Expanding theory testing in general relativity: LIGO and parametrized theories
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The multiple detections of gravitational waves by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), operated by Caltech and MIT, have been acclaimed as confirming Einstein's prediction, a century ago, that gravitational waves propagating as ripples in spacetime would be detected. Yunes and Pretorius (2009) investigate whether LIGO's template-based searches encode fundamental assumptions, especially the assumption that the background theory of general relativity is an accurate description of the phenomena detected in the search. They construct the parametrized post-Einsteinian (ppE) framework in response, which broadens those assumptions and allows for wider testing under more flexible assumptions. Their methods are consistent with work on confirmation and testing found in Carnap (1936), Hempel (1969), and Stein (1992, 1994), with the following principles in common: that confirmation is distinct from testing, and that, counterintuitively, revising a theory's formal basis can make it more broadly empirically testable. These views encourage a method according to which theories can be made abstract, to define families of general structures for the purpose of testing. With the development of the ppE framework and related approaches, multi-messenger astronomy is a catalyst for deep reasoning about the limits and potential of the theoretical framework of general relativity.