Observations and theories

Join Our Community Subscribe to Paul's Posts

It might sound like a bird’s chirp, but scientists listening to what might be misunderstood as the sound from a video game is actually the billion-year-old echo of the collision of two black holes. This bird-chirp represents something extraordinary, something Einstein predicted more than 100 years ago. Ripples in the space-time continuum that are produced by cosmic events — called gravitational waves.

That it took more than 100 years to measure what Einstein had predicted might shed a small light on the nagging argument in high-end audio. How can we hear that which we cannot yet measure?

I would suggest that while it might seem a bit of a stretch to compare the theories of Einstein to what we struggle with in the high-end, it might be less than you think. That is because nearly all theories have their roots in observations. Einstein’s theory of relativity was partly born from observations he made sitting on a moving train. He noticed that on the moving train everything was “normal” or stationary relative to him. But, one look out of the window and time seemed different.

Another series of observations made by Einstein during the formation phase of his General Theory of Relativity suggested that these same gravitational waves would bend light—a theory that brought howls of laughter and loads of ridicule until in 1919, when British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington took advantage of a solar eclipse to prove light from stars bent as it made its way around the sun. It did, surprising Einstein, not in the slightest.

When he was asked what he would have done if the measurements had discredited his theory, the famous physicist replied: “In that case, I would have to feel sorry for God, because the theory is correct.”

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that what we consistently observe is true, but cannot yet measure, is more than likely the truth in search of a theory.

Once there’s a theory of why observations don’t match the limits of test equipment, then it’s only a matter of time when some bright-minded person will set the record straight.

Until then, we’ll just keep plugging away.