I posted this question in Physics StackExchange, but it was closed because it was considered "non-mainstream physics", not sure why. Here's the description I wrote for it:

My question is philosophical, I'm just curious to hear people's opinions. I'm also interested in any resources that are related to this question. Have you read any papers that attempt to investigate this question or propose an answer?

LIGO has already proven that space itself can warp/change shape. To me, it's impossible for something to bend if it isn't made up of subunits. Lets say we had an object that was only made of one unit of matter, in other words, this object is not made up of smaller sub-units like atoms. Wouldn't this mean it's impossible to bend it?

In your opinion, is this question even up for debate? Has LIGO not only proven that space can form waves, but has also proved that space is made up of sub-units of matter? If not, why? Can you think of a way spacetime can bend without being made up of sub-units?

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    The question got a good answer on the physics site (currently upvoted +3 ). I take it you don't agree with it?
    – D. Halsey
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 18:02
  • @D. Halsey I’d like to hear more people’s opinions. And in regards to that response, I feel like they dodged my question by saying due to the mathematics used in general relativity, it’s unnecessary to model space as being composed of matter. They didn’t explain how a gravitational wave can propagate through nothingness. To me, this is very illogical. If space has curvature, even to the point where it can form waves, then it must be made of something. Yes, we have mathematical tools that allow us to model its dynamics, but shouldn’t we think more about how it’s even possible for space to bend? Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 4:49
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    "Lets say we had an object that was only made of one unit of matter, in other words, this object is not made up of smaller sub-units like atoms. Wouldn't this mean it's impossible to bend it?" Problem is, space is not material object in the sense you are using. Material objects are in space. So the analogy might not hold.
    – armand
    Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 9:27
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    We don't do opinions here. Commented Jul 29, 2021 at 12:05
  • @armand Thank you for your thoughts. Are you saying that space is not made up of matter? If this is the case, then why does it bend? Anything that physically exists in this world is made up of matter. If space is not made of matter, then it would not physically exist. We know that space exists physically because we can now detect waves of space that propagate throughout the universe. If space physically exists, then how can it bend without being made up of matter? Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


OK SpaceKidd_N7, let me try to explain this for you.

Some of the world's most eminent physicists have indeed spent their entire careers figuring out how it is possible for space to bend, when at the same time it demonstrably does not consist of matter. The problem here is not that no one has thought about this, but that you don't know that they have. Your task, then, is to read what they have written; see for example Kip Thorne's book on black holes and time warps.

Note here that it is possible to mathematically formulate an account of gravitational physics in which spacetime is in fact composed of (unimaginably small) discrete subunits- which do not consist of matter, by the way- although there is no astrophysical evidence or data in hand which suggests that this formulation is true. This model is called loop quantum gravity and the physicist Lee Smolin has written extensively on it, including books for nonspecialists.


Ernst Mach until his death in 1916 completely denied atoms existed, as indicated by Boltzman's theories & confirmed by Einstein. Because he believed in continuous substances, and waves, as fundamental. We should be as wary of a bias toward thinking everything is made of lumps, as the converse. We don't have to make up our minds except on the basis of evidence, and until then keep our minds open. Physical intuition can be useful, like say the idea of no action-at-a-distance around since before Newton & a major source of criticism of his theory, & which principle was borne out centuries later by Einstein's work. Intuition or guiding principles can inspire, but are a poor guide if they prevent us accepting evidence, as Hossenfelder makes the case in Lost In Math.

Our best picture is not exactly of everything as particles, but everything as fields with particles as excited states of those fields. That is, Quantum Field Theory (QFT). Bosons have rest mass because they interact with the Higgs field, by the Higgs mechanism.

Water waves are distortions propagating through a bulk. Quantum waves like DeBroglie's, are matter waves, waves in the probability of a finding a particle at a given location. In the same way other fields can distort within space-time, we know space-time itself distorts. At a blackhole, the distortion becomes so strong that all the possible tracks of particles inside, even of photons, cannot cross the event horizon, making the inside causally separated from the outside (Hawking radiation involves one half of entangled pairs, so information flow out is still an issue).

We know General Relativity (GR) doesn't mesh with QFT. Canonical quantisation of relativity, works for Special Relativity. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation is the furthest towards combining GR & QFT, and it's notable it has no time variable. The disjoint between the quantum picture where time is just background & nearly everything is reversible, & GR where time is part of space-time, essentially a field, is a major problem.

What we need is a picture where space & time are not fundamental. As @nielsnielsen mentioned already Loop Quantum Gravity is one such approach.

It makes sense to step back, and look at what we know about what a dimension is. Noether's theorem tells us conservation laws are directly equivalent to continuous symmetries under transformation. So how might time be emergent?

Discussed here: How can time have a beginning when a beginning needs time?

The other concept required is the physics understanding of locality, a definition of what it means to be near or next to something. This has to do with the speed of light, and the possibility of information flow.

Distortions in space-time are in the patterns of where particles will manifest, and how information will flow. These are what we think dimensions are, or rather the emergent symmetries in these.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful response. Are you familiar with any attempts to investigate why subatomic particles bend space? Like, the physical mechanism behind it? To me, the only way this question could be investigated is if there is something/matter for particles to bend. If not, then what exactly is being warped? If you are familiar with any historical effort to answer this question, could you please point me in their direction? Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 1:43
  • @SpaceKidd: You mean, am I familiar with quantum-gravity approaches. That's what that is. It's the biggest frontier in physics. QFT's the most successful theory so far so it's reasonable to think space-time is a field. But no one knows. Expect progress through gravity-cosmology, work on the early universe, & tests of the behaviour of gravity at small scales. Entropic Gravity would be a rather neat answer: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropic_gravity More data is required, to distinguish between the many many proposed theories: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity#Modern_alternative_theories
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 13:52
  • @SpaceKidd_N7: This PBS Spacetime video on 'The Higgs Mechanism Explained' is excellent: youtu.be/kixAljyfdqU
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 13:24

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