Pro Levitatem: An Appeal to Rolfers to Re-introduce the Concept of Levity to our Paradigm

Below is a short article written for a readership of Rolfers but which members of the general public may also find of interest.


Practitioners of Structural Integration do not feel ourselves to be therapists.  The gravitational field is the therapist.

—Ida Rolf

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, The Storm-Cloud of the Ninteenth Century


In the mid-seventeenth century, a group of natural philosophers from the Florentine Accademia del Cimento 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 sole e l’altre stelle). In a similar manner, the Florentine thinkers set forth Gravity in contrast to Love as the real primum mobile. Newton’s publication of Principia Mathematica near the end of the century appeared to ratify the Florentines 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 dismissal 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 as truth would be tantamount to the simultaneous rejection of science as we know it. All of this by way of preface to justify the proposition that Levity be reintegrated into our paradigm of physics. 

Many objections may immediately be raised to this prospect. 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, Dr. Rolf betrayed an intuition of this quality on many occasions without invoking it by this name. Most commonly, the unspoken notion of Levity appears when she attempted to articulate the fundamental manner in which structure and anatomy is to be conceived. The 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 a quintessential description of Levity on terms other than its own. 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 can be described just fine with familiar engineering 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 on the contrary, it is only the immediate perception of heat as a macroscopic qualitative reality that its microscopic underpinnings can be coherently understood and conceptualized as such. In a similar manner, I believe that Dr. Rolf could never have articulated her theory of tensegrity in terms of Gravity [1] were it not for an immediate perception of the body’s lift, which can only be perceived in the mode of Levity. Moreover, to grant such primordial recognition to the force of Gravity without simultaneously recognizing a force that is polar to it both flouts the principle of Polarity [2] 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 characterisation of Levity from a philosophical standpoint. I hope this will also suggest why its acceptance may benefit the Rolfing community. 


In principle, whereas Gravity is understood to be the force that accounts for the weight of object, Levity can be conceived as the inverse of this. 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 had 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 the Levity. At the same time, inert matter is bound to the influence of Gravity. Gravity relates to inertia and Levity to “alertia,” to coin a term off the cuff. 

That living sap rises against the gradient of Gravity in the spring is a 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 Gravity and its hunger for what lies below. When it is said that “only dead fish go with the flow,” the same relations are being indicated. In essence, therefore, Gravitation 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 affirmed that Levity is the principle that accounts for that the cosmos does not collapse on itself. 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 else I would not have written this piece.

More than anything, 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. Some may cast aspersions on the importance of such coherence and affirm instead that it is preferable to go by feel. [4] But I believe this 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 need 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. For instance, we have all been educated to consider the various taxonomies by which our work may be evaluated that Jeff Maitland developed. Obviously all of the taxonomies concern the same object (i.e. the human subject) and are motivated by the same concern (i.e. regard for the principle of Holism). And yet the actual relation amongst them is not always clear. How does the structural taxonomy relate to the sociobiological one, for instance? The question is isomorphic with the perennial question of philosophy: how does the body relate to the soul? The ordinary conceptions of physics have little to offer by way of a satisfying response and must merely content themselves with identifying correspondences between measurable phenomena and reported internal experiences.

But the notion of Levity serves to bridge the apparent cleft between the outer and the inner. Note that both warmth and light, besides being physical phenomena, are also immediately available to perception in a way that earth, water, and air are not. Our perception of these phenomenological elements is mediated through touch and sight and, to a lesser degree, other senses. Touch, however, is actually the experience of repulsion between two solid bodies, which cannot occupy the same space according to the definition of the term “solid body.” And sight is an inwardisation of light and not of the objects that reflect that light. In contrast to earth, water, and wind, however, warmth is immediately present to experience and so is light. The fact that our dreams are not dark like the space in which our sleeping bodies lie is a testament to the interiority of light. I believe that the notion of Levity can shed new light on this question and establish a coherence that may otherwise be only intimated. This article is not the place to present an in depth study of any of these particular questions, much less to dispute any point of view about an answer to them. I hope only to have succeeded in presenting the notion of Levity and suggesting several ways in which it may benefit our work. 
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[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 other words, the position that conceptual clarity over the nature of our work is unnecessary is a position that must be articulated conceptually or not at all.

[5] Cf. “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.


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