Gravitational Waves, Big Science, and Mathematics

So, I ask again: Was all of this worth it?

To answer the question definitively, we have to go even further … much much further. Was it worth the effort of the first homo erectus to bash together two stones (and it did require effort because their brain was not developed enough to make the bashing as simple as it is for us today)? This question is relevant because, if the practical application of later discoveries is any indication, our distant ancestors at first bashed stones together, not because it had any practical application, but simply because their opposable thumbs enabled them to do so. It is very likely that the first attempts produced nothing. It then took a while before chips with sharp edges were produced. And the discovery of the utility of the sharp-edged byproducts probably came later, perhaps tens even hundreds of years later.

The idea of stone bashing was an extremely abstract idea, on a par with the mathematics that went into the general theory of relativity, and required the intelligence of the Einsteins of two million years ago!

No one questions the importance of the skinning of animal kills in the evolution of mankind, although at the time of its discovery, no one could anticipate the utility of the idea of stone bashing. No one questions the importance of Greek mathematics and its role in the development of post-Renaissance science. No one questions the enormous impact EMWs have had on our civilization, and by extrapolation, the significance of the theoretical framework developed by Maxwell and mathematicians and physicists that followed him.

GWs are the sharp-edged chips of bashing the stones of general theory of relativity! No one knows where they will lead us, just as no one knew where EMWs would lead us 150 years ago, and no homo erectus knew where the (abstract, theoretical) idea of bashing two stones together would lead them. But one thing is clear:

The GWs of today are as crucial to our evolution as the sharp-edged byproducts of stones were two million years ago.

The difference between the two is that one or a few members of our race discovered the connection between the bashing of stones and its utility in skinning animal kills, while the collaboration of over a thousand physicists from over forty countries was involved in the discovery of the GWs. Our evolution is no longer driven by the accidental discovery of a few isolated individuals, but by the global effort of thousands of scientists.

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