(Beware, this is a long and heavy read…)
There are no doubt others, but I have come to recognize six main forces that affect and characterize what existence feels like to me. Two of these forces are inherent to the Universe; the other four exist only in the realm of living things, chiefly human beings. As I said, I’m sure there are many more forces than just these six, but during the extent of my forty-year stay on this planet, I think these have influenced my life the most.
The first is the most universally recognizable one.
Surely my readers require no explanation as to what gravity is. As for myself, I’m not completely sure how it works, or why it works… or who/what keeps it working… but I know what it is. Quite simply, it’s the innate force of attraction matter possesses wherein one form (the lesser) is bounded to another form (the greater), such as a person (the lesser) being confined to the surface of the Earth (the greater), or the Earth (the lesser) being bound to orbit its star (the greater), or the star (the lesser) being bound to orbit the center of its galaxy (the greater)… and so on. Gravity is interesting because it has no reliance on mass. Logic would suggest that something heavier would fall faster and with more force than something lighter. But if you stood atop the Chrysler Building and dropped an anvil and a penny simultaneously, they’d hit the ground together, falling at the exact same rate, their differing masses having no effect whatsoever on gravity’s ability to pull them at whatever speed it dictates.
I prefer to think of gravity in terms of its tethering ability. Without it, we would be flung off the surface of the planet on which we live, or maybe we’d just float up and away listlessly, rising through the sky gradually, knowing that sooner or later we’re going to go beyond the threshold of the atmosphere and drift into cold, dead space… whereupon we’ll die horribly and gruesomely. In other words, gravity makes existence possible and reality tolerable.
Having said that, it can just as easily destroy you. Gravity, when you really get down to it, isn’t your friend. Sure, it keeps you tethered to the planet, but it will fuck you over good if you fall from far enough of a height. Indeed, if you foolishly decided to jump off the Chrysler Building to see if you’d fall at the same rate as the anvil or the penny, gravity isn’t going to just scoop you up in its tender hand and place you securely on the ground. No, gravity will crush your atoms into a vapor and feel no remorse for having done so.
Gravity is by far the most prevalent of all the forces at play in this great Universe of ours. There is nowhere you can go in existence where gravity isn’t the first and foremost rule of reality, either by its presence or by its absence. Gravity holds the Cosmos together and is the very foundation upon which all the other forces and mysteries of the Universe are built. It makes life possible, and, at the same time, makes death inevitable.
And yet… gravity… despite its overwhelming influence and overall effect on the ongoing security of the Universe and existence itself, isn’t the most powerful force in the Cosmos. Not even close.
It seldom gets as much attention as gravity, but inertia, what one might call the reverse of gravity, is nearly just as prevalent in the Universe and just as effectual in its mechanics. Understood in its simplest terms, inertia is matter’s ability to resist changes to its motion. Even simpler put, inertia is the quality matter enjoys on its own, without gravity or some other force’s exertions making it move. Ergo, if all of the gravity in the Universe suddenly winked out of existence, the frozen state of the galaxies and planets, coming to a gradual halt in the absence of gravity’s ability to move them, would exist in a state of rest. Inertia is their state of being at rest, or inert. If gravity begins to churn again, inertia could keep them at rest if, theoretically, they could choose to do so.
Inertia, much like gravity, makes our continued existence possible. Have you ever wondered why the gravity of the Sun, which is clearly powerful enough to exert a pull even on those utmost of distant objects in the Solar System, doesn’t just suck all the planets into its bosom and consume them? The reason is inertia. In short, the planets fight back. Through their ability to resist the Sun’s gravity (not entirely, but enough), they fall toward it while also forcing themselves to fall away from it. This generates an orbit, a dance between gravity and inertia wherein a planet, feeling the attraction of the sun, resists that attraction. Gravity cannot pull it fully and inertia cannot fully keep it away, but together they create a motion of continuing tension, resulting in the never-ending elliptical revolutions of smaller bodies around larger ones.
Humans can resist gravity as well, but only up to a degree. For instance, gravity is always pulling smaller things toward the larger things, but… if you raise your arm and keep it in the air, thereby resisting gravity’s desire to pull it back down, you are exerting inertia on your arm.
In a more philosophical vein, I tend to recognize inertia in my own life in terms of my continuing, stubborn resistance to change. I can’t be certain, but I often feel the inherent rhythm of existence is motion, not rest, at least as it applies to the living of a human life. I think to be alive, to exist as living matter, is to feel the relentless need to do, to go, to move, to create, to evolve, to undergo an interaction wherein something happens. That, I suppose, would be called the gravity of just being alive, of existing. And yet I, much like a planet in response to a star’s attraction, possess the ability to fight back, to force myself not to do, to go, to move… etc. A healthy balance should create an orbit, wherein I’m moving through life at the right pace, at the right curve, trekking through my existence with just the right amount of exertion. And yet, being a living thing (as opposed to a mindless planet or star), I can, simply through the force of will (which I will talk about next), interrupt this balance and tip the scales too much on the side of inertia.
Ergo, I’ll become apathetic and sedentary, being at rest too much, or more than what is good for me.
This is why, as powerful and prevailing as gravity and inertia are, there are still greater forces to discuss (though they may not be physical)…
Among the many interesting aspects of humanity (or any living species, for that matter), the ability to choose one thing (a) over another (b) is perhaps one of the greatest facets of existence, a force far more powerful and intriguing than gravity or inertia. Will, according to the religious, is the gift of “God.” In reality, it is merely the byproduct of sentience. To be aware is to possess the ability to select what looks, smells, tastes, and feels best. A cat, sans the complexities of the human mind, can nevertheless choose whether to make its bed on high ground or low ground, to eat one type of food over another, to urinate here rather than there, and to exercise any number of choices based on its mood, its needs, its character, and its preferences. This is something a star or planet cannot do. A star, approaching its inevitable demise, inflating itself into a red supergiant in anticipation of its nova, can’t simply choose to uproot itself and explode somewhere else, thus sparing its neighbors from the effects of its death. A planet, when feeling the gravitational effects of its star, cannot decide to go rogue and extradite itself from its solar system. Now, it may indeed get flung out of its orbit (for rogue planets so exist in the Cosmos in some abundance) but only when an outside force is exerted upon it; an impact of some kind.
But will, the ability to make choices for oneself, surpasses these lifeless forces of gravity and inertia because it involves consciousness. To be aware includes the ability to counteract the natural forces unnaturally, whenever it suits one’s agenda and when physics or technology allow.
This is taken a step further when you introduce the thinking human into the equation. Not only do we have the innate ability to choose, which naturally comes with being aware, but we also have reasoning minds. Ergo, our will, our choices, can be based not only on preference and disposition but also what we logically deduce to be better or right or suitable for us. The force of human will, therefore, is greater than gravity because gravity, while powerful, can’t override itself. Gravity must do what it does unwaveringly; it cannot decide to do otherwise. A human can, through the sheer force of will, terminate its own existence at whim, something a star or the gravity that binds it cannot do.
The force of will, particularly when it’s aided by a reasoning mind, can outperform any of the Universe’s natural forces any time it wants to. Gravity may keep us tied to the surface of our planet, but humans can choose to explore space anyway, assuming they can design and construct the necessary devices for doing so. Inertia may try to keep us at rest, but we can decide to stand up, run outside, and go jogging through the park. When you fall from a height, gravity wants to annihilate you. But you can, through the ingenuity of your mind, build devices that permit you to land safely. Gravity and inertia, therefore, while no doubt being incredibly powerful forces that hold the mechanics of the Universe together, are nevertheless weaker than will, for will always has the final word in the end…
Well, up to a degree.
For now, the motion of existence is always moving toward its eventual entropy, and no matter how much unnatural force we exert or how many choices we make, we’ll ultimately face that same entropy and demise. We already have the will to do otherwise, yes; but the technology isn’t there.
As powerful as will is, there is something greater still. This is a dark truth to behold… but behold it we must, for this too is the reality of being human. With sentience and a reasoning mind comes the ability to choose, yes; but something else comes also with those gifts, something less inspiring. I’m speaking now about the human’s unique proclivity for obsession. Or addiction, if you prefer. The simple fact is, the power of human will is formidable indeed, but frequently the force of desire is even stronger. For instance, a man might want to be monogamous to his wife. His will is therefore firm in that direction. However, desire, temptation, and all the things that come with them, can and frequently do override will. He may buckle under the weight of that craving and find himself doing something that was expressly against his will (the irony, of course, being that this surrender to desire is also his will; humans are nothing if not complexly paradoxical). It’s at this point that the man may begin reading self-help books dealing with “self-control.” The point, clearly, is that if self-control was universal, it wouldn’t have a name, it would just be business as usual. The fact that humans run into problems with self-control is evidence that the human will, regardless of its strength, is often still thwarted by the overwhelming power of desire.
Desire is, I think, one of the most powerful forces in this Universe. Desire is what makes a human (or any living thing) exert its will against nature. A planet doesn’t remain in orbit because it wants to, it remains in orbit because, pending some other cataclysmic force, it must. But a human can defy gravity any time it wants to—“want” being the operative word. Ergo, we might say that will is the human’s ability to choose, but it is desire that makes the choice.
The terrible thing about desire, which can be a good thing on its own, is that it can and often does become an instrument of self-abuse in the hands of a human, the old proverb being “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Desire, by its very nature, exerts a kind of domineering force on us, taking over all other priorities and eventually snuffing them out until only the desire’s object matters, whatever it may be. Thus, a simple yen for a refreshing beer now and then becomes an addiction to alcohol. The love of good food becomes the vehicle of lethal obesity. And here’s the main point: if will was just as powerful as desire, the obese and the alcoholics could reverse their behavior at any point and become something healthier. The fact that they can’t, the fact their addiction has taken over, is proof that while their will to change might be strong, the desire for what now owns them is even stronger. And again, the paradox is that addicts of any kind usually desire to be free of their addiction, but psychologists say they don’t really want it as much as they want their “fix.” The sad thing is… in my experience… everyone is an addict; only the nature of the “fix” varies.
In my opinion, the second most powerful force in all existence is love. Love can personify so many definitions, so many manifestations depending on the culture, the time, the individuals involved, and the varying feelings the individuals experience. Yet, for being so powerful, it is really rather limited. Gravity, which can move celestial bodies and keep the Universe glued together, can be found in all corners of existence, but true love is found seldom and, as far as we presently know, only on this planet. It’s quite surprising, consequently, that love, being in such short supply in this Universe, is nevertheless the second most powerful force in existence (again, only in my opinion). But that is, I think, a testimony to the truth of its power.
The interesting thing about gravity and love is that while you feel the former every day without even really realizing it, the latter is rarely felt and, sadly, some people live their entire lives without ever experiencing it. More interesting still is that gravity, while being “felt” constantly, can never be a sensation you experience on the inside. There will never be a shudder coursing through your soul (if such a thing exists) wherein you say to yourself, “Oh, wow, I just ‘felt’ gravity tugging on my heartstrings.” It’s always there yet it rarely makes its presence known, assuming you aren’t leaping off buildings or trying to impulsively soar into flight. Love, on the other hand, is a force you can feel on the inside even when no one else knows about it. Gravity might be keeping twenty people in a room tethered to the surface of their planet, but perhaps only three of those people are actually experiencing love on the inside (thus rendering love, what I believe to be more powerful than gravity, a mystical, spiritual force which, unlike gravity, is far too difficult or even totally impossible to quantify mathematically).
A long time ago, when I told a small group of friends that I believed love is more powerful than any of the Universe’s fundamental forces, I was asked to explain why. I had a difficult time with this, not because my reasons for this belief weren’t sound, but because the power of love, which everybody knows about, either through their experience of it or their lack thereof, is almost impossible to fully understand and/or discuss in scientific, intellectual terms. I might know “true love” with my wife, but how exactly am I supposed to explain that to a friend who doesn’t feel the same way about her? How am I supposed to accurately describe what it feels like to be in love when that sensation is something uniquely defined by my own solipsistic existence? I can’t. How, then, am I supposed to account for my opinion that love is more powerful even than gravity? It would be like trying to explain to a man living in 1845 why the new Star Wars movies pale in comparison to the original ones. He has no frame of reference in which to appreciate my assertion. Perhaps there were some among that small group of friends who, like me, have experienced love, but they would have just as hard a time trying to make me comprehend and know what their emotions felt like to them. Love is penultimately powerful, yes; and yet it’s so elusive and mystical that discussing it intellectually is almost a complete waste of time.
As powerful as love is, I believe there is yet another force more powerful still, the most powerful force in the entire Universe in my opinion, and it’s a dark one…
I don’t have much to say about it because I don’t like to spend much time thinking along these lines, but as sad as it makes me to say this, I really do think guilt is the most powerful force in the Universe. And when I say powerful, I suppose I actually mean crippling.
Granted, not all forms of guilt are bad. Guilt is, in fact, a healthy response to something you have done wrong. Why do I say it’s healthy? Because guilt is supposed to motivate you to make things right. If you’ve hurt someone and experienced no consequences for having done so, you should feel guilty until you rectify the matter. That’s the express purpose of guilt as it’s supposed to function. But it so often malfunctions. People often feel guilty for something they didn’t do, for a crime they didn’t commit, for a fault that isn’t theirs. Or perhaps guilt just continues to linger after they’ve made restitution for whatever it was they did wrong. In any case, guilt comes in and weighs down the soul and traps the life in a never-ending cycle of self-torture and self-punishment wherein the victim (yes, “victim”) is held back from living a full and rewarding life.
Why do I believe guilt is more powerful than love? Simple. Consider how potent love is, and then consider how so many people are emotionally and romantically obstructed in life due to their ongoing attachment to guilt! How many of these people would be experiencing true love, either for someone else or even just for themselves, were it not for the heavy guilt that’s crippling them and holding them back? If love really were the most powerful force in existence, guilt would be obliterated at every turn, every time someone dares to decide that accepting themselves or someone else wouldn’t be so bad after all. But time and time again, love, which trumps gravity, will, and desire, is oppressed by guilt and consequently goes unexpressed and unexperienced. It’s sad, yes. But it’s the truth.
Ergo, of all the forces at work in existence, and of all the forces I’ve identified in my own life as being influential in one way or another, I’ve found that guilt is, by far, the most formidable to reckon with… and as of yet, I haven’t found the means of thwarting it.
Take from my book, The Unnecessary Essays.
 The reader ought to know my views on extraterrestrials by now.