Gravity is One Slippery Dude
We have been taught that ‘gravity’ is a ‘field’ and that it is ‘everywhere at the same time’ in the universe, so that if we move, the whole universe is immediately changed by it.
That sounds bizarre for one reason and one reason only; — because of our ‘self-ish’ perspective; i.e. we are in the habit of ‘putting ourselves before the universe’.
Do we really believe that we can move before the universe ‘knows about it’? No way. If we could beat the universe in this game, we would be able to, as well, slip away from our own shadow.
So, if, when we move, the whole universe immediately knows about, isn’t this notion in conflict with science’s contention that no effect can propagate faster than the speed of light?
No. We get our thinking twisted when we think about such things; i.e. what we (wrongly) think is that the thing that is moving is independent of the universe, and that we can ‘clock’ the movement of the thing ‘through the universe’ thanks to a notional absolute fixed reference frame that both the thing and the universe are contained in. That view comes from what Kepler called the habit of science of “choosing not that which is most true but that which is most easy.”
Going back and ‘looking again’ WITHOUT using the mental ‘crutch’ of the absolute frame, we can see the local thing as being ‘made of energy’; i.e. as an energetic-wave-structure within the energy flow-field that is the universe. In this case, the object or organism IS the universe and its motion can only be RELATIVE. This is the implication of both relativity and quantum theory. There is no thing that is ‘local’ and there is no such thing as ‘local agency’ (motion that originates locally). Furthermore, the notion of ‘local’ is misleading when we use to imply that the ‘local thing’ or ‘local phenomenon’ is ‘independent’ of the rest. Nothing is local and independent in a gravity field, or in an electromagnetic field or in a thermal field. The local thing or phenomenon is the RESULT of the field-dynamic not the CAUSE of the field-dynamic.
Our acculturated mind has been well trained to dispute this. It goes back to this notion of ‘local and independent’ (implying an absolute space reference frame) without our asking it to. It is as if we were one of Pavlov’s dogs and we couldn’t help salivating every time we heard a dinner bell ring, even though all of our experience informed us that there was no food on its way.
It’s not really surprising that we think of things as being ‘local’ because we are capable of the notion of ‘stasis’ and if we have the notion that something is ‘stationary’ then we have a reference that we can anchor a fixed reference frame to that will allow us to think in that some other apparently local object/organism ‘is moving’. And we always have things that are RELATIVELY STATIONARY to other things that are moving. For example, who would DENY that the kid running down the corridor ‘is moving’. But if he is running down the deck of a ship to stay beside a polar bear on an ice flow the ship is passing by, one could argue that the boy and the polar bear as stationary and the corridor is moving. But the bear’s GPS will show him as moving relative to the ‘continents’ and the geophysicist will observe that ‘the continents’ are not ‘really’ local-objects-that-move, but are instead the top part of continuously moving convecting cells in the lithospheric flow;
Ultimately, there is no such thing as ‘stasis’, even though we are convinced that ‘we know what is moving and what is not’ when we are at the dance in the ballroom of the Titanic. The notion of ‘local agency’ (‘movement originates from right here’) is just a habitual way of conceiving of the world, that is ‘most easy’ though not ‘most true’.
As Carlo Rovelli observes in his book ‘Quantum Gravity’ (Carlo Rovelli and Lee Smolin) are considered leading thinkers/investigators in reconciling relativity and quantum theory), if we take the fixed reference frame away, then there are no more entities that we can claim are ‘local’ and possessed of ‘local agency’. [N.B. don’t be confused here by equating ‘the local forms that are visible to our eyes’ with ‘reality’, as we know, for example, the ‘hurricane’ is a visible form that is the ‘result’ rather than the ‘cause’ of the flow it is included in. While we impute ‘local agency’ to it, because it is convenient to impute ‘local agency’ to those dynamical forms that ‘we can see’, their agency is decidedly ‘nonlocal’ in origin]. In Rovelli’s words;
“In Newtonian and special relativistic physics, if we take away the dynamical entities – particles and fields – what remains is space and time. In general relativistic physics, if we take away the dynamical entities, nothing remains. The space and time of Newton and Minkowski are reinterpreted as a configuration of one of the fields, the gravitational field. This implies that physical entities – particles and fields – are not all immersed in space, and moving in time. They do not live on spacetime. They live, so to say, on one another. It is as if we had observed in the ocean many animals living on an island: animals ‘on’ the island. Then we discover that the island itself is in fact a great whale. Not anymore animals on the island, just animals on animals. Similarly, the universe is not made by fields on spacetime; it is made by fields on fields.”
Rovelli and Smolin are not your average scientists because they are working on the ‘next paradigm’. The current prevailing scientific paradigm looks at dynamics in terms of NOTIONAL ‘local objects/organisms/systems’ with their own ‘local agency’. That is the scientific view of the ‘human organism’, but there are obviously ‘problems’ with it. Because, as we continue to study human organisms, the keep popping into existence in front of our eyes and then decomposing (being regathered into new dynamical forms such as worms and daisies). They are EVIDENTLY NOT coming ‘from nothingness’ and returning into ‘nothingness’, they are ‘coming from somewhere’ and returning into ‘somewhere’ and that ‘somewhere’ is ‘nature’ or ‘the universe’ and since there is a diverse multiplicity of objects and organisms which are doing likewise, it would be reasonable to assume that this ‘somewhere’ that gathers and re-gathers dynamical forms, in the manner that the flow of the atmosphere gathers and re-gathers convection cells, is a ‘GREATER REALITY’ than the dynamical forms that are continuously gathering and regathering within it, that we like to ‘put first’ because ‘we can see them’, and we can’t see the ‘backstretched connexion’ which we nevertheless intuit is there, in spite of defining and name-labelling a hurricane as if it were a local system with its own local agency – IT IS NOT, but it is convenient to treat it that way, in order to ‘talk about it’, because the flow (tao) that it is gathering within, can only be ‘talked about’ in explicit terms by way of the ‘things’ that we SEE gathering within it. There is just one (mother-)‘flow’ but we can talk about hundreds of storm-cells (dynamical forms) and categorize them according to size and time of gathering and being regathered into other dynamical forms.
Scientists are not immune to the mental trickery we play on ourselves in coming up with the synthetic notions of ‘local’ and ‘local agency’, in fact science (pre-relativity, which almost all science continues to be) has been the major promoter of THE BELIEF in the concept of ‘local existence’ and ‘local agency’. The notion of a ‘gene’ that is foundational to Darwinian evolution is a case in point. The evolutionary notions of Lamarck are undergoing resurgence because Lamarck’s theories never depended on the notion of ‘local agency’ as did Darwin’s theory. Lamarck insisted that there was only one physics and that organisms were only differentiated from material objects by their manner of organisation WITHIN the flow of “les fluides incontenables” or ‘flow-fields’. Lamark mentioned ‘thermal flow’, ‘electric flow’ and ‘magnetic flow’ and ‘possibly others’ as being the source of those dynamical forms we call ‘organisms’.
Well, we ‘western-culture’ habituated folks may not like it, but the implications that keep popping up are that the source of ‘life’ is the space we all share inclusion in; i.e. space is a living fluid-dynamic that is the source of emergent APPARENTLY LOCAL-BECAUSE OF OUR VISUAL SENSING dynamical forms. These dynamical forms never ‘pop out’ and leave the mother-flow and then later ‘pop back in’ the mother-flow. The ‘popping out’ and ‘popping back in’ is the artefact of our visual sensing.
Well, we can accept this in the case of ‘storm-cells’ in the atmosphere, but how about ‘us’, … we ‘human beings’?
It is our own ‘sense of self’ as ‘local independently-existing beings’ with our own ‘locally originating (internal will, purpose and instinct-directed) behaviour, … that is a show-stopper when it comes to thinking of ‘organisms’ in the same manner as convection cells; i.e. where we would see our ‘visible selves’ as being only the tip of the iceberg, as with convection cells that are the result, rather than the cause of, the flow they are included in.
Our reluctance to open our minds to this possibility is an acculturated thing. The aboriginals (the traditional understanding of the aboriginal cultures) didn’t have this reluctance.
We have quite an investment in believing that the ‘effect’ we have in the world ‘originates within us’ (‘local agency’). This is where our ‘personal sense of creative/productive accomplishment’ comes from, and this is foundational to ‘capitalism’ and the ‘universal civil right to ‘own property’ and pursue our own self-interest’ (‘materialist ethic’) as we have built into the UN universal charter of civil rights (and into our ‘local’ — there’s that word again — ‘independent sovereign state’ charters of rights and freedoms).
This is a pretty heavy investment in our belief in the ‘reality’ of ‘local things’ and ‘local agency’ that was never there in aboriginal traditional cultures (and still isn’t, although Amerindian aboriginal traditionalists feel that only about five percept of aboriginals continue to understand things in the traditional ‘strands-in-the-web-of-life’ manner).
So, the reason why ‘Gravity is one Slippery Dude’ is because we who have undergone ‘western acculturation’ (as we have built it into our language and into our social inferences from cradle to grave) are confusing the visible forms we see and to which we impute local existence and local agency, for ‘reality’. These forms are gatherings within the mother energy-field-flow; i.e. they are the result of the dynamics of the world rather than the ‘locally sourced’ cause of dynamics. To put this in terms of Ernst Mach’s principle of relativity;
“The dynamics of the habitat [mother-energy-field-flow] condition the dynamics of the inhabitants [dynamical forms] at the same time as the dynamics of the inhabitants [dynamic forms] are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat [mother-energy-field-flow]”.
Note that there is a subtle ‘dropping of visible understanding’ as we go from the dynamical forms to ‘representations’ of them. That is, as we observe the convecting current in the flow which is mostly visible by way of condensation/clouds, there is no place where we can say that the swirl STOPS and the rest of the flow has nothing to do with the swirl. But in our word-based representations, and even in the symbols the meteorologist uses to discuss these inherently un-isolatable-from-the-mother-flow dynamical forms, we depict the ‘dynamical form’ as a ‘local system’ with its own ‘local agency’;
We don’t have a problem IN THE CASE OF STORM-CELLS in understanding that we lift out the dynamical form and give it a ‘REPRESENTATION’ AS IF IT WERE A LOCAL SYSTEM WITH ITS OWN LOCAL AGENCY and to continue to bear in mind that this is a case of us ‘choosing not that which is most true but that which is most easy’, … That is, we acknowledge how we ‘conveniently’ over-simplify the relation of the ‘hurricane’ with the flow of the atmosphere by imputing ‘local existence’ and ‘local agency’ to the hurricane, by defining and name-labelling it, and by thus axiomatically affirming its local existence; [As John Stuart Mill observed; ‘Every definition implies an axiom, that in which we affirm the [local] existence of the object defined.’]
But we (western acculturated humans) do have a problem in applying this same understanding to ‘ourselves’. For example, it CONFLICTS RADICALLY AND FUNDAMENTALLY with the understandings of OUR SELF that we derive from such sources as the bible, e.g;
“God said to them, … Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” — Genesis 1:28
The notions of ‘self’ as derive from western traditions of understanding such as this one from Genesis have not ‘gone away’. We have built them into our institutions and practices.
Thus, to understand why ‘Gravity is one Slippery Dude’, we have to examine where our own ‘sense of self’ is coming from. And when we do, at least for a lot us this is true, we find that we have ‘built in’ the notion of ‘local being’ and ‘local agency’ into our sense of ‘who we are’ (and what ‘organisms’ are). Thus, we shall continue to find the notion of ‘gravity’ as pervasively and inherently ‘nonlocal’, a ‘slippery’ idea, so long as we consider our ‘self’ and others like us to be ‘locally existing’ and equipped with our own ‘local agency’.
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