Le Sage's theory described gravity by means of corpuscules, small particles pervading space that hit masses all around. Between two masses a shadow comes about. None of them are present there. Masses form an umbrella for these particles, and this umbrella forms the shadow. As a result, the masses are hit more on one side so the masses gain momentum and accelerate towards each other. It's similar somehow to the workings of gravitons.

For a long time the theory was taken seriously. It could compete with Newtonian gravity and even supplied an explanation of gravity. Even modern theories don't have an explanation, merely a description.

What was the deathblow for the theory? I can remember vaguely that Lorenz (or someone else, I am not sure) made calculations regarding the impact of solar energy and the impact needed for these corpuscules to deflect Earth around the Sun.

What can be said about this? Can the theory still be viable?

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    $\begingroup$ The theory goes back to Fatio, and neither Fatio's nor LeSage's versions were well-received or "taken seriously". Wikipedia has a detailed account of contemporary reactions. One basic problem was that no one has ever seen Fatio's corpuscles. As Euler put it, echoing Newton, "I have a great repugnance for your ultramundane corpuscles, and I shall always prefer to confess my ignorance of the cause of gravity than to have recourse to such strange hypotheses". Today it is obsolete as non-relativistic. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Aug 10, 2021 at 0:05
  • $\begingroup$ Today the gravitons are the leSage gravitons. LeSage was far ahead. No wonder they were opposed. $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2021 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ Gravitons are not corpuscles, so Fatio's mechanical model won't work. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Aug 10, 2021 at 1:02
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    $\begingroup$ This is obviously a self-serving question based on your understanding of gravitons and LeSage's original theory, but it seems like you haven't understood either enough to see how different they are, and how irrelevant LeSage's theory is. Don't make the mistake of seeking a mechanical description for everything. Like Euler said, it's better to be ignorant than to make up such arbitrary explanations $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2021 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ "Even modern theories don't have an explanation, merely a description." Any so-called "explanation" takes things from everyday experience for granted and suggests they just work in a different context. Like here, particles flying around and hitting things, which makes them move. Sounds intuitive. Until one actually starts thinking. (Compare Feynman's famous refusal to "explain" magnetism by elastic bands, when it is electromagnetic forces that underlie elasticity.) $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2023 at 15:54

2 Answers 2


Technically, there never was a "deathblow", since the LeSage Theory is still alive and kicking - but with a very small audience. This should not be too surprising, since there are still strong proponents of the luminiferous ether.

However, the most obvious, and strongest problem, is the viscous drag which such a mechanism produces. If the flux has an effective rest condition, in which the net force on an object is zero, then any relative velocity will produce more collisions on the "leading edge" of the body than on the "trailing edge". This is because the slower particles which would normally impact on the trailing edge will not catch up, so no impact. Likewise, the impacts on the leading edge will be stronger, due to the increased velocity of impact. The result is that any moving object will be slowed down and eventually come to rest. The consequences of this to any planetary system should be obvious.

Richard Feynman talks about this in one of his lectures, and this forms the first 4 minutes of this video However, note that the rest of the video discusses why the maker thinks Feynman is wrong - the theory is not dead.

Another video addresses other issues and how physicists considered working around them.

The "obvious" concept of the LeSage theory states that each mass reduces the number of flux particles by absorbing them. Maxwell pointed out that the energy released by this absorption would heat the body, and we don't see any such heating. As a matter of fact, all matter in the universe should be quickly vaporized.

You can get around this by assuming that the particles are tiny and very fast - but other constraints require that the particles travel much faster than light, and this is not a popular position post-Einstein.

You can get around this by assuming that the collisions are only partly inelastic, but then ...

And you get around this by ...

Well, you see how this goes. The situation is very similar to the ether theory, in which the Michelson-Morley experiment is explained by the concept of ether drag, in which something very much like viscous drag causes the ether at the surface of a planet (hint: the Earth) to become stationary at the surface so no velocity of the ether is observed. That this causes other issues can be dealt with by the application of great ingenuity, and the struggle goes on for those who favor the ether.

It should be noted that, as the technology has improved, the Michelson-Morley experiment, or its equivalent, has been repeatedly performed, each time providing a lower and lower limit on the value of the ether wind at the Earth's surface. The current value is phenomenally small - on the order of 3 nanometers/second. But it's not zero.


I considered this theory, and concluded it would result in a drag force opposite to the direction of motion so, for example, a planet orbiting the Sun would spiral inward towards the Sun.


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