Newton, the Great Psychologist.

We all know Newton’s laws, or we should.  “An object at rest will stay at rest, and one in motion will stay in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. Force is equal to mass times acceleration.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

I’m going to be a nerd today and apply these to people.  Just for fun.


The First Law: People at Rest

People like what’s familiar.

I’m going to give you an example of two people, one at rest and one in motion.  The person at rest is easy to visualize: someone who spends their days sitting in an office, their nights sitting on a couch.  Contrariwise, we have the person in motion: someone constantly on their feet, constantly working, constantly exercising, unable to sit at all.  The person at rest will likely face the health problems that come with inactivity (obesity), while the person at motion will face the problems that come with never taking a break (stress).

One is physically unhealthy, the other is mentally unhealthy.  Two equally common ruts: the slob and the workaholic.  Personally, though I’m by no means an unproductive person, I tend to fall into the first.  It’s easy for me to spend a weekend reading, listening to lectures online, practicing language, writing my brains out… But then come Monday, I realize I’ve barely left the couch for the past two days.

So I take my body-at-rest and I act upon it.  Get out of my comfort zone.  Maybe get myself into the other rut for a while.  This frame of mind makes it easier to recognize for me, for some reason.  There’s no body-shaming, no guilt.  Just physics.

But this is more of a nerdy observational article than an advice piece.



I like to apply this to arguments, but we’re going to change the formula a little.

Rather than forcewe’ll call it impact. Rather than mass, we’ll call it validity.  Rather than acceleration, we’ll call it momentum.  Keep in mind, scientist friends, we’re talking about this socially: social impact (the implications/aftermath), social validity (the importance of the argument, whether it actually has some weight to back it up), social momentum (how well people actually listen).

The impact of an argument is determined by the validity of the statement and the momentum that it gathers.

Example: global warming.  An extremely valid argument, but due to the opposing force of deniers it’s gathering disappointingly little momentum.  As such, the impact of the argument for climate change has been shockingly small– we’ve taken steps, but aren’t taking it as seriously as we should.

Another example: vaccines and autism.  Totally invalid but with a lot of momentum.  As such, while everyone has heard of it the impact hasn’t been as bad as it could have been– our herd immunity has been weakened, but not significantly and most children are vaccinated.

Third example: civil rights (for people of color, for women, for LGBT).  Incredibly valid, a lot of momentum.  While the problem is by no means solved, with each generation we get a little closer.  And we’ve come an extremely long way.


Actions and Reactions

This is probably the most interesting segment of this weird little article. There’s a saying out there: “Actions speak louder than words.”  Basically, people can say anything: it’s what they do that matters.

And that’s true, to an extent.  If your husband cheats on you with your sister, it doesn’t matter how sorry he is: you should dump the asshole.  But here’s the problem: we’re human, and humans make mistakes.  Do we judge people by accidental actions? By choices they made with incorrect information?  Say the aforementioned husband accidentally kissed his wife’s twin.  Should she still dump him, no questions asked?

This is where the law comes in.  Every action has a reaction.

If the husband realizes his mistake, shrugs, and just goes with it, yeah, he’s probably not worth the effort of repairing the marriage.  But if he’s horrified, if he calls his wife immediately and tells her what happened, if he goes no further– then he’s by no means a bad person, just a little dense.

In my experience, judging a person by their reactions rather than their actions makes the world a much better place.  Sure, your friend may offend you: but does he back down once he sees you’re angry, or does he tease you instead?  Okay, your mom is being a little overbearing and sending you way too many job applications even though you’re already employed– but when you ask her to stop, does she?

Actions tell you what the person knows. Reactions tell you who they are.


This is a weird article, Alex.

I know, but it was a lot of fun to write! And while applying the laws of physics to social situations probably doesn’t add much to the literature of psychology, it’s a fun thought experiment.

I’ll have to tackle Kepler sometime.  See where I get with that.


2 thoughts on “Newton, the Great Psychologist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s