x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Relative proofs

Albert Einstein's theories continue to stand the test of time, 100 years after being formulated.

After nearly 50 years, scientists have proven, once again, something that most of us would have taken on good faith: Albert Einstein was right. Researchers working on Nasa's Gravity Probe B project have "definitively proven" that time and space are relative values, as predicted by Einstein nearly 100 years ago.

In fact, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was already demonstrated in 1919, just three years after his seminal paper on the subject, by an experiment on West Africa's Principe Island. Photographs taken during an eclipse by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington showed that stars' positions shifted slightly because the time-space continuum was distorted by the Sun's gravitational field.

Why did scientists spend decades, and in excess of $500 million, to prove the point again? Scientific theories can never be "proven" absolutely; they can only be shown, through repeated experiment, to not be false, and hence live to fight another day.

History is littered with debunked "truths". From the Flat Earth theorem to the geocentric universe, conventional wisdom of any given day has often disappointed. In recent years, quantum mechanics has cast uncertainty even on the equations of Newtonian mechanics. We might be inclined to take Einstein at his word, but science sets a different standard.