Topic 2-02: Mass, force and Newton's Second Law: The view of "newtonians"

Some readers probably find the path that leads to the concept of "mass" and then to the second law of Newton as outlined in the previous topic rather twisted and unsatisfactory. To shed more light on this topic we will reintroduce here the concept of "mass" and "force" through the eyes of a species of intelligent creatures in a fictitious world.

The "newton" is a strange astronomical object. It is not a planet, since it does not orbit any star. It sits in the middle of nowhere, far from any stars and even from nearby galaxies. It is not a star, since it does not radiate vast amounts of energy, and its surface is solid rather than gaseous as stars are. However, it does radiate a certain amount of heat as infrared radiation. The newton is perfectly spherical, with a uniform crust several thousand kilometers thick. Inside this uniform crust is a perfectly spherical cavity filled with some kind of "air". Within the crust, some kind of thermal reaction occurs that maintains the the cavity at room temperature. The inner shell of the crust periodically lights up and darkens, creating day and night inside the cavity. Life has evolved within the cavity. The intellectual creatures living inside the cavity is called the "newtonian". Unlike the world of earthlings, the world of newtonians is weightless; the reason why it is weightless inside the cavity of the newton will become clear in later chapters.

Like earthlings, newtonians have an intuition of distance and time. However, unlike earthlings, newtonians do not have legs, since legs are useless in a weightless environment. They have a mouth to speak to one another, and a nose to suck in “air”. They absorb a chemical compound in their “air” as fuel to warm up the sucked-in air. The expanded air is expelled through their tube-like body for forward momentum. The body of the newtonian is a flexible tube that allows them to change direction easily. If they want to slow down and then stop, they only need to bend their body tube to point in the opposite direction. They are experts at regulating the airflow through their body-tube to control the speed of their motion. In other words, they are like super-sophisticated jet planes. If readers want to know more about newtonian air, we will say that the magical chemical compound that serves as fuel is constantly replenished by the inner surface of the crust of the astronomical object called the “newton”. No matter how to look at it, the newton is probably a lab of genesis created by some super intelligent beings. Actually, this basic lifestyle, including the mode of propulsion, is universal for all the creatures in the world of newtonians; only newtonians have evolved a superb brain and very high intelligence. Since all the creatures in this world derive energy from their “air” and are all unisex, there is no need to devour each other as food or to fight one another for “companions”. Thus, the world of newtonians is perfectly peaceful, and newtonians can devote a lot of time to, you guess it, studying physics.

Among many things that newtonians have created are springs. They anchor one end of a spring to the wall of the cavity, and grab (yes, they have hands) the other end of the spring. When they try to fly away by expelling a fixed amount of air at a fixed speed per unit time, the spring stretches by a certain amount. If they expel more air or expel the same amount of air but at a higher speed, the spring stretches more. Thus they learn to use the spring to measure their air thrust; they call the application of air thrust "force". They also know that by applying a constant air thrust, or force, and moving in a straight line, their flying speed will increase steadily, but the acceleration is constant. If they increase the "force", the acceleration increases accordingly. Thus they have discovered the relation

              f = ca,                                    (1)

where f is the force measured by the stretch of a standard spring, a is the acceleration and c is just a constant. They also discovered that the proportionality constant c is not universal but depends on who is doing the experiment. In general, a larger newtonian will result in a larger c.

To understand more about the proportionality constant c in Eq. (1), newtonians performed the following experiments. They made many identical balls. A newtonian, carrying no ball, flies with a fixed force f, or thrust, and achieved a constant acceleration a0. The same newtonian, carrying one ball and using the same thrust, flies with an acceleration a1. Carrying two balls, it achieved an acceleration a2, and so on. Then the results are plotted on an x-y graph as shown in Fig. 1, where the vertical axis represents the acceleration and the horizontal axis represents the number of balls. It turns out that the curve of Fig. 1 can be fitted by the equation

where f is the thrust, or the force, n is the number of balls, and m and d are constants. If the size of the balls are changed, but the material used remains the same, then m is proportional to the volume of the ball. The constant d depends on the size of the newtonian, larger the size larger the constant d becomes. At this point newtonians conclude that every object has an intrinsic quantity called "mass". The mass of a ball is m, and the mass of the newtonian who is carrying out the experiment is d. Thus nm+d is the mass of the system that consists of the newtonian and n balls. With a system of mass m, Eq. (2) becomes

                f = ma .                                     (3)

Newtonians call Eq. (3) the "golden rule", but earthlings call it Newton's Second Law. With their golden rule, newtonians have developed a classical mechanics similar to the classical mechanics of earthlings.

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