The Eclipse That Made Einstein Famous
The Príncipe proceedings opened with a talk by Clifford Will, a Canadian mathematical physicist at the University of Florida, who in 1986 published the popular book “Was Einstein Right?” His new talk was titled, “Is Einstein still right?”
Ever more so, it seems. The past few decades have seen “an amazing array of experimental tests of general relativity, all of them in agreement with the predictions,” Dr. Will said. But the quest continues: “There are still things we don’t fully understand. And that’s probably likely always to be the case.”
“The more we keep testing it, the more confidence we have in the theory,” he said. “And of course on the other hand, any sort of deviations from his predictions would surely tell us that there is something new to be investigated.”
On Wednesday at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where Einstein spent his twilight years, the centenary of the eclipse is being celebrated with an afternoon of talks featuring a new book by Graham Farmelo, “The Universe Speaks in Numbers.”
Edward Witten, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Freeman Dyson and Karen Uhlenbeck, the recent Abel Prize winner in mathematics, among others, will address dueling methods — experimental versus mathematical — of investigating our own cosmic diorama.
Those in favor of experiments have been known to view the mathematically inclined “as self-indulgent, without an obvious payoff for understanding the real world,” Dr. Farmelo said. And the mathematical cosmologists traditionally have viewed their opposites as “ambulance chasers,” rabidly pursuing every new experimental clue at the expense of overarching physical ideas.
“Einstein was convinced that the royal road to the laws of physics was not through looking at experimental data, but by developing the mathematical content of well-established theories,” said Dr. Farmelo.