A Twist on Newton’s Third Law

A Twist on Newton’s Third Law

As a die-hard physics nerd, I have always loved toys or situations that brought physics concepts to life.

Opening a Galileo thermometer for my sixteenth birthday had me jumping with the same joy that most teens would at their favourite pop singer’s concert.

Nearly a decade later, my Newton’s cradle still captivates my attention; seeing those balls swing back and forth was mesmerising. I loved how it brought the concepts of momentum and energy to life.

Riding on a rollercoaster was more than a surge of physical adrenaline, it was a mentally stimulating experience, bouncing between kinetic and potential energy. Ice skating was always alluring for the graceful athleticism, but more importantly, was a chance to visualise a couple performing a death spiral, the ultimate example of centripetal force in motion.

The man would be pivoted in the ice, while the woman would be holding onto the man’s hand, arm outstretched. Her body would be faced up, almost parallel to the ice, moving in concentric circles and was still somehow pulled in towards him as the centre of motion. It was a vision to imagine, both surreal and real at the same time.

There were plenty of other concepts that I loved to visualise and ponder on, but the one  that always stood out to me was Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Most of the time, this law is used to explain forces that occur in pairs, where one body cannot exert a force on another without experiencing an equal and opposite force back onto itself. The most common examples of this law in action are everyday objects such as a human sitting on a chair, or in sports when a swimmer pushing off against a wall.

But to restrict Newton’s third law to those areas only, represents a gross misunderstanding. These laws are representative of all types of motion present in nature, applicable to all of nature’s beings in the widest sense, including human beings. You can see this in the dynamism of human interactions, the life changing experiences that can shape us at our core.

These laws of nature can and do apply to everything.

My extrapolation might seem like an exaggeration – perhaps physics was just one of the many school subjects that you forgot once you walked out of your last exam. Perhaps, you believe that physics only has relevance for super nerds, the Sheldon’s and Leonard’s of the world. Maybe I am one of those nerds. But the thought of how far you can apply physics to the human experience, gets me really excited.

If Newton’s third law is applied broadly, it means that when some action takes place in life, there is always an equal and opposite reaction or consequence of that action.

To illustrate this, if you went through a life changing injury or traumatic rape, you might be ashamed and think that somehow you did something wrong to bring that onto yourself. Maybe you failed at multiple entrepreneurial ventures and you feel like you wasted your time and success will always be elusive. Maybe the love of your life committed suicide or you ended up in a devastating divorce that you never saw coming. You feel like it’s not worth opening your heart again, that you’ll never shake this loss and move on.

I refuse to believe that.

There will be an equal and opposite reaction to bring this action right; there will be a positive reaction to counter the negative action.

Shame will be replaced with courage.

Worthlessness will be replaced with confidence.

Helplessness will be replaced with empowerment.

Despair will be replaced with hope.

Nature will do you right, if you give it the time and space that it needs to do the work.

Newton’s third law of motion, applied in these situations, doesn’t say that your equal and opposite reaction will come the next day, next week or even in the next year. If anything, it makes sense that if it took you a year to end up in the darkest time of your life, it might take you a year to reach resolution or find your way out of it – that would be a truly equal and opposite reaction.

When I reflect on my own heart-breaking experiences, I often find my attention wanders over to the Newton’s cradle that sits on my desk. I watch those little metallic spheres go back and forth; back and forth with impeccable synchronicity. I think about the failures, the moments I gave up on myself and the events that I wish I hadn’t had to experience, let alone think about. I wonder if I’ll ever get my equal and opposite reaction. I remind myself that there forces in nature do act in pairs, and they will bring life to a state of equilibrium.