The existence of gravitational waves has been confirmed. There really are ripples in the space-time continuum.
Think back on all those sober nights you spent lying on the grass staring up at the Milky Way and letting your mind boggle, until finally it’s come to this. Einstein was right in everything he said.
Einstein was more right than he himself ever believed.
Einstein wasn’t trying to solve the meaning of the Universe when he started out on the journey that ultimately came close to solving the meaning of the Universe. All he was trying to do was explain a small anomaly in the observed position of Jupiter in the night sky. As one does. Just an average day for your average Nobel laureate. And yet, his final result, his General Relativity theory, was so monumentally insightful, so logical and so internally consistent that it threw out the sort of results Einstein himself would continue to question to his dying day.
Simple. Although he knew that one inevitable implication of his theory was the existence of gravitational waves, Einstein was a true scientist: one who remains constantly sceptical. He knew his logic was as good as he could make it. He knew where it led and yet he doubted himself as every good scientist does. But today he might just take down his violin and play himself a gentle Beethoven sonata for Einstein of all men was one who truly understood the music of the spheres, and he was no mean fiddler. After he played at one benefit event, a critic who didn’t know much about him wrote, Einstein plays excellently. However, his world-wide fame is undeserved. There are many violinists who are just as good.
It took a man with such a soul to peer into the heart of our very being and to render it in the crystalline symbolic logic of mathematics: the only possible notation for the music of the spheres.
That was Albert Einstein, a musician, a physicist and a pacifist. A quirky man of great good humour.
Isaac Newton was not such an engaging character. As Master of the Royal Mint, he made it his personal business to secure the execution of twenty-eight countefeiters, his vigour undiminished by his great age. At 75, Newton was older than pretty much everyone else in the England of the times and he didn’t finally fall off the perch until he was 85, but by then he had created a legacy that lives on to this day. It’s by Newtons laws of planetary motion that NASA and the European Space Agency calculate the trajectories of their spacecraft. They use his calculus, developed before he reached 24. Their telescopes are based on the principles of optics he set out. Opticks. His theories of gravitation predict very well the motion of the celestial bodies, apart from a minute, almost indetectable variation — the very anomaly that Albert Einstein was trying to explain when eventually he embarked on his path towards General relativity.
And what an explanation it was. Space can be bent and so can time.
However, before we dismiss Newton once and for all, let’s remember his caveat: I take space to be absolute. In other words, he recognised that his rigid Cartesian frame of reference was no more than a construct for the purpose of keeping the calculations clean. Who’s to say he didn’t also recognise that time might not be as linear as everyone else presumed? After all, Newton was no slave to conformity. Many in the intensely religious atmosphere of his era considered him a heretic for denying that Jesus was divine, and yet he persevered with that view in the face of huge disapproval.
Newton knew that space was not uniform and he also knew that he was in the debt of many other great minds.
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Einstein never had anyone executed, and what’s more he was not religious, despite the various quotes ascribed to him, but he must have known full well that he also was standing on the shoulders of a giant in the shape of Newton. After all, for most practical purposes, the corrections applied by General Relativity to Newtonian mechanics are so small as to be negligible. It wasn’t Einstein who made the rendezvous with Rosetta but Isaac Newton. The Curiosity Mars lander relied on classical Newtonian physics.
No popular scientist will ever explain how a Brazilian can bend the ball past the keeper by mentioning Einstein whose contribution needs to be explained in an altogether more feeling way.
Newton might have taken the pulse of the universe but Einstein spoke to its soul. Today, sixty years after he decided that his work here was done, sixty years since he last shook his head and wondered where he went wrong, the scientists of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, in a staggering tour de force of exactitude, have shown that he was right all along.
And of course he doubted it to the end, as any good scientist should.