Field of Science

The discovery of gravitational waves is the perfect opportunity for the Nobel Prize committee to change its rules

Peter Higgs and Francois Englert certainly deserved the Nobel
Prize, but without the hard work done at the LHC their work
would have stayed on the blackboard
Even before LIGO announced the discovery of gravitational waves speculation had abounded about who would win the Nobel Prize for the finding. Gravitational waves are definitely Nobel-worthy so there is no doubt that someone would be recognized. The question as usual is who.

For me the answer is clear. It should be all of LIGO. A few years ago in an article for the BBC, I quipped that since the nature of science over the last twenty years has fundamentally changed from an individual endeavor to a largely collaborative one, the original rules of Alfred Nobel’s honor have become rather archaic. As I said then and will say now,
"When the Nobel Prize was set up by Alfred Nobel 113 years ago, science was done very differently. It was done mostly by individuals, there was very little international collaboration and it was done very cheaply. 
"But it has radically changed. A lot of cutting edge science, a lot of work on the most important problems in science is a team effort. It is done by large interdisciplinary teams."
If the committee keeps on continuing to follow the rules which they established since the prize's inception, they will increasingly be out of step with important mainstream science. Whether it’s physics (LIGO, Kepler, LHC) or biology (ENCODE, Brain Map), it’s pretty clear now that much of the most important science is done by large groups around the world working together. This trend is likely to only grow bigger.

The Nobel committee already ignored the collaborative nature of research when they awarded the 2013 physics prize to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, both of whom undoubtedly deserved the honor. What was left out was the large team of very capable experimentalists working at the LHC; without them Englert and Higgs’s dream would have stayed a dream. There are perfectly reasonable grounds to recognize both the ATLAS and the CMS experimental groups who actually found the Higgs boson, and the time is still very much ripe to take that step. This is also not the first time that discoveries in particle physics have failed to recognize organizations like Fermilab, CERN and Brookhaven National Laboratory which made them possible.

This year’s discovery by LIGO is similarly prompting calls to recognize a few select individuals. The names most commonly cited seem to be those of Kip Thorne, Ron Drever and Rai Weiss. All three of them have been shepherding the LIGO project through tough scientific and political challenges right from the beginning and all three of them deserve the honor. And yet hewing to the 3-person rule – a rule that isn’t even enshrined in Alfred Nobel’s will – and ignoring essentially the entire LIGO team of experimental physicists, engineers, statisticians and other personnel who built and serviced the detectors, spent hours looking at the data and then carefully and rigorously analyzed it will be a great disservice to their hard work and dedication.

It’s not like the rules of the prize have not been amended before; after all the economics prize did not exist in Nobel’s will and the peace prize has been routinely awarded to organizations and not just individuals. The LHC discovery of the Higgs boson and the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves is a resounding cry for the arbiters of the prize to take an extra short step and do the right thing. 

The time has come for the Nobel Prize to step into the twenty-first century. 


  1. The gravitational wave ripple travelling at the velocity of light passed through earth in a moment. It created a chirp heard by physicists at Laser Interferometer Gravity-wave Observatory (LIGO) at that ‘now’ moment. The hearing was through a loudspeaker transducer linked to LIGO. With reference to the ‘present moment now’, the ripple of gravity wave sensed by the physicist was created 1.3 billion years ago by the merging of two black holes in a space. Merging was at a place imagined in the mind of physicist. What is happening at that place ‘now’ will be known by us only 1.3 billion years from ‘now’.

    Space is said to extend over billions of light years of distances around our bodies which are in that physical space. But, does time exist around us? Does time extend in physical space into a past and a future over billions of years from our present moment which is now? We know our world of yesterday. It is not around our body in a physical space. Past and future of time is in our mind without extension over space.

    We imagine in our minds black holes and galaxies extending over billions of years into the past and into the future outside our mind in a physical space. We create the past and future only in our minds. Past and future does not exist around the body outside the mind only in the present moment. Past and future of bodies is in the mind, they are not around the body. The creation of past and future of bodies and cosmos is in our minds. The creation is from our scientific predispositions. Knower-physicist is the reality now. Past and future of time are unreal compared to real present ‘now’. The cosmos of physics is a utilitarian model of physicists. It is similar to the utilitarianism models created in molecular biology, neuroscience, economics and politics and other social sciences but much more dependable and accurate.

    The knower senses, ever in the present moment. Knower knows in the mind by sensing and by predispositions. What is sensed is energy passing through the senses in the present moment ‘now’. Predicted sensing in the future, such as sighting of a comet, implies predictable creation of the energy in the bodily senses in the future. In sciences, reality is ever the creation of energy in the senses of the knower in the present moment. All else is unreal ideas in memory as past creation of energy or as predicted future creation of energy. All energy is a cyclical motion of force with a frequency linked to the cycle. This is the idea called Plank’s law. It applies to projection outside mind. Two cyclical forces which are significant in energy are em wave and wave of gravity. There is no limit to increasing frequency of cyclical un-extended motion. Frequency of energy may be there in consciousness or psychic energy of which faculties of knower and knower-awareness are formed. This is of course speculation about a higher frequency than the frequency of all known forces of matter and energy which are projected outside the mind. The frequency of dark energy is unknown like the frequency of consciousness or awareness. Is there unaware dark consciousness unlike the aware consciousness which we persons are?

  2. This has been discussed for a long time, so wouldn't expect any changes.

    By the way, there is no Nobel Prize in economy as the article might give the impression of. It is the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel" and is not awarded by the Nobel Committee but by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. [ ]


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