Ask someone what they think gravity is and they will remember Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple. And they will think that gravity is something that keeps us attached to the earth. But it is unlikely that they understand the truly remarkable contribution of Newton. Newton realized that gravity was operating in space and in the interactions of objects in space. He studied the data and over many years of data collection and mathematical developments he described how gravity affected the entire universe. And these descriptions were precise enough so that predictions could be made.

Most people think of gravity as a force of nature, but it is not necessarily a force. Newton thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Einstein also thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Quantum physicists agree with both Newton and Einstein: Gravity is something.

The author of Gravity said we he initiated conversations on the subject of gravity, the conversations tended to fall into one of two categories.

Category One:

Author: Nobody knows what gravity is.

Civilian: (Pause). What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is?

Author: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is.

Civilian: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature?

Author: Okay, fine—but what does that even mean?

Civilian: (Silence.)

Category Two:

Author: Nobody know what gravity is.

Scientist: That’s right.

The author concludes, Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they know that they don’t know what gravity is.

The author continues. “We know what gravity does, of course. In the heavens, gravity tethers the Moon to Earth, other moons to other planets, moons and planets to the Sun, the Sun to the stars, stars to stars, galaxies to galaxies. On our own planet, we know that gravity is what planes have to overcome. We all know what gravity does.”

The author is Richard Panek and the title of the book is The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that the Dunning-Krueger Effect consists to two components. We humans tend to think we know much more than we know. However, true experts in a field are painfully aware of how much they don’t know.

The understanding of gravitation provides an ideal example of this effect.

Physicists have estimate how much they know. The estimate is that about 4% of the universe is understood. The remaining 96% is referred to as Dark Matter and Dark energy.

Think of this estimate as an accomplishment, not as a shortcoming. It is important in every endeavor to have some grasp of what is known and what still needs to be learned. And consider what has been accomplished with the 4% that is understood. Also consider what will be accomplished as more and more of the Universe is understood. Research continues. Notions and theories are being advanced, and some highly sophisticated experiments are being designed and conducted.

This blog recommends growth mindsets. Lifelong learning encompassing new topics. HM recommends Panek’s book as a vehicle for cognitive growth. Fear not. There is no math in this book. Still it is quite challenging. One might want to skim the earlier chapters and start concentrating when Newton arrives on the scene.