I woke up on the morning of the 12th of February to what is probably the biggest news I have heard in a long time. The research of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) had led to the observation of the warping of space-time generated by the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from Earth.
This is a significant contribution to the world of physics. This is the first direct detection of black holes (those elusive ‘objects’ from whose gravitational pull even light cannot escape) and is the most important confirmation of the General Theory of Relativity and the predictions made by Einstein exactly a century ago! This is also important as it will make it possible to see the very early parts of the Universe. I think it can thus be agreed that this is a momentous discovery.
However, this is not merely an important discovery in Physics but is much more. It will be useful at this point to take a look at the person who formulated these theories. Albert Einstein was one of the greatest minds in human history. A mind par excellence, Einstein had a keen ability to be able to look into the future. These are the things that we know rather well about Einstein. But Einstein was more. He was one of the most committed pacifists of his time. He was well aware of the dangers that science posed in human hands, particularly at the time he lived in.
More importantly, Einstein was the ultimate humanist. His concern for the wellbeing of humanity shone through in all of his life’s works including his science. Science has moved a long way since Einstein died. Unfortunately, it has also moved away from the ideals that Einstein espoused, as a force for good.
The tragic and untimely death of Rohith Vemula has shocked us in India. His ‘institutional murder’ is conclusive proof of the systemic oppression that most people in India still deal with on a daily basis. However, that isn’t what I wish to address. Anybody who has read Rohith’s suicide letter would be aware of his dream of becoming a science writer. I only wish Rohith were alive today to see the massive jump science has made. It would be lovely to read what he had to say about this momentous occasion.
It would only be a fitting tribute to Rohith to mention his name alongside Albert Einstein. Rohith was as much a humanist as Einstein was. He opposed the death penalty and identified as an Ambedkarite. His life was a testament to his commitment to the welfare of humanity. He also shared Einstein’s tremendous capability to look beyond and into the future. Rohith, I hope wherever you are, amidst the stardust, that you heard the chirping of black holes colliding as well as we did here on earth. It is one of the most beautiful sounds you will ever hear.
Both these men, separated by more than a century, shared the same ideals. They both believed in the power of science to create a better world. The discovery opens up a lot of new frontiers in science and physics research. There is much to look forward to in the coming days and years as science tries and pushes forward. But let us hope that this discovery takes us on the path espoused by Einstein and Rohith. A path where science plays a positive role in the development of humanity, a role where it helps in questioning and dismantling power structures and a role where it helps the voiceless speak and empowers those that resist and dissent.
It is time that we revisited what Einstein and Rohith stood for. In the country today, there is so much we are plagued by. At this juncture, the message of these two people shines through and through. It is an appeal to us. An appeal to revisit the power structures which are damaging us, an appeal to question and dismantle authority, an appeal to curb bigotry and intolerance, an appeal to spread more love than hate. Most importantly, they appeal to us to revisit what it means to be human. Viva Einstein! Viva Rohith!