Is Gravity an Illusion of Something Else?

The following article was forwarded to me by a friend in Bend.  It is a perfect addition to the train of thought I have going here.  We must be open to the idea that we haven’t figured everything out in science yet.  We can’t get too comfortable in explaining things the way they have always been explained.

As we develop our minds as a global society, the stream of consciousness gets raised higher and higher, and new ideas and thoughts spring up in the minds of humans.  The new idea in this article is that gravity is actually a different kind of force than we originally thought.  It’s not that we were wrong before, but we might not be understanding it as completely as we are capable of.

What I am doing here with my essays is trying to use our understanding of science in a new way to expand our understanding of the unknown.  I see a connection here, much like this guy sees gravity in a new way, and although we don’t have all the answers we offer a new way of looking for them.

If we look at the things we already know with a new set of eyes and an open mind we just might find that there are connections going on that we haven’t figured out yet.  But we can figure them out.  The stream of consciousness will make sure of it.  Ideas will be cast down into people all over the world, in little drips and drops of thought that fall from overhead.  We will always learn what it is we are capable of learning.  New ideas can and will take hold and expand our understanding.  This man is an example of that.  He has an idea that makes sense to him, and even though it is contradictory to what others have always said, he is telling it to the world and getting some attention in the process.  You go, guy!

From the Bend Bulletin, July 10, 2010.

Believe in gravity? Better think again

By Dennis Overbye / New York Times News Service

Published: July 13. 2010 4:00AM PST

It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of life on the Earth than gravity, from the moment you first took a step and fell on your diapered bottom to the slow terminal sagging of flesh and dreams.

But what if it’s all an illusion, a sort of cosmic frill, or a side effect of something else going on at deeper levels of reality?

So says Erik Verlinde, 48, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, whose contention that gravity is indeed an illusion has caused a continuing ruckus among physicists, or at least among those who profess to understand it. Reversing the logic of 300 years of science, he argued in a recent paper, titled “On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton,” that gravity is a consequence of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases.

“For me gravity doesn’t exist,” said Verlinde, who was recently in the United States to explain himself. Not that he can’t fall down, but Verlinde is among a number of physicists who say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity “emerges,” the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors or that elasticity emerges from the mechanics of atoms.

Looking at gravity from this angle, they say, could shed light on some of the vexing cosmic issues of the day, like the dark energy, a kind of anti-gravity that seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe, or the dark matter that is supposedly needed to hold galaxies together.

Verlinde’s argument turns on something you could call the “bad hair day” theory of gravity.

It goes something like this: Your hair frizzles in the heat and humidity, because there are more ways for your hair to be curled than to be straight, and nature likes options. So it takes a force to pull hair straight and eliminate nature’s options. Forget curved space or the spooky attraction at a distance described by Isaac Newton’s equations well enough to let us navigate the rings of Saturn, the force we call gravity is simply a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder.

Some of the best physicists in the world say they don’t understand Verlinde’s paper, and many are outright skeptical. But some of those very same physicists say he has provided a fresh perspective on some of the deepest questions in science, namely why space, time and gravity exist at all — even if he has not yet answered them.

“Some people have said it can’t be right, others that it’s right and we already knew it — that it’s right and profound, right and trivial,” Andrew Strominger, a string theorist at Harvard, said.

“What you have to say,” he went on, “is that it has inspired a lot of interesting discussions. It’s just a very interesting collection of ideas that touch on things we most profoundly do not understand about our universe. That’s why I liked it.”

In a provocative calculation in 1995, Ted Jacobson, a theorist from the University of Maryland, showed that given a few of these holographic ideas, Einstein’s equations of general relativity are just a another way of stating the laws of thermodynamics.

Those exploding black holes (at least in theory — none has ever been observed) lit up a new strangeness of nature. Black holes, in effect, are holograms — like the 3-D images you see on bank cards. All the information about what has been lost inside them is encoded on their surfaces. Physicists have been wondering ever since how this “holographic principle” — that we are all maybe just shadows on a distant wall — applies to the universe and where it came from.

In one striking example of a holographic universe, Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study constructed a mathematical model of a “soup can” universe, where what happened inside the can, including gravity, is encoded in the label on the outside of the can, where there was no gravity, as well as one less spatial dimension. If dimensions don’t matter and gravity doesn’t matter, how real can they be?

Paper has received little attention

Lee Smolin, a quantum gravity theorist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, called Jacobson’s paper “one of the most important papers of the last 20 years.”

But it received little attention at first, said Thanu Padmanabhan of the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, who has taken up the subject of “emergent gravity” in several papers over the last few years. Padmanabhan said that the connection to thermodynamics went deeper that just Einstein’s equations to other theories of gravity. “Gravity,” he said recently in a talk at the Perimeter institute, “is the thermodynamic limit of the statistical mechanics of ‘atoms of space-time.’”

Verlinde said he had read Jacobson’s paper many times over the years but that nobody seemed to have gotten the message. People were still talking about gravity as a fundamental force. “Clearly we have to take these analogies seriously, but somehow no one does,” he complained.

His paper, posted to the physics archive in January, resembles Jacobson’s in many ways, but Verlinde bristles when people say he has added nothing new to Jacobson’s analysis. What is new, he said, is the idea that differences in entropy can be the driving mechanism behind gravity, that gravity is, as he puts it an “entropic force.”

Think of the universe as a box of Scrabble letters. There is only one way to have the letters arranged to spell out the Gettysburg Address, but an astronomical number of ways to have them spell nonsense. Shake the box and it will tend toward nonsense, disorder will increase and information will be lost as the letters shuffle toward their most probable configurations. Could this be gravity?

As a metaphor for how this would work, Verlinde used the example of a polymer — a strand of DNA, say, a noodle or a hair — curling up.

“It took me two months to understand polymers,” he said.

The resulting paper, as Verlinde himself admits, is a little vague.

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About Geography of Life

I look at the world with the eyes of a geographer. I look for patterns and forces to explain the world around me, and share my observations with you. I explore a wide variety of subjects but always have a scientific slant to my thought. I am not politically correct. I say whatever I feel. I explore my ideas, my emotions, and my choices. In the process, some interesting things happen. I am painfully honest about what I am thinking. I divulge my deepest thoughts and fears with you. Sometimes it is like watching a train wreck, other times like taking a nice walk.
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