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Diagrams of a block on a flat surface and an inclined plane. Forces are resolved and added together to determine their magnitudes and the net force.

Since forces are perceived as pushes or pulls, this can provide an intuitive understanding for describing forces.<ref name=uniphysics_ch2/> As with other physical concepts (e.g. temperature), the intuitive understanding of forces is quantified using precise operational definitions that are consistent with direct observations and compared to a standard measurement scale. Through experimentation, it is determined that laboratory measurements of forces are fully consistent with the conceptual definition of force offered by Newtonian mechanics.

Forces act in a particular direction and have sizes dependent upon how strong the push or pull is. Because of these characteristics, forces are classified as "vector quantities". This means that forces follow a different set of mathematical rules than physical quantities that do not have direction (denoted scalar quantities). For example, when determining what happens when two forces act on the same object, it is necessary to know both the magnitude and the direction of both forces to calculate the result. If both of these pieces of information are not known for each force, the situation is ambiguous. For example, if you know that two people are pulling on the same rope with known magnitudes of force but you do not know which direction either person is pulling, it is impossible to determine what the acceleration of the rope will be. The two people could be pulling against each other as in tug of war or the two people could be pulling in the same direction. In this simple one-dimensional example, without knowing the direction of the forces it is impossible to decide whether the net force is the result of adding the two force magnitudes or subtracting one from the other. Associating forces with vectors avoids such problems.

Historically, forces were first quantitatively investigated in conditions of static equilibrium where several forces canceled each other out. Such experiments demonstrate the crucial properties that forces are additive vector quantities: they have magnitude and direction.<ref name=uniphysics_ch2/> When two forces act on a point particle, the resulting force, the resultant (also called the net force), can be determined by following the parallelogram rule of vector addition: the addition of two vectors represented by sides of a parallelogram, gives an equivalent resultant vector that is equal in magnitude and direction to the transversal of the parallelogram.<ref name=FeynmanVol1 /><ref name=Kleppner /> The magnitude of the resultant varies from the difference of the magnitudes of the two forces to their sum, depending on the angle between their lines of action. However, if the forces are acting on an extended body, their respective lines of application must also be specified in order to account for their effects on the motion of the body.

Free-body diagrams can be used as a convenient way to keep track of forces acting on a system. Ideally, these diagrams are drawn with the angles and relative magnitudes of the force vectors preserved so that graphical vector addition can be done to determine the net force.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

As well as being added, forces can also be resolved into independent components at right angles to each other. A horizontal force pointing northeast can therefore be split into two forces, one pointing north, and one pointing east. Summing these component forces using vector addition yields the original force. Resolving force vectors into components of a set of basis vectors is often a more mathematically clean way to describe forces than using magnitudes and directions.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> This is because, for orthogonal components, the components of the vector sum are uniquely determined by the scalar addition of the components of the individual vectors. Orthogonal components are independent of each other because forces acting at ninety degrees to each other have no effect on the magnitude or direction of the other. Choosing a set of orthogonal basis vectors is often done by considering what set of basis vectors will make the mathematics most convenient. Choosing a basis vector that is in the same direction as one of the forces is desirable, since that force would then have only one non-zero component. Orthogonal force vectors can be three-dimensional with the third component being at right-angles to the other two.<ref name=FeynmanVol1 /><ref name=Kleppner />


Equilibrium occurs when the resultant force acting on a point particle is zero (that is, the vector sum of all forces is zero). When dealing with an extended body, it is also necessary that the net torque in it is 0.

There are two kinds of equilibrium: static equilibrium and dynamic equilibrium.


{{#invoke:main|main}} Static equilibrium was understood well before the invention of classical mechanics. Objects that are at rest have zero net force acting on them.<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref>

The simplest case of static equilibrium occurs when two forces are equal in magnitude but opposite in direction. For example, an object on a level surface is pulled (attracted) downward toward the center of the Earth by the force of gravity. At the same time, surface forces resist the downward force with equal upward force (called the normal force). The situation is one of zero net force and no acceleration.<ref name=uniphysics_ch2/>

Pushing against an object on a frictional surface can result in a situation where the object does not move because the applied force is opposed by static friction, generated between the object and the table surface. For a situation with no movement, the static friction force exactly balances the applied force resulting in no acceleration. The static friction increases or decreases in response to the applied force up to an upper limit determined by the characteristics of the contact between the surface and the object.<ref name=uniphysics_ch2/>

A static equilibrium between two forces is the most usual way of measuring forces, using simple devices such as weighing scales and spring balances. For example, an object suspended on a vertical spring scale experiences the force of gravity acting on the object balanced by a force applied by the "spring reaction force", which equals the object's weight. Using such tools, some quantitative force laws were discovered: that the force of gravity is proportional to volume for objects of constant density (widely exploited for millennia to define standard weights); Archimedes' principle for buoyancy; Archimedes' analysis of the lever; Boyle's law for gas pressure; and Hooke's law for springs. These were all formulated and experimentally verified before Isaac Newton expounded his Three Laws of Motion.<ref name=uniphysics_ch2/><ref name=FeynmanVol1 /><ref name=Kleppner />



Galileo Galilei was the first to point out the inherent contradictions contained in Aristotle's description of forces.

Dynamic equilibrium was first described by Galileo who noticed that certain assumptions of Aristotelian physics were contradicted by observations and logic. Galileo realized that simple velocity addition demands that the concept of an "absolute rest frame" did not exist. Galileo concluded that motion in a constant velocity was completely equivalent to rest. This was contrary to Aristotle's notion of a "natural state" of rest that objects with mass naturally approached. Simple experiments showed that Galileo's understanding of the equivalence of constant velocity and rest were correct. For example, if a mariner dropped a cannonball from the crow's nest of a ship moving at a constant velocity, Aristotelian physics would have the cannonball fall straight down while the ship moved beneath it. Thus, in an Aristotelian universe, the falling cannonball would land behind the foot of the mast of a moving ship. However, when this experiment is actually conducted, the cannonball always falls at the foot of the mast, as if the cannonball knows to travel with the ship despite being separated from it. Since there is no forward horizontal force being applied on the cannonball as it falls, the only conclusion left is that the cannonball continues to move with the same velocity as the boat as it falls. Thus, no force is required to keep the cannonball moving at the constant forward velocity.<ref name="Galileo"/>

Moreover, any object traveling at a constant velocity must be subject to zero net force (resultant force). This is the definition of dynamic equilibrium: when all the forces on an object balance but it still moves at a constant velocity.

A simple case of dynamic equilibrium occurs in constant velocity motion across a surface with kinetic friction. In such a situation, a force is applied in the direction of motion while the kinetic friction force exactly opposes the applied force. This results in zero net force, but since the object started with a non-zero velocity, it continues to move with a non-zero velocity. Aristotle misinterpreted this motion as being caused by the applied force. However, when kinetic friction is taken into consideration it is clear that there is no net force causing constant velocity motion.<ref name=FeynmanVol1 /><ref name=Kleppner />

Forces in Quantum Mechanics

{{#invoke:main|main}} The notion "force" keeps its meaning in quantum mechanics, though one is now dealing with operators instead of classical variables and though the physics is now described by the Schrödinger equation instead of Newtonian equations. This has the consequence that the results of a measurement are now sometimes "quantized", i.e. they appear in discrete portions. This is, of course, difficult to imagine in the context of "forces". However, the potentials V(x,y,z) or fields, from which the forces generally can be derived, are treated similar to classical position variables, i.e., <math>V(x,y,z)\to {\hat V}(\hat x,\hat y,\hat z)</math>.

This becomes different only in the framework of quantum field theory, where these fields are also quantized.

However, already in quantum mechanics there is one "caveat", namely the particles acting onto each other do not only possess the spatial variable, but also a discrete intrinsic angular momentum-like variable called the "spin", and there is the Pauli principle relating the space and the spin variables. Depending on the value of the spin, identical particles split into two different classes, fermions and bosons. If two identical fermions (e.g. electrons) have a symmetric spin function (e.g. parallel spins) the spatial variables must be antisymmetric (i.e. the force must be repulsive), and vice versa, i.e. for antiparallel spins the position variables must be symmetric (i.e. the force must be attractive). Thus in the case of two fermions there is a strictly negative correlation between spatial and spin variables, whereas for two bosons (e.g. quanta of electromagnetic waves, photons) the correlation is strictly positive.

Thus the notion "force" loses already part of its meaning.

Feynman diagrams


Feynman diagram for the decay of a neutron into a proton. The W boson is between two vertices indicating a repulsion.

In modern particle physics, forces and the acceleration of particles are explained as a mathematical by-product of exchange of momentum-carrying gauge bosons. With the development of quantum field theory and general relativity, it was realized that force is a redundant concept arising from conservation of momentum (4-momentum in relativity and momentum of virtual particles in quantum electrodynamics). The conservation of momentum can be directly derived from the homogeneity or symmetry of space and so is usually considered more fundamental than the concept of a force. Thus the currently known fundamental forces are considered more accurately to be "fundamental interactions".<ref name="final theory">{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>:199–128 When particle A emits (creates) or absorbs (annihilates) virtual particle B, a momentum conservation results in recoil of particle A making impression of repulsion or attraction between particles A A' exchanging by B. This description applies to all forces arising from fundamental interactions. While sophisticated mathematical descriptions are needed to predict, in full detail, the accurate result of such interactions, there is a conceptually simple way to describe such interactions through the use of Feynman diagrams. In a Feynman diagram, each matter particle is represented as a straight line (see world line) traveling through time, which normally increases up or to the right in the diagram. Matter and anti-matter particles are identical except for their direction of propagation through the Feynman diagram. World lines of particles intersect at interaction vertices, and the Feynman diagram represents any force arising from an interaction as occurring at the vertex with an associated instantaneous change in the direction of the particle world lines. Gauge bosons are emitted away from the vertex as wavy lines and, in the case of virtual particle exchange, are absorbed at an adjacent vertex.<ref name=Shifman>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=book }}</ref>

The utility of Feynman diagrams is that other types of physical phenomena that are part of the general picture of fundamental interactions but are conceptually separate from forces can also be described using the same rules. For example, a Feynman diagram can describe in succinct detail how a neutron decays into an electron, proton, and neutrino, an interaction mediated by the same gauge boson that is responsible for the weak nuclear force.<ref name="Shifman"/>

Force sections
Intro  Development of the concept  Pre-Newtonian concepts  Newtonian mechanics  Special theory of relativity  Descriptions  Fundamental forces  Non-fundamental forces  Rotations and torque  Kinematic integrals  Potential energy  Units of measurement  Force measurement  See also  Notes  References  Further reading  External links  

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