Today my Facebook feed greeted me with a video of an amazing development in science. The EM (Electromagnetic) Drive has passed peer reviews within the scientific community. This means that experts have found the methodology of the experiments reasonable but doesn’t guarantee that the results are valid. However, it is one step closer to being feasible to build a fuel-less propulsion system that could essentially get a spacecraft to Mars in as few as 70 days.
The most incredible aspect of this development is that this propulsion system appears to defy Newton’s 3rd law of physics which states;
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”
The drive generates thrust by bouncing microwaves around inside an asymmetrical cavity. With the microwaves trapped inside, there is no propellent, emitted electromagnetic radiation or exhaust to push the drive along. If we abide by the laws of physics, without some kind of propellant, the drive simply should not move. But it does (in theory at least) and even the researchers are baffled to explain it.
So what does this all mean?
Right now the jury is still out as to whether the drive will actually work as there is so much of it that is currently inexplicable. However, the part that most impresses me is that there are scientists out there who are pushing the limits of what is considered a “Law”. For most of us laymen, the “Laws of Physics” are fundamental qualities to the Universe that are supposedly set in stone and are absolute. They give us the comfort and security that we have some kind of understanding of the Universe and how it works. We can rely on that which we know to be true.
“I am not going to fall off the Earth because of Newton’s law of universal gravitation”
How comforting it is to know that I’m not going to fall off the Earth today.
However, the science community defines a Physical Law as
“A theoretical statement inferred from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions are present.”
You can read more on Physical Law here.
The word “theoretical” also has a slightly different meaning in the science community than it does to the rest of us. Whereas a “theory” is nothing more than an unproven idea in the non-scientific world, to the scientific community a “theoretical statement” is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural Universe that is acquired through a scientific method and repeatedly tested. However, it is also stated that a scientific theory may be rejected or modified if it does not fit the new empirical findings.
So as you can see, the laws of physics as we know them to be today, although are very sturdy, are not absolute. As our understanding of the Universe expands, there is the possibility that we will outgrow and leave behind those laws that are so supportive to us right now.
How does it relate to you, me and everyone else?
I never want to be one of these people that takes quality science and bends it to support mystical or spiritual ideals. I have my spiritual beliefs and one day hope that science will be able to prove them as fact. Until then, they are only beliefs that help me to make sense of the Universe that I am presented with. However, I would like to push your thoughts into the abstract and present some ideas and questions to ponder.
Now that we know that even the fundamental laws of physics that currently explain our Universe, are not necessarily absolute and set in stone forevermore. Think about that for a moment. Does that mean that we are currently living our lives with these hardened beliefs about the way things are that may actually not be true? What would happen if we were to loosen our grasp on these laws, rules and beliefs that we have held on to so tightly in the past and see them merely as guidelines until something better comes along? Would we then become aware of new levels of understanding which were hidden to us by our steadfast attitudes? Would we find that the mere belief in these laws and rules was indeed the only thing holding us back from the unimaginable, seemingly impossible achievements we could actually achieve?
What are the answers? In the ultimate anti-climax… I don’t know. But I think with questions like these it certainly warrants an exploration of what we perceive to be our limitations. Especially the limitation based on laws, rules and beliefs that we have come to know as truth.
What laws, rules and beliefs are you holding on to?