Sci-Fi London Festival 2019: Chasing Einstein

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19th May 2019

Will We Ever Catch Him?

There’s a point in Chasing Einstein when tech-entrepreneur Cree Edwards quotes Einstein saying: “if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself”. I think it is a pertinent quote.

Chasing Einstein is a documentary about Einstein’s vision of gravity, how it has shaped our understanding of the world, and universe, we live in. That is, until someone noticed it doesn’t stack up if you look at the Andromeda system. That’s when scientists came up with ‘Dark Matter’.

Contrary to popular belief, Dark Matter isn’t a ‘thing’ as such, in fact science doesn’t know what Dark Matter is. It is their name for an unknown ‘thing’ that explains away why gravity doesn’t seem to always behave in the way we expect it to.

At least, I think that’s it, I’m not a scientist so I may be way off here. Equally I feel like I may be way off in my understanding of what Chasing Einstein is about.

I think it is about some scientists who have spent many, many years of their lives looking for Dark Matter, and about others who are starting to think that it doesn’t exist and, perhaps, we need to shift our focus and look at something else, that perhaps Einstein just got it wrong.

So, to a layman like me, someone who has an interest in these matters (‘scuse the pun) but is absolutely not an expert or even close to someone who could explain even half of the theories that exist, how does Chasing Einstein hold up?

Well, the frustrating thing about watching something like this is that you know there isn’t a payoff at the end. You know that no-one has found Dark Matter, else we’d have heard a lot about it, equally you know no-one has proved it to be false either, or we’d have heard a lot about that too.

So you are in a middle ground of learning from each side, taking in their points of view, with some passionate arguments from those that have spent their lives looking for Dark Matter, and some understandable points of view from those that wonder if now is the time to change tack.

But neither argument wins out. One group we follow open their ‘box’ to see if 18 months of experiments have garnered the results they hoped for, whilst Cree Edwards invites both sides of the party to see a solar eclipse, a particular highlight of the documentary, to ask both parties why things are taking so long.

The documentary itself is well directed by Steve Brown (“Spark: A Burning Man Story”) and Timothy Wheeler (“Poached”, “The Other Shore”), and all of the people they speak to are passionate and interesting characters in of themselves.

It just doesn’t give us any answers, though, this is true of the subject itself so I guess in that sense, it mirrors it perfectly.

Physics is at a crossroads: Nobody has succeeded in challenging Einstein's theory despite its startling conclusion that the vast majority of gravity must be caused by an invisible form of matter that has yet to be detected.

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