Physics 433/ Philosophy 433

Physics and Philosophy of Space and Time

Welcome to the Physics and Philosophy of Space and Time course web page. This course is offered Spring Semester 1998. Here we will provide information about the course as well as materials. Both lecture materials and other background materials will be provided as the course developes.

Note that we intend to make extensive use of this web page. Please refer to it on a regular basis for occasional extra materials, lecture notes, and hand-outs. This web page is the only source for the contents of the manuscript The Evolution of the Concepts of Space and Time. The web page address is

Course Instructors:

Course Information

Course materials:

Course Objectives:

This course is an introduction to the philosophy and physics of space and time. Among the topics to be covered are Zeno's paradoxes, the dispute between Newton and Leibnitz on the nature of space and time, the relationship between geometry and physics, a survey of the foundations of the theory of the special theory of relativity, the geometrization of gravitation by Einstein's general theory of relativity and gravitation. The emphasis is on a discussion of the conceptual foundations and a tracing of the evolution of the concepts of space and time from the pre-socratics to the present day. The treatment is essentially non-mathematical with some inclusion of mathematical concepts needed to fill out the development. Among the more philosophical issues, we will examine the relation of models to reality, the role of convention in scientific theories, questions of evidence and testability of scientific models, and questions of determinism and causality.

Course Syllabus

Meeting DateLecture TopicSupporting Materials
Jan. 13IntroductionB & D Chapter 1, B & D Chapter 2
Jan. 15 Zeno I B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 20 Zeno II B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 22 Zeno III B & D Chapter 3, Infinities
Jan. 27 Zeno IV B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 29Plato's UniverseB & D Chapter 4
Feb. 3Aristotle's UniverseB & D Chapter 5
Feb. 5Newton IB & D Chapters 6 , B & D Chapters 7
Feb. 10Newton IIB & D Chapter 7
Feb. 12Newton IIIB & D Chapter 7
Feb. 17Leibnitz IB & D Chapter 8
Feb. 19Leibnitz IIB & D Chapter 8
Feb. 24Absolute vs Relational Theories
Feb. 26Alternative Geometries
Mar. 3Space, Geometry, and Convention
Mar. 5Gauss' 'Experiment'
Mar. 10Spring Break-no class
Mar. 12Spring Break-no class
Mar. 17Mach's Critique of NewtonB & D Chapter 8
Mar. 19Space, Time, and EventsB & D Chapter 9 Term Paper I Due
Mar. 24Primacy of LightB & D Chapter 10
Mar. 26Special Relativity: FoundationsB & D Chapter 11
Mar. 31Speical Relativity: EffectsB & D Chapter 12
Apr. 2Geometrization of Special RelativityB & D Chapter 13, Lecture notes
Apr. 7The Principle of EquivalenceB & D Chapter 14, Lecture notes
Apr. 9Geometrization of Gravity IB & D Chapter 14, Term Paper 2 Refs.
Apr. 14Geometrization of Gravity IIB & D Chapter 15, Lecture notes
Apr. 16Black HolesB & D Chapter 15 Curvature Field Eqns,Black Holes
Apr. 21Introduction to Cosmology Second Term Paper Topics
Apr. 23Introduction to Quantum Phenomena
Apr. 28Quantum and Gravity: Challenges
Apr. 30 Future Developments in Space and TimeTerm Paper II Due
May 6Exam WeekFINAL EXAM DATE: May 8, 1:15-3:15 p.m.
May 8Exam Week

Requirements for the course:

A knowledge of mathematics at least at the level of high school. Knowing calculus is a plus. Any further study in mathematics would be helpful, but not necessarily a requirement.


There will be two term papers. The first will be due on March 19 and will cover material from the first half of the course. The second paper will be due April 30 and will cover material from the second half of the course. We will hand out term paper topics at a later date, as well as discuss our requirements on the content of the papers.

There will be a number of weekly homework exercises - one or two problems that will test your understanding of the materials. These will be distributed on Thursdays and collected the following Tuesday.

The course grade will be determined from the performance on these two papers along with an assessment of the student's class participation. You are expected to attend class regularly and be prepared to discuss the assigned reading material. The class participation factor may raise your grade but will not lower it.