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 1999. 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 Date Lecture Topic Supporting Materials
Jan. 12 Introduction B & D Chapter 1, B & D Chapter 2
Jan. 14 Zeno I  B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 19 Zeno II  B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 21 Zeno III  B & D Chapter 3, Infinities
Jan. 26 Zeno IV  B & D Chapter 3
Jan. 28 Plato's Universe B & D Chapter 4
Feb. 2 Aristotle's Universe B & D Chapter 5
Feb. 4 Newton I B & D Chapters 6 , B & D Chapters 7
Feb. 9 Newton II B & D Chapter 7
Feb. 11 Newton III B & D Chapter 7
Feb. 16 Leibnitz I B & D Chapter 8
Feb. 18 Leibnitz II B & D Chapter 8
Feb. 23 Absolute vs Relational Theories
Feb. 25 Alternative Geometries 
Mar. 2 Space, Geometry, and Convention; Gauss' Expt.
Mar. 4    Examination I Covers all course material to this point
Mar. 9 Spring Break-no class
Mar. 12 Spring Break-no class
Mar. 16 Mach's Critique of Newton B & D Chapter 8
Mar. 18 Space, Time, and Events B & D Chapter 9
Mar. 23 Primacy of Light B & D Chapter 10
Mar. 25 Special Relativity: Foundations B & D Chapter 11 
Mar. 30 Speical Relativity: Effects B & D Chapter 12
Apr. 1 Geometrization of Special Relativity B & D Chapter 13, Lecture notes
Apr. 6 The Principle of Equivalence B & D Chapter 14, Lecture notes
Apr. 8 Geometrization of Gravity I B & D Chapter 14
Apr. 13 Geometrization of Gravity II B & D Chapter 15, Lecture notes
Apr. 15 Black Holes B & D Chapter 15 Curvature Field Eqns,Black Holes
Apr. 20 Introduction to Cosmology
Apr. 22 Introduction to Quantum Phenomena
Apr. 27 Quantum and Gravity: Challenges
Apr. 29  Future Developments in Space and Time    
May 6 Examination II Examination II to be given at the Final Exam Date .
May 8 Exam 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 in class examinations. The first will be due on March 4 and will cover material from the first half of the course. The second exam will be given during final exam week  and will cover material from the second half of the course. 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 exams 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.