Roland Turner

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Importance of the LIGO results

The world's first "gravity receivers".

There is much else to write about this, but I wrote the following in response to a friend's question about the importance of the discovery and felt it worth sharing:

I get that observing gravitational waves is a big deal. But can someone enlighten me on how this new observation is going to make anyone's life better??? #‎WhyImInPublicHealth‬

It is an increment in a >6-century-long process of replacing ignorance and superstition with testable, tested theories. All of the scientific and technological progress - and most of the political and economic progress - during that period arises from this process. Progress in these spheres is the raw material of making people's lives better; without them, not only can most lives not be improved, almost everyone gets much worse off pretty quickly. If we wish to continue to improve people's lives, we need to continue to improve science, technology, economics and governance.

It might be interesting to consider why the LIGO results are getting so much attention given that, indeed, they don't directly put food into the mouths of starving people or into the hands of aid-workers. I'd suggest that it's because this hits or approaches multiple superlatives:

You didn't ask this latter question. I'm inferring a feeling on your part that the LIGO results are getting excessive attention but would suggest that the attention is well and truly warranted.

The broader importance though, as above, is that this is part of a continuing process of ongoing progress on multiple fronts which yields measurable improvements in people's lives more by indirect means than by obvious, direct ones. We already know what happens to societies that turn their back on this process (think: 12th century Baghdad), it would be catastrophic for this process to be stopped simply because of the indirect connection between its outputs and the improvements in people's lives.

Originally posted at