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Conservation of Energy: Missing Features in Its Nature and Justification and Why They Matter

Pitts, J. Brian (2020) Conservation of Energy: Missing Features in Its Nature and Justification and Why They Matter. Foundations of Science. ISSN 1233-1821

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Abstract

Misconceptions about energy conservation abound due to the gap between physics and secondary school chemistry. This paper surveys this difference and its relevance to the 1690s-2010s Leibnizian argument that mind-body interaction is impossible due to conservation laws. Justifications for energy conservation are partly empirical, such as Joule's paddle wheel experiment, and partly theoretical, such as Lagrange's statement in 1811 that energy is conserved if the potential energy does not depend on time. In 1918 Noether
generalized results like Lagrange's and proved a converse: symmetries imply conservation laws and vice versa. Conservation holds if and only if nature is uniform.

The rise of field physics during the 1860s-1920s implied that energy is located in particular places and conservation is primordially local: energy cannot disappear in Cambridge and reappear in Lincoln instantaneously or later; neither can it simply disappear in Cambridge or simply appear in Lincoln. A global conservation law can be inferred in some circumstances.

Einstein's General Relativity, which stimulated Noether's work, is another source of difficulty for conservation laws. As is too rarely realized, the theory admits conserved
quantities due to symmetries of the Lagrangian, like other theories. Indeed General Relativity has _more_ symmetries and hence (at least formally) _more_ conserved energies. An argument akin to Leibniz's finally gets some force.
While the mathematics is too advanced for secondary school, the ideas that conservation is tied to uniformities of nature and that energy is in particular places, are
accessible. Improved science teaching would serve the truth and enhance the social credibility of science.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Pitts, J. Brianjbp25@cam.ac.uk0000-0002-7299-5137
Additional Information: Forthcoming
Keywords: conservation of energy, public understanding of science, field theory, gravitational energy, interactionism
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Science and Religion
General Issues > Science and Society
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
Depositing User: Dr. Dr. J. Brian Pitts
Date Deposited: 13 Mar 2020 16:55
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2020 16:55
Item ID: 16994
Journal or Publication Title: Foundations of Science
Publisher: Springer
Subjects: General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
General Issues > Laws of Nature
General Issues > Science and Religion
General Issues > Science and Society
Specific Sciences > Physics > Symmetries/Invariances
Date: 2020
ISSN: 1233-1821
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/16994

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