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.
Philosophy of Physics Seminar Convenors for MT19: Tushar Menon, Adam Caulton and Chris Timpson