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Reflection by Thomas Hertog on the Einstein Telescope project

On April 10th 2024 the Einstein Telescope EMR Forum took place at the renowned Solvay Library in Brussels. This historic venue once was the place where Albert Einstein himself, together with great other Nobel prize winning scientists like Niels Bohr, Marie Curie and Max Planck, came to historical breakthroughs in physics at the famous Solvay Conferences. The event concluded with an inspiring keynote by Thomas Hertog, close friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking and internationally renowned cosmologist and professor at the KU Leuven.

We tend to think of a telescope as an instrument to gather data and nothing more. As an objective thing of science that’s all in all apolitical. But the Einstein Telescope is not just about finding facts. As the prime symbol of the Galileo-moment of our era, it is so much more.

Einstein Telescope is about consolidating a new dialogue with the universe, through the observation of gravitational waves. In my keynote I have argued that we have reasons to believe that this dialogue will not only advance our knowledge about the universe, but also challenge some of the fundamentals of the scientific paradigm and hence our world views. My scientific journey with Stephen Hawking, back to the big bang, was a search for OUR origins, not just the origins of the universe.

What makes a cosmic dialogue through the Einstein Telescope especially powerful is that everyone would to some extent be able to take part in its discoveries. Much like the James Webb Space Telescope today, listening to the vibrations of deep space with the Einstein Telescope as our communal ear will remind us of our shared human destiny. It will inspire us to re-examine our collective wisdom about the universe. In this sense Einstein Telescope can be like a North Star that guides us to seek a deeper grasp of our common humanity, as stewards of planet Earth, in this strangely biophilic universe.

“In the bigger picture, ET will help us to see our planet and the universe truly as our home”

Thomas Hertog

In fact, eminent thinkers like Hawking and Hannah Arendt have long argued that a thorough understanding of our deepest origins – and the unity of Nature that such an understanding can bring about – will prove crucial to navigate humanity safely and wisely into the future. Why? Because it is felt that in the long-term, only civilizations that acquire such a profound understanding will find a way to move towards a perspective on the world that genuinely values the future and avoids pitting the many powers of science and technology against themselves.

Put this way, the Einstein Telescope project is almost an act of resistance. In a world suffering from fragmentation, short-term thinking and an increasing suspicion of anything alien, the true partnerships between stakeholders across widely different societal spheres and the close international cooperation that will be required to realize the Einstein Telescope, are an antidote.
Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of the Einstein Telescope project. As a telescope, ET is about finding deeper layers of truths about black holes. In the bigger picture, ET will help us to see our planet and the universe truly as our home. What more could we wish for?

Thomas Hertog
KU Leuven

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