Gravitational waves and the long relativity revolution

Abstract

The recent discovery of gravitational waves is often seen as the confirmation of a prediction Einstein made one century ago. We argue instead that only after conceptual advances in general relativity between the mid-1950s and the early 1960s could such a prediction be made on the basis of unambiguous notions shared by a community of specialists. The conceptual transformation and the reorganization of knowledge related to general relativity that characterized this post-Second World War period can be used to properly understand the hitherto vaguely defined ‘renaissance of general relativity’. During its first phase, theoreticians took a conservative turn by refocusing on general relativity, after previously having worked on other research agendas mostly targeted at substituting general relativity with a superior theory. This turn was followed by a second phase that was characterized by a plurality of approaches to general relativity, which had in common the fact that they were able to develop intrinsically (generally) relativistic concepts, in particular radiation, rather than using other theories as an interpretative crutch.

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Fig. 1: Research centres working on general relativity in 1955.
Fig. 2: Network of research centres during the period 1955–1962.
Fig. 3: Comparison between the structures of the collaboration networks of scientists working in fields related to general relativity in 1954 and 1965.
Fig. 4: Co-citation network of the most cited papers related to general relativity from 1947 to 1974.
Fig. 5: The largest connected component of the collaboration network of general relativity in 1976.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to D. Wintergrün for support in the network analyses and visualizations and F. Kräutli for the visual representation of the research centres.

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A.B., R.L. and J.R. elaborated the historical narrative and wrote the paper. R.L. provided the network analysis.

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Correspondence to Roberto Lalli.

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Blum, A., Lalli, R. & Renn, J. Gravitational waves and the long relativity revolution. Nat Astron 2, 534–543 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0472-6

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