January 25, 2007


Weighing the universe: How scientists are trying to find where Einstein went wrong (The Economist, Jan 25th 2007)

FAMILIAR as it may seem, gravity remains a mystery to modern physics. Despite several decades of trying, scientists have failed to fit Einstein's general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity holds big objects together, with the quantum mechanics he pioneered, which describes the tiny fundamental particles of which matter consists and the forces by which they interact. Recent discoveries have highlighted further problems.

Many physicists are therefore entertaining the idea that Einstein's ideas about gravity must be wrong or at least incomplete.

The ironic thing is that having gotten everything wrong should have no impact on the choice of Einstein as the Man of the 20th Century: a hundred murderous years dominated by ideas that proved ridiculous, not just his but those of Darwin, Freud and Marx as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2007 4:49 PM


Wait, so now you're including Einstein with the Bearded God-Killers? I think you need a new nickname for this foursome. How about the Rapscalions of Relativity?

Posted by: Greg E. at January 25, 2007 5:22 PM

with the quantum mechanics he pioneered

The pacifist father of the atomic bomb did not believe in quantum physics. (Bohr, Planck, Heisenberg, et.al.) If a reporter can't get that right, why should I believe the rest of the report?

As for being "incomplete", anyone who believes any scientific theory is "complete" is only deluding themself. The idea that Relativity is a subset of a more comprehensive theory, as Newtonian mechanics are of Relativity, is not a new idea, either. What this article describes are attempts to look around the edges to find that new super-theory, not attempts to replace relativity.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at January 25, 2007 5:29 PM


Relativity is just a product of the trio. The dominant scientific theory of a given moment just comes out of the social milieu. The paradigm shifts and the science follows.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2007 5:40 PM

I think the moral of this story is, never trust a man with facial hair.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at January 25, 2007 6:26 PM

Got EVERYTHING wrong???

I guess all those nuclear power plants built on his insight about mass-energy conversion are just illusions.

If you're going to critique science, you would be more credible if you were to do so more knowledgeably.

Posted by: Molon Labe at January 25, 2007 6:57 PM

Technology is easy. Science is hard. So he got the technology right and the science wrong. Hardly makes him unique, more like typical.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2007 7:00 PM

um .... Einstein DID the science, NOT the technology. But that technology was only developed as a result of his science.

As C.S. Lewis wrote, "What ARE they teaching in the schools these days?" that you don't know this basic fact?

Like lots about your blog, but you are woefully ignorant about science.

Posted by: Molon Labe at January 25, 2007 8:16 PM

When Gorok became the first man to realize that striking stones together produced sparks, he likewise knew that it was because Roknor, the trickster god, enjoyed the commotion and therefore shared with him the gift of fire.

As it turns out, Gorok's science was iffy, but the rocks work.

Technology easy. Science hard.

Posted by: oj at January 25, 2007 8:19 PM

The biggest question about Relativity Theory is why is it called Relativity Theory instead of the Theory of Invariants.

BTW, aren't you supposed to include Galileo in your list of Godkillers?

Posted by: Joseph Hertzlinger at January 25, 2007 11:47 PM

Galileo is the Shemp of the Bearded God-Killers

Posted by: Bryan at January 26, 2007 7:33 AM

Galileo is the Ur-Father.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2007 8:01 AM

Hey, I like Shemp!

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at January 26, 2007 8:58 AM


Actually, it was Einstein's explaination of why photovoltaics require specific wavelengths that disproved Newton's wave theory of light and pulled light-as-a-particle back in the door.

It's certainly true that he didn't care for much of the elaborations on quantum theory later, though.

The funny thing you're all missing is that they're sure Einstein is wrong because they can't bodge his elegant relativity onto the shark-taped-to-a-badger-bolted-to-a-corned-beef-sandwich that is the Standard Model explaining the other forces.

Posted by: Mike Earl at January 26, 2007 11:20 AM

Mike Earl has it exactly right. General Relativity (GR) is the most complete theory in modern physics - if you include the electric and magnetic fields in the mass-energy tensor, GR's 10 independent equations include gravity, the relativistic laws of motion, Maxwell's equations, and the Lorentz equation, i.e., virtually all of physics except Quantum Mechanics (QM). If, as the article claims, measurements of the Moon's orbit agree with GR to one part in 10 trillion (10^13), then it is also the most accurate theory ever.

The problem is that after decades of trying, no one has been able to consistently quantize gravity, suggesting that the problem may be the basic assumption of QM: viz., that everything is quantized - perhaps gravity is an exception. For if black holes and gravitons (the postulated QM gravitational force carrier particle) both exist, then large enough black holes would have no gravitational field unless the graviton's velocity is infinite (which is both absurd and contra-indicated by current observations). For any finite velocity, a large enough black hole would trap all gravitons and there would be no gravitational field outside the event horizon. Current belief is that gravitons should propagate at the speed of light (why, I have never quite understood except that it seems required by Special Relativity), so no black hole should have an external gravitational field under QM.

Posted by: jd watson at January 26, 2007 10:23 PM

A complete enough theory need have no relation to reality.

Posted by: oj at January 26, 2007 10:37 PM