Detection of Gravitational waves are among the most stunning findings of recent years. Clearly not as amazing as ancient DNA , but amazing nonetheless.
LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves came almost exactly a century after Einstein had formulated his general theory of relativity and an ensuing paper mathematically describing the possibility of gravitational waves. Or at least that’s the story as it was presented to the public (including by yours truly). And in some ways, it’s even true.
But the reality of how relativity progressed to the point where people accepted that gravitational waves are likely to exist and could possibly be detected is considerably more complicated than the simple narrative described above. In this week’s Nature Astronomy, a group of science historians lays out the full details of how we got from the dawn of relativity to the building of LIGO. And, in the process, the historians show that ideas about scientific revolutions bringing about a sudden, radical shift may sometimes miss the point.
I wonder what the lessons are for us.
This 40-year process doesn’t line up well with the revolutions that Kuhn had described. There was no crisis and no period of frantic research as people scrambled to produce a new theory that could resolve apparent contradictions in the failed one. But the historians argue there’s one thing here that Kuhn got right: people who thoroughly inhabit a relativistic world have a fundamentally different view of the Universe and would have trouble communicating their perspective to someone in the Newtonian world.