How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 766

You said that if I push on a friend they will push back (even if they are asleep). But if I push hard enough, they will fall to the ground, whereas I will not. Therefore, I don't see how the reaction is equal. Can you please explain this? - JK
Newton's third law only observes that the forces two objects exert on one another are equal in amount but opposite in direction. The law doesn't make any statement about the consequences of those forces on the objects involved. Moreover, it doesn't say that those forces are the only forces on the objects. When you push on an awake friend, your friend will obtain additional forces from the ground or a nearby wall, and will manage to avoid falling over. Even though you push your friend away from you, your friend will see to it that the ground pushes them toward you. As a result, they will probably stay in one place. But when your friend is asleep, they won't be able obtain the additional forces necessary to compensate for the force you exert on them and they may accelerate away from you or fall over.

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