Newtonian Physics: All Wrong!

by on August 26, 2007 · 17 comments

Read in the comments to Yglesias’s blog:

Going to popular/mass publication journalist-written books for an introduction to a country is a bit like taking Newtonian physics: it will get you some of the basic generalizations, but once you get more in depth you realize how wrong your introduction was.

I wonder if the person who wrote this actually took Newtonian physics. My understanding was that under most conditions people encounter in their day-to-day lives (i.e. you’re moving significantly slower than the speed of light and you’re larger than an electron and smaller than a black hole) Newtonian mechanics are quite accurate. I took several physics classes and I don’t remember the class where the professor said “OK class, that F=ma thing? We were lying about that.”

  • Vyaas

    Exactly!!!!
    In a larger scale of things, Newtonian physics is an excellent approximation of the world we live in!

  • Vyaas

    Exactly!!!!
    In a larger scale of things, Newtonian physics is an excellent approximation of the world we live in!

  • Brian Moore

    Yeah, the axis along which Newtonian physics works and doesn’t work is mass and speed, not depth of investigation.

    It’s not “wrong” it’s just not applicable in certain situations. But like you said, it works for day-to-day stuff — which makes it an analogy that gives the exact opposite impression than the commenter was aiming for.

  • Brian Moore

    Yeah, the axis along which Newtonian physics works and doesn’t work is mass and speed, not depth of investigation.

    It’s not “wrong” it’s just not applicable in certain situations. But like you said, it works for day-to-day stuff — which makes it an analogy that gives the exact opposite impression than the commenter was aiming for.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Michael Sullivan

    It more or less works, it doesn’t really work. At normal scale-of-life, the error (difference between Newtonian and relativistic) is real but too small to be important.

  • http://www.mondolithic.com Chris Wren

    The main thrust of contemporary physics is an attempt to unify Newtonian and Quantum mechanics, because both, in fact, DO work. It’s not like Newton just made do with careless guesses and approximations.

  • http://www.wbklaw.com Mike Sullivan

    It more or less works, it doesn’t really work. At normal scale-of-life, the error (difference between Newtonian and relativistic) is real but too small to be important.

  • http://www.mondolithic.com Chris Wren

    The main thrust of contemporary physics is an attempt to unify Newtonian and Quantum mechanics, because both, in fact, DO work. It’s not like Newton just made do with careless guesses and approximations.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    So, Vyas, Michael, Chris, etc. are saying is that Newtonian Physics are a great way of predicting approximate outcomes, but not really a way of better understanding our universe. So, I guess the real question is what you want physics to do for you. If it is applied science, then you’re right. It works… mostly. If you are looking for the true understanding of our universe and how and why it works the way it does… that’s where things start falling apart.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    So, Vyas, Michael, Chris, etc. are saying is that Newtonian Physics are a great way of predicting approximate outcomes, but not really a way of better understanding our universe. So, I guess the real question is what you want physics to do for you. If it is applied science, then you’re right. It works… mostly. If you are looking for the true understanding of our universe and how and why it works the way it does… that’s where things start falling apart.

  • Anonymous

    C#

  • Anonymous

    C#

  • Anonymous

    C#

  • Anonymous

    C#

  • Jonathan

    what's intriguing to me as a non physics geek is, the universe is basically composed of the same thing (atoms eletrons energy and blah blah blah), right?

    then why we apply diferent rules to diferent amounts of the same thing? why not different amouts of the same rule?

  • Jonathan

    what's intriguing to me as a non physics geek is, the universe is basically composed of the same thing (atoms eletrons energy and blah blah blah), right?

    then why we apply diferent rules to diferent amounts of the same thing? why not different amouts of the same rule?

  • Jonathan

    what's intriguing to me as a non physics geek is, the universe is basically composed of the same thing (atoms eletrons energy and blah blah blah), right?

    then why we apply diferent rules to diferent amounts of the same thing? why not different amouts of the same rule?

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