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Celebrating the centenary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and asking what theorists have done lately


By Hamish Johnston

This week, people all over the world have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity (GR). Einstein delivered his theory this week in November 1915. Not surprisingly, the Web has been buzzing with tributes to Einstein and explanations of his theory.

In the above video, the physicist Brian Greene and two young assistants demonstrate Einstein’s explanation of gravity using a huge piece of stretched Spandex. Why they have this Spandex ring in what appears to be their living room remains a mystery, but it and a large number of marbles do the trick when it comes to explaining GR.

Not wanting to be outdone, The Globe and Mail‘s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk seems to have commandeered an entire trampoline park to explain GR. Semeniuk dons a fetching pair of pink trampoline socks in his video “With just a ball and a trampoline, we explore Einstein’s general theory of relativity”. We don’t need gimmicky socks or Spandex here at Physics World to explain GR. Instead, we asked science philosopher Jürgen Renn to do the job in 100 sseconds and you can watch a video of his explanation “What is Einstein’s general theory of relativity?”.

GR was a triumph of theoretical physics, but what have theorists done recently? Over on the Backreaction blog a reader has asked if the discovery of asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction was the last big breakthrough?

Blogger and theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder answers that question by listing some of the breakthroughs that have been made since the early 80s – and commenters have added even more. As someone who has been involved with physics since that time, I’m amazed at how many new ideas have popped up in my lifetime as a physicist! See Dear Dr B: Can you think of a single advancement in theoretical physics, other than speculation, since the early 1980’s?.

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  1. Robert Cheshire

    Paradoxically, I believe that most progress in theoretical physics has been made in spite of EGR rather than because of it. Heretical? Perhaps, but aren’t most new discoveries initially heretical? Challenges to orthodoxy etc.? EGR abounds with great intent but is stymied by errors. Einstein was indeed a great and instinctive scientist. Nevertheless, he suffered from human error from time to time and EGR houses much of it. Concomitant or springboarded theories such as Black Holes and singularities in general become irrelevant if not obstructive to the study of galactic dynamics for example. Such theories based in EGR via Swarzchild’s apparent metric etc. are as an obscuring veil over the true dynamics concerning the galactic core and plane. Compelling, open source empirical evidence and naturally animated data in support of my comment may be found here:

  2. mbridger

    The video uses the classic illustration of mass warping spacetime, but then (as Brian Greene admits) it is using Gravity to explain Gravity, meaning it is not explaining Gravity or why masses then move toward eachother. In other words GR is not the explanation of gravity, just a description of how things move given Gravity

  3. Vaggelis Talios

    Indeed Einstein was a great physicist and physics science owes too many to Einstein, such as the discovery of the divisibility of the atoms etc. But the theories of relativity are false theories and therefore, make very big mistake and very great damage to both Einstein and to physics they are trying to relate the greatness of Einstein to the relativity theories.
    The special theory of relativity is based on the wrong axiom that: the observer located outside a space that moves with velocity v will notice speed of light c, while the right is that the speed will observe the observer is c plus v. That mistake of the axiom violates the law of superposition, which is an undisputed mathematical law. With this violation fully altered the status of space and time, something that result all these mistakes all we know.
    Moreover, even be correct the theories of relativity do not explain the cause, but explain the effects of gravity only. This knew Einstein himself and it was the reason that he devoted the last years of his life in this issue.
    This comment does not write like a heretic comment or to judge the work of Einstein, but as I mention I feel he is a very great scientist and write it to explain to the new scientists that the work of Einstein is quite complex and therefore when the study it must study very carefully. Only then do good in physics and Einstein.

    • Z. Köllő

      @ Vaggelis Talios:
      I suspect that you have never heard of the Michelson-Morley experiment (or did not understand it), which demonstrates that the speed of light is always c, no matter how fast you move relative to the source. Google it please.
      And since when the law of superposition “is an undisputed mathematical law”???

      • Vaggelis Talios

        @Z. Köllő. Dear Sir. My opinion is that is a very big mistake to abolish a mathematical law because so it suits us.
        However, is even bigger mistake, trying to adapt an experiment, -the Michelson-Morley experiment-, to an axiom that has nothing to do with the experiment.
        In the experiment of the Michelson-Morley, the observer moves together with the moving space and light, while in the axiom of light of the special theory of relativity the observer is motionless out of the moving space.

  4. M. Asghar

    The modern physics works in the spacetime of ESR controlled by the local gauge symmetry brought in by the Maxwell EM equations. However, the EGR, though subject to the gauge symmetry, works on spacetime away from the principles of modern physics including the unification of different forces.

  5. Dileep Sathe

    Newton’s exceptional introspection ignored by theorists
    It is a well-known fact that Einstein’s GR originates in the logical problems in Newton’s laws of motion and may lead some professionals / public to question HOW Newton did not realize those problems. However, it is to be noted that Newton wanted to reconsider his own laws when he was in his early sixties. This situation is evident in Anthony P. French’s Letter to the Editor of American J. of Physics (January 1984) entitle: Did Newton forget his own laws of motion? and it seems Newton was not able to complete the new task.

    However, in view of research in physics education, I think that Newton did not forget his own laws of motion BUT he had realized some important missing aspects in his earlier work. In short, Newton did not forget his laws BUT wanted to refine them with still better insight. Hence my question Did Newton *really* forget his own laws of motion? It was discussed in an international event in Amravati, MH, India last week.


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