What goes up must come down. And so is what is considered a fundamental truth of gravity. You trip and fall. You jump and crash back to the ground. Right? But the New York Times reports that a respected scientist has challenged one of the most basic tenets of physics. Dr. Erik Verlinde recently argued in a paper that gravity is an illusion. Instead, he claims it is a result of the laws of thermodynamics.
Gravity, as we currently know it, is the idea that any two objects in the universe will be drawn to each other. Issac Newton said it was the force that attracts all other things to it. Albert Einstein said gravity is the result of the curving of space and time. But Verlinde says gravity is more aligned with the behavior of gas and heat.
Verlinde, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, says gravity is a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder. As Verlinde explained to the NY Times, “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 option.” This force, Verlinde argues, is a result of nature’s inclination to increase disaster, and it results in gravity.
Further, Verlinde says that if we look at gravity this way, many other mysteries of the universe will be explained. But he is quick to point out that he is not proposing a theory but a new way of looking at the universe. Ultimately, Verlinde says his idea is a matter of perspective, but a perspective that nonetheless warrants consideration in the scientific community.
The rest of the science world does not necessarily agree. Some doubt Verlinde’s idea will “stand the test of time” while others claim not to be able to make any sense of it. But others are more supportive. Andrew Strominger is a string theorist at Harvard. As he told the NY Times, “Some people have said it can’t be right, others that it’s right and we already knew it … What you have to say 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.”
For further reading: