The conservation of energy (equivalently, mass; recall E=mc^2) might be the most important principle in physics. Let’s start our discussion of it with s story.
In 1930, Wolfgang Pauli (of “Pauli exclusion principle” fame) was studying beta decay of nuclei when he discovered something peculiar: there was more mass in the starting material than there was in the products. He did everything that he could to find every possible product, all to no avail. At this time we were still in the quantum revolution; everything we knew about the world was changing: from relativity (both special and general) to quantum mechanics old rules were being broken and new rules created. Consider: Einstein discovered a relationship where light behaved like a particle instead of a wave…so he invented photons. Louis de Broglie found that sometimes particles behaved like waves…so he invented particle waves.
So now we have Pauli who discovered that conservation of energy didn’t hold in beta decay. Only that’s not what he said. He said that there was another product that we can’t detect at all. Wait…what?
In the preceding 30 years the following laws had been overthrown: light is a wave, matter is a particle, mass is constant, energy is a function of wave amplitude and a host of others. So here Pauli had the opportunity to throw conservation of energy into that mix and he doesn’t. Why not?
In short, if the conservation of energy doesn’t hold then the universe will cease to exist. Beta decay has been going on for 14 billion years. If mass was not conserved in that process then the universe would be slowly disintegrating into nothingness.
So Pauli said that conservation of energy still held but we weren’t yet able to detect the particle that carried the extra energy away from the decay. And guess what? Twenty-six years later this particle, the neutrino, was detected. In all the years since we have not discovered a single exception to this rule.
But why am I telling this story on a blog about Fringe? Because I wanted to emphasize just who important and consistent this law is. I will suspend my disbelief gladly about radical new diseases or crossing universes or traveling faster than light; for all these there is a theoretical foundation for possibility. But even 80 years ago, with evidence to support doing away with the conservation of energy, it was a principle that was considered so important that we held onto it and that faith was rewarded.
Fringe tries to ground all of its paranormal experiences in science. But there is no way in all history past present or future that the conservation of energy can ever be avoided, broken, or ignored. And sometimes, this is what Fringe does. And when they do, you can bet that I’ll be here to call them out on it.