Two Great Scientists
Many people over the ages have been interested in the seemingly simple question: what makes things fall? Perhaps the man who has caught our attention most in answering this elusive curiosity is Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Newton was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian. The man did it all! Newton gave us three important laws of physics, more specifically of motion, which I will state here (because I think they are worth our time):
- A body at rest or moving at a constant speed in a straight line, will remain at rest or keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed unless acted upon by an outside force.
- The rate of change of the momentum of a body is equal in both magnitude and direction to the force imposed on it.
- When two bodies interact, their forces to one another are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction.
These laws are monumental to physics. Just as importantly, Newton is the scientist most associated with gravity. Gravity is a word that comes from the Latin “gravitas” which means “weight”. As an official concept it has been around since Sir Isaac Newton published his book Mathematical Principals of Natural Philosophy (1687). In that work, Newton believed that matter attracted matter. He assumed this phenomenon, that he called “gravity” was an innate property of matter, an axiom. However, five years after his publication of his major scientific treatise, Newton expressed a more profound view on the subject, one that contradicts his first assertions on gravity. In 1692, Newton wrote to a colleague:
It is inconceivable that inanimate brute matter should, without the mediation of something else which is not material, operate upon and affect other matter, without mutual contact, as it must do if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe ‘innate gravity’ to me. That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another at a distance, through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity, that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it. Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws; but whether this agent be material or immaterial, I have left to the consideration of my readers.
Can you believe that? Newton did not want “innate gravity” credited to him. Nevertheless, in spite of this desire to the contrary, Newton was recognized as the man who discovered innate gravity.
Now let’s talk a little bit about Einstein. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) was born and raised in Germany. He also lived in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. He completed his university studies at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Later, in 1933, he immigrated to the United States owing to the threat from the Nazi regime due to his Jewish heritage. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 (and has in his lifetime earned a number of other prestigious accolades). Today, Albert Einstein is a household name and recognized as a genius. What he is known for is his theory of relativity.
Einstein’s famous theory states that planets “curve” the space around them causing objects to fall into the curvature and come towards them. Let us consider it this way: on a flat-bed of metal netting lay a heavy big ball; the netting (space) has been “curved” or lost its flat shape around the heavy big ball due to its weight, and assumes the shape or “curvature,” as Einstein called it, of the ball. Then a smaller, lighter ball has been placed in; due to the slant in the netting, the lighter ball naturally falls or “gravitates” towards the big ball. Thus the earth gravitates around the sun.
Einstein uses space to explain gravity. He does not view gravity as a force; thus to Einstein, it is an effect of the warping of space by planets. Einstein was a man that read between the lines, and very good at theorizing. But although he superseded Newton, relativity did not replace gravity. To this very day, to the common public, the most popular concept of “why things fall” is gravity, rather than relativity.
What is space? Space, as defined in the dictionary, is a continuous three-dimensional expanse in which all things are contained. According to this definition and more in-depth discussion about space, there is a lot of debate and confusion, as to whether space is a physical entity or not. The philosophers Kant and Leibniz did not believe space is a physical entity, while Newton believed space is an entity, but he left it up to the reader to decide whether or not it is physical (see excerpt below from Newton’s letter). Einstein, it would appear, believed space is an entity.
Space is literally emptiness. While everyone knows what emptiness is, no one appears to know whether emptiness is a physical entity or whether it is a non-entity. In other words, is space matter is it not matter? I personally classify space as a metaphysical matter. This means it is a type of matter (or lack thereof) that lies outside the realm of observation. But it lies within the realm of logic. This is bad news for scientists since there is no way to observe space. This is good news for thinkers: logic can affirm its existence and discern its qualities.
So let us go ahead and think a little bit about what space is. Space is not comprised of atoms. It is the lack or absence of matter. It is literally empty and weightless in quality. It was the first component of the universe. We may also assume it will outlast matter and will be the last component of the universe. By itself, space is stationary and without force. It has only one unit; the entire three-dimensional span of the universe. Of all the matter found in the universe, space, or the absence of matter, is by far the most abundant. The universe has so much space that it is even found inside of atoms! Naturally, nothing is so solid that it does not have some emptiness in it. The general rule is: wherever there is matter, there is no space, and wherever there is space there is no matter. Another important property of space is that it is displaced by matter. Big physical bodies like stars, planets, moons displace a big amount of space. Small physical bodies like humans, animals, trees, displace a small amount of space. Lastly, let us remember that space has a metaphysical nature, which means that its existence can be acknowledged only by thought and reason, rather than by direct observation; no one can see emptiness, but they can assume it exists.
Space: The Emptiness that Pushes Down
The concept of space: the emptiness that pushes down, occurred to me when I was wondering about gravity, several years ago, back in 2004. It is my personal understanding of gravity. I argue gravity is a cause and effect phenomenon. Let us proceed with the logic in the argument. In arguing this point, we are concerned with one law of physics: Newton’s Third Law. This law states, in general terms, that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I will restate this law once more, in a paraphrased version, for convenience: If you push something, it will push you back.
Now, let us consider how things were in the beginning, the very beginning . . . Space, it is fair to say, was the first component of the universe. It existed before the earth, indeed before any matter. It is also fair to say that space was in every place there ever was, because, logically speaking, there literally can be no place without space. This means the universe was already full. It was 100 percent full! Full of space! It is found everywhere and it belongs everywhere. If the Earth wanted to have a place in the world, and of course it wanted to, there was one and only one thing for it to do: to push space out! This is exactly what the earth did: it pushed space up. In return, space pushed right back down on the earth. As Newton law states, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
To this very day, space pushes down on the earth because the earth pushes it up. In fact, this downward force from space, is why we, the people, don’t fall off the ground, why trees don’t cling by their roots, and why the oceans remain in place. Yet, for ages people did not give credit to space for keeping them grounded. They gave all the credit to the earth and assumed gravity was an innate property of matter. Little did they know gravity is a cause and effect phenomenon.
Let us now address a simple yet necessary concept: weight. What is weight? The dictionary defines weight as: the force with which a body is attracted toward the earth or a celestial body by gravitation and which is equal to the product of the mass and the local gravitational acceleration. But we know better than that. We know space is what causes weight. Space has a downward force. This force is powered by the planet itself, in our case the earth. This force is equivalent in degree to the upward force a planet exerts, directly from its center in all directions on space.
Space’s downward force is exerted and felt on all the matter on a planet since that matter stands in the way of space and the planet. This force is exerted in an equal amount upon all matter on a planet. Thus, the more massive an object, the more weight it has. There is more substance for space to push down upon. To summarize weight is synonymous with mass.
Here is how we define weight: the force with which a body is pushed toward the earth by space and which is equal to the product of the mass and the local force of space.
Before we move on, I would like to reiterate two important qualities about matter and space. Matter has form and mass but it has no force. Space has no mass and no form but it has force. This force, when applied to mass, is called weight.
But all this really means is: everything is a relationship. For isn’t the downward force of space powered by the earth? Yes, it is. Could there be weight without mass? Of course not. In the world of physics, action and reaction are always equal and dependent upon each other. It’s just who you give the credit to. I could say that gravity is caused by earth: the mass that pushes up, and be just as right as saying that gravity is caused by space: the emptiness that pushes down.
- Matter cannot occupy space. Matter can only displace space.
- All places in the universe are occupied by matter: a solid, a liquid, a gas, or by empty space
- Space pushes down on the earth because the earth pushes it up (displacement)
- Matter displaces space in direct proportion to its mass
- Space is a metaphysical entity; it can’t be seen, but it can be ascertained by logic
- Space assumes the shape of matter like a mold due to displacement (Einstein conceived of this idea and called it the “curving” or “shaping” of space by planets, but he did not conceive of displacement.)
We have at last come to the end of this scientific inquiry. I hope you have enjoyed the reading, and have seen how far logic and intuition can go. I also hope that I have provided you with a clear conception of space and the force that results from it. I have argued my point to the best of my ability, but if I have made any errors, I hope you will look past them in the name of my unscientific background. Nevertheless, I believe and hope my assertions are correct. I also hope that you find them insightful. But now I have to ask: what notion of why things fall do you find best: gravity, relativity, or space: the emptiness that pushes down? Pick mine please! I am just kidding, of course; all three ideas are good in their own way. But time will tell. Anyway, until my next inquisitive excursion, as these big stumbling blocks into the true nature of things do have a way of presenting themselves to me, I leave you with this interesting question: If space did not exist, then where would all the planets be placed? I hope not inside a void. It would be so lonely in there!
(this entry is adapted from my essay styre: the force that pushes down)