Erik Verlinde doesn't believe in gravity. Normally that wouldn't matter. Lots of people believe unusual things. However, in this case, we're talking about a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam. According to the New York Times, he's caused a veritable "ruckus" in the scientific community.
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 Dr. Verlinde, who was recently in the United States to explain himself. Not that he can’t fall down, but Dr. 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.
As Times writer Dennis Overbye explains, the theory "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.
If that doesn't make sense, you're not alone. Apparently, some of the most well-respected physicists don't get Verlinde's paper either.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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