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I know this is an incredibly simple question, but I am trying to find a very simple explanation to this other than the simple logic that energy is conserved when two items impact and bounce off each other.

The question is this: how do particles, atoms, objects just carry on moving in space in their free will (in a "vacuum")? When I am throwing a ball and let go of it (imagining that myself and the ball are in a vacuum of which I am impervious) why does it keep pushing itself forward? I know there's a logic to it that says "what's there to stop it" but really, what is keeping it going, infinitely through a real vacuum?

So there's kinetic energy which is being used, and potential energy inside it. Is the kinetic energy flaring out the back of it like a ball shaped rocket? Is it really just the simple logic that "nothing is there to stop it"? Or could there be other methods such as propagation? With dark energy?

I know all the Newtonian stuff just to be straight, and I know about friction etc etc and the maths behind those. It's just the acceptance that things just carry on moving that I'm finding difficult.

Edit: just realised, okay, energy is not being used. So why is it just cruising?

Edit: I can't vote up yet by the way, else I would on all these great answers! Thanks everyone.

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My answer to another question here : physics.stackexchange.com/questions/59448/… covers your question too. In a few words: Physics does not answer "why" . Physics starts from observations and creates axioms and mathematical models dependent on these axioms will answer questions of "how", which most "why"questions within a physics framework are really "how" questions. This question addresses one of the axioms of classical newtonian physics. The only answer is "because". –  anna v Apr 4 '13 at 13:52
Isn't this basic acceptance a bit bad, that it's just about observation? Doesn't that mean that everything is just recorded but not explained other than down to a base cause? –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 13:56
Good answer though although rather disappointing. –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 13:59
Thats the way the cookie crumbles in physics. is not a philosophy. It is a mathematical description of the world as we find it. The ultimate "why" enters the realm of "metaphysics" –  anna v Apr 4 '13 at 13:59
But when I ask why I am asking for a depth as to "how" they remain in motion... so that's where PML's answer comes in I guess. –  marksyzm Apr 5 '13 at 8:23

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Well a beautiful way to understand why would we choose a quantity and say that it is conserved is looking at symmetries.

If you look at the Euclidean space, $\mathbb R^3$, with only one particle. You clearly see that space is homogeneous, i.e., there's nothing that differs from a point in space to another (right?). Well, symmetry implies that there is a conserved quantity as the Noether's Theorem states. The quantity that is conserved due to that symmetry (space homogeneity) is what we call Momentum.

This can be readily checked if you formulate classical mechanics using the Hamilton's Principle known as Lagrangian Mechanics. For example, conservation of energy is verified by the homogeneity of time, i.e., if any instant is equivalent to any other, and Angular momentum conservation is due to isotropy of space.

More on this topic can be seen in Landau&Lifshitz Course of Theoretical Physics - Volume 1: Mechanics Chapters 1 and 2.

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Great :) I will look into these and see if I can find anything else to irritate people with on this question. –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 14:12
@marksyzm This is a really interesting topic that is used thoroughly not only in Classical Physics but also in more advanced topics such as Quantum Mechanics, Standard Model, etc. Symmetries is the way to go so read and ask as much as you see fit. =) –  PML Apr 4 '13 at 14:16

The idea that "kinetic energy is being used" is a false one.

Anything in motion has this kinetic energy (which you might as well call 'potential inertial energy') because it has momentum, and it is only converted into another kind of energy, when its in interaction with something else, like a collision with a mass, or the gravitational field of another mass or electromagnetic fields, for example.

Actually we all have kinetic energy at the moment, because we rotate together with the earth. But in our daily context it is pointless to mention it, that's why we say we have no kinetic energy. So it all depends on what inertial reference frame you choose.

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Okay, so why does it keep moving? Lets say there are other things in it's field that are also in the same state but moving in the opposite direction and always dodging said ball... why do they move in one direction and the other in the other direction? Why are they moving, other than just the logic behind the Newtonian observation? –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 13:58
Well you could view the mass as a linked structure like a train and each particle is moving forward and backwards pushing and pulling each other. This has different names depending on what scale you use, and since I'm not a Quantum scientist, I'll just call it cohesion. Imagine yourself in a space shuttle and blowing a bubble of water or throwing a water balloon, it will keep stretching itself and then compressing itself, just like a longitudinal wave. This goes on and on, but after some time it will reduce to a quantum scale, and we make it easy for ourselves and just call it momentum. –  AED Apr 4 '13 at 15:14
Obviously if you consider a train, it will stop vibrating after some time, since it dissipates its energy via friction/heat due to vibrations etcetera, but at a quantum scale, the system is more homogeneous and symmetrical (as others have pointed out) these losses reach zero and the phenomenon of conservation occurs. From a mathematical point of view, the function reaches a point of stability, where it goes in cycles and settles to a certain 'mode', where it features a certain threshold in order to be influenced and change this 'mode'. –  AED Apr 4 '13 at 15:33
Does that have anything to do with this? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesic_(general_relativity) –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 19:11
And also why doesn't that motion stop within the object? Isn't there some sort of friction or entropy there? –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 19:12

From a mathematical point of view you might like to look at Noether's theorem. I have to agree with AED that the kinetic energy idea goes into the wrong direction. With respect to Noether's theorem vacuum is space where one point is no different to any other. So if there are no forces and no reference for your moving ball, it is always in the same "environment". That is sort of relativistic thinking. So from the ball's point of view it does not keep moving, but stays at rest. Then you can come back to the start and ask: why a body at rest stays at rest, and the thing starts all over again. Although that might be easier to accept.

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I agree about K - thanks for updating me on that though –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 14:16

The reason to anything cruising is nothing but the fact that acceleration is a consequence of force. In absence of any force, there cannot be an acceleration (or retardation) hence the velocity remains constant. This is linked very closely to the quintessential definition of force as being the cause of change of linear momentum, which in the absence of force remains invariably constant( ALSO PROVED by quantum mechanics and Noether's principle) and therefore, the velocity is also constant.

you need to understand that it doesn't require anything to keep it moving and your question about what keeps it moving is hence contradictory to the fact that it doesn't need anything to keep moving. You can understand it in this way that uniform motion(constant velocity) and rest are completely equivalent(and relative) and are therefore the "natural" state for any body in which the body stays when not forced out of those states. The definition of force is inseparable from the idea of inertia, i.e, unwillingness to go out of these "natural" states.

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Isn't this just the same as simple acceptance of the third and first law then? How does this work in (sorry to bring this which I know little about) string theory, where waves of quarks move (again little knowledge) along to maintain movement... surely something is involved there, where things are moving along? I know it is contradictory to the understanding that it doesn't need anything to keep on moving but then that doesn't hold any explanation other than observation as mentioned by anna v. –  marksyzm Apr 4 '13 at 14:09

Energy is inversely related to stability. If something has more energy than required, it will have less stability than required. That lack of stability can be seen in the form of its motion.

The only problem here is...why is energy inversely related to stability? Maybe an intuitive answer would convince you...the BASIC law of physics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. So, anything cannot "gain" energy...so it must loose that in the form of lack of stability in one form or the other...

This basic law has been taken by observations! So, I guess we're back to square one....?

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protected by Qmechanic Apr 5 '13 at 14:02

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