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"Gravity – Our Enemy Number One"
May 9, 2012 9:38 AM   Subscribe

"Roger Babson fought a war on gravity. Today we briefly wonder — what if he had won it?" Entrepreneur Roger Babson was an MIT-educated engineer, respected statistician, and prolific author. He ran for President on the Prohibition ticket in 1940 and predicted the 1929 stock crash. He also waged a quixotic battle against gravity.

After the drowning of his sister (and later grandson), which he blamed on "Gravity which came up and seized her like a dragon," he published an essay entitled "Gravity – Our Enemy Number One."
Gradually I found that "old man Gravity" is not only directly responsible for millions of deaths each year, but also for millions of accidents ... Broken hips and other broken bones as well as numerous circulatory, intestinal and other internal troubles are directly due to the people's inability to counteract Gravity at a critical moment.
Babson's search for a partial gravity shield proved unsuccessful, but his Gravity Monuments still stand (previously) on many university campuses.
posted by Tubalcain (40 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
The gravity monuments stand!? Man, there's a cruel reminder of the futility of a man's life's work if ever I saw one.

There's really no need to spike the ball like that, gravity.
posted by yoink at 9:50 AM on May 9, 2012 [11 favorites]


One wonders how an MIT-educated engineer could be so innocent of the conservation of energy.
posted by DU at 9:51 AM on May 9, 2012


My breasts have valiantly taken up the standard and fought against Evil Gravity. Sad to report, they are not winning.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:52 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's really no need to spike the ball like that, gravity.

If gravity can't spike the ball, no one can.
posted by gauche at 9:54 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


One wonders how an MIT-educated engineer could be so innocent of the conservation of energy.

Yeah, for sure -- prohibition never works.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:59 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking of spiking the ball:

When a graduate student earns his doctorate at the Institute of Cosmology, he undergoes a strange ceremony befitting the history of the Institute and the Foundation that paid for it. The graduate kneels down and his advisor drops an apple on his head, in hopes that it might inspire him in the manner of Isaac Newton. They do this in front of Babson's monument.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It takes a sky-blue juggler with five red balls
To shake our gravity up.

posted by mosk at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2012


He also had motivational mantras carved on boulders in the woods in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Heavy things, boulders.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 10:04 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gravity isn't just a good idea...It's the law.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:10 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Doctor… we have this pet physicist and… something's wrong. It keeps babbling about linguistics and neurology and climate science."
"He's a little old, isn't he?"

posted by zamboni at 10:11 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A gravity shield would not violate conservation of energy as long as it took energy to maintain.
posted by Nothing at 10:12 AM on May 9, 2012


Great post! I started my MBA @ Babson but fell out of it . . . I've lived in Boston most of life and wasn't familiar with his epic battle, the Gloucester boulders or the Tufts affiliation. Cool.
posted by eggman at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2012


Silly man. All he had to do was to study gravity's opposite -- comedy.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah! This is a campaign I can support! Gravity is something that is keeping us all down! I call on everyone to rise up against gravity! Take a stand people!
posted by fuq at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


...an essay entitled "Gravity – Our Enemy Number One."

If the obesity trends hold up, we'll be seeing similar essays real soon.
posted by Behemoth at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


A gravity shield would not violate conservation of energy as long as it took energy to maintain.

So it would seem until you ask: How much energy?

If I shield gravity under a 1 ton block and lift it 10 stories with no energy, then I needed to input 10 story-tons to the generator to maintain conservation. But I could have lifted it 20 story-tons also with no energy, in which case I needed to input 20 story-tons. Which did I input?

Maybe a gravity generator coupled to a time travel device (used to predict future energy requirements) would work...
posted by DU at 10:36 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


You win again, gravity.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:47 AM on May 9, 2012


DU: No reason (for this imaginary device) to not work exactly like electrical load. Your fuse box doesn't need to know the future to provide electricity to a variety of devices with different power demands.

The atoms could simply lose energy as they rise. (Compensated for by entropy at the device itself.)

This problem might also be self correcting. Removing gravity from the center of a column would cause focusing around the perimeter, like light focused through a magnifying glass.

If it was some other force, not necessarily gravity, it could function by offsetting a fixed amount of mass t could also work by offsetting a fixed amount of mass with a constant force. (wind tunnel)

So basically, when you are inventing a device working on an unknown principle its pretty difficult to prove it doesn't work.
posted by darkfred at 11:02 AM on May 9, 2012


The atoms could simply lose energy as they rise.

The good news: You'll no longer fall down.
The bad news: When you trip, you will instantaneously freeze to absolute zero.
posted by DU at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


DU: Exactly. It revolutionizes fishing because the very act of bringing them to the surface flash freezes them.

Of course the ships fusion reactor would have to provide significantly more energy than was lost and would generate a ton of waste heat. But thats refrigeration in general.
posted by darkfred at 11:08 AM on May 9, 2012


DU: I think so long as the person is hovering no energy is lost or gained. Potential energy != energy, this is really the thing that breaks anti-gravity in my opinion its a paradox where you are actually creating less energy.
posted by darkfred at 11:12 AM on May 9, 2012


Reading this post has me humming "i fought the law and the law won"

I am truly hopeless.
posted by oshburghor at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2012


I remember the first time I saw one of these monuments, sort of.
posted by thelonius at 11:42 AM on May 9, 2012


Celsius1414: "Speaking of spiking the ball:

When a graduate student earns his doctorate at the Institute of Cosmology, he undergoes a strange ceremony befitting the history of the Institute and the Foundation that paid for it. The graduate kneels down and his advisor drops an apple on his head, in hopes that it might inspire him in the manner of Isaac Newton. They do this in front of Babson's monument.
"

that is adorable!
posted by rebent at 11:51 AM on May 9, 2012


If only we could get the Republican party to focus on this war instead of their usual fare.

This made me wonder whatever happened with the zero-point energy foofaraw of a decade ago. Seems like it's still out there, just sort of ... running on fumes at this point.

N.B. My Firefox dictionary did not include "foofaraw". Pity. There seem to be no shortage of these.
posted by dhartung at 12:06 PM on May 9, 2012


"The poor beleaguered fellow," Reg continued, "George III, I mean, was, as you may know, obsessed with time. Filled the palace with clocks. Wound them incessantly. Sometimes would get up in the middle of the night and prowl round the palace in his nightshirt winding clocks. He was very concerned that time continued to go forward, you see. So many terrible things had occurred in his life that he was terrified that any of them might happen again if time were ever allowed to slip backwards even for a moment. A very understandable fear, especially if you're barking mad, as I'm afraid to say, with the very greatest sympathy for the poor fellow, he undoubtedly was. He appointed me, or rather I should say, my office, this professorship, you understand, the post that I am now privileged to hold to - where was I? Oh yes. He instituted this, er, Chair of Chronology to see if there was any particular reason why one thing happened after another and if there was any way of stopping it."
posted by saturday_morning at 12:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


"What were the three questions that George III asked you?"

It's relevant, see, because gravity is just time turned sideways.
posted by gauche at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The article notes he was born in 1875 as a TENTH GENERATION American. Is that possible? As a non-American, I don't know when America was first colonized.

Doing some rough math, I guess that would place the first generation at around 1775, which is reasonable I suppose. Must've been pretty rare, though, I would think.

Also reminds me of my Dad's favorite piece of graffiti: Gravity doesn't exist - the Earth SUCKS!!
posted by Phreesh at 12:40 PM on May 9, 2012


Figure 20 years per generation, not 10.

The first Babsons arrived in Massachusetts in 1637.

Roger Babson is a 10th generation Babson.

My grandfather is an 11th Generation Babson*.

My grandfather's great-grandfather was Gustavus Babson, who was Roger Babson's grandfather, which makes Roger Babson one of my grandfather's uncles (?) (an uncle once removed?).

Roger Babson's entry in the Babson Genealogy offers a few more details about his life and work.


-------------------------
*My mother is a Babson, but I'm not.
posted by notyou at 1:00 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gravity: It's not just a good idea, it's...

Oh. You've heard that one before.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2012


*My mother is a Babson, but I'm not.

However, you are, in a matter of speaking, a Babsonson.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2012


Here's a detail I just learned:
The surname of Babson is extremely rare in England. It is possible that after Isabel and her sons left there was no other family that bore the name of Babson left in the country. When one considers that in 1637 Isabel was a widow with a married daughter, two unmarried sons, aged 25 and 15, and had lost her youngest daughter three years previously, it is not surprising that she elected to undertake a new life in the colonies. One may also add the fact that there had been serious outbreaks of the plague in England as well as an unsettling economic depression and "harassment by overzealous Church officials."
Given the family's origins, maybe the genealogy ought to have been arranged matrilineally rather than patrilineally.
posted by notyou at 1:24 PM on May 9, 2012


Ah, PopSci! You and your weak attempts at restricting content by geographical market can go and fuck yourselves...

(Bypass it here. Bonus: no ads)
posted by Pinback at 3:11 PM on May 9, 2012


Actually, there may not be gravity at all in this world. At least not as a fundamental force. [PDF]
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2012


Gravity isn't just a good idea...It's the law.

I thought it was just a theory, like relativity, germs, and evolution.
posted by TedW at 5:26 PM on May 9, 2012


I hesitate to post this, on the grounds that MeFi will might obliterate the server, but... the New Boston Historical Society has a very nice section on the Gravity Research Foundation, including a number of pictures dating from that era and copies of two otherwise-hard-to-track-down articles from the Nashua Telegraph. (It's one of the bigger papers in southern NH, behind the Union Leader).

Also, to snag a quote from the PopSci article, New Boston was selected as being "a safe distance ... in case [Boston] should be bombed in World War III". (Really.) The irony of Babson's choice of New Boston as the GRF site is that the southeast corner of New Boston was owned by the Air Force and used as a bombing range: planes would leave Grenier Field and aim bombs at the pond near Joe English Hill. Later, after the advent of satellites, the Air Force turned this area into the New Boston Air Force Station, one of eight satellite tracking stations run worldwide by the US...making this otherwise-small town into a prime military target in the event of nuclear war. Oops.
posted by Upton O'Good at 11:56 PM on May 9, 2012


Suppose, instead of gravity, the Earth was a giant magnet, and we all were made of metal. We'd be attracted to the Earth. Pulling someone away from the Earth takes energy. It takes more energy, the further away you pull that person.

That argument doesn't nullify the simple fact that it is possible to shield magnetic fields.
posted by eye of newt at 12:04 AM on May 10, 2012


Coralized "quixotic battle" link for those not in the US (PopSci does geo-IP redirection, and the localized sites don't carry the same content as the US parent).
posted by flabdablet at 4:26 AM on May 10, 2012


If I shield gravity under a 1 ton block and lift it 10 stories with no energy, then I needed to input 10 story-tons to the generator to maintain conservation. But I could have lifted it 20 story-tons also with no energy, in which case I needed to input 20 story-tons. Which did I input?

I think you'll find that a simple gravity shield consisting of a length of steel cable attached to a crane will automatically adapt its energy requirements to those of the movement of the load being shielded.
posted by flabdablet at 1:42 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


How has no one mentioned, "--We Also Walk Dogs"?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:37 AM on May 11, 2012


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