I have encountered this sentence:

Science can explain how gravity works between two objects, but why should it be based on the exact equations we find rather than others? In fact, why should gravity exist at all? Answering the “why” questions sometimes stretches necessity to its limits.

What is the meaning of the phrase : stretches necessity to its limits. what is the meaning of stretch something to its limit?


4 Answers 4


At least a couple of paragraphs before and after your cited excerpt are primarily preoccupied with defining "necessity" in this context. What's being metaphorically "stretched" is the philosophical concept of "necessity". Some theorists believe God is a necessary component of reality, for example, and others think there are multiple universes, not all of which even have gravity. In order to cover extremes like that, the concept of "necessity" has to be metaphorically stretched so far it breaks (its usefulness as a way of thinking about reality is broken, no longer functions adequately)

He's talking about the fact that we live in a fine-tuned Universe. As Hawking says, The remarkable fact is that the values of [the universal constants] seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life so people may say it's a "necessity" that the strong nuclear force, for example, is within a percentage or so of the actual value we observe (if not, we couldn't exist in order to observe the value at all). But the concept of "necessity" becomes very imprecise (we're metaphorically stretching the definition) if we invoke the multiverse.


Or, very simply put, stretching something to the limit is a slang expression referring to stretching something—a rubber band, for example—until it breaks; or stretching something until it can be stretched no more.

  • This is already in the other answers. Please do not repeat answers.
    – user22427
    Aug 14, 2019 at 8:53

A painting bears something more than the sum of its part. Like every question might lead to a new one if we ask "Why?"

Necessity by definition on how it's being used in that Narrative - implies a state of things or circumstances enforcing a certain course. The principle according to which something must be so, by virtue either of logic or of natural law.

"They're talking about how can Science explain the Law of Gravity, but the argument is WHY Gravity exists in the first place?"

The phrase "stretch necessity to its limit" is best described as pushing something beyond its limit or need to re-escalate the current state of Understanding.

"Well, that's for me or based on how I digest the idea from the choice of words in that Narrative. You might consider this explanation as an option, but I'm no expert. Cheers!" -Mike


stretches necessity to its limits

Here, necessity means "those things that are needed." In this brief excerpt you provided, I believe the author is trying to question whether or not it is really necessary to answer all the why questions, suggesting that it is impossible. Now, for the "stretching" idiom.

Imagine something like chewing gum. It is very elastic and malleable, meaning that it can be stretched (we are assuming the gum has been chewed a bit). If you stretch the gum far enough, it will eventually snap. In this case, we stretched the gum to its limits (i.e. the point at which it could not be stretched anymore). We apply this idiom in English to any number of things. Here, it is applied to the idea that there are some things we need to do and there are things we don't need to do. It could also be applied to physical objects as well. For instance, if one had a limited amount of water, and a large field, the water would have to be spread very thinly, therefore, stretching it to its physical limits.

This idiom may be confusing, so if you need further clarification, I am more than willing to help.

  • There is a specific scientific term: "elastic limit", when that limit is reached deformation occurs.
    – djna
    Sep 8, 2016 at 19:38

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