A reply to: WHY NOETHER’S THEOREM IS A TAUTOLOGY

WHY NOETHER’S THEOREM IS A TAUTOLOGY

In his paper on Emmy Noether’s theorem, Miles Mathis argues that the theorem is nothing more than a tautology without any conceptual advantage over Newtonian mechanics. While it can be argued that all theorems are tautologies, Miles shows a lack of understanding of Lagrangian mechanics that render his arguments invalid.
Miles begins with a rather philosophical introduction that deserves its own critique. However, I feel that it makes more sense to concentrate on his statements that can be compared to an actual physical theory. Miles writes

In the simplest situation (no potential or acceleration) action is just KΔt, where K is the kinetic energy.

In the case of classical mechanics, the action S is a functional defined to be an integral over time, given a path of the system, of the so called “Lagrangian”

S(q(t)) = \int L(q(t), \dot{q}(t), t) dt

While it is true that the integral gives K\Delta t along the path of free particle that starts at t_1 and ends at t_2 = t_1 + \Delta t, this tells us very little about the stationary points of the functional. The actual value of the action along a path is usually of significantly less importance than obtaining a solution for the resulting Euler-Lagrange equations.

Miles continues

In this stripped down equation it is quite clear that time symmetry implies a conservation of energy. If Δt is a constant then K must be “conserved” since it is the only variable you have left.

How ‘time symmetry’ implies that \Delta t is a constant is unclear to me. Given the correct definition of the action, it simply depends on our choice of t_1 and t_2. The stationarity of the action does not imply that it must be a constant for all possible paths, rendering his argument for the constancy of K invalid.
From his arguments about the action of a free particle, Miles infers that they are correct for a particle in a potential as well:

This is equally true if we have a potential energy as well, since the energies are summed before being integrated.

Miles mistakes the Lagrangian of a system for its Hamiltonian (see (1) as well). If the total energy is a constant of the motion, an integral over it for a given path indeed yields a similar expression to the one calculated above. However in this Lagrangian the potential and kinetic energies are not summed but substracted. The difference between potential and kinetic energy is certainly not a constant of the motion for a general system.

Miles misunderstands the formalism and thus misses its advantages, one of which is formulated in Noether’s theorem.

(1): Note that even though it is true for the system considered, not all Lagrangians have the form L = T - U where T is a kinetic and U is a potential energy.

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3 Responses to A reply to: WHY NOETHER’S THEOREM IS A TAUTOLOGY

  1. James says:

    Wow. I just found this hack by looking up failed proofs of Goldbach’s Conjecture. I figured I’d have a laugh and read some good ole fashioned misinformation!

    Anyway, as you mention in the first paragraph, all theorems are tautologies. If they weren’t, there would exist a situation where said theorem was false, and therefore it wouldn’t be a theorem. For example:

    THEOREM: 2^n + 1 is a prime number
    And the proof goes a little something like this:

    “Assume 2^n + 1 is a prime number. Oh shit, it isn’t! Nevermind! Just ignore that theorem bit!”

  2. timoteus simon says:

    i know that, a lot of wiles mathis’ suggestions are common senses that i can disprove without any calculation…trust me…i have tried all those….

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