The Consolations of Physics

Graham Farmelo at The Guardian:

Why do wealthy societies spend good money on projects such as this? Higgs bosons and images from the Voyager spacecraft don’t do anything useful and don’t make any of us richer, as Radford acknowledges, though he has no time for such philistinism. His heart and his mind are with the Roman thinker Boethius, who wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, from which Radford takes several of his cues. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Boethius: philosophy can be consoling “even if it is limited to just thinking about thinking”. Beneath his jocularity, Radford is an unapologetic intellectual.

He glories in telling the remarkable story of the first direct observation of gravitational waves in 2015, almost a century after Einstein foresaw them. A huge team of astronomers detected the waves via a signal that lasted 20 milliseconds and caused a disturbance smaller than a millionth of the width of an atom – a result of two massive black holes merging violently in outer space more than a billion years ago.

more here.