24.112: Space, Time, and Relativity, Spring 2009

Instructor: Brad Skow (follow link for contact information).
Grader: Damien Rochford.   Email: djr@mit.edu.   Room: 32-D927.   Office Hours: W, 3-4.
Lectures: TR, 11-12:30, room 5-217.
Course Description:   Philosophical questions raised by relativistic and pre-relativistic physics, especially questions about space and time. Discussions focus on Newton's arguments for the existence of absolute space and time; pre-relativistic arguments that the geometry of space is a matter of convention; and counter arguments from relativity showing that the passage of time is not a real phenomenon. Other topics include the relationship between matter and energy in relativity, and the possibility of time travel. Previous exposure to special relativity will be helpful but is not required. Assessment will be through seven homework assignments.
Readings: Available on the stellar site.
Books:If you'd like to do some extra reading on special relativity, here are some recommendations:
  • Geroch, General Relativity from A to B.
  • Wheeler and Taylor, Spacetime Physics.
  • Mermin, It's About Time.
Homework:HW1 (due 2/19; hints) | HW2 (due 3/3) | HW2 round 2 (due 3/17) | HW3 (due 3/12)
 HW4 HW4 pt2 (due 4/7) | HW5 (due 4/16) | HW6 (due 5/5)
 HW7 (due 5/14) article for HW7
Solutions:HW1 | HW2 | HW3


2/3      A brief introduction to philosophy. | Logic Handout.
2/5 Continued.  | Questions from Feb 5.
2/10 Newton's arguments for the existence of space. | Questions from Feb 10.
 Read: Newton, excerpt from the Principia.
2/12 The Bucket Argument. Relationalist Physics.  | lecture outline. | Questions.
2/17 No class (MIT monday).
2/19 Galilean Relativity. Classical Spacetimes. |  HW 1 due.  | Questions.
2/24 Continued.  | notes on classical spacetimes.
2/26 Skepticism about Geometry. | lecture outline.
 Read: Sklar, "How do we know the true geometry of the world?"
3/3 Continued.  | HW 2 due. |  Revised HW 1 due.
3/5 Relativistic Spacetime. | complete notes on relativistic spacetime as of 3/16.
3/10 Continued.
3/12 Continued.  | HW 3 due.
3/17 Is Relative Simultaneity Conventional? |  Revised HW 2 due.
 Read: Reichenbach, The Philosophy of Space and Time, sections 19-20.
3/19Explaining Length Contraction in Special Relativity.
 Read: Bell, "How to Teach Special Relativity."
3/24 Spring Break
3/26 Spring Break
3/31 Time in Relativity.  | Revised HW 3 Due.
 Read: Putnam, "Time in Physical Geometry"; Stein, "On Einstein-Minkowski Spacetime."
4/2 Time Travel: External Time and Personal Time.
 Read: Lewis, "The Paradoxes of Time Travel."
Read: Arntzenius, "Double Your Fun."
 For the homework: "All You Zombies."
4/7 Time Travel: Variations on the Grandfather Paradox.  | HW 4 due.
4/9 Time Travel and Physics.
 Read: Arntzenius and Maudlin, Time Travel and Modern Physics.
        Malament, "Time Travel in the Godel Universe."
4/14 How to Travel Faster than Light.
 Read: Arntzenius, "Causal Paradoxes in Special Relativity."
4/16Public Service Announcement on Converting Matter into Energy. |  HW 5 due. Revised HW 4 due.
 Read: Lange, "The Most Famous Equation."
4/21 Patriots Day; no class.
4/23 Continued.
4/28 Is space made up of points?
 Read: Arntzenius, "Gunk, Topology, and Measure."
4/30 Continued. |  Revised HW 5 due.
5/5 Gunk, concluded; Black Holes and Singularities. |  HW 6 due.
5/7 Black Holes and Singularities.
5/12 Black Holes Continued; Philosophical Questions about General Relativity.
5/14 Infinity and Relativity.  | Revised HW 6 due. HW 7 due. (NOTE: only 1 try on HW 7.)
 Read: Arntzenius, "Infinity, Relativity, and Smoothness."

Brad Skow | MIT