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The Death of Antigravity, Holiday Serial 2013, Part I

Last Year’s Holiday Serial
Better late than never. I had a nice little holiday serial planned for this year that was going to detail the actual science done by the physicists peripherally mentioned in Nick Cook’s, “The Hunt for Zero Point“.  For those not familiar with it, Cook’s book is a rollicking good read in the fringe physics field that contains equal parts historical research, investigative reporting, and (very) speculative history.  I’d intended the serial to focus on the valuable and interesting physics that had been done as a result of the drive to ‘discover anti-gravity’ that Nick Cook describes as having taken place in the mid-1950s under the auspices of companies like the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft company and Bell Aircraft.  As any serious physicist will tell you, no serious physicist has ever worked on anti-gravity.  For that matter, no serious physicist feels really comfortable even saying the A word.  Consequently, the papers I intended to report on had nothing to do with anti-gravity except that the anti-gravity zeal of a few corporate and military leaders had funded them.  I didn’t figure I had much to add to Cook’s reported history either, still though, I thought the actual physics would be a nice point of interest.

After my last final of the semester, I plopped my copy of The Hunt for Zero Point into my bag, and hopped onto megabus headed for Dallas and the 27th Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics.  The symposium is only held every few years, so as it turned out, this year was the 50th anniversary of the original event which was held at the Southwest Institute for Advanced Studies, now known as the University of Texas at Dallas in 1963. Looking through the program it occurred to me that a lot of the people whose papers I intended to comment on in the holiday serial were actually going to be at the 50th anniversary symposium.  There was Rindler whose 1960 paper, “Hyperbolic Motion in Curved Space Time”[1], calculated how far a rocket could travel across the galaxy if it were able to accelerate constantly at 1 G.  Cecile DeWitt-Morette who figured prominently in part V of last year’s serial would be there.  Finally, Louis Witten who worked for the Research Institute for Advanced Studies which features prominently in “The Hunt for Zero Point” was on the program as well! I was looking forward to getting to hear their presentations, and hoped to possibly get to discuss some of their papers with them.

A roundtable discussion had been scheduled for the second day of the meeting when Rinder, DeWitt-Morette, Witten and several other scientists would reflect on their experiences in the field of relativistic astrophysics since the first Symposium in 1963.  I trundled onto the bus in downtown Dallas headed to the UT Dallas campus where the roundtable was to be held. As the bus navigated Dallas traffic in a shockingly efficient fashion, I enjoyed discussing a new observatory that was being constructed in the hill country west of Austin with my astronomer seatmate.  The auditorium for the roundtable was almost completely full and abuzz with conversations ranging from the application of the Casimir effect to biophysics, to what various audience members surmised the topic of the roundtable would be.

Some of the participants in the Texas Symposium Roundtable, starting from the left Charles Misner, Louis Witten, Cecile DeWitt-Morette, Roy Kerr, Joshua Goldberg, and James Anderson

As all the participants were seated, the moderator announced that the format would entail each of the participants, in alphabetical order, taking two minutes to reflect on what they found interesting in the 50 years since the original symposium. The moderator would then ask questions of the participants for the remaining portion of the scheduled one hour and forty-five minute roundtable.  The format was clearly more of a guideline than a rule, because after almost two hours of fascinating reminiscences from Anderson, DeWitt-Morette, Goldberg, Kerr, Misner, Penrose, and Rindler, Louis Witten took the microphone.  That’s when it happened.  Dr. Witten said that rather than discuss the birth of modern relativistic astrophysics that had taken place at the 1963 symposium, he would like to speak about a death, the death of anti-gravity!


Rindler W. (1960). Hyperbolic Motion in Curved Space Time, Physical Review, 119 (6) 2082-2089. DOI: 


One Response to “The Death of Antigravity, Holiday Serial 2013, Part I”

  1. Antigravity and Vice Presidents: Part II of the Holiday Serial | The Canonical Hamiltonian Says:

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