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Inverse square law and superposition.

  1. Aug 17, 2010 #1
    Hey guys,
    I'm reading the E&M book from the berkeley physics courses in preparation for my second round of E&M as a junior in undergrad. And they mention some stuff I remember from my intro to E&M class too...namely, that we can use superposition because both gravity and electromagnetism follow inverse square laws.

    ...Why exactly is the /r^2 a guarantee that superposition works? For some reason it's no longer making sense to me, though I'm sure there are simple arguments as to why it's needed.

    Thanks for clearing up the relationship between the two. The book actually gives a simple reason why (basically, you need the /r^2 to cancel out the area your gaussian and any other unit would leave a space dependence on the total flux). But I'm wondering if there are any deeper arguments.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2010 #2


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    At the end of the day you should remember that the reason you can use superposition is because the equations describing electromagnetism (or the analogous field equations for Newtonian gravitation) are linear. I'm not sure of the chain of implication, but that statement seems to say that 1/r^2 => linear equations. Is that from Purcell?
  4. Aug 18, 2010 #3
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  5. Aug 19, 2010 #4
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  6. Aug 19, 2010 #5
    Yeah, it's from Purcell. It's actually a really cool book.

    Thanks everyone, I'll think about what it means to be a "linear field" versus a nonlinear field some more.
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