Characteristics of Physical Law

The laws are symmetrical in nature.

Despite numerous limitations, we human beings are able enough to study as well as appreciate the grandeur of the universe. Our great journey of determining scientific laws began as we understood the regular repetitions of the day and night, the annual cycle of seasons, the eclipses, the tides, the volcanoes, the rainbow and so on.

What is scientific law?

A scientific law is verbal or mathematical explanation that describes some phenomenon of the natural world. For example, Newton's law of gravity, which states that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. But the law itself does not explain why the phenomenon exists or what causes it: that is really the job of theory, in this case, Einstein's theory of general relativity.

The scientific law is factual and should not be confused with logical truth. For example, "boiling point of water is 100 degrees celsius" is a law whereas "every number has a double" is logical truth and not really a law.

Constant over space and time

The same laws which apply here on earth also apply to the rest of the universe. For example, Galileo's law of falling bodies was tested on the moon by astronaut David Scott in 1971.

This is simple and yet beautiful truth, that the laws of nature are universally valid. There are no laws of nature that hold just for the planet earth or the Andromeda Galaxy, for that matter.

In addition, the laws of nature do not change as time progresses. There is a joke which goes something like this, "Before Newton discovered gravity, all things could fly." That is so not the case; there are no laws of nature that hold just for the eighteenth century or just for the Mesozoic Era.

Same for animate and inanimate

The laws are same for living beings and for inanimate objects. There is no evidence yet that what goes on in living creatures is necessarily different, so far as the physical laws are concerned, from what goes on in non-living things.

For example, conservation of angular momentum is a fundamental law of nature. A rotating ballerina spins faster when drawing her arms in.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Similarly, the earth and other planets revolving around the sun obey the law of conservation of angular momentum, which is why, when a planet is nearer to the Sun, the orbital speed increases and when it is farther away, it slows down.

Simple in nature

Eminent kiwi physicist Ernest Rutherford used to say, "it should be possible to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid." But even though the laws themselves are so simple, their implications are far and wide.

For example, Newton's third law of motion is simply, "for every action there is equal and opposite reaction", and yet it is noticeable in many instances of life such as in walking, swimming, recoiling of gun, and most importantly, rocket propulsion.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Similarly, Newton's second law of motion is just, F=ma, but it made possible the industrial revolution. Steam engines, locomotives, factories, machines, all of it due to the mechanics set into motion by the second law of motion.

Same in uniform motion

If we have an experiment working in a certain way and then take the same apparatus, put it in a car, and move the whole car, plus all the relevant surroundings, at a uniform velocity in a straight line, then so far as the phenomena inside the car are concerned, there is no difference.

Unification of laws

Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell took a set of known experimental laws such as Faraday's Law, Ampere's Law and unified them into a symmetric coherent set of equations known as Maxwell's equations.

how are physical laws symmetrical?

Maxwell's equations are also laws just like the law of gravity. They govern the behavior of electric and magnetic fields. Also, light itself is an electromagnetic wave. Therefore, Maxwell's equations have in a way unified three separate phenomena, electricity, magnetism and optics, into one.

A similar type of unification occurred in the early part of the 20th century. The laws of conservation of energy and conservation of total mass were proven to be equivalent by German physicist Albert Einstein in a simple equation, E=mc^2.

These unifications are possible because the laws of physics are symmetrical in nature. Two or more distinctly appearing natural phenomena appear to be governed by just one simple law. Thus, one day, we may be able to find an ultimate law of physics that may explain everything.

Renowned American physicist Richard Feynman had famously said, "God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand."

Throughout history, man has credited god for this or that phenomena. For example, early Greeks believed that lightning was a weapon of Zeus. Now, when you finally discover how something works, you get some laws which you're taking away from god; you don't need god anymore.

Thus, "what one man calls god, another calls the laws of physics," or in other words, to have an understanding of the physical laws is in a way a liberation from all superstition.

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