BBC Beautiful Minds - Jocelyn Bell Burnell on Truth and Understanding

Uploaded by HolyFictionOrg on 20.06.2011

Through history, we have seen some theories
that have stood the test of time well and some that disappeared quickly.
A theory that stands the test of time well will have been prodded
and poked and battered and examined from every angle and still stands up.
and Einstein's theory of relativity is one of those that's been subject
to a lot of scrutiny, but it was only following the discovery
of pulsars that it was possible to test Einstein's ideas about gravity.
Einstein's theories predict that where you have a pair of stars
orbiting each other, this system produces a new kind of radiation,
gravitational radiation, or gravitational waves,
and the effects of these waves being produced are that the two stars move
closer together and go round faster, which sends out more gravity waves,
so they move closer together and go round even faster,
and they actually end up merging.
With the first pulsar discovered in one of these binary systems,
they've been able to track the orbit and they have seen that the stars
do move closer together, in exactly the manner predicted by Einstein.
So does that mean that Einstein's been proved right, then?
The current situation is that the pulsar astronomers have
shown that Einstein's theory of gravity is right to about 0.02%.
That's not the same as saying it's true though, is it?
Scientists should never claim that something is absolutely true.
You should never claim perfect or total or 100%,
because you never, ever get there.
Is science therefore not a quest for the truth?
Science is a quest for understanding.
A search for truth seems to me to be full of pitfalls.
We all have different understandings
of what truth is, and we each believe or we're in danger of each believing
that our truth is the one and only absolute truth,
which is why I say it's full of pitfalls.
I think a search for understanding is much more serviceable to humankind
and is a sufficiently ambitious goal of itself.