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Myth Busting Popular Narratives: The Theory of General Relativity

December 20, 2019

We have all heard the common narrative regarding the theory of general relativity: That it has shown the force of gravity to be an illusion, and that it is merely an effect of curved space and time. Like most common and popular narratives it is not only wrong, it serves a specific purpose of hiding the more complicated truth. The truth is that with the theory of general relativity, a set of mathematical world making tools were created such that we could allow for, and flatten out, any felt forces. Post factum, the force is not there, once we have postulated the curved space. But, we don’t have the curved space first, we have felt forces, around which we then create a geometrical model of curved space to try and accurately model the reality of our surroundings.

The reality is that there are limitless solutions to the equations of general relativity, and our choice of solution depends on empirical factors about the world that are always potentially changeable based on new evidence of new felt forces. If there was one solution to the equations, or if we knew definitively which solution represented our real universe in all areas and corners of the universe, then perhaps from that model we could say that force is an illusion. As we could then postulate that particular geometrical solution and apply it over the whole universe, like a kind of a priori intuition of space and time as in Kant.

But, this is not the situation we have, instead we have solutions to the equations that only apply locally, and even then only as approximations. Always we are being guided by the real matter out there and its gravitational effects, rather than by our pre given geometry. And effectively, piecemeal we are creating a geometry to fit in line with those effects, so that we can predict as much as possible over as big a time and spatial frame as possible.

This is the more accurate way to look at this process of improved understanding. We have not improved insight into some pre-existing spatial framework out there, waiting to be merely described and corresponded to. We have instead piecemeal built up a space-time tissue of influence, based on the masses and forces present in areas. We have also postulated a lot of theoretical models and potential solutions to the general relativity equations that may tell us something about the early universe and about things like black holes.

The hope of corresponding some a priori intuited map of the territory of space and time onto it perfectly and without fail, is a long dead hope. We always will be having to adjust based on matter and forces discovered in our surroundings in the universe. The problem for many is the confusion of the map with the territory. A map built up by many generations as a model of reality, over time becomes taken for granted as being that reality itself. If we are to understand Relativity and space and time properly, we have to avoid this temptation.

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