Amongst the three winners of this year's Spinoza prize is theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde.* A well-known name for readers of this column. (See here, here, here, and here.) The jury report describes Verlinde as creative, ingenious and ambitious, and mentions Verlinde's role in four major scientific breakthroughs:
"As a young PhD student he achieved world fame with his Verlinde formula that is now widely used by mathematicians and physicists. Together with his twin brother Herman, and Edward Witten and Robbert Dijkgraaf, Verlinde formulated the Witten-Dijkgraaf-Verlinde-Verlinde equations. These are used by string theoreticians in their calculations. In 2000, Verlinde developed the Cardy-Verlinde formula and recently he was in the spotlight with his theory to explain gravity. Verlinde proposes that gravity is not a fundamental force but rather an amalgamation of other forces. If Verlinde’s gravitational theory is correct, then that will have huge consequences for how we think about the universe and its evolution."
Erik Verlinde at the 2011 Spinoza Prize ceremony (third from left)
It is great to hear that Verlinde's recent entropic gravity conjecture has contributed to him receiving this prestigious prize. However, I am rather disappointed in the way the Spinoza prize report refer to this contribution of Erik Verlinde. Entropy an amalgamation of other forces? Bollocks. Either the jury members have completely failed to understand Verlinde's hypothesis, or they have knowingly dumbed down beyond recognition the very core idea.
Gravity is not a force let alone an amalgamation of forces. Since Einstein we know that the effects we refer to as 'gravity' can be understood as the absence of straight line motion in bend spacetimes. And now Verlinde has postulated that this bending, and hence gravity, is nothing more than the consequence of differences in densities of micro states available to the system. Verlinde's central idea is that in a theory in which spacetime is emergent, inertia and motion are both based on differences in information content.
I encourage the Spinoza prize jury to have a look at the entropic toy model dubbed 'Mikado universe', and then to reconsider their description of Verlinde's entropic gravity idea.
Whether or not the Spinoza prize jury understood Verlinde's latest results, fact is that the multiple million euros that come with the prize will allow Erik Verlinde to dedicate his energy to this line if research without many distractions on issues like securing research grants. We should not forget that despite 175+ subsequent entropic gravity articles by researchers from all over the world, the whole entropic gravity idea is nothing more than a potential lead towards the still elusive quantum gravity theory. Verlinde's entropic gravity is to quantum gravity as the Bohr model is to quantum field theory. As Verlinde has repetitively announced, the real work is still ahead of us.
When I asked Erik what his research plans are, he mentioned to be busy with two new articles. He expects to finish these at the end of this month, and will disclose the central ideas at the string theory conference in Uppsala. Erik's thoughts on entropic dark energy will be part of his presentation.
Will keep you posted...
* The other two 2011 Spinoza prize winners are LOFAR astronomer Heino Falcke, and children and media researcher Patti Valkenburg.