Visualizing Gravity


Gravity just bugs the hell out of me. It is not the equations; they are easy enough to work with. The problem is trying to visualize what is going on. What process is at work here? What is the mechanism? I have never been able to see it. And as far as I can tell, no one else can either.

Therefore, with innocence and arrogance, I set out to develop some way of looking at gravity that would be more intuitively satisfying.

The outcome has been very curious. I found that I could, indeed, work out a hypothetical underlying mechanism that is fairly easy to visualize and which seems consistent with observed gravitational phenomena. But then one day something unexpected happened. While puzzling over the implications of the model, I suddenly saw, completely and with transparent clarity, the identity between gravity and acceleration. Understand: I am not saying that I saw why gravity and acceleration have equivalent equations. I saw that they are a single phenomenon.

That experience was both exhilarating and unsettling. I had not planned on this. Up until that moment I had regarded these speculations as a form of intellectual game. Now I was not sure what to think. I had gone all the way through engineering school, which included many semesters of physics, and had never really grasped this point. Of course, it was clear enough that the equations relating to gravity and acceleration worked the same. But any feel for why this should be so eluded me. Now, this "game" of mine had provided me with an utterly compelling mental image. Click. Now I saw it. I was shaken. What was going on? Had I stumbled upon something that had some true inner validity? Damned unlikely. I have had only a rather routine education in physics - this is not my area of expertise. Any idea that I might be able to make an original contribution in physics was immediately followed by the suspicion that I might be losing my marbles.

But it got worse. Much worse.

Off and on, for a period of almost twenty years, I would occasionally pick this up and try to follow the logical implications that were emerging. I gradually found myself cornered into a position that seemed truly bizarre. How could this possibly make any sense? Was there any way to test this? Any experiment?

Then the shocker. It suddenly dawned on me that not only could the matter be put to the test, but that the measurements had already been made. The results were well known. And the results clearly supported my supposition. Now I was in deep trouble. Goose pimple time.

Astonishingly, what had started out as an interesting exercise had scored another direct hit. But this time with much larger implications. This would not do at all. It was simply too much. More strongly than ever, I began to suspect that I was discovering what it feels like to be a crackpot -- obsessed by a vision of profound significance, but which only you can see. Intolerable.

So now I am stuck. The root of my problem, really, is that I am not sufficiently skilled in physics or mathematics to either prove or disprove my thesis. There may be some clear, logical argument which would demonstrate that the whole notion is flawed. Though disappointing, I would regard that as a release from an uncomfortable corner. One could then look back and regard the episode as a curious, enthralling aberration. But the stress and uncertainty would be ended.

The model I have developed is presented below. At the outset, let me concede that what follows is profoundly at odds with the prevailing paradigm. The underlying principle is radically counterintuitive. One can reasonably argue that such a thing clearly cannot be. Well and good. But what is so intriguing is that once one is past this painful initial hurdle, the model not only works, it provides new insights. At least for me. The fact that these ideas seem crazy should not necessarily be regarded as a bad sign. Consider the following:

           "For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy,
           there is no hope."
                F.J. Dyson, Scientific American, 1958

           "We are all agreed that your theory is crazy.  The question 
           which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a 
           chance of being correct."

                Niels Bohr (referring to a paper by Wolfgang Pauli)


The thing that got me started on this was my frustration with trying to understand gravity. And fields in general, for that matter. As far as I can tell, the definitions of fields are circular:

     The effects associated with gravity are caused by the 
     gravitation field.

The gravitation field is that which produces the effects we associate with gravity.

If it acts like a field, it must be a field. Great. But this gives us no help visualizing what mechanism might be at work to produce the effects. In fact, it doesn't tell us anything at all.

The relativistic viewpoint is a little better, positing that the space/time structure near a massive body is "warped" in a way that brings about the phenomena we refer to as gravity. But for me, this still falls short of explaining why such a thing might take place.

So I started putting together a model that I found more physically satisfying. And the longer I thought about it, the more bemused I became.

Gravity, on the face of it, is a sucking in toward any massive body. So I visualized an inward-flowing fluid. For want of any better word I call this fluid "ether." Of course, I am aware that the concept of an all- pervasive ether is not part of current scientific dogma. But that is of little concern -- this whole line of speculation is crazy anyway. A little ether will be inconsequential in the context of a truly grand heresy. Besides, what I propose here is different from earlier ether models.

I do not say that matter is somehow immersed in a sea of ether. My contention is that nothing exists but ether. The phenomenon called matter is an action of ether.

If this notion seems regressive, it is. But at least we are in good company. Take note of this statement:

       "...we arrive at what may be one of the grandest generalizations 
       of modern science -- of which we are tempted to say that it ought 
       to be true even if it is not -- namely, that all the phenomena of 
       the physical universe are only different manifestations of the 
       various modes of motion of one all-pervading substance -- the ether."

             A.A. Michelson, "Light Waves and Their Uses"
             University of Chicago Press, 1903


In order to see what I am getting at, do the following thought experiment:

Imagine a closed vessel, perhaps like a large hot water tank. See Figure 1. The vessel contains air under pressure. Now imagine a thin hollow tube, like a drinking straw, that pierces the side of the vessel and reaches near the center. Air is leaking out. Air is moving in from all directions toward the opening at the end of the tube inside the tank.

OK, now keep your eye on that region around the upper end of the tube and let the tank and the tube vanish. But imagine that the sink remains in place. What we are left with is an air sink, floating free. Air flows in from all directions, then simply disappears. It is annihilated. This is the first image I want to work with.

Now imagine two of these floating sinks fairly close to each other. See Figure 2. Each sink is affected by the inflow of air moving toward the other sink. If they are free to drift, it seems apparent that they will tend to drift together, eventually coming in contact.

Enough preamble.


I submit that "mass" and "ether sink" are identically equivalent. I am not saying that the presence of mass causes an ether sink. I am saying that mass is an ether sink.

By ether sink, I mean the phenomenon described above, but in ether, not in air. The problem, of course, is that there seems to be nowhere for the ether to go. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this essay, the concept must be accepted; at least provisionally, just to see where it leads us.

What follows illustrates how I propose to construct a cosmology from this building block.


As above, imagine an ether sink. The surrounding ether accelerates as it approaches the sink, where it disappears. The velocity of the flow as it passes through the sink is fixed; it is always the same along all axes. The size (mass) of the sink is stated in terms of volumetric inflow rate. This total inflow rate is fixed. The sink exists far from anything else; that is, the distant surrounding ether sea is motionless. Left alone, the sink tends to do nothing. It just floats there, endlessly draining off the stuff of the universe. The inflowing is symmetrical along all axes. Balance. Stability.


Imagine the same vast motionless ether sea with a single ether sink. But this time let the sink be moving steadily with some fixed velocity V relative to the surrounding medium. Here is how this works: the flow lines into the sink shift around so that they are more crowded at the leading edge and more sparse at the trailing edge. The amount of shift is proportional to the translation velocity V, and the amount of change at the leading edge is exactly the same as the amount of change at the trailing edge. The inflowing is no longer symmetrical from all directions, but net inflow along the axis of translation (and along all other axes) is constant. The sink propagates smoothly. No bow wave, no wake.

To get a good grip in this image, approach it as follows. See Figure 3. Imagine a unit cube immersed in water. Inside the cube is some sort of pump. In Figure 3a the pump is not running; the situation is quiescent and there is no movement. In Figure 3b we have turned on the pump, which draws water into the right face and pushes it out of the left face. Clearly, the cube propagates through the medium. The velocity (length/time) is equal to the flow rate (length/time) divided by the area of a face (length^2).

Now refer to Figure 4. In Figure 4a we postulate that the water is flowing equally into the left and right faces. As in Figure 3a, the cube tends to move in neither direction. Now suppose that the flow rates into the two faces are unbalanced. See Figure 4b. As in Figure 3b, the cube propagates to the right. In this case the velocity V is equal to the difference in the flow rates (Fr-Fl) divided by the area of a face.

This cubical element is used only for the sake of illustration of the principle. In reality the symmetry is spherical, with inflow from all directions. See Figure 5. In Figure 5a the inflow is symmetrical along all axes, and the sink does not propagate. In Figure 5b the inflow in greater on the left side and less on the right side. The sink propagates to the left. In this case we define an "effective cross section area" (Aeff) along the axis of propagation such that the same relationship holds as in Figure 4b: velocity V is equal to the difference in the inflow rates (Fr-Fl) divided by Aeff.

And this goes on forever. "Setting in motion" is equivalent to "rearranging flow lines," which is also equivalent to acceleration. This requires force from some outside agency. The amount of force is directly proportional to the number of lines that must be rearranged. Although we will not try to examine in detail how objects interact in this context, note in passing that when one body exerts force on another body, what is really involved is a mutual rearrangement of flow patterns. Following the rearrangement, and taking both bodies into account, the net inflow along the axis of the encounter remains unchanged. This is the principle of conservation of momentum. Once the encounter is over (returning our attention to Figure 5b), the new arrangement of flow lines persists. It does not spontaneously decay back to full symmetry. That is, the motion relative to the medium persists. This characteristic is stipulated to satisfy Newton's first law.

In passing, note that nothing changes if we assume the sink to be stationary and the surrounding medium to be moving with a fixed velocity. There is no way to discern one situation from the other.


Again, imagine the motionless ether sea with its one motionless ether sink. The flow lines into the sink are symmetrical from all directions. Now, ignoring how this might happen, imagine that the ether sea is no longer motionless, but is accelerating. That is, the velocity of the surrounding medium is different from point to point. For the sake of illustration, let us say that at some distance above the sink the ether is moving downward with some velocity V0, and at some distance below the sink the ether is moving downward with some greater velocity V1. The velocity increases smoothly from V0 to Vl. See Figure 6.

Now what happens to the ether sink? The inflow from all directions is still symmetrical, so the sink has no tendency to translate relative to the surrounding medium. It is carried along at the velocity of the medium at its location.This situation is depicted in Figure 6a. And since the medium is accelerating, the ether sink takes on that acceleration. Examining the situation at the leading and trailing edges, we find the following:

Since no outside agency has acted on the sink, the symmetry of inflow has not been rearranged. Also, since the surrounding medium is accelerating from point to point, it is clear that the velocity of the medium near the leading (bottom) edge of the sink is greater than at the top edge. There is a "delta v" to deal with that is proportional to the velocity gradient. This sets up stress in the sink; the leading edge wants to go a little faster than the trailing edge. This corresponds to a recognized physical effect, which comes about whenever an object is in free fall in a gravity gradient. The object goes into tension along the axis of the gradient.

Now let's see what happens when we reach into this picture and try to stop the sink from moving downward with the flow. Again we encounter the fundamental characteristic of ether sinks: an outside agency must exert force to bring about a rearrangement of flow lines. And rearranging flow lines is the same as changing velocity relative to the surrounding medium. Here we have the connection between force and acceleration. As we slow the sink to a halt, the flow into the top edge will increase and the flow into the bottom edge will decrease by a like arnount. This is depicted in Figure 6b. As with the constant-motion case, above, the sink can now be viewed as propagating upward relative to the medium. But remember, the velocity of the medium at the bottom edge of the sink is greater than at the top edge. If we force the flow rate into the sink at the top edge to increase by an amount proportional to the velocity of the sink relative to the medium, then the flow rate into the bottom edge must decrease by a like amount -- and that is not quite the right amount to bring the bottom edge into balance. This irreducible imbalance results in an irremediable force downward. The sink is constantly being sucked (or pushed) down by this inflow imbalance. The magnitude of the downward force is proportional to the acceleration of the ether field and to the size of the sink (net volumetric inflow rate). And net volumetric inflow rate, of course, is identically equivalent to mass.

Thus, depending on one's point of view, the force just described is either the "f" in f = ma, or the "w" in w = mg.

When the sink is released it again takes on the acceleration (not the velocity) of the surrounding medium. The velocity of the medium at that point has been canceled by the rearranged flow lines.

Notice how this model helps clarify certain observable phenomena:

First, whether we say that we are applying a force to make the sink accelerate relative to a fixed medium, or that we are applying a force to stop the movement of the sink in an accelerating medium, the situation is identical. The whole business about gravity being the same as acceleration is transparently obvious.

Second, when the sink is released in an accelerating field, it takes on the acceleration of the field -- irrespective of the size (mass) of the sink or its initial velocity. More correctly, the size of the sink automatically causes the force to adjust so that, when released, its acceleration will be dependent only on the acceleration of the surrounding medium, not the size of the sink.


I.    The phenomena associated with mass are elucidated by viewing all 
      mass as ether sinks.

II.   An ether sink is an inrushing flow of ether to a small but finite 

III.  The size (mass) of the sink is proportional to the total volumetric 
      inflow rate.

IV    The inrushing ether can be viewed as either passing through into an 
      unknowable inverted realm, or as being simply annihilated -- used up.

V.    Along any axis through the sink, the net ether inflow rate is a fixed 

VI.   If the inflow rates along both senses of the axis are equal, the 
      sink is at rest along that axis relative to the surrounding medium.

VII.  Changing the balance of the inflow rates along an axis requires force 
      from an outside agency.

      Corollary.  Any arrangement of inflow rates persists indefinitely 
      unless acted upon by an outside agency.

VIII. If the inflow rate increases along one sense of the axis, the inflow 
      rate along the opposite sense decreases by the same amount.

IX.   If the inflow rates along the senses of the axis are unequal, the 
      sink is translating relative to the surrounding medium.

X.    Two sinks, close enough to effect each other, will tend to drift 
      together.  Total inflow rate for the combined sinks is simply the 
      sum of the inflow rates for the two individual sinks.


Using the model outlined above, it is possible to visualize an explanation for some of the manifestations of gravity. Which is what I thought I set out to do. But a very remarkable thing happened.

I kept pondering the physical implications of having ether leaking out of the system via matter. What does that mean? Will we eventually run out? Of course, I realize that matter is very scarce in the universe, which is essentially tiny specs of matter, with vast reaches of nothing in between. But what about the total supply of ether? Is it gradually thinning out? Can that be checked somehow?

And then it hit me. Good Lord, it can be checked! It has been. We all know the results. If light is somehow embedded in the ether, and the ether is slowly thinning out, then the wavelength of the light will gradually be stretched out. And the longer the light has been in transit, the more pronounced will be the effect. The red shift, for Christ's sake!

And that moment, that unexpected and unsought connection, was breathtaking.

What I had pursued as a sort of intellectual game suddenly took on a life of its own. I was considerably shaken. Could I possibly have stumbled upon something of importance? What are the counter arguments? What sort of demonstration could disprove this model?


Imagine a large closed vessel -- back to our hot water tank. The vessel has a valve to the outside world that can be either open or closed. See Figure 7.

At one end of the container we place a fixed-frequency sound source -- say a tuning fork. For the purposes of our experiment we will stipulate that the tuning fork always vibrates at the same frequency, no matter what. At the other end we place a microphone to pick up the sound from the tuning fork. We ignore reflections from the walls of the container. We stipulate that the vessel is very long compared to the wavelength of the sound.

Before we start the experiment we pump some air into the tank to raise the pressure above ambient. Now we strike the tuning fork to start it humming. The microphone picks up the sound. Obviously, the frequency picked up by the microphone is the same as the frequency of the tuning fork.

At this point we crack the valve to the outside world. The pressurized air in the tank starts to leak out. Question: While the air is steadily leaking out, what happens to the frequency of the sound picked up by the microphone?

My answer: The sound drops to a lower frequency. The amount of frequency change is related to the rate of pressure change in the vessel. The mechanism is as follows:

When a sound wave originates near the tuning fork it has the expected period of 1/f. Think of this sound wave as "embedded in" the local structure of the air. As that wave propagates down the vessel the pressure is dropping. The average spacing of molecules is increasing. This tends to stretch out the wave; the period increases, the frequency goes down.


Same as above, but we make the vessel longer and have two tuning fork locations instead of one. See Figure 8.

Same experiment as above. This time we selectively cause source 1 to operate, then source 2. Now, with the pressure gradually decreasing, what does the microphone hear?

My answer. The frequency received from S2 is slightly lower than from S1. It seems clear that the amount of frequency shift is related to both the rate of pressure change and the path length. The further the source is from the microphone, the longer the wave is in transit, and the more pronounced will be the effect of the decreasing pressure.


Forget the vessel, this is done in open air. As before, one microphone and two sound sources. This time we put each source on a movable platform. With everything stationary, check that the microphone receives the same frequency from each source. See Figure 9.

Now we set each source in constant motion away from the microphone. We make S2 move faster than S1. What does the microphone hear now?

Of course, the microphone hears S2 as a lower frequency than S1. Doppler.

Notice how similar this is to what the microphone hears in the earlier experiment. In fact, if we set the two experiments up carefully, we should be able to select distances, leak rates and source velocities such that the results of both experiments are identical.

So this means that if we are limited to using the microphone -- that is, if we have no other way to get information about the sound sources -- then we could conclude that (1) the sources are moving away at different rates, or (2) they are standing still and the overall system pressure is dropping, or (3) some mix of these two effects is taking place.

Curious, no?


To summarize, this model hypothesizes a universe made up of ether. There are sink points where the ether is draining off in some unimaginable way. These points give rise to the phenomenon we call matter, or mass. The size of the mass is proportional to the volumetric flow rate. The effects we associate with gravity are brought about by the effect of the accelerating, inrushing ether flow. In the absence of an accelerating ether flow (that is, at a point distant from a massive body), the same effects are brought about by accelerating a body (sink) relative to the stationary ether field. Thus the identity between acceleration and gravity.

The ether density in the universe is gradually decreasing. This seems consonant with increasing entropy. Also with a gradually decreasing force of gravity. This universally decreasing ether density implies that light waves, long in transit, will gradually stretch out, thus lowering in frequency. And this, of course, is an alternative explanation for the red shift.

This all raises some interesting and perplexing questions.


The famous experiments that were regarded as disproving the existence of ether do not seem so persuasive in the context of the view described in this essay. The problem is that they postulated a stationary ether, which the earth moved through. In our view, the ether at the surface of the earth is always in motion, and the main ether flow direction is down, toward the center of the earth.

On the other hand, experiments that do demonstrate the presence of ether have already been done. It is accepted that gravity affects light. Light accelerates when it shines "down" and decelerates when it shines "up." Experiments verifying this were done in 1960 by R.V Pound at Harvard.

In the context of the present thesis, one must try to visualize the etheric inflow into the earth, as it moves in its orbit. The overall etheric flow in the solar system is dominated by the inward acceleration toward the sun. The earth, in order to stay in orbit and not fall into the sun, must have increased inflow into the face that is away from the sun, and at a certain angle relative to the orbital tangent. See Figure 10.

The inflow angle can be resolved into two components: one tangent to the orbit, corresponding to orbital velocity; and the other inward, corresponding to the solar inflow velocity. The implication of this model is that, for any one location on the surface of the earth, there should be a slight twenty-four hour variation in the measured effect of gravity.

Shape Distortion in Free Fall

Any object, that is, any aggregation of ether sinks, is intrinsically embedded in the local ether. In free fall directly down, the surrounding ether is accelerating and funneling down into a narrower space. The implication is that a unit cube of ether, starting from deep space and approaching a massive body, will undergo a curious deformation.And the embedded object must inevitably take on the same distortion. See Figure 11.

If a cubical object is fabricated in deep space and then allowed to fall to earth, when it reaches ground level its top and bottom surfaces will have developed a slight curvature with a radius equal to the radius of the earth.

Further, the sides will have a sight taper, remaining parallel to the earth radius. Worse yet, this object will alter its shape if it is rotated 90 degrees around a horizontal axis! Irrespective of which face is down, the shape will still be as shown above. Of course, this figure is exagerrated to show the effect. For any object of practical size, the distortion is of miniscule proportions. But it is there; and now we must confront the most uncomfortable implication springing from the speculations outlined in this essay.

A Plastic World

Now things really get strange. If any of this makes sense, then it appears that all physical objects partake of the same peculiar plastic behavior as our hypothetical space-built cube in Figure 11. That is, all objects, being intrinsically immersed in and constructed of the flowing ether, change shape when reoriented relative to the etheric medium. And immediately the question arises: if this is so, why don't we notice it? There are two answers to this: one simple, and one bizarre. First, as a very practical matter, the effect is tiny for objects of ordinary size. No one would just casually notice changes of such microscopic proportions. But there is a more profound and disturbing logic which leads to the conclusion that this effect, though "real," may not be observable at all by any method of measurement. To understand why this might be so, consider the problem of measuring the distortion of the object shown in Figure 11. Let's say we have a pair of calipers large enough to measure the base of this large cube. See Figure 12.

First we adjust the jaws of the calipers to measure the base of the cube. This is shown in Figure 12a. Then, without readjusting the calipers, we measure the top of the cube. Guess what, the top exactly matches the fixed setting of the calipers! The reason is that the calipers, being ether-bound like everything else, change shape when moved to the new location. And the change is exactly what is required to make the top appear to be the same size as the base. Now you begin to see the problem.

Postscript to HTML Version.

As I was reformatting this for this site, I had one additional insight. The idea that underlies this essay, that is, the sink point into which ether flows and just disappears, is very difficult to accept. But it is not as strange as it seems at first glance. Consider: The concept of the black hole is widely accepted by the scientific community. And what about the stuff that gets sucked into a black hole? Where does that go?

Perhaps the "sink" which I hypothesize is related to a black hole. Perhaps it is a black hole that is "sub-critical" in some way, and only when a sufficient number of my rather tame sinks have clumped together does the resulting mass change its nature and become a voracious black hole.


Original notes: December 1970 Holy Wholly Holey essay: March 1971 Neotherics essay: 1985 HTML version: January 1997 Jerry Shifman The Sea Ranch, California

Go back to Neoetherics home page.