How Gravitational Waves Connect To Quantum Optics

Chad Orzel in Forbes:

ScreenHunter_1699 Feb. 18 16.09The big physics story of the moment is, of course, last Thursday’s announcement that the LIGO experiment hasdetected gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes. This is generally framed as “confirming Einstein’s theory of relativity” (see, for example, Dennis Overbye in the New York Times and Ethan Siegel here), because Einstein maintains a stranglehold on the public conception of physics.

And, inevitably, there’s a bit of push-back, with Kirk Englehardt worrying that the news didn’t produce enough excitement in the general public because it’s too abstract, and professional grump John Horgan raising the issue of whether LIGO was “worth” the money spent on it. Ashutosh Jogalekar picks up on Horgan’s past work, and worries that LIGO might represent a kind of “end of physics”, that if confirming a 100-year-old theory is the most exciting development in recent physics, the discipline is in trouble.

Of course, the Jogalekar/Horgan thesis badly misunderstands why this is the most exciting development in recent physics– it’s nothing to do with Einstein. In fact, confirming General Relativity is just about the least interesting part of this news. The really important story is that LIGO works, and allows the unequivocal detection of colliding black holes, a system that physicists understand pretty well. And it continues to work, with additional gravitational-wave events being analyzed now. This means that when it starts detecting other things that we don’t immediately recognize, physicists can have some confidence that they’re real, and not just a weird quirk of the detector that we don’t understand yet.

More here.