22/10/2020 – Jamee Elder: Epistemology of the LIGO-Virgo detections


In this talk, I examine the methodology and epistemology of LIGO, with a focus on the role of models and simulations in the experimental process. This includes post-Newtonian approximations, models generated through the effective one-body formalism, and numerical relativity simulations, as well as hybrid models that incorporate aspects of all three approaches. I then present an apparent puzzle concerning the validation of these models: how can we successfully validate these models and simulations through our observations of black holes, given that our observations rely on our having valid models of the systems being observed? I argue that there is a problematic circularity here in how we make inferences about the properties of compact binaries. The problem is particularly acute when we consider these experiments as empirical tests of general relativity. I then consider strategies for responding to this challenge.

Biographical information:

Jamee Elder completed her PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, specializing in the philosophy of physics and astrophysics. Before Notre Dame, she completed an MPhil in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and a BSc and BA(Hons) at the University of Canterbury. She was formerly a Heinrich Hertz Fellow with the Lichtenberg Group for History and Philosophy of Physics at the University of Bonn.  Her current research concerns the methodology and epistemology of large astrophysical experiments, especially those—including LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA and the EHT—that involve observing’’ black holes. Much of her work concerns how models and simulations are embedded in experimental methods and what epistemic implications this has for making inferences about astrophysical target systems.


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