The great Newtonian-Einsteinian gravity conspiracy

Down with gravity! Up with levity!

Photo by Gayley Blaine Webb

Gravity, as you undoubtedly already know, is the weakest of the four fundamental forces of physics, even weaker than the Weak Force – ten to the 29th times weaker to be precise. On the other hand, it is strong enough to keep the planets revolving around the sun, move the tides in and out, and keep us all firmly anchored to this earth. It was first described by Sir Isaac Newton when he was walking in his garden and saw an apple falling from a nearby tree. That was one of those “aha!” moments, and it led him to develop the law of universal gravitation, which, according to one source, put the 17th-century Englishman in the “Gravity Hall of Fame.” He came up with a simple formula: F = Gm1m2/r2, which I won’t bother to explain, other than to quickly note that F is the force of gravity between two masses (m1 and m2), which are a certain distance (r) apart, while G is the gravitational constant, commonly denoted as (6.67E-11 m3 s-2 kg-1), or something like that. Everything was fine for a couple of centuries until Einstein, whose brain was reputedly even larger than Newton’s, proposed in his General Theory of Relativity (1915) that gravity was not a force at all, but was caused instead by the curvature of spacetime, a dimension of which Sir Isaac Newton hadn’t even been aware.

The reason I mention this at all is that one of the historical consequences of the Newtonian-Einsteinian gravity conspiracy has been to consign to the dustbin of history the equally important – and now lamentably forgotten – counterforce of levity. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it certainly has been effective – and I see its impact every morning when I find my inbox filled with messages from candidates, PACs, and untold others in the political business, each one angrier, gloomier, at once more desperate and more negative than the last. To say there is no levity here, no humor, and not a hint of whimsy to start my day would be a huge understatement. And even though I stopped reading them months ago, they keep relentlessly coming – from Pence and from Pelosi – filled with exclamation points, bold print, and dire warnings of the apocalypse that is inevitable if I don’t send money.

This is not new, of course.  No one accused Millard Fillmore of being a wit, and Calvin Coolidge was a famously laconic dinner partner. It was reported that a woman once turned to him and said, “I bet my husband that I could make you say more than two words this evening.” “You lose,” he replied.

Maybe countries, like people, get old and forget the wonders of youth. As the poet Wordsworth noted,

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

Then it’s time to turn to the young, to whom whimsy and wonder come naturally.

In the photo, wrote my daughter, “Calliope and Jamie are discussing what kind of wishes you can make when you see rainbows.

“Calliope insists that all rainbows, even double rainbows, are good for one wish only, and she told me she was pretty sure I could guess her wish.

“When I said I wasn’t buying her an iPhone, she rolled her eyes at me.”

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.