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The Madison skyline looks so pretty from above. Who hasn't sometimes dreamed of flying, of floating free in a fantasy world where the force of gravity is nonexistent? You know that feeling of awaking and feeling suddenly heavy and earthbound? Feeling that there's been some mistake, and that if you could only concentrate hard enough and recover what you knew in the dream, gravity would lose its power over you? Maybe our dreams are on to something.
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?That's from Dennis Overbye's story in the New York Times about a prominent physicist who claims that gravity is more an illusion than a force.
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 now, Verlinde's ideas don't impact directly on everyday life or our personal experience of gravity. They relate more to fundamental questions in theoretical physics and cosmology. Of course, the idea that atoms could be split was once just an abstruse bit of theory that had nothing to do with real life. You never can tell.
“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.
But, for the time being, you'll probably want to hold on to your car.