I don't believe in gravity

2020-04-19 • philosophy health

Disclaimer: I believe in gravity

Alice: "Hey Bob how've you been?"

Bob: "Yo. So I don't believe in gravity anymore."

"What??? Are you stupid? How do you not believe in gravity? And what kind of response is that?? It's not like a religion that you can choose to believe in. It's literally real. It actually happens."

"Nah I don't buy it. Prove it."

Alice snatches Bob's half-finished coffee out of his hand, holds it out at arms length, and drops it.

Alice (with coffee stained pant legs): "See?? The gravitational force of the Earth is much stronger than that of the cup, so the cup rushes towards the Earth when I drop it."

"No. I don't see. There are billions of confounding factors here. Like you could've snuck a magnet into the cup when I wasn't looking."

"I swear I didn't..."

"Even if you weren't messing with the experiment, you totally pulled that explanation out of your ass. You're saying there's this ~invisible force~ called ~gravity~ that pervades the universe pulling everything together? Some invisible, all powerful glue? Sounds pretty mystical to me. I can make shit up too. Maybe tiny invisible elves climbed an invisible ladder, took the cup out of your hand, and threw it on the ground. Maybe gravity is a big prank by these elves. Maybe they just get a kick out of fooling you all."

"That's a terrible hypothesis."

"Why? More terrible than 'LIFELESS ROCKS constantly pull at each other through AN INVISIBLE FORCE.'"

"Yes. Much worse. The theory of gravity fits beautifully with all other observable phenomena. It fits beautifully with the experiments we have done to observe its effect. It's a model that's tested in literally every situation, but passes every time. Your elves theory has absolutely no basis or motivation aside from you being difficult."

"What experiments? Show me. The internet isn't a reliable source. My eyes, though not completely reliable, as you may have implanted them with vision disorting contact lenses, are a more trustworthy source."

Fueled by rage, Alice spends the next few weeks in and out of Home Depot meticulously constructing a torsion balance to replicate the Cavendish experiment (which I know nothing about but looks legit). She gave each piece of material to Bob to inspect for magnets, electronic chips, and other potential snakery.

"Ok Bob, are you convinced now?? I reproduced this whole fucking Enlightenment apparatus just for you. How are the wires moving Bob? And if you say elves I'm going to scream."

"Well we still can't discount elves. But I'll concede that the elves theory is less plausible than a generic invisible force. This still isn't convincing though. It could just be wind moving the balls. There's a slight breeze today. Maybe putting it in a vacuum chamber would be more convincing?"

"A vacuum chamber??? I literally spent weeks building this dumb contraption and now you want me to build a vacuum chamber?? Trust me gravity works in a vacuum chamber. People have done it before. Just look it up. I've taken you 90% there. Just accept it."

"Eh. I dunno. Still seems fishy. Anyway, I gotta head out. I have an acupuncture appointment at five."

"Fishy? You think GRAVITY is fishy, and you're going to a fucking ACUPUNCTURE appointment? Is this a joke?"

"What? What do you have against acupuncture? There are studies. You trust studies right? Considering your dogmatic faith in the THEORY of gravity, I know you don't care about indisputable proof."

"There are levels of proof. Sure gravity is technically a theory, but it's like 99.999% believable considering the evidence. Acupuncture is at like, 12%. Any success is probably a placebo."

"You don't know anything about it. People have been practicing it successfully for centuries. Just because modern research doesn't dedicate much time to it doesn't mean there's no evidence. Anyway, there are studies. Here.

"Why would sticking needles in your head fix your headache?"

"Well to understand that you're going to need to understand the concept of Qi, the universal life force--"

"Oooooh! Qi! The universal life force! Very scientific. Anyway, we have no idea how convincing the "sham acupuncture" was. What if for the real acupuncture they needled the head and for the sham acupuncture they needled the feet? Then it'd be obvious to the patients whether they were in the control group or not despite the trial being technically "blinded". The debate on whether acupuncture is a placebo or not is still very much up in the air."

"To "prove" something is not a placebo is to observe and believe it's mechanism of action. For acupuncture, we'd have to have some device to observe the movement of Qi, which doesn't exist yet. Gravity works directly on physical objects so it's easy to 'observe'. You can't take the same approach to acupuncture."

"Yeah a 'Qi meter' doesn't exist yet because Qi doesn't exist."

"That's bad logic. And how is Qi any wilder than this universal invisible force of gravity?"

"We can observe the effects of gravity in everyday life. We can't observe the effects of Qi in everyday life."

"Yoga, meditation, Qi gong-- just look inwards for a bit and you'll feel it."

"That's such a cop out answer. So I need to dedicate my life to being a monk just to prove you wrong?"

"You just spent weeks building a fucking torsion balance to prove me wrong on gravity but you can't spend ten days meditating? Just to see for yourself? Anyway, you believe it's all a placebo? You believe all the patients in these studies were tricked into thinking their diseases away?

So rather than believing that carefully placed needles in locations that correspond to nerve plexuses of the body have a positive effect on the bodies healing response, you think that people just thought their diseases away and it doesn't matter at all where the needles are placed? I understand the placebo effect, but why would that be more convincing in this case? Why would civilizations spend so long carefully developing this systematic approach to acupuncture if it didn't even matter where the needles were placed? You think they were fooling themselves this whole time? You think no one noticed it was all a sham? I'm not saying it's impossible, but why would you think that's the more likely explanation?"

"I can build a torsion balance and you can see the results. You can build a torsion balance and I can see the results. That's good science. It's verifiable. If I meditate, only I can see the results. You just have to take my word for it that Qi exists. It's not science. It's subjective."

"Yes, but neither meditating nor the torsion balance 'proves' anything. All sensation is subjective, including vision. As we established, our universe can be run by elves whether or not you can reproduce the Cavendish experiment or not. And if I think you're lying about your meditative experience, I can do it myself, to 'verify' the study."

"You're just being pedantic. It's a spectrum. Yeah, technically vision is subjective but it's much more reliable than 'hey guys I totally feel this energy rushing through my body right now. you gotta believe me. it's legit.'"

"Ok maybe vision is intuitively and practically 'more objective', but just because we can't observe the effects of Qi with the five conventional senses doesn't mean you can just discount its existence. Your preventing yourself from studying the beautiful and internal dimensions of life, that have been continually developed by some of the greatest minds in history for tens of thousands of years, simply because you've drawn this line between what's 'acceptably subjective' (e.g. sight) and what's 'unacceptably subjective' (e.g. the feeling of energy).

Anyway, a century ago you'd be a lost cause but now lemme try this explanation. Why couldn't pressure or needling modulate the functioning of the nervous system? Why couldn't this modulate the bodies healing response?"

"Ok well you know what, I actually tried acupuncture once for my back pain and it didn't do shit. You know what never fails me? Gravity."

"Gravity fails me all the time."


Bob puts his phone on a table.

"Why isn't it falling Alice?? Why isn't the phone rushing towards the Earth? Where's your fucking gravity now?"

"Are you serious? This is second grade physics. The gravitational force is still there, it's just being canceled out by the upward force of the tabletop. Here let me draw you a free diagram..."

"Ok so now your telling me the table is pushing UP on my phone? With what Alice? It's invisible arms?? Sounds like your making shit up to cling to your theory."

"You just have a very poor understanding of physics which makes everything seem ridiculous to you. If you knew anything about Normal Force this would all make sense."

"Ok, Alice. Tell me about normal force. Why does the table push up on the atom?"

"Well the table doesn't want to collapse, obviously. It wants to retain it's physical structure. So to prevent itself from collapsing, it needs to cancel out the downward force exerted by the phone due to the pull of the Earth's gravity."

"No, not obviously Alice. How does a table want or need anything?"

"You're being difficult on purpose. Not literally want or need, it's just a laws of nature--"

"A LAW of nature? Where is this congress of nature, Alice? Please tell me. I want to stay up to date on nature's legislation so I'm not so clueless on all these LAWS like gravity."

"Ugh hold on I have to refresh my physics knowledge."

Alice frantically browses physics.stackexchange.

"Ok check this out. See it's just Pauli's exclusion principle. Science."

"You just learned that! You've been prancing around evangelizing gravity PURELY on faith. You didn't know what was going on you just blindly believed it! Who the fuck is Pauli anyway? Can we trust him? What the fuck is Pauli's exclusion principle Alice? What is this sentence Alice, explain it to me: 'In quantum mechanics, the particles are spread out in a wavefunction, and the condition that they can't be at the same point means that wherever their spread-out-ness overlaps, the wavefunction is zero'."

"Ok just because I'm not a scientist, just because I don't understand every detail of quantum physics, doesn't mean I have to be skeptical of everything they tell me. I have faith that the entire argument for the existence of gravity and normal force is out there on the Internet. And I have faith that if I took the time, I could study it, and it would make sense. And besides, like I said, I CAN SEE WITH MY OWN EYES that gravity works. So I'm more inclined to believe in it. And scientific theories never contradict my day to day experience."

"If you invested the same amount of time studying why people believe in acupuncture, it would make sense too. If you were more sensitive, you'd find that the theory of Qi also coincides with your day to day experience.

You might see the phenomena of gravity with your own eyes, but you can't see electrons with your own eyes. You're blindly believing all this Paul's exclusion principle nonsense with literally no knowledge or observation of what it is."

"Ok, I concede that there's always a small leap of faith in our belief in these scientific theories. But science has so much more ethos than these 'ancient geniuses' you're so fond of. Science is methodocial, peer reviewed, transparent, and collective. Ancient civilizations lacked rigor, coordination, intelligence, and had a life expentancy of like, 30."

"Ok that's a whole other discussion. Whatever. So you believe gravity because you can see it? Do you believe in evolution then? Have you ever seen a chimp mutate into a human. Like an evolving Pokemon?"

"That's not at all how evolution works at all... And, ok, I haven't seen that data myself, but I trust that there's data out there and people have checked it. Wait-- do you not believe in evolution either??"

"Uhhhhh let's not get into that. Back to acupuncture and gravity.

So physical barriers confound the obvious, visible, physical, results of gravity. The phone blocks the table from rushing into the earth, obscuring the normally obvious effect of gravity. And by physical, I mean things that can be observed and measured with modern instrumentation and the standard five senses. Acupuncture is a subtle phenomena, so the observable results, such as the improvement of disease, can be confounded by subtle barriers."

"Subtle barriers???"

"So you believe in the placebo effect right?"


"So you believe thought affects the body?"


"How do I know your disbelief in acupuncture didn't confound its effects?

The mind affects the nervous system. Acupuncture affects the nervous system. So, your negative thoughts could be confounding the effect of acupuncture on your body. You can't discount that as a possibility."

"That's such a cop out! You can say that about anything. E.g. 'Homeopathy only works for me and not anyone else because they're all ruining the effects with their mind!!! They just have to ~~believe!!!~~'"

"I agree it sounds frustrating, but why take it out on homeopathy? Why dismiss the entire field of energy medicine just because we don't have the instrumentation to measure this "energy" (Qi, Prana, Orgone, etc) objectively? We should approach these fields with openness and humility.

No one believed Copernicus when he said the Earth revolves around the Sun. People take time to come around. After a few hundred years they say 'of course the universe works this way'. But still, the next time someone comes around and says 'hey guys i think we were wrong once again', people forget all historical lapses in judgement and are again hyper-dismissive.

No one can 'prove' quantum mechanics is true. And physics gets flipped on it's head all the time. We can only observe its usefulness. This sways us in the direction of belief. No one can 'prove' that Qi is real. But we can observe its usefulness. And that should sway you in the direction of belief. And science and eastern philosophy are slowly converging anyway.

Not only does acupuncture have a large body of contemporary scientific evidence behind it, but it's been meticulously developed for thousands of years. I respect your decision to not try it yourself due to your heuristic of 'I don't want to try anything until mainstream intellectual society declares it scientifically proven', but it's ridiculous to actively dismiss acupuncture as a sham. This is not only intellectually irresponsible, but also discourages others from experiencing its benefits."

"Ok, ok, I get the point. But like you said, nothing can be proven. There's still much room for disbelief. I don't think you're stupid anymore, but acupuncture still seems fishy. I just don't believe its real. Maybe it is. Maybe there's a chance. But, personally, I still don't believe in it."

"Well, personally, I don't believe in gravity."

I’m not skeptical of gravity or Pauli's exclusion principle or whatever. Bob and Alice are extremes. I just want to say that we can't truly 'prove' anything about the universe. All we can do is believe. And belief should be a spectrum.

This sounds obvious and many people recognize it intellectually, but in feeling and practice, they end up treating it as binary. Especially when it comes to alternative medicine. They set arbitrary and inconsistent thresholds for the evidence and ethos required for something to be the “truth”, and declare everything under it to be “false”.

Yeah gravity is more convincing than acupuncture. But it's also a much more basic phenomena that's much easier to prove and observe. It's an uneven playing field.

I wish I was more open minded in the past. I wish I internalized that the absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence. I wish I really FELT belief as a spectrum, rather than setting malleable threshholds (10% for weed being good for health, 99.9999% for the harmful effects of microwaves) for what's true and what isn't.