The Illusion of Gravity


Erik Verlinde, a string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, is shaking the giant box of contemporary science, jumbling what we think we know by declaring that gravity is just an illusion.

Gravity, according to Verlinde, is a microcosmic byproduct of a larger entropic force, which is just one refracted face of a larger field of illusion, much like the Hindu Maya. In physics, entropy and entropic force are determined by the overall effect–the entire landscape–and not by one microscopic path. Verlinde references the standard example in physics of a polymer molecule. "a strand of DNA…curling up." A strand is unique because it offers only one possibility out of the whole realm of possibilities. But due to the infinite nature of outside influences in a macrocosmic entirety, the results are far more probable that the force will cause the "object" to curl and accumulate higher entropic force, like an absorbed sponge or coiled spring.

And that is where the effects of "gravity" come in:  gravity is not just one direct acting force onto a particular object, an A>B scenario, but rather the notion of "gravity" is an accumulation of macrocosmic influences, where the law of averages create the propensity for acting entropic force.

According to Verlinde, nature likes options. All of its intimate workings thrive on diversity, and all of the microcosmic elements that build the macrocosm, create a harmonious tension that balances with such entropic force. When something wants to act against the spiraling realm of such cyclical energies, it takes a higher force to shape through all of the diversity to one unique object. Verlinde used the example of frizzing hair to explain such a feat. There are more options for strands of hair to curl than to be straight, and it requires a greater number of factors and energy for the hair to be pulled straight.

If true, maybe defying gravity will only be a matter of finding the right frequency of vibrations, the one path that cuts through all the entropic force.

Dr. Verlinde's paper has raised a lot of of criticism, and a lot of support, but it has definitely raised eyebrows. Even if his theories prove to be unfounded, his ideas already helped to reinvigorate the scientific community, proving that conflict does indeed propel the story. 

Image: "Anti-gravity" by tukat on Flickr courtesy of
Creative Commons Licensing.