The Beautiful Fairy Tale of Classical Physics
Today, quantum theory shrouds physics in a mystery scientists are working feverishly to understand. However, before folks began wondering about string theory and the like, physics had enjoyed a relatively calm notion of having figured most things out. In fact, there were six basic assumptions about classical physics that indicated that the greater mysteries of the universe had either been solved or would proceed to be solved presently. These six assumptions about classical physics were historically thought to be absolutely true (contrastingly, today all six assumptions of classical physics have been challenged or proven to be unsupported by recent data). So sit back, relax and learn what a rational and understandable world the six assumptions of classical physics painted once upon a time.
Assumption One of Classical Physics: A Contained System
The first assertion of classical physics was that the universe was like a machine. Following this metaphor, classical physics stated that all movement could be calculated, as it fit with the mechanical nature of the machine as a whole. This assumption is like saying that because a pocket watch follows absolute rules, all of its inner parts will as well.
Assumption Two of Classical Physics: Cause and Effect
Classical physics also insisted that, because of Newtonian ideas, all motion had a cause. Furthermore, because classical physics made the first assumption that the universe was like a machine, the second assumption of classical physics also dictated that all of these causes could be calculated. Very quickly we can see that classical physics and it’s assumptions believed even the most complex behavior could be understood easily.
Assumption Three of Classical Physics: Determinism
Determinism is the belief that all action is the result of previous causes that can be measured and understood. In philosophy, determinism means that a person cannot practice free will; everyone is merely the sum of previous causes, and that someone’s fate trails back to occurrences, all the way to his genetics and environment, which predicted his inevitable behavior. The view of determinism is much the same in classical physics, this third assumption merely asserting that if a body’s state of motion was known at any juncture, that body’s motion can be calculated for any other period of time, past or future. This makes sense in light of the former two assumptions. If classical physics declared that all movement’s cause and effect could be measured, there was no reason to believe intervals between the initial cause and eventual effect could not also be known.
Assumption Four of Classical Physics: Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Wave Theory
The fourth assumption of classical physics was that Maxwell’s Electromagnetic Wave Theory completely explained the behaviors and properties of light and that there was nothing further to discover in that respect. While this must have been very flattering to Maxwell, this is nevertheless not an absolute assumption today.
Assumption Five of Classical Physics: Energy in Motion
The fifth assumption of classical physics was that types of energy were mutually exclusive and could either be a particle or a wave. This assumption fit very neatly into the predictable world of classical physics.
Assumption Six of Classical Physics: Degrees of Accuracy
Perhaps one of the most laughable assumptions of classical physics made perfect sense at the time. Not only did classical physics dictate that anything could be measured, the sixth and final assumption was that anything could be calculated to any degree of accuracy, were the equipment advanced enough. Recall that during the time of classical physics, physicists were learning about atomic systems. Obviously, classical physics did not yet know enough about atomic systems, as they too were thought to follow the sixth assumption describing absolute accuracy. If only!