Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Physics: The Problem With Motion, Part II

[My original series on motion, which was first posted in September of last year, ruffled so many feathers that I decided to repost it over the next few days. Who knows? I may add something new at the end.]

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV


In Part I, I claimed that the physics community’s understanding of motion is fundamentally flawed, on a par with the flat earth hypothesis. In this post, I will give a brief introduction to the two main competing theories of motion and explain why the causality of motion and the discreteness of the universe mean that Newton’s laws are incomplete.

Aristotle’s Dead Baby

Greek philosopher Aristotle was a fervent believer in cause and effect. He maintained that the natural state of matter was absolute rest and that nothing can move unless it is caused to move. In other words, if an object is caused to move by a force, it will stop moving as soon as the cause is removed. Let me come right out and say that I agree 100% with Aristotle in this regard and I will explain why later. I think it is a shame that subsequent thinkers utterly failed to grok the supreme importance of causality and rejected Aristotle’s motion hypothesis mostly on the basis of the man’s propensity for crackpottery.

Aristotle was hard pressed to explain why an arrow kept moving after it was released from an archer’s bow. He offered a cockamamie hypothesis according to which the arrow created a trailing vacuum that pushed it in its direction of travel. He should have kept his mouth shut and admitted that he had no understanding of the actual causal mechanism of movement. I guess that, given the state of knowledge in his day, the man can be forgiven for venturing a made up explanation, especially since nobody at the time could muster a convincing refutation. Needless to say, this and Aristotle’s strange explanations of other natural phenomena did not work in his favor in the eyes of future generations. So out the window, it was, with the bathwater and Aristotle’s baby!

Newton’s Other Principle

Centuries later along came Sir Isaac Newton who declared that a body at rest will remain at rest and a body in motion will remain in motion with constant speed in a straight line, as long as no unbalanced force acts on it. Newton’s ideas were wildly successful and it did not take long for physicists and philosophers to completely abandon Aristotle’s causal theory of motion. The current scientific doctrine is that Newton’s laws of motion destroyed Aristotelian logic and that a body in inertial motion stays in motion for no reason at all, as if by magic. Yep, physicists do believe in magic even if they claim otherwise. Of course, this is all hogwash because Newton was just as fanatical about causality as Aristotle. Some have mistakenly argued that Newton’s laws of motion deny causality but the fact is that he never believed that moving bodies remain in motion for no reason. The proof of this can be found in Optiks, in which Newton clearly indicated that he believed that a principle other than inertia was necessary to keep a body in motion:
The vis inertiae [i.e., inertia] is a passive principle by which bodies persist in their motion or rest, receive motion in proportion to the force impressing it, and resist as much as they are resisted. By this principle alone there never could be any motion in the world. Some other principle was necessary for putting bodies in motion; and now they are in motion, some other principle is necessary for conserving motion.
This is powerful stuff. This is one of the reasons that Sir Isaac is not known as the father of modern physics for just grins and giggles. The man was a thinker. Unfortunately, Newton never described the other principle, the one that conserves the motion of a moving body. His sole explanation, as far as I can tell, was to assert that God was the universal mover. Even Christians should recognize this as a rather weak argument. I suspect that this was Newton’s way of acknowledging that he did not understand everything about motion. It would have been nicer if he had taken a more down to earth approach or just adopted the same stance that he took with regard to the cause of gravity: Hypotheses, non fingo. But it seems strange that he would mention this other principle only in Optiks and not in Principia, and almost as an afterthought, mind you, as if the entire subject was somehow taboo.

I think that, even though Newton understood enough about the subject to realize that some other principle (cause) was required to keep a body in motion, he was handicapped by his failure to fully grasp the causality of motion at the fundamental level. Above all, Newton was betrayed by his tacit belief in continuity, another one of my pet peeves. That’s too bad, as I’m sure he would have loved to know the real answer. I’ll have more to say about that silly notion of continuity later.

[Addendum 9/17/2009]

I now realize that Newton’s language leaves the quoted passage above somewhat open to interpretation. He did not specifically write “some principle other than the vis inertiae is necessary for conserving motion." I think it's possible that Newton had meant the opposite. Still, I think that calling inertia a "passive principle" does not immediately bring "causal principle" to mind. Why? Because something that is passive is reactive as opposed to active. A reaction is an effect rather than a cause. One would think that an active principle is required to conserve (maintain?) motion.

If I'm wrong about Newton (very slight probability), it still feels good to imagine that he might have understood, way back then, that motion, like everything else, was a causal phenomenon. And why not? Aristotle had understood it centuries before that.

Albert Einstein

Early in the last century, Albert Einstein made his mark on physics with the publication of his Special and General Relativity theories. However, good old Albert had nothing really interesting to add to the causality of motion debate other than the claim that nothing can move faster than light in a vacuum. It’s an interesting claim in its own right but one that is woefully incomplete and misleading. In a future post, I will show that there is, in reality, only one speed in nature: the speed of light (surprise!).

From my perspective, Einstein muddied the entire subject by equating reality with what is observed and using that false premise to claim that only relative motion and position exist in nature. This is another one of those things that brings to my mind visions of Zatoichi, the blind Japanese swordmaster (see Part I). I am not going to repeat my critique here but the relativist’s denial of the existence of absolute motion is one that is easily refuted with simple logic that even children can understand. Please read my arguments against the relativity of motion, if you’re interested.

Discrete Universe

A correct understanding of motion is impossible unless one first realizes that nature is discrete. Why is nature discrete? Simply because continuity, the opposite of discreteness, leads to an infinite regress. I realize that there are those of the math persuasion who choose to disagree but I don’t care. From my perspective, the discreteness of nature is beyond argumentation. The concept of continuity (a.k.a. infinite divisibility) is one of the things that I call “chicken shit physics”. As physicist Wolfgang Pauli would put it, it is not even wrong. As with acausal motion, its fallacy is on a par with the flat earth hypothesis.

It is certain that Newton’s laws of motion are inadequate to fully explain motion and that physicists have no clue as to what keeps a moving body in motion. Their minds are irreparably poisoned by the belief in continuity that was impressed upon them at an early age. Continuity is as dumb as it gets. It's a religion of cretins, in my opinion. Even Einstein who built his entire career on continuity, had his doubts about it. In 1954, not long before he died, he wrote to his friend Besso: "I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics." (From: "Subtle is the Lord" by Abraham Pais.)

That the concept lasted so long is proof that scientists are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as religious folks, probably even more so since they consider themselves to be the voices of reason. Paul Feyerabend was right when he wrote in Against Method that "the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence."


Discreteness implies that the observed motion of a particle, regardless of how smooth we think it is, actually consists of a series of minute jumps. In Part III, I will explain how Newton’s laws of motion can be extended or modified to incorporate discrete motion at the microscopic level and why the causality of motion means that we are swimming in an enormous ocean of highly energetic particles.

See Also:

The Scientific Revolution and Contemporary Discourse on Faith and Reason
More Nasty Little Truths About Physics

1 comment:

AceofSpades said...

Motion is conserved because it is just a fixed property of matter.

It doesn't change unless there is a cause that reqiures it to change. It is conserved for the same reason that charge is conserved: it is made up of discrete elements that can either be added to or subtracted from.

The conservation of motion in our three dimensions is really just a conservation of the direction of motion, since the greater this component is in either the x, y or z dimesnions, the smaller its component of motion must be in the time dimension.