If all things change over time (that already doesn't make sense but anyway), do the laws of nature/physics also change over time? Are there any attempts to prove or disprove this?

If this is so, does it mean that

a) we can't see it happening because we are stuck within the same reference frame as those laws and so we warp and mold along with the changes in that reference frame, or

b) we do "experience" it happening and we simply compensate by fine-tuning our laws with "new" and more "precise" discoveries about the universe which are simply the equivalent of a firmware update.

c) we could measure the rate of change of these laws with some kind of gradient vector

d) if the laws don't change then not all things change over time

  • 1
    Quentin Meillassoux might be an interesting resource here; I might suggest After Finitude
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 0:43

7 Answers 7


The answer is yes, no and maybe - the answer being dependent on whether one takes an empirical or philosophical perspective.

Empirically laws do change. Although its commonly taken that Newon discovered gravity, in fact everyone does, its so obvious that it geneally doesn't usually warrant the name of a law. Aristotle had a dual nature of gravity where celestial objects moved in circles and terrestial objects moved in striaght lines towards the centre of the earth. Newtons discovery can then be put in perspective as seeing that these two separate phenomena where aspects of one force. Hence Universal gravity. But there was a lacuna in his theory - how was force transmitted at a distance? Einstein fixed this by showing gravity was curvature of spacetime. He discovered this by pondering on the fixed speed of light which went against Galilean mechanics. This fixed speed of light is seen as one of the fundamental fixed constants of physics. But some physicists have speculated that the speed is not constant always, close to the big bang they have considered how & why it might change - this being a proposal to explain some cosmological features whose standard explanation is inflation.

Philosophically, that is metaphysically, that is after or before physics - one can consider whether the true laws of physics - the ones that physics aim at - are they fixed or not. This is a tricky question. First the laws may be fixed but our descriptions of them may vary. Secondly they may be fixed but we may never know this - since there is no reason per se that new laws come into existence at higher and higher energies. Perhaps there is a law whose effect is only apparent at energies close to the big bang.

For this reason physicists generally talk about laws upto a certain energy.

Further, taking a Kantian perspective, or correlationist in some contemporary discourse, the laws of nature as understood or intuited by us are within only the phenomenal realm; in the noumenal realm, it exists as the phenomenal world supervenes on it, but it itself is indescribable, having no attributes we can ever hope to have purchase on. If one then considers nature in its proper sense to be both this world of phenomena and the world of noumena then one can say that the larger part of nature is forever out of reach.

Or one can take a Spinozan perspective. If God exists as the solely neccessary self-subsistent sunstance, and the world is his creation, then supposing nothing can come from nohing, the world itself is a part of God, for this Spinoza was denounced as a Pantheist; further he said that God had an infinite number of modes, with only two being cognisant by us - extension and thought. So again when world is considered as a whole, the larger part of the world, that is God, is beyond us.

An Islamic perspective take all laws to be fixed by God except for human beings who are endowed with free will to make ethical choices. So all laws of nature at bottom until revoked by God are at bottom fixed. One could suppose that God could unfix these laws, but this goes against the spirit of what is meant by Nature here. The world of natural phenomena in the world.


First, you've got to be more specific about the "laws of physics".

Do you mean by the "laws" the mathematical models of nature that humans have developed over the centuries? Then the answer is obviously yes.

Do you mean the processes that happened in nature? Then the answer is also yes: as has been pointed out millennia ago, one cannot enter the same river twice.

Do you mean the trends that occur in nature that scientists have distilled from the processes of nature as something reproducible and permanent? This would be the most people understand as "laws of nature", and it would seem that they do not change, from their very definition.

However, there is a bit of a problem distinguishing the 2nd and 3rd proposed definitions above: do the trends that change very slowly count as "laws of nature"?

For example, it has been proposed once that the gravitational constant G is inversely proportional to the age of the Universe. Assuming that, and noting how tiny lifespan of humanity is in proportion to the age of the Universe, would the statement "gravitational constant G doesn't change" count as a "law of physics"? If your answer is "no" then you accept the above 3rd definition of the "laws of nature" in the strictest form, and according to that definition the laws of nature tautologically don't change. If your answer is "yes" then you have the answer to the posted question right here.

  • why do i only have the choice of a yes or no answer? How would I know that G is or isn't changing, i.e. relative to what reference frame? And how is the notion of a reference frame(s) even useful since I could keep adding reference frames.
    – val
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 23:08

Lee Smolin (a theoretical physicist) and Roberto Unger (a philosopher) have made a recent attempt to support two theses related to your question: (1) time is fundamental, indeed more fundamental than space, and (2) because time is change changing, the laws of physics also change and evolve.

You may be interested in their work, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, wherein they propose the above theses. (Smolin and Unger also propose a third thesis related to the other two: mathematics operates within a restricted domain of application; specifically, the single time-drenched universe wherein we subsist.)


A) there would be no way to know scientifically if this were true or not so it may or not be the case.

B) this would be the case in an infinitely evolving universe. A model that is growing and changing biased on perception. (Cool way to think about it)

C) if the "experience" was physical than yes but if the experience was a conceptual true belief then no

D) most likely true because it is the simplest.

Side note.... who says we would be able to experience any of these changes from a our viewpoints? If you have parallel universes with different laws of physics then these laws can bounce all around without us being aware in any way.


As per jainism, the universe and its laws have been the same since time immemorial. Our interpretation of laws of physics have evolved over time and reached the point where we currently are. Our interpretations of these laws will keep changing as we find more ways to prove it. That leads us to think if we ever will reach a point where we can be sure that our knowledge of the laws is complete. The jain philosophy explains these laws in enormous detail, and its preachers claim that the laws of universe as explained in jain scripts are complete from all perspectives. The question then is to understand if these laws can be proven or not by us. While it is impossible to discuss and prove all laws (10s of thousand years old and reconfirmed more than 2500 yrs ago by lord mahavir, the 24th tirthankar) immediately, a little study of these laws as explained in jain scripts tells us that some of them have already been proven in the recent past by our scientists. We can thus conclude that while there was no way to prove certain laws at the time they were delivered to mankind and that they were eventually proven gradually over a period of many hundred years later, all other yet to be proven laws as described in jain scripts also hold good and will be proven as we progress. And thus the law that the universe and its laws are constant may be believed to be right based on jain philosophy with some degree of certainty. Ps. One of the laws that was recently proven perhaps a 100 yrs ago is that plants do have life in them and breathe as all living beings has been known since time immemorial.

  • The law I was referring to in the end is that certain matter is living while other is not- plants are living matter.
    – Raj
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 4:19

I think the question only really makes sense if we know any "exceptionless" laws of nature. If not, then the laws of nature do change: inasmuch as the regularities they express don't always hold.

There is some discussion about whether these exist: e.g. Cartwright claimed there weren't any, only it seems later to say that "all men are mortal".

It's important to make clear the difference between "law statements" and what they are about, the functioning of the universe. If there are any exceptionless (and true) law statements then the corresponding law does not change.

For example, Einstein’s gravitational field law asserts — without equivocation, qualification, proviso, ceteris paribus clause — that the Ricci curvature tensor of spacetime is proportional to the total stress-energy tensor for matter-energy

Because anything without exceptions is always true


Let's say we found out that the speed of light changes, most likely very slowly. That wouldn't mean that any existing laws of physics change. It would mean that our assumptions what the laws of physics are ("the speed of light is constant") were wrong in this case, and that the correct law would have been "the speed of light changes slowly over time".

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