Traveling at the Speed of Thought: Einstein and the Quest for Gravitational Waves

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Overview

Since Einstein first described them nearly a century ago, gravitational waves have been the subject of more sustained controversy than perhaps any other phenomenon in physics. These as yet undetected fluctuations in the shape of space-time were first predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity, but only now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, are we on the brink of finally observing them.

Daniel Kennefick's landmark book takes readers through the theoretical controversies and thorny debates that raged around the subject of gravitational waves after the publication of Einstein's theory. The previously untold story of how we arrived at a settled theory of gravitational waves includes a stellar cast from the front ranks of twentieth-century physics, including Richard Feynman, Hermann Bondi, John Wheeler, Kip Thorne, and Einstein himself, who on two occasions avowed that gravitational waves do not exist, changing his mind both times.

The book derives its title from a famously skeptical comment made by Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1922--namely, that "gravitational waves propagate at the speed of thought." Kennefick uses the title metaphorically to contrast the individual brilliance of each of the physicists grappling with gravitational-wave theory against the frustratingly slow progression of the field as a whole.

Accessibly written and impeccably researched, this book sheds new light on the trials and conflicts that have led to the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves today--poised to bring the story of gravitational waves full circle by directly confirming their existence for the very first time.

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Editorial Reviews

European Legacy
Traveling at the Speed of Thought is an extremely interesting reading, both for scientists and for a larger audience. It is very well documented, and conveys the sense of struggle that is associated with the evolution and strengthening of new paradigms in science.
— Michele Maggiore
Seed Magazine
This dense account of the history of gravity waves—undetected ripples in space-time—is the kind one might think would appeal only to physicists. But Kennefick uses this narrow subject to elucidate the larger issue of metaphors and analogies in science. A practicing gravitational wave researcher, Kennefick keenly explains how scientists become willing to believe that which they cannot see, or even observe experimentally.
Science - Michael D. Gordin
The great achievement of Daniel Kennefick's fascinating Traveling at the Speed of Thought is that he takes...assumed existence of gravitational waves apart. He is not out to show that they do not exist—far from it. Rather, he carefully explains how durable skepticism has been toward the existence of gravitational waves ever since Einstein first predicted them...Kennefick offers a readable account of the theory of gravitational waves, exploring why skepticism was a reasonable stance at various points in the 20th century and why it has ceased to be so in the 21st.
TLS - Georgina Ferry
In Traveling at the Speed of Thought, Daniel Kennefick gives an authoritative, insider's account of a scientific phenomenon that more of less everyone in the field believes to exist, yet no one has ever seen. This is a scholarly contribution to the history of twentieth-century physics...yet...it provides a rare insight into the tension in physics between the abstract reality that emerges from mathematics, and the warm body of nature that we can see and touch.
Choice - E. Kincanon
Kennefick is the right author at the right time. He has strong connections to research in this area as well as being a historian and a very good storyteller...An impressive book, in that Kennefick thoroughly covers the material and still keeps it at a level that should be accessible to all readers.
Mathematical Reviews - Giovanni Pretti
This book is worth reading not only because it gives a well-framed picture of the gravitational wave history, but also because it offers many suggestions for reflection on science in general and physics in particular. . . . There is food for thought here.
Isis - Matthew Stanley
Traveling at the Speed of Thought will be valuable for historians, sociologists, and philosophers of modern physics and others interested in the development and use of scientific theories. And it will also be of significant interest to practicing physicists and physics students.
Australian Physics - David Blair
This book is very insightful. It is definitely a book for physicists. The combination of history and science is at a high level of scholarship. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the theory and the history that underpins one of the fundamental foundations of modern physics.
European Legacy - Michele Maggiore
Traveling at the Speed of Thought is an extremely interesting reading, both for scientists and for a larger audience. It is very well documented, and conveys the sense of struggle that is associated with the evolution and strengthening of new paradigms in science.
From the Publisher

"The great achievement of Daniel Kennefick's fascinating Traveling at the Speed of Thought is that he takes...assumed existence of gravitational waves apart. He is not out to show that they do not exist--far from it. Rather, he carefully explains how durable skepticism has been toward the existence of gravitational waves ever since Einstein first predicted them...Kennefick offers a readable account of the theory of gravitational waves, exploring why skepticism was a reasonable stance at various points in the 20th century and why it has ceased to be so in the 21st."--Michael D. Gordin, Science

"This dense account of the history of gravity waves--undetected ripples in space-time--is the kind one might think would appeal only to physicists. But Kennefick uses this narrow subject to elucidate the larger issue of metaphors and analogies in science. A practicing gravitational wave researcher, Kennefick keenly explains how scientists become willing to believe that which they cannot see, or even observe experimentally."--SEED Magazine

"In Traveling at the Speed of Thought, Daniel Kennefick gives an authoritative, insider's account of a scientific phenomenon that more of less everyone in the field believes to exist, yet no one has ever seen. This is a scholarly contribution to the history of twentieth-century physics...yet...it provides a rare insight into the tension in physics between the abstract reality that emerges from mathematics, and the warm body of nature that we can see and touch."--Georgina Ferry, TLS

"Kennefick is the right author at the right time. He has strong connections to research in this area as well as being a historian and a very good storyteller...An impressive book, in that Kennefick thoroughly covers the material and still keeps it at a level that should be accessible to all readers."--E. Kincanon, Choice

"This book is worth reading not only because it gives a well-framed picture of the gravitational wave history, but also because it offers many suggestions for reflection on science in general and physics in particular. . . . There is food for thought here."--Giovanni Pretti, Mathematical Reviews

"Traveling at the Speed of Thought will be valuable for historians, sociologists, and philosophers of modern physics and others interested in the development and use of scientific theories. And it will also be of significant interest to practicing physicists and physics students."--Matthew Stanley, Isis

"This book is very insightful. It is definitely a book for physicists. The combination of history and science is at a high level of scholarship. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the theory and the history that underpins one of the fundamental foundations of modern physics."--David Blair, Australian Physics

"Traveling at the Speed of Thought is an extremely interesting reading, both for scientists and for a larger audience. It is very well documented, and conveys the sense of struggle that is associated with the evolution and strengthening of new paradigms in science."--Michele Maggiore, European Legacy

Science
The great achievement of Daniel Kennefick's fascinating Traveling at the Speed of Thought is that he takes...assumed existence of gravitational waves apart. He is not out to show that they do not exist—far from it. Rather, he carefully explains how durable skepticism has been toward the existence of gravitational waves ever since Einstein first predicted them...Kennefick offers a readable account of the theory of gravitational waves, exploring why skepticism was a reasonable stance at various points in the 20th century and why it has ceased to be so in the 21st.
— Michael D. Gordin
SEED Magazine
This dense account of the history of gravity waves—undetected ripples in space-time—is the kind one might think would appeal only to physicists. But Kennefick uses this narrow subject to elucidate the larger issue of metaphors and analogies in science. A practicing gravitational wave researcher, Kennefick keenly explains how scientists become willing to believe that which they cannot see, or even observe experimentally.
TLS
In Traveling at the Speed of Thought, Daniel Kennefick gives an authoritative, insider's account of a scientific phenomenon that more of less everyone in the field believes to exist, yet no one has ever seen. This is a scholarly contribution to the history of twentieth-century physics...yet...it provides a rare insight into the tension in physics between the abstract reality that emerges from mathematics, and the warm body of nature that we can see and touch.
— Georgina Ferry
Choice
Kennefick is the right author at the right time. He has strong connections to research in this area as well as being a historian and a very good storyteller...An impressive book, in that Kennefick thoroughly covers the material and still keeps it at a level that should be accessible to all readers.
— E. Kincanon
Mathematical Reviews
This book is worth reading not only because it gives a well-framed picture of the gravitational wave history, but also because it offers many suggestions for reflection on science in general and physics in particular. . . . There is food for thought here.
— Giovanni Pretti
Isis
Traveling at the Speed of Thought will be valuable for historians, sociologists, and philosophers of modern physics and others interested in the development and use of scientific theories. And it will also be of significant interest to practicing physicists and physics students.
— Matthew Stanley
Australian Physics
This book is very insightful. It is definitely a book for physicists. The combination of history and science is at a high level of scholarship. . . . I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the theory and the history that underpins one of the fundamental foundations of modern physics.
— David Blair
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691117270
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/26/2007
  • Pages: 334
  • Sales rank: 983,099
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Kennefick is Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Arkansas. He is an editor of "The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein" (Princeton).

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Table of Contents


Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Chapter 1: The Gravitational Wave Analogy 1
Chapter 2: The Prehistory of Gravitational Waves 18
Chapter 3: The Origins of Gravitational Waves 41
Chapter 4: The Speed of Thought 66
Chapter 5: Do Gravitational Waves Exist? 79
Chapter 6: Gravitational Waves and the Renaissance of General Relativity 105
Chapter 7: Debating the Analogy 124
Chapter 8: The Problem of Motion 144
Chapter 9: Portrait of the Skeptics 180
Chapter 10: On the Verge of Detection 203
Chapter 11: The Quadrupole Formula Controversy 231
Chapter 12: Keeping Up with the Speed of Thought 259
Appendix A: The Referee’s Report 281
Appendix B: Interviews and Other New Sources 290
Notes 293
Bibliography 299
Index 315
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