Does Gravity Exist? Our Physics Tutors Weigh In.
There are certain truths that dictate the way we view the world. The earth is round. It rotates around the sun. The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Gravity keeps us firmly on the ground. Or does it? Last week the New York Times published this fascinating article – “A scientist takes on gravity.” We asked our physics tutors to comment and got three just as fascinating articles back. Take a read and tell us what you think.
Once Richard Feynman said “If you can’t explain something to a first year student, then you haven’t really understood it.” And that is what Erik Verlinde, a 48-years-old Dutch physicist, most likely pretended when he decided to write the article that has been recently commented in the digital edition of the New York Times science column. He has tried to explain what actually gravity is to the community of physics scientists around the world who don’t seem to be particularly happy to see gravity not considered as the fundamental force we all learned about since our school days. According to Verlinde gravity is nothing more than a byproduct of a system maximizing entropy (or the capability to create disorder) and this system happens to be the universe itself.
However this seemingly new idea is based on the pioneering work of Stephen Hawking, Jacob Bekenstein, and Ted Jacobson – three physicists who more than 30 years ago already proposed a connection between the laws of gravity and the laws of thermodynamics – and the work of Juan Maldacena who has also proposed that the universe is a hologram in which the laws of gravity are mirrored from the boundaries of the universe which is a bidimensional scenario where thermodynamical laws may actually apply.
There have been positive and negative reactions to the work of Verlinde. Some say it allows a fresh insight to quantum gravity theories (the theories which pretend to unify the most important theories of the 20th century: quantum mechanics and general relativity) but some say it has been already proved that such thermodynamical views are not right at all.
Nonetheless the true virtue of the work of Verlinde resides in all the discussions that it has inspired in the physics community. Might it proven right or wrong it will let young physicists realize that traditional scientific views are not eternal truths but dynamic theories in which we all can take part as creative thinkers.
Adolfo A. has been with Tutor.com since 2006 and tutors physics. Read more comments on this New York Times article by other Tutor.com tutors.