Albert Einstein was an extraordinary physicist who came up with theories that can only be described as nothing short of brilliant. Nobody would have ever thought though that one day history books would challenge his theories under the premise that perhaps he thought them wrong. And for a man that less than a century ago was the most radical physics thinker around, that’s simply mind-boggling.
But, we’re now living in a world where discovering something not previously believed possible is becoming more common. And scientific thoughts that have been accepted for centuries are now being questioned.
Einstein might have been right most of the time, but not all of the time. And whether you want to believe it or not, here are five of his most notable mistakes.
The Cosmological Constant
In order to make his General Theory of Relativity applicable to the structure of the universe and to counteract the force of gravity, Einstein came up with what he called “the cosmological constant” — a constant number or one that has an unchanging value. He incorporated this number to balance both sides of the equation, thereby giving us a picture of a static universe.
We now know that the opposite is true. There is indeed a counteractive force, a dark energy. But rather than keeping our universe constant, it’s one that’s causing our universe to expand at an accelerating speed.
Gravity can bend light. And part of Einstein’s equations described how. In 1936, he published an article that detailed how stars acted like lenses, deviating and diverting light as affected by gravitational pull. While he was able to describe it — the more massive the star, the greater the degree of bending — he also explicitly mentioned that such event can never be directly observed because it was too infinitesimal to be seen.
Now we can probably attribute this dismissal to the idea that Einstein only applied the concept of gravitational lensing to individual stars, and not entire galaxies. And it was a critical error, especially because this has come to be one of the most widely applied techniques used by scientists and astronomers to map the universe.
Einstein referred to it as “spooky action at a distance” — a phenomenon that suggests objects influence each other, even at great distances. While he was aware of the possibility, he rejected the idea because he thought it was not realistic to think that objects can physically affect one another, especially when they were so far apart. Besides, he did not think the phenomenon could ever be verified.
And he turned out to be wrong. Several experiments and studies conducted by different groups of scientists are getting closer than ever to proving for certain that quantum mechanics is real.
The Speed of Light
The speed at which light travels is variable, not constant. It still remains to be proven, but it directly contradicts Einstein’s theory that the speed of light has always been constant. If the model being built to test it works as intended, it will show that as the universe was just forming, light travelled way faster than it does today, and only slowed down to its constant speed we know right now as a result of the changing density of the universe.
Gravitational Waves and Black Holes
Einstein proposed that colliding black holes create ripples in the fabric of space-time (i.e. gravitational waves), and anything that falls into a black hole disappears completely, with no chance of ever escaping, and leaving no trace. He knew that black holes had to exist, but his theories about the nature of black holes were contradictory.
With the discovery of three gravitational wave events last year, a part of his theory was confirmed, but a part of it has also become debatable, specifically that which says the black hole’s event horizon (i.e. its boundary) is completely invisible. Because if this was accurate, gravitational waves should not have been detected in the first place.
Albert Einstein helped change the world. There’s no question about that. And though he did commit some errors too, for all of his invaluable contributions to the world of science, we’re pretty sure nobody faults him for that. He may be a genius, but he’s still human after all.