The Messengers of Gravity
“If the Sun exploded, we wouldn’t know about it for 8 minutes and 20 seconds. Light and gravity take that long to reach us. Then we would vaporize,” Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us. That’s not good or bad news necessarily, especially since we have no sun-exploding early warning system, but it does give a clue into how astrophysicists like Neil think. There is, it seems, a lot more imagicising [exercising the imagination] going on in science that one might, well, imagine.
In their paper “Imaginative Thinking and the Learning of Science,” authors Yannis Hadzigeorgiou and Nick Fotinos pose the following question:
No doubt one would feel more comfortable about discussing the role of imagination in subjects such as literature and the fine arts, rather than science education. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that, for some, imagination should be considered a blasphemy in science education. But before making such a judgment, they should seriously ask the question: Is imagination important in science?
While the intuitive answer to their question might be a resounding NO, the right answer is YES. A scientist of whatever stripe without imagination is like, to quote Khalil Gibran, “a butcher with dull knives and out-worn scales.” Mr. Thought Experiment himself, Albert Einstein, said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Scientists think it is so important that they even hold “Imagination Retreats” on occasion. In the proceedings from one such gathering sponsored by the Imagination Institute, this quote from Nobel-prize-winning physicist F. Duncan Haldane appears: “If you can’t imagine something marvelous, you are not going to find it. The barrier to discovering what can be done is actually imagination.”
So, why all this talk of science and imagination. This blog was sparked when I came across the phrase “the messengers of gravity,” which I co-opted for my title. It was used, very poetifically [combining science and poetry] I thought, in a Physical Review Letter paper to describe gravitons. Gravitons do not exist, or rather, they only exist in the minds of physicists. Put scientifically, “in theories of quantum gravity, the graviton is the hypothetical quantum [minimum amount] of gravity, an elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitational interaction.” To really explain gravitons, we would have to wade into the cognitophysical tar pits of zero mass, spins, force-carrying particles, extra dimensions, and the like.
I won’t go there (as if I could anyway). Suffice it to say that gravitons (gazillions of them) are what keep us grounded on Earth somehow. Since no one knows what a graviton looks like (Marvel Comics aside), I’ve decided to put my own imagination to work. Gravitons must be something like a mass of infinitesimally small suction cups covering the surface of large planetary objects like ours that grip whatever part of our bodies is in contact with the ground. They are attached to equally small elastic bands, which explains why when you jump in the air, you come back down again. I’m working on the math behind this concept, which I call, as you might imagine, the general theory of stickativity. As of yet, I have not gotten beyond “S (stickativity) =”. I would call Neil to get his input on this, but I’m afraid he might respond this way: “You know, RatBlurt, I used to say that there is no time in human history where ignorance is better than knowledge. For you, I’ll make an exception.”
(Image: Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller. Public domain.)
Published originally on RatBlurt™, October 18, 2021.