A law of nature is final. It is absolute. It is always true. Writers and public speakers are told to not use “always” and “never” because using them implies there is a lie in the statement (it’s also a good test-taking strategy for eliminating wrong answers) or the statement is an exaggeration. Yet, laws of nature are different. They are not theories. They make no exceptions. They are ruthlessly fair. It is as though they are written by God into the fabric of the universe. The critically-acclaimed series Fullmetal Alchemist opens with this quote to set the stage for an alternate universe with its own laws of Alchemy.
Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is Alchemy’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange. In those days, we really believed that to be the world’s one, and only truth.
Ironically, this fictional law of Alchemy is eerily similar to a law of Physics discovered by Isaac Newton. Although it is a law only within the context of the physical sciences, its applications extend well beyond — it rears its head and reminds humankind of its existence in strange and interesting ways.
The Law of Action
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction
Every action. No exceptions. If a person fires a bullet, the recoil he feels has the same force as the force present in the bullet. Moreover, the recoil will be felt in the opposite direction of the bullet’s trajectory. When an elevator accelerates upward, your legs feel heavier from the extra force exerted by your body in the opposite direction (downward) of the motion of the elevator.
Many scientists and engineers spend their entire careers taking advantage of this law to build and study things ranging from rockets to renewable energy and much more. Yet, this is a law of Physics. Physics is present everywhere in our universe. It makes up the fabric of reality. So it’s only natural that this Law of Action will apply in most instances of life. It goes by different names, The Law of Reciprocity, “what goes around comes around”, and even Karma.
This law is why actions speak louder than words because by performing an action, you are subjecting yourself to the inevitable consequences of those actions. These consequences rarely happen immediately. Sometimes they take months, years, or even decades for the Universe to register them. Yet, they are inevitable — no exceptions. Think twice before your next action or face the consequences.
The Law of Inertia
An object at rest remains at rest unless acted on by a Force
Look around you. I bet there is little movement in your surroundings. Movement is expensive. It takes energy and concentration. It takes newborn babies almost a year to start to crawl and walk around. Yet, life actually uses energy very efficiently. The problem occurs because of the natural tendency to remain at rest or to put in the least amount of effort possible. In daily life, this takes on the form of habits. Changing habits is hard, but there’s a corollary to this law that is encouraging: An object in motion will continue to stay in motion.
It is written as a law of the universe that the hardest part is starting that motion. Once a force is exerted, things become much easier. The hard part is going from 0 to 1. In many ways, it’s harder to go from 0 to 1 than from 1 to 100. So if you have a goal that seems out of reach, just start small but be consistent. Before you know it, the universe itself will help you continue your motion. It is already written into the fabric of the universe. No exceptions.
The Law of Natural Selection
This is not a law discovered by Newton, but Darwin. It is a biological law that is often misinterpreted. Most people believe it to be a law that implies survival of the fittest. Yet, this is a misinterpretation of the law of natural selection because fitness is commonly associated with physical fitness. A better word would be adaptability. The individual who is most adaptable to the environment she is in has the highest chance of survival and continued success of her offspring.
This law is especially helpful in navigating the most trying times. When survival is at stake, either change your mindset to be more adaptable or change your environment to one that is more favorable to you. Your environment can include your friends, your location, or anything else that influences you. Today, with the availability of cheap transportation and knowledge, never has there been a better time to influence your environment to be more favorable to your survival and success. You’ll be glad you did.
The Principle of Freedom
This is the least law-like compared to the above three laws because it has a few exceptions. Still, it is remarkable and counter-intuitive so it’s worth including here. It doesn’t originate in the hard sciences but rather Economics. It says that by looking out for your own self-interest (different from selfishness) and the self-interest of others, society as a whole benefits and grows as a result. It is the rule of free markets written by the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations. Before this principle was discovered, economies and jobs were very uncertain. Some king or ruler could invade your country, demand taxes from your business because he felt like it, or a whole host of other things you couldn’t do anything about. There were few incentives to become a merchant or entrepreneur.
Then, Adam Smith wrote beautifully in his book a few sentences that changed everything.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner… by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this…led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.
Adam Smith recognized the need for each butcher, brewer, or baker to make a profit in their respective businesses. Since businesses are competing with each other, this competition creates, over time, goods and services being produced at more attractive prices, thus increasing their value and benefiting society. So, where does equality come in? He goes on to write later:
No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable
Not a bad guy for being the father of capitalism. So, do what’s beneficial to you. As long as it’s in your best interest and the best interest of others (assuming others are involved) this is one of the easiest ways to benefit society.