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I n the true spirit of the essay, I’m not really sure what I’m going to be writing about. I’ve just finished Rutger Bregman’s book, ‘Mankind’, in which he says so much more elegantly and thoroughly all that I’ve thought or even suspected … basically, that we’re not as bad as we think. And he says it well enough to make one vacate the stage; he says it all, and much better than I ever might, so why bother even trying? So this essay is more about physics and stuff, an area of endeavour that intrigues me at least as much as the softer sciences of history and sociology.

Unfortunately, I’m even less qualified in this area,  not having a sum about me. I suspect that at least a basic grasp of maths helps, that it’s a bit like wishing to talk about love and not having words. … numerical blindness! But I’ve been watching a lot of videos, TED talks and the like, so have had the privilege of coming across great communicators,  like Brian Greene and Sean Carroll, Richard Dawkins, Sam Hill and David Chalmers, Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli … och the list goes on! This has had the effect though, despite the accumulation of knowledge afforded, of making me less embarrassed to be approaching these big subjects in layman’s language. After all, it seems the universe is up for grabs, in whatever language we choose.

I thought I’d just start by listing some of the things that intrigue me, and that I suspect might be connected, and see where musing might take me. The spirit of the essay!

So here we go, in no special order:

  1. Gravity. Is it truly a ‘force’? If it acts over distance, how long does that action last? Is it at the speed of light?
  2. ‘Middleness’ … not a very strong tug here, but still an anomaly worth investigating. By ‘middleness’ I mean the way we seem to be in the middle of everything: size, for example … there seem to be as many mysteries revealed by the microscope as the telescope .. the mysteries of the very small, the tiniest quanta are at least as strange as the behaviour of the furthest galaxies. Time … the birth of our universe at the big bang would seem about as far in the past as the heat death of everything is in the future… and we are once again in the middle! The estimated life of the sun? … of the earth? … about half way there
  3. Size .. why is one thing bigger than another? … which leads into Einstein’s theories, such as …
  4.  e=mc2 … that whole business of light and mass, and that they appear to be energy in different states.
  5. Dark energy, dark matter; we weigh what we see, and can only account for 5% of it.
  6. The multiverse,  we all love the multiverse. But as well as string theorists and cosmologists, there’s a version that even lay people can understand, based on the ‘anthropic principle’ … which leads me on to:
  7. Knowledge … can what we know be affected by how we know it? This really comes under the umbrella of philosophy, but I think might be connected

so gravity:  I once had a theory I tried to express, that I called Formal Aspiration … that everything was because it ‘willed’ to be. For the idea to mean anything, it had to be generally – and universally – applicable, from a mountain to a goat, or a song about a goat on a mountain. I suggested, without even investigating the notion, that gravity might be an expression of this ‘aspiration to form’. It fits so neatly! As a thing increases in size, so does its gravity, and thereby it’s conviction as a ‘thing’. If I were looking for an expression of Aspiration, I could do worse than invent gravity.

It is traditionally described as being the weakest of the four ‘forces’, but because unlike the strong and weak nuclear forces, or electromagnetism, it does not even itself out, such as having positive and negative forms, it accumulates with size. Hardly detectable on the subatomic level, it becomes noticeable to us, and even dominant on the really big level. From a fear of falling, up to black holes where even light cannot escape the power that gravity creates, it starts to count!

So Einstein suggested it is not really a ‘force’, but an aspect of matter, and the distortion of space that it automatically creates. That light is susceptible to gravity Einstein had incidentally proved when showing how starlight was distorted by a heavy object, such as a star. I’ve taken to describing light, or radiation as being matter in a particular condition, not susceptible to either mass or time … it just ‘is’ … hard to imagine, with our senses which evolved on the plains of Afrcia, to either catch food or avoid capture by another. We describe light as ‘travelling’ at a particular and unvarying speed. But it is like no other speed. It is constant, to the degree in which we take all other measurements, such as the metre, or one second. Any variation in this speed, and we would have to ditch all we know about stuff and start again

Gravity moves as well at this speed. But the radiation is so weak on its own as to be undetectable, for example, in our own solar system. Nevertheless, we’ve got so good at measuring that even gravitational radiation can be worked out. A truly massive event, such as the collision of two black holes, is just detectable. In 2015 such an event was recorded at LIGO in  the USA, happening 1.3 billion light years away, and so 1.3 billion years ago. Phew … got it built just in time! Further such events have been observed, until this damned Corona shut everything down.

It is partly the exact and measurable nature of gravity that might not make it suitable for Formal Aspiration however. FA must be applicable to everything, even the unmeasurable, such as songs, conversations and Governments. To apply ‘gravity’ to these would be stretching even poetry. Could any other of these ‘forces’ apply to FA?

Let’s try Baryonic matter …. that is, most of what constitutes ‘mass’, i.e the components of the atomic nucleus … the proton and the neutron. Before I dip my toe into the river of stuff revealed to the particle physicist, I’d like again to emphasise how little anyone can even glimpse of this subject. Even the specialist must invent code to discuss something so small that it can only be observed indirectly, by its effect on the environment. But emboldened by chatter from the philosophers about the possible ‘consciousness of matter’, here we go:

It seems that the significance of the discovery in 2012 of the Higgs Boson, was really the suggestion of the Higg’s field, which supported it. This field apparently gives mass to everything else, even electrons, and once again confirms the Standard Model. That the boson became known as the God particle bothered Prof Higgs, with its mystical overtones. So apologies to the Prof for trying it out for size as regards FA. …. that bosun, fugitive and hard to find, even with the billions of dollars that the Large Hadron Collider and massive computing power must have cost. … for what? … pure research!! … humanity, I love you. And we at least have the reassurance of all mass experiencing gravity, with light being as mysterious as ever, without time or mass.

FA itself, if it is to have effect, must also move at the speed of light, i.e. partake of the same timeless condition. And to satisfy quantum mechanics, can only be inspected when observed, i.e. interrupted. So whether or not FA is described as a quality of matter, that is, gravity, light, or a feature of the Higg’s field, it is beholden to the laws of the Universe. Consistent, if not resounding! 

So let’s consider 7 on the list, KNOWLEDGE. As we become better at measurement, so our maths and theorising improves …. or at least becomes more sophisticated. Would string theory have come about without CERN? Would there have been any point in Professor Higgs suggesting the existence of his bosun without the bubble chamber  to corroborate his mathematical musings? Or Einstein to predict the effect of gravity on light without the possibility of being proved right by observations of the solar eclipse shortly after he published the paper on General Relativity in 1915? But which comes first, the prediction or the tool? We are so embedded in causation that we presume a causal link between observation and idea, and the language of maths reinforces this presumption. If the equation predicts a new particle, before long hey presto! … it is discovered. The Equals Sign suggests causality. Is there such a thing as an equation without it? Clever fellows like Richard Feynman might come up with a different annotation. For example his diagrams to simplify the supposed action of subatomic particles on each other … still equations though, just using different symbols to describe action. There is a physicist called Frank Wisczech who won the Nobel prize for discovering how tiny particles behave, who said if it hadn’t been for Feynman diagrams they would never have worked it out (‘it’ being the asymptotic freedom within the strong interaction … these chaps are not unlike ornithologists after the invention of the camera). Maxwell and Dirac apparently devised beautiful equations … and e=mc2 is considered beautiful; simple but powerful.

So as Einstein travelled away from the town hall clock in Liepzig, he asked himself a simple question: is that clock still telling me the same time? …. and then invented the mathematics to test his insight (that light travels at a constant and ultimate speed). In the same year that he published his theory of Special Relativity, Picasso and Braque held the first exhibition of cubist art. Both insights questioned the static view point of the observer, though I’m not aware of any conversations between the various parties. Neils Bohr suggested quantum theory about the same time that Malevich and Kandinski invented abstract art… the observer was set adrift. After the Second World War Pollock’s action painting, Coltrane’s be-bop jazz and Kerouac’s stream of consciousness might well have influenced each other … but to suppose they were affected by atomic fission or fusion, or the emergence of the Big Bang theory …kerpow! Well, it gets a bit like a conspiracy theory. Except these things are known to have happened at more or less the same time.

Similar coincidences happened throughout time, as the history of art illustrates. Even if a ‘zeitgeist’ of an age might be summoned, I’d prefer the simple observation that things appear to happen more or less at the same time, and leave it at that. For now!

So how does a tree know which branch to grow, which nodule to bud, so that the whole tree benefits? It might appear to almost cling on to a river bank, or lean away from the prevailing wind. For purposes of economy of language, we dispense with ‘appear to almost’. In much the same way, no doubt to Darwin’s dismay, we describe animals evolving to fill various niches, or developing features to ‘take advantage’ of situations for convenience. The ant eater’s tongue grows to help it feed on termites; the giraffe’s  neck to reach the succulent higher branches. The generations of self-selective breeding and blind survival that evolution demands are glossed over, for the convenience of description. But to apply Formal Aspiration to everything feels too easy … a sort of ‘will to form’ that applies to everything? For a start, it suggests a mystical solution to the mysteries of existence. It may well be, but it doesn’t add to our understanding. It seems to apply, and be hard to gainsay. But so what? It’s not as easy to refute as astrology, but any system can apply to the chaos of everyday life and ‘show’ results. So all I wish to do at this point is suggest that causation itself is a presumption. The tree produces a branch by which it maintains balance … not ‘in order to’ maintain balance: it just does it. That’s all we can say for certain.

But there seems to be a connection between what we believe, and the order of the universe. It would seem to expand with the power of our observation. We assume that it is just there, waiting for us to discover it. Because we can not divorce the extent of the universe from our conjecture, we might as well say that is its limit. At the moment, it appears to have started with the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. And we can peer back in time, sufficiently now for cosmologists to make a map, composed of many photographs, each galaxy a dot. As we approach the beginning of time, it becomes perforce somewhat blurred, not just through lack of focus, but because the early moments themselves were shrouded in darkness. I do not mean that our observation, or conjecture conjures  everything into existence, that as we consider something it is caused … but that they would seem inseparable. That I’m even persuaded to ask these questions I take as an indication; the list that I’ve compiled at the start of this essay I take as a hint.

These are mostly ideas I’ve written about before, especially Formal Aspiration, and musings on light. So the list consists of subjects that in the main I’ve addressed in the past, and I’m really just testing, pushing at the boundaries a wee bit, see if anything gives.

So, back to the list!There are parts of physical theory that have come to the fore in the thirty years since I first wrote about these things: dark matter and energy, which between them make up 95% of baryonic matter (that is, stuff we can see and feel, that we know to be there)… still only surmised it seems. Without supposing dark matter, it all seems to fall apart … literally: the accelerating expansion of the universe, the behaviour of everything since the Big Bang.  The list. Yes, where were we? Dark energy and dark mass, comprising about 95% of what we can detect. It’s hard to get excited by something that only manifests itself as a by-product of an equation. It would be easier to consign it to history, the fevered imagination of some research assistant, or a mistaken suggestion, as was phlogiston (to account for ash weighing more than the ingredients of combustion, before it was realised that the process of burning absorbed molecules present in the atmosphere). But the scientific community seems awfully convinced, so the layman can only throw his hands up and say ‘ok, ok if you’re so convinced than so am I’. … and admit that FA has FA to add to the argument.

The multi-verse: to make sense of string theory; the composition of matter itself; the ‘many worlds’ solution to two results that quantum theory predicts; even an anthropic version, for us artists who don’t understand numbers … if other life cannot be found in this universe, this version of things, there maybe others where it is abundant! It would be unseemly for us to be the only ones! (just a note to express incredulity at the vastness of stuff … there may be 200,000,000,000 stars in our galaxy … and AS MANY  other galaxies. How to really explain that as phenomenal to a blind man, who has never seen a starry night, straddled by the dusty band of the Milky Way?)

I thought perhaps I had a way into these mysteries as I was reading about Karl Popper last night, though I might have misunderstood him: that a mathematical phrase, such as an equation, is no more than just that, a phrase, no stronger than its parts. All very well to describe gravity as G, but we must be in agreement to what the symbols mean for it all to, well, mean anything. However, after reading about him on Wikipedia, all one can say for certain is that he begat many words. Phew! How important in the scheme of things is the ‘falsify-ability’ of facts? … or some such logical conundrum? It seems he started off in Austria as a young man in the 1930’s, and tried his hand at cabinet making and builder’s labouring before becoming a teacher.  Gradually, words engulfed him, but probably much to the delight of others who liked words. And honours.

Many years ago I came across the Southern Sung school of Chinese painting. These painters could capture the magic of a misty waterfall with no more than one brush and black ink. And skill. They were trained for seven years in calligraphy before being let loose on nature, and really knew how to use their tools and materials, simple as they were. I was struggling with landscape painting at the time (still am), desperate to expunge all evidence of myself from the painting. This meant as little line as possible, and would no doubt have ended up with nothing but colour. But when I realised how these Chinese painters had trained for years in how to use line I became less precious about it. After all, I reasoned a line will always have thickness, i.e. colour, and it  is not possible to apply colour with no sequence.   … so even Rothko used line! Besides, if line does indeed betray one’s history, why should you avoid it?

This was similar to being taught how to read technical drawings as a trainee welder. Why should it have surprised me that there is no perfect way to render a machine part, or anything for that matter? There is no point in a drawing if it can’t be read! … or an idea in even the most abstruse subject like particle physics. In making  subatomic interactions easier to workout, Richard Feynman also made the ideas themselves easier to express.

But I would like to go further. FA gives formal weight to the description itself. “The medium is the message” said Marshall McLuhan. I never really understood it at the time, but as a proclamation it’s quite powerful in itself, and is often quoted. I’ve written elsewhere of this idea, that as we say something, so it becomes: as we define the edge of the universe, so that edge becomes real. If we can’t see how that edge might be so, we curve space itself. Anything to avoid the illogicality of infinity!

And what of time? Conjuring up the Multiverse only puts off  that particular problem. It suggests to me that our whole thinking is mistaken … of beginnings and ends; in time OR space. Einstein’s curved space is nearer the point I think. … that everything should be central!

What if light, in stead of travelling (at any speed), becomes something else? Since it does not experience gravity, or time, what do we know of it? It reveals all we can ever know about either end, its source and its effect, but of itself? It would appear to move as a wave, but if frozen in time becomes a particle. It’s effect can be seen, as it shifts the orbit of an electron, or creates another photon when interrupted. Its cause is also observed, as matter is destroyed or otherwise affected, while ‘light’ is known to ‘travel’ at a particular speed. That is, it takes a measurable and determinate period of time between birth and death. For itself, it experiences nothing … as far as we know it just ‘is’.

So what can we know of light? What can we measure? When we stop it, to inspect it, we can tell its  wavelength, or colour, in the visible spectrum … and its power. A good sleuth might work back in time, and find why the explosion occurred, and Poirot might even have an idea as to who laid the charge. But the direct evidence will only come from analysis of the accompanying effect, the flash of light (the sound might be as dramatic, but can also be analysed by light, and its percussive effect on the atmosphere). The energy can be deduced from tallying up the number of electrons upset to the point of changing their orbit and photons emitted as a result, and the wave lengths, or colours will describe the ingredients … at the other end, stuff might fly apart, or an image scorched on to an iris or a photographic plate. 

We have lots of Poirots to explain the causes of the explosion, and historians and anthropolgists can do their best to supply us with a picture of the past, to explain the causes of the explosion. We might look at any branch of science, from geology and vulcanology, to chemistry and physics to explain its mechanics. But it is all in the past: it has happened. But that moment, while the light is travelling from its source to the recipient, is a mystery. Within our own world an explosion might occur, and the brevity of light travel is negligible. But over interstellar distances, or even inter-galactical ones, it is a measurable effect. It is that difference in distance I wish to discuss.

So we can say that a star, a continuous and large explosion, emits light. From our own sun, the effect of that explosion is observed here on earth about 8 minutes later; from our nearest star, Alpha Centauri, about 4 years; from the next nearest galaxy, Andromeda, about 2.5 million years later. So for convenience we say Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away. But let us consider Alpha Centauri, a mere 4.3 light years away. This is the time elapsed from earth, observing its light. Although we can theoretically approach light speed, relatavistic effects alter the behaviour – speed and mass – for the inhabitants of, say, a spaceship. Even if we could harness the energy, we could accelerate at 1G for ever, and never get to light speed. I believe we’re mistaken in even attributing ‘speed’ to light. Every action that we take generates innumerable photons, but as matter it can never itself achieve light ‘speed’. We can accelerate an electron, or other particle to within a fraction of one per cent of that magic speed at CERN, and it will always have mass and as such experience gravity and time. It becomes a photon, and instantaneously it changes condition … and ‘becomes’. Quite what, we don’t know, without stopping it to ask. Quantum mechanics then allows us to ask it one question, as to either its position or its direction, and to only formulate within probability any other quality.  But it is only when stopped that we can ask this question (and to do so by causing other transitions!) 

Can we use this mysterious quality of light, as a measure of action? In stead of seeing things as a certain distance apart, what if we describe that distance in terms of light speed? So the sun is 8 minutes from the earth, the nearest star system 4.3 years? We do it without thinking on cosmological scales. As our ability to measure increases, we can do so at progressively shorter intervals as well

(Without the hierarchies that formal aspiration suggests, I don’t see how to explain experience: the way in which matter seems to clump together, to coordinate itself. Why else do ‘things’ happen? If all that can happen is the transition of one particle to a photon, and they are separated by time, even by so little, why should they do so? We would seem to arrive back at causality, that one thing stimulates another, and in doing so incidentally creates the arrow of time.)

So let’s look again at energy in that condition we know as light. And list once again those properties that Enstein’s equation tells us: that light experiences no time, or gravity; neither weight nor mass. In Formal terms we might say that it therefore has no idea of itself. This is only revealed once it arrives, or is interrupted. Converted once more into mass, it can be weighed and measured … this investigation must itself involve further transitions between light and mass. We know as well that mass distorts surrounding space, hence gravity (again, according to Einstein). The effect of gravity behaves like light as well, and is detectable as radiation itself, faint though it is. Until a particle of mass is further disturbed, it experiences time, generating gravity in the process. Almost negligible, this gravitational effect builds up into enormous forces on the cosmic scale, powerful enough to generate black holes.

Another formal aspect of this transition between mass and radiation is that it is instantaneous .. i.e. of zero duration. And since it is the only action that can occur, the present, that moment of zero duration is all that truly exists. From it we must extrapolate all the past and future. And without the presumption of causality this is not easy. With causality we can work all the way back to the Big Bang, and devise various possible futures. Ok ok, causality.

But it’s not enough.

Back to the list: Dark energy, dark matter. Stuff we can’t see? Or measure? In any way whatsoever? And we presume it’s there, to account for the acceleration of the universe.

And gravity … if we had a different understanding of gravity, maybe that would supply the answer. Let’s look again at what we understand of this distortion that mass creates, and the apparent fact of it’s ‘travel’ … its radiation. This is so faint that even the gravity of our solar system is undetectable. Only a truly massive event, such as that recorded at LIGO in 2016 when 2 black holes collided, or a pulsar and neutron star orbiting each other move the needle.

I realise how blasé I’ve been in describing mass and light as energy in one of two conditions; that as well as Baryonic matter, which itself is sub-divided into protons and neutrons, and thence to quarks,  there are all the leptons, such as electrons and other force bearing particles to consider. That’s before we even mention anti-matter. But the division between particles that represent either mass or light is basic. Whether the particle is seen as a wave or a point is almost another discussion. If the only way to observe a light wave is with a particle, i.e. and a resulting transition of mass to radiation, do we need to distinguish between a particle and a wave?  Why can’t we describe light as travelling in a wave, and as it is observed, that is dragged into our universe of mass and time, it can only be done so as a particle? The resulting uncertainty that Heisenberg found a way of quantifying  then is necessary to make calculations, but there is no mystery involved. Could it be a question that we don’t even need to ask? What wave/particle duality??

A photon is a different beast to a neutrino. A gravitron, should one ever be found, must behave like a photon, if it presents as radiation …. i.e.  itself experiences no gravity or time. The difference between the electro-magnetic force,  10^36 times that of gravity! … but unlike e-m force (mediated by light), it does not have a negative equivalent to balance it out, so once into cosmic scales it achieves enough force to collapse a star into a black hole.

And what of string theory? … that the smallest particle might be made up of vibrating stings on an even smaller level, represented in up to eleven dimensions. This can only be properly understood mathematically, and it seems is un-testable … according to prof Brian Greene, a particle accelerator the size of the galaxy would be needed to confirm the math by experiment. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear so much of strings ‘n things these days. That reality might be composed of vibrating strings, a sort of aeolian harp stroked by the winds of time …. a poetic idea, but perhaps that  is all it is. But the same might have been said about the Copenhagen solution, which was really a pragmatic exercise, an agreement that allowed the fuzziness of quantum theory to work, to bear results.

Speaking of Prof Green … I was watching a you tube discussion between him and Richard Dawkins the other day, and he said, in a throw-away sort of manner, ‘oh to find a force within a particle that gave it direction!’ … or something like that. … I think God might have made his way into the conversation, and he was merely expressing weariness at scientific  honesty; a sort of ‘… if only!’ response. And although I hate to admit it, there is a mystical laziness inherent in F A. … as soon as I try to apply an observable element, like gravity as an explanation it feels wrong. Prof Higgs professed disappointment with his discovery of the eponymous field and thence particle as being nicknamed the ‘God particle’, perhaps for similar reasons. Even religious particle physicists won’t allow God to sully a theory!

So I’m still determined to find a consistent way to describe Formal Aspiration, and so far ‘gravity’ is the nearest candidate. I will now pirate a more recent essay that I wrote while wrestling with G:

As I read up around the subject, I’m struck by how little we know. And by ‘we’ I mean humankind. Even the scientific community would only admit to be scratching the surface of our knowledge. How little we know! I’m trying to get my head around quantum mechanics at the moment, and one of the many things that impresses me is the humility of those at the forefront of experiment and theory. I’m sure there’s as much back-biting and bitching goes on among the halls of academia as well as the laboratories and  lecture theatres, but also that enthusiasm is welcomed above all. After all, in the big questions, such as What is life? What’s it all about? …  they need to be asked. And if among musicians the ability to turn up is as much vaunted as ability, so among the sciences, what are they without the enthusiasm for truth?

I had started out by looking to see whether my theory of FA might be easily refuted by science, for as with any other the non-scientist that would seem to be the real repository of knowledge. Quantum mechanics itself is perhaps a good place to start, as it dispels the vaulted position of authority (or ‘the observer’). Truth might be as fugitive as the momentum of an electron! But we can none-the-less find a way towards knowledge, even if the eventual truth might be always elusive.

Erwin Schrodinger, he of the famous dead-or-alive cat thought experiment was a learned fellow. He was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for formulating the equation that describes reality (except for gravity). He wrote a wee book called ‘What is Life?’, looking to apply the rigours of physics to the large and messy subject of biology, and this book was apparently influential in Crick and Watson’s famous formulation of the double helix. As a pal of Einstein’s you’d expect him to ask the basic questions, such as ‘why are atoms so small?’ … he does not disappoint. He points out that for the statistics to play out on our sort of scale, orders of magnitude are needed. Ten in a million might not sound a lot to us, but the numbers involved are staggering … many more are needed for regularity. There are as many atoms in a cell as there cells in a human being … about 100 trillion. Phew! For a predictable analysis of action, something as apparently random as Brownian motion (where tiny pollen grains can be seen to be moved by even invisibly smaller atoms), we must turn to statistics. The slightest persuasion, such as a boundary, is enough, when spread over a large enough field, to encourage regularity. And these fields are large enough, with sufficient ingredients to mathematize.  (there, I’ve made up a word ….. with no more than one language and twenty six letters)

For the really tiny, sub–subatomic we have to go down to the Planck length: the smallest possible thing that our understanding can conceive, determined by the shortest possible wave length. That is 10^18 smaller than an atomic nucleus (which is itself a million times smaller than the atom). At these sort of dimensions, maths is the only language that can describe any action that might take place. So anything might be claimed, such as energy manifesting itself in discrete units (as has been suggested) … just the sort of condition that aspiration likes! I’m not claiming that FA manifests itself at these tiny dimensions … but it might! … if it is a requisite of existence it must be evident everywhere. Smolin postulates that we confuse ‘models’ with reality, and I think I know what he means. After all, that is my continual complaint about maths … handy as numbers are, they are not real! And E would seem to equal MC2. We might also say that light SEEMS to travel at about 299,758 kps under any condition that we can observe. I’m sure that Einstein wouldn’t have claimed to nail it down more than God (should He exist) … its regularity is even more remarkable, and that was the real insight.

I’ve just had a thought.

Could Gravity itself be Formal Aspiration? I have been so in awe of physics, especially sub-atomic physics, and the laws which a non-mathematician such as myself can hardly hope to understand, that I’ve been reluctant to apply the two together. There is a universality to FA, and I’ve been shy of infecting the cold and pure world of physics with any thing as shaky and intuited as FA, with accusations of mystical thinking. But the more I discover of  G, the more mysterious it would seem to be. But perhaps my trepidation is ill-founded. FA must apply to everything, even the smallest conceivable thing. Could it really have been under my nose all this time? Let’s look at G again, and whatever cross-over points there may be between G and FA, and then inspect divergences.

G too applies to everything, except light. It, like FA, also exists without time.  Undetectable to the point of negligible at the particle level, it increases with size. Unlike the other so-called forces, it does not manifest itself in positive and negative forms, and thus cancelling itself out as it grows. But it slowly accretes. At cosmic scales, if not continually held in check by nuclear fusion, it becomes so powerful that it causes matter to collapse on itself, as in a neutron star. All that space within an atom is crushed, protons and electrons fused into neutrons. Even larger, and the star might collapse to a black hole, where light itself might not escape.

So is it like light? Gravitational waves travel like radiation, at the speed of light. I’ve attempted to describe this elsewhere as energy in a particular ‘condition’. Because it can never be described or observed, except by light itself, light just ‘is’. Gravity itself, like light is without mass, and does not experience time. At LIGO, one of two delicate telescopes  in the US, built to detect gravitational waves, a signal was received, of two black holes colliding. This was determined to be 1.3 billion light years away, and so equally long ago. The tiny ripple in space/time that the laser found, is witness to the faintness of gravitational waves (and to human ingenuity in being able to detect them!). None-the-less they exist, even if they cannot be directly observed. Such an event is accompanied by massive gamma ray emissions, all indirect, since the black holes themselves cannot be seen. The gravitational waves however, record the events, and the universe is large enough to allow many of these to have occurred since the beginning ot time. At the time of writing, dozens of these have been observed in the first five years of LIGO’s construction.  So now that we have fine enough instruments to record them, gravity wave detectors give cosmologists another tool. Until LIGO came on stream all we had was the word of mathematicians that the effects of gravity move at the speed of light.

Gravity, or G, is also recognised to be a constant, like the speed of light.

So how can an object or event that spawns such gravitational cataclysm  be itself not subject to the universe of mass? We might ask the same of light … all the properties that something shows, it’s shape, constituents, power, evident in only the vibrations caused by radiation? … and then only indirectly, as those vibrations are converted into the world of mass and time that we inhabit? (the refraction of light passing through water, and hence ‘slowing’ slightly must then be due to light hitting the molecules of water, and then once again converting to light … the time spent in our world of mass and time must equal the ‘slowing’ of light … presumably this can be derived from the famous equation of Einstein’s, e = mc2). The ‘constancy’ of gravity is the distortion of space and time that mass generates. The distortion  of  space time, and the ripples it causes is  the same as that of light. The graviton, itself being without mass must travel at the same speed as light.  

There is a field, apparently, which permeates everything, suggested by mathematics, and eventually confirmed by observation of the Higg’s bosun at CERN. This field confers mass, and therefore gravity, time and everything else we see around us.  Let’s look at that magical moment of transition between light and mass again, bearing the Higgs field in mind:

That indivisible moment of the present, of zero duration is also the timeless transference of energy, between radiation and mass. I will admit that I’m relying on Einstein’s equation in the theory of Special Relativity here  – but don’t we  all? – and I know that I’m repeating myself when I say that it is the only thing that can happen … but if that is so, why is it ignored by the scientific community? … that light is energy in a particular and timeless condition! This strikes me as amazing, but seems to be of only passing interest to physicists. Anyway, if the Higgs field is that which gives mass to everything (hence the ‘God particle’ monicker), it is as though at that moment matter is dipped into the field. And Relativity suggests that each transition takes place uniquely, in its particular time. A neighbouring transition must be seen as a different event, however tiny the gap in space and time may be.

We seemed to have slipped into the difference between Einstein’s theory of gravity, which works fine on the cosmic scale, and quantum mechanics, which works fine for the sub-atomic. As Roger Penrose notes, perhaps attempts to reconcile the conflict is just a human way of looking at things, and perhaps no resolution is required. I was taken recently by a video of a plant biologist (Monica Gagliano … I’ve just found out) who had found evidence of memory in plants … a plant responded to the trauma of being dropped, and was shown to exhibit that response up to four weeks later. The french specialist in slime moulds nodded in agreement; he had discovered similar ‘intelligence’ in his subjects … then the specialist in funghi agreed; as did the chap who knew all about insects, and the hive mind. What they all shared was evidence of other forms of intelligence, rather than  in our presumptions of neuronic intelligence.

I’ve arrived at Formal Aspiration earlier than I’d meant to, because it makes sense of the above. A ‘thing’ exists to the degree that it ‘wants’ to. It’s applicability to animals and other forms of organic life are almost too obvious. The human influence of the idea made me suspicious of it, and as I struggled to understand quantum loop gravity, string theory and the Many Worlds idea – all ways to account for the discrepancy between QM and GR – I lost faith in it, for this mystical flavour. And seeing people in Monica Gagliano’s audience nodding their heads in hippy agreement, these suspicions seemed to me well founded. More hard science, that’s what we need! If I take the radical step of equating Gravity with FA, wouldn’t that simply diminish FA? Wouldn’t I just be re-naming one of the basic forces?

Ok, let’s see.

A brief re-cap of Formal Aspiration … an attempt to explain the ‘thingness’ of things; their definition … the basic nature of stuff I suppose; and the suggestion that everything is impelled, however vaguely, towards itself. For the idea to mean anything, it must be generally applicable … and to everything! That includes every noun, every thing that we can name or even think of. Indeed, that we name so many things I take as an indication in itself. … so as well as a goat, a mountain or even a song about a goat on a mountain, even a University course specialising in shepherds who sing about their goats on mountain sides, there should be evidence of aspiration. Along the way I encountered problems, such as how or why we name things, and thence a drift towards philosophy … but also physical things, which in the last few years has steered my enquiry to the nature of stuff, and the province of physics.

So, gravity: Einstein’s first theory of Relativity, published in 1905 links a constant speed of light with mass and energy. No mention is made of gravity. Ten years later, he published the General Theory of Relativity, in which he specifically deals with G. Rather than a ‘force’, he describes it as a property of stuff, which causes a measurable distortion in the fabric of space, which he sees as ‘space/time’. The measurable bit is quite important … this distortion is regular enough to be described as a constant. Galileo, and then more specifically Isaac Newton had already sussed this out, that gravity was regular. This extra twist that Einstein added, involving time that depended on the observer, has made for all sorts of complications when applying Relativity to the sub-atomic. Because it is so weak at the very small, this didn’t really matter at the time. Neils Bohr and his chaps were coming up with their own weirdness to cope with matter at this level, and invented Quantum Mechanics to deal with the nature of the ‘particle/wave’ duality. The history of that debate, between Einstein and Bohr, makes fascinating reading, and the fact that it still goes on! String theory, the many worlds solution, quantum loop gravity …  for the endless list of great explainers I suspect even understanding the math involved is not easy. But the one thing they would all agree on, is that a theory of quantum gravity is needed to unify the very big and the tiny. …don’t worry, I’m not suggesting a solution.

Gravity however is important. They all say so.  Can I steal it, call it Aspiration? It is 1.30 in the morning, New Years Day. I’ve just cracked a can of beer to toast in 2021. It should be a lonely time … for us all, locked down in deference to the health workers and those others who we ask to battle this damned virus on our behalf. It emboldens me to say yes; a goal for the coming year … I’ll start in the morning!


How does one atom know it is bound to another? Our planet consists of about 1.33 x 10^50 atoms. How do they know to bind together, and add their weight to make the gravity that we experience? A liquid, say water, is understandable. But what of the atmosphere, or the space between rocks? If we crunch it all together, say bind all the electrons and protons together, as in a neutron star, all the matter can fit into a ball about 300m in diameter. It’s escape velocity is presumably the same at its surface as before the collapse? How is the mass of a black hole, or neutron star measured? So a star goes nova, shedding a good part of it’s mass to outer space in the explosion … and leaves a neutron star, collapsed and hard where it had been. No doubt it’s surviving weight can be measured, even allowing for the greater relativistic effect of the much increased gravity at its surface. Or an observation might be made directly of the gravitational waves at LIGO, and the mass  of a black hole or neutron star be known … how is the mass of the star from which either collapsed to be measured?  I’m sure sums can be made. And I don’t mean those!

Inter stellar dust can be seen clumping together, as in the Orion nebula, before it collapses to form new stars. The combined gravity of all those trillions atoms, sufficient to collapse and start fusion!

One thing about gravity … it’s constancy. Whether it’s measured by Newton or improved by Einstein it’s one of the basic constants. Even if the it ‘becomes’ like Schrodinger suggests, wouldn’t FA make it messy in the macro?

Ok, if gravity were FA:

As a ‘persuasion’ to join with another, it might eventually. In doing so, this ‘persuasion’ is doubled. FA would need to demonstrate a capacity to increase, so that as it increases with size it becomes more. And in as regular a way as gravity. This would make the regularity only as an average, evident only in the very large. Could this even become a ‘law’? FA suggests a hierarchy, which might even be used to describe size, so it might fit.

But what of all the rest, not just any old thing, but a conversation, a social group, a goat, a mountain … even a song about a goat on a mountain? Is it realistic, or helpful to apply the regularity of gravity to everything? To apply the same ‘force’ to a human being as an inert lump of rock? Gravity would demand so. If I was to be purist about this, I might say that the only difference between my self and a lump of rock of similar size, is supplied by me. But that also  neutralises any argument I might make, for aspiration, gravity or anything.

Despair not Stephen, for the New Year (2021) is well in. Will this much vaunted vaccine release us from the isolating grip of this damn covid? And thereby allow me to mix with friends who don’t care much for such questions as these? Is it just lock-down that persuades me to try and link FA with gravity? …. what does it matter? … still don’t know, so all I can do is pursue this question, like trying to itch a tickle between the shoulder blades. More research! (if trawling round the internet qualifies as such). For what it’s worth, here’s a list of some of the thinkers I’ve been following:

Lee Smolin

Carlo Rovelli

Leonard Susskind

Sean Carroll

Brian Greene

Richard Feynman

Roger Penrose

Brian Keating

Erwin Schrodinger

Albert Einstein (of course)

Freeman Dyson

plenty of other men I come across, on about QM, or cosmology at the other end of the telescope… and of course all the quantum guys, like Bohr and Heisenberg, Max Planck, Paul Dirac. .. from previous centuries, Galileo and Isaac Newton,  James Clerk Maxwell, Louis Boltzman … och, that’s off the top of my head. There are so many others that contribute to general understanding, and it’s tempting to score them all in a league. But each chap warrants a chapter of their own  (…. no women! Considering that women tend to be brighter than men, why is this?).

Where were we? … yes, wondering whether gravity might be the same as formal aspiration. G is grindingly inexorable, to the point of being referred to as a ‘constant’, even by pioneers like Galileo. It would have a particular value, depending on the size of the generating mass. But even if this value is only approximate, the ratio would seem to be always the same (the inverse square law). I got very excited on discovering that the vortices within liquid helium would seem to jump in value in much the same way as electrons circling a nucleus do. But even if they obey the same quantum laws, these vortices, which may underlie the behaviour of the macro world, it would be irrelevant as an example of the approximation of gravity; what does it matter if gravity is just statistical? The value might well be arrived at by averaging out the behaviour of the very small, but that value would seem to be constant, no matter what the size. Gravity is notoriously weak (10^36 times weaker than EM!), and only increases with size. So being able to measure its strength here on earth we can extrapolate this easily (assuming that our calculations are correct for the tiny!), and corroborate this value by study of the very big, i.e. cosmically …

It might be reasonable to describe gravity as no more than an attitude at the very small, sub-atomic level. But if we expect it to increase regularly with size, as it seems to, at the macro level it should have different properties if it is truly FA … and these are not evident. Does it help to describe a life form or an idea by how much it weighs? So gravity is not of itself FA. Even if we think of FA being a ‘field of persuasion’, like the Higg’s field, which gives mass to everything it doesn’t work. It’s given me an exciting excursion into how stuff works, but I’m none the wiser, in finding a cause for FA.

… but being bolshy by nature, I refuse to concede. The very ‘bitness’ of things, from Democritus on, and whether atoms exist (as Einstein claimed) … even Plank length bits, as proposed by Lee Smolin, suggests a tendency towards ‘things’ that Aspiration claims! … how or why, I’ve no idea.