ABSTRACT This article is an appeal to the Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) community to consider how an introduction to our way of thinking of the concept of levity as a polar and commensurate principle to gravity could benefit our work.
Take the very top and centre of scientific interpretation by the greatest of its masters: Newton explained to you—or at least was once supposed to explain, why an apple fell; but he never thought of explaining the exact correlative but infinitely more difficult question, how the apple got up there.
John Ruskin in
The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century
In the mid-seventeeth century, a group of natural philosophers from the Florentine Accademia del Cimento (Academy of Experiment) published a treatise called Contra Levitatem. In this short work, they argued that there was no reason to appeal to any force other than gravity to explain the motion of physical objects. Dante had affirmed in the Divine Comedy, some four odd centuries prior, that the earth and all the nested planetary spheres are turned in perfect harmony by ‘the love that moves the sun and the other stars’ (l’amor che move il solel’altre stelle). In a similar manner, the Florentine thinkers set for gravity in contrast to love as the real primum mobile (prime mover). Newton’s publication of Principia Mathematica near the end of the century appeared to validate the Florentines’ initiative and serve to establish the contra levitatem doctrine as incontrovertible fact.
As a result, it became the tacit paradigm to explain celestial and terrestrial motion and, for just that reason, it has hardly been noted since. Indeed, the notion of levity as a quality of buoyancy polar to the centripetal pull of gravity, if it is mentioned at all, is usually being employed as an analogy to describe a psychological disposition and never uttered in a univocal scientific sense.
If science were the same thing as truth, then the rejection of levity by the Florentine academicians would be grounds for the same dismissal of it by everyone to follow. But, obviously, the relationship between science and truth is more complicated than simple identity. In fact, dialectical refutation of erstwhile theories is the engine as scientific progress as such. For this reason, the affirmation that science is the same thing final truth – truth come to rest – would be tantamount to the simultaneous rejection of science as we know it. Science, by nature, is restive; always striving beyond itself. All of this by way of preface to justify the proposition that levity be reintegrated into our paradigm of physics. Readers are encouraged neither to accept nor reject these propositions, but rather to try them out for size, as it were, to discover if they fit the keyhole of experience and unlock new dimensions of vision. Naturally, I believe that experience will ratify them, or else I would not have written this piece.
Many objections may immediately be raised to the prospect of reintroducing the notion of levity to our conception of the physical universe. I will address a few of them and I hope this will be sufficient to show that levity deserves real consideration in our community. Among the first objection that is likely to occur to Rolfers is that Dr. Rolf never mentioned levity. To my knowledge, this is true as far as it goes. Nevertheless, Rolf revealed an intuition of this quality on many occasions without invoking it explicitly by this name. Most commonly, the unspoken notion of levity appears when she attempted to articulate the fundamental manner in which structure and anatomy are to be conceived. Rolf’s view of anatomy that affirms the primacy of fascia and that interprets the function of the bones not as support structures but as spanners for the fascia is essentially a description of levity.
More specifically, it is an example of how the conditions of levity may be described in the language of gravity.
Why do we need the notion of levity, then, if whatever it is and whatever it does can be described just fine with familiar gravitational terms? In answer, consider the analogy of warmth. It is not assumed that because temperature can be reduced to energy or motion that the concept of heat can be done away with. Quite the contrary, it is only the immediate perception of heat as a qualitative reality that its atomic underpinnings can be coherently understood and conceptualized as such. In a similar manner, I believe Rolf could never have articulated her theory of tensegrity in terms of gravity were it not for an immediate perception of the body’s lift.1. This can only be perceived directly in the mode of levity. Moreover, to grant such original recognition to the force of gravity without simultaneously recognizing a force that is polar to it both flouts the principle of polarity2. and remains conceptually incomplete because it fails to account for phenomena that do not uniformly follow the gravitational gradient.
I hope this brief discussion and treatment of objections has served to establish a legitimate foundation for the contra levitatem maxim to be reappraised and perhaps rejected. Before I conclude this article, I wish to offer a brief characterization of levity from a philosophical standpoint. I hope this will also suggest why its acceptance may benefit the Rolfing community.
In principle, gravity is understood to be the force that accounts for how two objects are drawn towards one another. In most day-to-day contexts, this is tantamount to describing gravity as the force that accounts for the weight of an object. Levity, on the other hand, can be conceived as the inverse of this.3 Levity, therefore, is the principle of lift in spite of the tendency of matter to follow the gravitational gradient. Observation of nature will reveal that these counter-gravitational influences bear a relation to warmth and light. The fact that the sunlight draws a crocus from the dark earth in spring is a quintessential expression of levity in action. If we do not perceive it as such, I believe it is because we have no suitable concept at hand that can disclose it in this way. Newton’s apple, to which Ruskin alluded in the epigraph to this article, is another example: that it could fall in the first place implies that it has risen and this is a fact that gravitational physics may offer at most an oblique and circuitous description, as by appeal to osmotic pressure. In a general sense, life itself bears an essential relation to levity. At the same time, inert, lifeless matter is bound to the influence of gravity.
That living sap rises against the gradient of gravity in the spring is another very expressive demonstration of levity in action. Inversely, in autumn, the erstwhile living sap falls in the form of withered leaves. This is the consequence of the leavening, counter-gravitational principle of life having withdrawn and relinquished the leaf to gravity and the latter’s endless hunger for what lies below. When it is said that ‘only dead fish go with the flow’, the same relationship between the withdrawal of life and the exclusive capitulation to the gravitational influence is being indicated. In essence, therefore, gravity is a contractile and centripetal force while levity is the inverse. This is to say, levity is buoyant, suctional, and expansive. It may even be stipulated, in articulating a definition for this term, that levity is the principle that accounts for that the cosmos does not collapse on itself.
More than to agitate for any evolutions or revolutions in contemporary scientific paradigms, however, I have written this apologia of levity because of my excitement at what it may offer to our work. Specifically, the notion of levity can assist the conceptual coherence of Rolfing SI. Some may cast aspersions on the importance of such coherence and affirm instead that it is preferable to go by feel.4. Of course, they are correct insofar as they are already intuitively working with the principle that I have chosen to designate by the term levity. But I believe that neglecting to seek clear conceptual underpinnings to understand our work is akin to attempting to circumnavigate the globe but at the same time refusing to consult a map. Granted that the map cannot substitute
for the territory. And yet, neither can the territory be a map of itself.5. If it could, no map needs ever have been drawn in the first place. If we affirm the utility of a map, then we must at the same time affirm the benefit of improving it.
I have argued that the addition of the principle of levity in polar relation to that of gravity can benefit our work in just this way. Aside from this proposal, the purpose of this article has been to pose questions, which I hope may serve to promote further inquiry and discussion of this issue, and not to provide answers to them.
Max Leyf Treinen has had a Rolfing SI practice called The Way of the Elbow since 2013 in Anchorage, Alaska, where he also teaches courses in ethics and critical thinking at a university. He recently earned his doctorate in philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies after successfully defending a dissertation on the epistemological foundations of Goethe’s scientific method and the manner in which Rudolf Steiner helped to carry it forward in his own work.
1. Gravity itself has, since Newton’s first mathematical formulations of its effects some three hundred years ago, now been reinterpreted as an emergent phenomenon that is the result of warped spacetime in the vicinity of massive bodies following Einstein’s theories.
2. As articulated by Jeff Maitland, Jan Sultan, and Michael Salveson.
3. I hesitate to describe it as a force because this seems already to begin a conceptualization of levity in terms of gravitational physics that are, in some manner, contrary to it.
4. Of course, they are correct insofar as feeling is a sine qua non for effective work. But if they mean to discount the significance of achieving conceptual clarity as to the principles and aims of our work, then they cannot really assert this position without affirming in practice what they are ostensibly denying in principle. In other words, the position that conceptual clarity of the nature of our work is unnecessary is a position that must be articulated conceptually or not at all.
5. See “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges (from Collected Fictions) for a philosophical exploration of this relation in the form of a short story.