The Corner

While All The World Is Turned to Condi

a handful of readers and I go our own dogged way, exchanging emails about Albert E. Here’s an email that explained a lot (I’d had no idea that relativity was so untested):

One of the big problems with Einstein’s General and

Special Theories of Relativity has always been our

ability to test them. In fact, Einstein won the Nobel

Prize for his work on the photoelectric effect, not

relativity, because nobody at the time could test such

things (1905, by the way, was a good year for Einstein

– he published work on relativity, explained the

photoelectric effect using the wave interpretation of

light photons, and invented the theory of Brownian

motion).

Subsequently, we’ve been slowly able to test some of

the assumptions about relativity. These have included

deflections of the positions of stars by the Sun’s

gravity, aberrations in the orbit of the planet

Mercury, and gravatational lensing by extremely heavy

objects. In fact, the GPS system wouldn’t work

without relativity — all the positions and times

would be off.

The fundamental problem with testing relativity lies

in the fact that it deals with extreme situations –

high energy and large mass. These are conditions that

are difficult to replicate, as we can’t just whip up

neutron stars in a test tube. To measure the effects

of relativity on Earth, we need extremely precise

measuring equipment, again not a trivial feat.

There are a lot of things that to date, we can’t

explain, which suggests that relativity may not be

complete, or that our interpretations of it are not

correct. For example, if you’re familiar with the

whole dark matter/energy debate, some suggest that our

inability to explain things is primarily the fault of

an incomplete understanding of relativity and

gravitation (there are other explanations, too).

So, suffice it to say, there’s more testing to do.

Which, of course, seems to be a scientist’s answer to

anything. 🙂

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