After 100 Years, It’s All Relative

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  First published in 1915, covering the intersection of gravity, space, time, and the speed of light, and supported by a mass of hard-core mathematics beyond the ken of most mortal beings, general relativity stands with evolution as one of the most well-known, universally recognized scientific theories in history.

80619-004-9b9d0d26Even though the theory of general relativity has hit the century mark, it’s still the subject of some controversy — including whether it’s the exclusive brainchild of Einstein, or whether it was the product of ideas and concepts contributed by a group of scientists and physicists.  A recent piece tracks the history, and the controversy, and the potential contributions by others.  It’s a fascinating tale.

What’s most interesting about the theory in my view is that it began as a thought experiment that captured Einstein’s imagination, in which he considered whether, if he were seated in a windowless, doorless box, he would be able to tell the difference between being subject to gravity or being exposed to the sensations of acceleration.  It tells you something about Einstein that he even came up with such an idea in the first place, but that curious thought experiment ultimately produced a theory that predicted the bending of light by gravitational bodies, was confirmed by measurements conducted during an eclipse a few years later, and helped to make space flight feasible.  The theory of general relativity, coupled with his trademark unkempt mane of hair, made Einstein the most famous scientist in the world.

Since 1915, the theory of general relativity has withstood countless tests and challenges and experiments.  It’s still pretty spry for a 100-year-old.


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