Since the early Summer I’ve been working (with the help of several people at USC*) toward a big event next Friday: A celebration of 100 years since Einstein formulated the field equations of General Relativity, a theory which is one of the top one or few (depending upon who you argue with over beers about this) scientific achievements in the history of human thought. The event is a collaboration between the USC Harman Academy of Polymathic Study and the LAIH, which I co-direct. I chose the title of this post since (putting aside the obvious desire to resonate with a certain great work of literature) this remarkable scientific framework has proven to be a remarkably robust and accurate model of how our universe’s gravity actually works in every area it has been tested with experiment and observation**. Despite being all about bizarre things like warped spacetime, slowing down time, and so forth, which most people think is to do only with science fiction. (And yes, you probably test it every day through your use of GPS… or your airline pilot’s use of it, etc… and it works!) Anyway, I present to you a program I hope will be of interest to many. (pdf here) We’re not just talking about impact of General Relativity on science, but on the general culture. Got any favourite examples? An obvious one is science-fiction movies and TV (warp-drive, hyper-drive, wormholes, etc) – Kip Thorne has kindly agreed to give us a talk about the Science of Interstellar – but also in literature, and other visual arts such as painting (some argue that it is not accidental that movements like cubism and things that followed, trying to find ways of depicting hidden dimensions, took off at a similar time to some of the ideas that were coming out of Einstein’s physics from 1905 onwards. These sorts of ideas were “in the air” intellectually around the time and probably inspired the scientists (Einstein and co) and artists (Picasso and co) alike, but I think once it starts getting seen as solidified as part of objective reality in science, it becomes maybe more than a passing fad…). If you’ve other examples/hypotheses, share!
*Thanks Karin, Tyson, Maureen, Allison, KC, Tara, and several others!
**We are sure, for purely internal consistency reasons, that it likely breaks down at certain points in our universe’s history (like the big bang and somewhere near black holes) and needs to be replaced with a better theory, but we’ve never tested those breakdown regimes directly yet, and so it has been 100 years of being king of the hill for GR, so far.