Action and reception

Classical physics dropped (or just chose not to address) the distinction between the active and passive. A force might be considered the cause of a mass accelerating or an effect – the measurement and the equations are the same either way. What would later be called the symmetry of action made it pointless if not impossible to determine whether one was describing an action or a reaction. In fact, through inertia, receptivity (being pushed) could just as easily be seen as activity (the exercise of vis insita or vis inertia). The consequence was that physical order, and therefore physical causality, was no longer relevant. Whether a cannonball acted on the wall or a wall on the cannonball was not a difference that the physicist was in a position to decide. Energy might start off as what actively causes work or change, but this is just to get our initial bearings on the way to seeing energy as a currency market where heat can be exchanged for chemical bonds can be exchanged for lifting can be exchanged for mass, etc.

All this leaves us still able to recognize a physical difference between you falling on my sword and me pushing the sword into your chest, or you head-butting my outstretched arm or me clothes-lining your forehead. There is a clear moral difference which is grounded in the facts of what actually happened. These facts carry with them the understanding that what acts of itself is different from what is acted on. Action and passion, or acting by oneself and by another are as asymmetrical as time is, though contemporary physics sees one as a physical problem and not the other.

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