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

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Overview

"This book is a very impressive achievement. Kennefick skillfully introduces readers to some of the most abstruse yet fascinating concepts in modern physics stemming from Einstein's gravitational theory. And he charts the often haphazard, meandering, at times contentious development of these ideas over the course of nearly a century. More than an intellectual history, this book is a kind of detective story. Amid unfolding clues, partial insights, evolving institutions, the play of personalities, and hard thinking, the reader is treated to larger lessons about how theoretical physics works. Until now, we had virtually no serious study of what happened to Einstein's general relativity after he published his famous equations. Kennefick is among the first to begin to fill in this story."—David Kaiser, author of Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics

"In this book, Kennefick describes a seventy-year quest, by three generations of physicists, to discover relativity's predictions about gravitational waves. Combining his skills as a historian with his mastery of relativity and his powers as a storyteller, he weaves a compelling narrative of intellectual battles and mathematical struggles—and extracts fascinating insights about the roles of mathematics, intuition, analogy, and style, standards of proof, and the sociology of competing schools."—Kip S. Thorne, California Institute of Technology

"This book is a very important contribution both to Einstein studies and to the history of physics in general. It is also very timely given the effort underway to detect gravitational waves. The author is in an absolutely unique position to tell this story. He is extremely well connected to the community of Einstein scholars, to the community of physicists past and present working on gravitational waves, and to the group of people working on the history of the subject."—Michel Janssen, University of Minnesota

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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
  • 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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