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passive_fist comments on Failing to Learn from History - Less Wrong

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 August 2007 08:22PM

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Comment author: passive_fist 13 January 2013 05:49:22AM *  14 points [-]

Once I tried to temporarily 'forget' everything I knew about Newtonian mechanics etc. and see if I could just derive Newton's laws of motion just by observing things.

I realized that it was very, very, very hard. Aristotle's laws of motion make perfect sense - if you don't know Newtonian mechanics. Something as simple as 'objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless acted on by some external force' has very little bearing to intuitive reality. Even the concept of a 'force' is highly abstract and nontrivial if you think about it. This is perhaps even apparent in the language people use to describe force, even today. It is common to hear phrases like 'with the force of a thousand suns' or 'this motor has more force than that one'. People often confuse force with work and/or power (and don't get me started on how often power and work are confused). The fact that Newton and others were able to separate these things into their components and actually quantify them still amazes me. Energy/work is force times distance. Power is work over time. You can push against a solid wall with a lot of force but you are doing no work.

It's not that these concepts would have been mysterious. It's that people simply wouldn't have thought about them, at least not in a fundamental way.