We Don't Understand Gravity

Adam Frank notices a critical breakdown around our expectation of flying cars: We’re masters of electromagnetism, not gravity.

It’s fascinating to think about, actually. Our high tech world is based almost entirely on the electomagnetic force. The electron and photon are the basis of most technological progress in the last hundred years. Or, as Adam puts it:

And the digital culture we’ve built rests directly on our ability to understand and manipulate electromagnetism’s quantum manifestations.

I tend to think this is a function of our scale. Humans are just the right size to casually probe the electron and the effects are clear. But manipulating the strong and weak force requires ever smaller and complex machinery. There is no intuition at play, just data. Gravity is another issue entirely, we’ve never even seen the particles used behind the scenes.

I wonder if we’ll ever see technology truly based on something other than the electromagnetic force. It doesn’t seem likely that another civilization could have developed on a different track and naturally harnessed gravity without going through electrons first.

Thu, Jun 12, 2014