook on thermodynamics:

“The ‘energy’ of mechanics must not be confused with the ‘energy’ of ordinary parlance, nor is it excusable to imagine that a mechanical ‘live force’ is a force that is alive. If one would know the meaning of ‘entropy’ one had better glance at a treatise on thermodynamics.”
Vilfredo Pareto (1912), Treatise on General Sociology [6]


1. Joule, James. (1947). “On Matter, Living Force, and Heat”, A Lecture at St. Ann’s Church Reading-Rom; published in Manchester ‘Courier’ newspaper, May 5 and 12.
2. Hall, Alexander. (1886). The Problem of Human Life: containing the fundamental principles of the substantial philosophy, with a review of the six great modern scientists, Darwin, Tyndall, Huxley, Haeckel, Helmholtz, and Mayer, upon evolution, spontaneous generation, the nature of force, &c., &c (pg. 17). Hall.
3. (a) Castaneda, Carlos. (1974). Tales of Power. Washington Square Press.
(b) Carlos Castaneda – Wikipedia.
4. (a) The Force – Wookieepedia.
(b) Living Force – Wookieepedia.
5. (a) Jediism – Wikipedia.
(b) Jedi census phenomenon – Wikipedia.
6. Pareto, Vilfredo. (1912). The Mind and Society: Trattato di sociologia generale (Volume Four) (entropy, pg. 1461). AMS Press, 1935.

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