How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 764

What would it be like if Newton's third law weren't true? Can we imagine that?
Many strange things would happen. For example, suppose that you pushed on your neighbor and your neighbor didn't push back—you wouldn't feel any force pushing against your hand so you wouldn't even notice that you were pushing on your neighbor. Your neighbor would feel you pushing on them and they would accelerate away from you.

Among the many consequences of such a change would be that energy wouldn't be conserved—you would be able to create energy out of nowhere. To see how that would be possible, imagine lifting a heavy object and suppose that as you pushed upward on it, it didn't push downward on you. As you lifted it upward, you would do work on it—you would exert an upward force on it and it would move upward. But it wouldn't do negative work on you—it would exert no force on you as your hands lifted it upward. As a result, its energy would increase but your energy wouldn't decrease. Energy would be created. In fact, you wouldn't even notice that you were lifting it because it wouldn't push on you as you lifted it.


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