2
$\begingroup$

In our physics course, Newton's first law was given as a definition of inertial reference frame. Now in order to use it we need to take some object which has zero interaction with other objects. But now in order to check it, we need to know which forces are acting on an object. But how can we be sure that the fact that an object, with zero net force on it, is accelerating because we are in a non−inertial reference frame and not because of the fact that we haven't accounted for some "real" (as opposed to those called "fictitious") forces. And in general, how can we determine that the force that acts on an object is "real" and not "fictitious" ? E.g. how can we determine that electromagnetic force is "real" and not "fictitious" ?

$\endgroup$
1
1
$\begingroup$

Very good question. You would do many experiments with many different bodies and you would find that, for all of them, you would have to account for a mysterious force given in terms of a constant vector $\boldsymbol{f}_i=-m_i\boldsymbol{A}$ that must characterize your system kinematically, because it affects all moving bodies equally in proportion to their inertia. Your version of Newton's law would be, $$ m_{i}\boldsymbol{a}_{i}=\boldsymbol{F}_{i}-m_{i}\boldsymbol{A} $$ You would conclude --or it would be reasonable to conclude-- that $\boldsymbol{A}$ is something kinematical characterizing your frame.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, but this assumes that you either have a constant force that you know already and your frame has a time independent acceleration. I am not 100% sure but I think in the most general case you can not give a definite answer, $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ @DerHutmacher, I think you're right that in a very general case you would be hard-pressed to give a simple argument like the above. One example I can think of is if you had strong gravitational fields and the $\boldsymbol{A}$ acceleration field were non-homogeneous. Then you would have strong tidal forces that would be very difficult to tell apart from a plausible $\boldsymbol{F}_{i}\left(\boldsymbol{x}_{i}\right)$ force law. Please, let me keep thinking about it. $\endgroup$
    – joigus
    Feb 26 at 9:59
0
$\begingroup$

This is a deep question.

"But how can we be sure that the fact that an object, with zero net force on it, is accelerating because we are in a non−inertial reference frame and not because of the fact that we haven't accounted for some "real" (as opposed to those called "fictitious") forces."

You can not be sure, as you can also not "prove" physical theories. They either explain your experiment or not, so when you set up an experiment and you measure the trajectory of e.g. a particle not being a straight line, then, according to newton, you have to have either force acting on it or be in an accelerated frame. Now you could study the trajectory of the particle and see whether it is explainable by some force we know, or by some accelerated frame you're in or both together. I think the point is that you either find some explanation in terms of known quantities (forces or accelerated frames) or not, but you can not find out the "truth" because I could imagine that whenever you have an particle flying in some accelerated trajectory through some force, you could also have a particle which flies in a straight line, but you get thrown around such that the particles trajectory appears to you as if it would when the particle itself would be accelerated. I have the impression that it boils down to some form of the equivalence principle, but I can't articulate that right now exactly

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.