The Poetry of Real – Newtons First Law

I think that there is a beauty to science that is often missed because so much of science relies on cold, unsubtle language.  Let me tell you about the most basic concepts of physics, the way that I understand it in my head.

This is the ground floor, this is fundamental. We have an object and we are placing it in space. It is perfect. It is a sphere.  It is in the frictionless, gravity free, air-free, emptiness of space. There is nothing near it. There is nothing to touch it. There is nothing to change it.

It is a gray ball in the blackness.

Why?

Because it is the simplest thing that we can imagine. Nothing. Something.

And we wait. And wait. And wait. And, as we watch nothing happens. Why?

Because we are investigating Newtons laws. We must leave our perfect sphere in the perfect vastness of space. Will it move?

You tell me. There is nothing there. It doesn’t know the pull of another object. The motion of a star. The current of atmosphere. It is perfectly alone. Perfectly still. And, as you know instinctively, if not from school, it will not move.

Ah, but why?

That is the underlying question to everything. It is the human curiosity that has brought us everything that ever was. It is a simple question that can lead you down into a rabbit warren of discover that you may never leave from.

Why?

Because it can’t.

Newton said, “An object at rest, remains at rest unless acted on by an outside force. An object in motion remains in motion, unless acted on by an outside force.” Blah! Boring language!

If there is nothing to move our object it will remain still, unchanging, perfect in the empty quietness of space. Or, as the Sound of Music put it, “Nothing comes from Nothing. Nothing ever could.”

Well, one of the fundamental tools of science is turning your question around backwards and inside out and asking again. Let’s try that.

We have a sphere sitting in the perfect vacuum of space. It begins to move. Why?

What changed?

I imagine you thinking of particles falling away from the ball, but why would they fall? What would they be drawn towards? Where would the energy for motion come from?

Ah! There in lies the rub! You can’t change something without imparting energy. Nothing comes from nothing.

That is the sum total of Newtons first law.

There sits in the blackness of nothing, something.
It has no impetus. It has no energy. It sits. It rests.
There moves through the emptiness of space something.
It will not change. It rushes on.
These things are constant.
Conservatively, something sits.
Conservatively, something moves.
But, Oh!, if they came together!
Change!

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