“Why” — The Most Fundamental Question Behind Physics

Kirill Novik
3 min readSep 17, 2023

Introduction

When diving into the realm of physics, one may often be reminded of figures like Richard Feynman, a masterful communicator who could articulate complex concepts with casual elegance.

In a discussion where Feynman delved into the mystique of magnetic forces, he underscored the nuanced depth of the “why” question, remarking upon the necessity of a framework where something is taken as a given (axioms) for any explanation to make sense.

Indeed, the question of why is very “framework”-dependent, yet I would like to demonstrate an interesting and perhaps novel vantage point on this question from the standpoint of philosophical reflection.

Physics is the science of change

At a glance, physics might evoke images of Einstein pondering relativity, the vast expanse of our Solar System, or the mesmerizing operations of the Large Hadron Collider. But beneath the surface of these wonders lies a simpler, unifying thread — change.

Consider Newton’s iconic F = dp/dt, which puts the concept of force at the center of all physics, and the meaning behind the force is simply that it is a magnitude that is directly proportional to the change of velocity.

But what engenders change? Imagine a universe where all is static. In such a setting, there’s no need for the concepts of time and space. Yet, our reality is dynamic. We discern time as a linear progression and space as a canvas that entities occupy. This inevitably leads to potential overlap or conflicts, such as two objects desiring the same space.

To reconcile this reality, we’ve deduced that two distinct entities can’t occupy the same space simultaneously. Change is then an intrinsic response mechanism, ensuring objects adjust their trajectories to avoid overlap — hence, introducing the concept of force as a mechanism of conflict resolution.

Answering the “Why”: A Glimpse into Conflict Resolution

The “why” in physics is often a quest to unearth the underlying conflict and its subsequent resolution. This perspective isn’t confined to just physics:

  • In literature: “Why did the author introduce this twist?” becomes an exploration into narrative conflicts, perhaps to reinvigorate a reader’s engagement.
  • In biology: “Why do animals graze?” dives into the survival instinct, resolving the conflict between nourishment and starvation.
  • In chemistry: “Why do these elements bond?” is an investigation into atoms seeking a stable state, resolving energetic imbalances.

The Nature of “Why” Questions

The “why” is so intrinsic that it transcends empirical validation. Every “why” innately refers to a process, often depicting the resolution of some underlying tension or conflict. This viewpoint harmonizes with our comprehension of cause and effect, linking events in a dance of action and reaction, and therefore possesses fundamental necessity.

Conclusion

The question “why?” really asks “what conflict is trying to be resolved?” and you can’t think of a why question without thinking of a process. Every process is about second-degree change. And the second-degree change is what physics is about.

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Kirill Novik

Whether I shall turn out to be a hero of this book these pages must show