7: A Brute and Awkward Force

(1923)

There is no record of a precise moment of inspiration – no apple falling on Townsend Brown’s head, no lightning striking a sky-bound key, no parallel furrows in a sugar beet field – only Brown’s insistence that whatever he knew, “he knew it all at once.” Something of the experience was described in a short memoir that Brown dictated to his wife decades later: 

During the summer or fall of 1923, I not only made considerable progress in chemistry, but in physics. I devised an X-Ray spectrometer for astronomical measurements – specifically the sun – and began to cultivate the thesis that a radiation other than light prevailed in the Universe, independent of our Solar system. I felt that this radiation could be gravitation. That it exerted a pressure (however small) on all forms of matter. This gave rise, in my view, to what could be considered as a new theory of gravitation. Such a theory called for gravitation being a “push” and not a “pull.” This seemed logical in that Nature abhors a vacuum. A mechanism for the transmission of gravitation theoretically was needed. 

The thesis that shines through this statement – indeed, the central concept that engaged Brown’s imagination for the rest of his life – is “a radiation other than light prevails in the Universe…” 

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