For having studied both classical and quantum optics, I regard Maxwell's equations as the grand "cheat sheet" from which (almost) all optical/photonic phenomena can be derived. Yet, I also know that wave-particle duality extends to all other fields and particles in the standard model. I'm therefore left with a nagging sense that Maxwell's equations should---up to differing units---be universal (cf. e.g., Gauss' law for gravitation).

I expect that some behaviors (say, the Aharonov-Bohm effect) won't be observable since some particles in the standard model are charged while others aren't, or that monopoles may exist while others don't, etc. That said, don't we have any evidence that the overall template of Maxwell's equations is universal?

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    $\begingroup$ Have a look at Yang-Mills theories $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2020 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not qualified to give a proper answer to this, but you might find it interesting that in the recently uploaded Feynman Lectures on Strong Interactions he works with "colour Electric and Magnetic fields" to describe the Strong Interactions (Eqn 4.8 in the above reference), and discusses the colour equivalent of Gauss's Law as well. I haven't seen this in any other references, but then I'm not very well read on the subject. I've been meaning to go through these lectures completely, they seem quite interesting! $\endgroup$
    – Philip
    Aug 1, 2020 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ See also gravitoelectromagnetism (GEM). More on GEM. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Aug 1, 2020 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ I don't really understand what you're asking for here. Maxwell's equations are the equations for a $U(1)$ Yang-Mills theory. We know of many other theories, with many other equations of motion. What is the "overall template" of Maxwell's equations, and what to you mean by it being "universal"? $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Aug 1, 2020 at 16:01

3 Answers 3


Maxwell's equations describe a massless vector (spin-1) U1-gauge field (the photon-field). Other particles have different properties (spin, mass, coupling to other fields), and have different equations of motion.


Maxwell's equations can be written as a massless wave equation and this is a special case of Einstein's energy-momentum relation in wave form. The general case is the Klein-Gordon equation, which is satisfied by any free non-interacting field.


This is because of special relativity. The fact that the speed of light is finite can be packaged nicely im saying that we live in a space where the notion of proper distance makes sense:

\begin{equation} ds^2=-c^2dt^2+ dx^2+dy^2+dz^2 \end{equation} In particular, the only things we can talk about are things which are Lorentz/Poincare invariant/covariant. In other words, the symmetries of Minkowski space fix the form of Maxwell’s equations and their analog for other matter. This is summarized by the so-called representation theory of the Poincare group. These are described by quantum numbers like spin and momentum. Maxwell theory is a spin-1 massless representation for example, and the Maxwell equations are the simplest equations of motion consistent with special relativity. The Dirac equation comes from the spin-1/2 representations, and the Klein-Gordon equation comes from the spin-0 representation. If you loosen up your assumptions and impose the equivalence principle instead, you’ll end up getting Einstein gravity. So your suspicion has a natural explanation, the possibilities consistent with the symmetries we see in nature are quite constrained.


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