Derivation of Classical Mechanics in an Energetic Framework via Conservation and Relativity

Foundations of Physics 1 (11):1426-1479 (2020)
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The notions of conservation and relativity lie at the heart of classical mechanics, and were critical to its early development. However, in Newton’s theory of mechanics, these symmetry principles were eclipsed by domain-specific laws. In view of the importance of symmetry principles in elucidating the structure of physical theories, it is natural to ask to what extent conservation and relativity determine the structure of mechanics. In this paper, we address this question by deriving classical mechanics—both nonrelativistic and relativistic—using relativity and conservation as the primary guiding principles. The derivation proceeds in three distinct steps. First, conservation and relativity are used to derive the asymptotically conserved quantities of motion. Second, in order that energy and momentum be continuously conserved, the mechanical system is embedded in a larger energetic framework containing a massless component that is capable of bearing energy. Imposition of conservation and relativity then results, in the nonrelativistic case, in the conservation of mass and in the frame-invariance of massless energy; and, in the relativistic case, in the rules for transforming massless energy and momentum between frames. Third, a force framework for handling continuously interacting particles is established, wherein Newton’s second law is derived on the basis of relativity and a staccato model of motion-change. Finally, in light of the derivation, we elucidate the structure of mechanics by classifying the principles and assumptions that have been employed according to their explanatory role, distinguishing between symmetry principles and other types of principles that are needed to build up the theoretical edifice.

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Philip Goyal
State University of New York, Albany