Philosophy Of The Cosmos - Syllabus
This syllabus is subject to change to meet the needs of the students.
Edited on 2014-04-29 to add an extra lecture on biology, by popular request.

no tutorials

Tuesday 18 February
Introduction I: History and Philosophy (JG)
An introduction to the course, an introduction to philosophy for maths students, and a film about how bloody big the universe is.
reading: Brooks

Wednesday 19 February
Introduction II: Physics (JG)
An overview of the astrophysics parts of the course.

Thursday 20 February
History of Astronomy I: The Music of the Spheres (DW)
The planets and their orderly motions in the sky have led to many theories on their origins over the centuries. The arguments supporting the early view that the Earth was the centre of the universe are presented.
reading: Kuhn

no tutorials

Tuesday 25 February
History of Astronomy II: The Copernican Revolution (DW)
The Copernican revolution shifted the Earth away from a privileged position in the universe. The contributions made by Kepler, Tycho Brahe and Galileo in support of the new model are discussed.
reading: Kuhn

Wednesday 26 February
History of Astronomy III (DW)
The question “How big is the Milky Way?” continued to puzzle scientists until early in the 20th century. The contributions made by Hubble in shaping our view of the large scale structure of the universe are discussed.
reading: Lazer - The unity of science

Thursday 27 February
History of Astronomy IV: What is a Planet? (CB)
How many planets does the solar system have? Why is it so hard to decide? What does this tell us about how science operates?

tutorials start this week

Tuesday 4 March
Methods of Science I (JG)
Science is full of anomalies. No theory is ever fully supported by the data: theories are "born refuted" (Lakatos). Examples. Discussion of how to handle controversies, inluding in essays.

On Tuesday 4 March (weather permitting), we’ll be running a tour of Mount Stromlo Observatory. This is not compulsory, but it is a lot of fun. Please bring a car if you possibly can. We’ll be leaving campus at 7.15 pm.

Wednesday 5 March
Methods of Science II (JG)
What do scientists typically do about disagreements between theory and data?

Thursday 6 March
Methods of Science III (JG)
What other options are there for scientists to deal with anomalous data? Do they have to have a complete rule-based philosophy of science to deal with this problem? Do you have to have a complete rule-based philosophy of science to write your assignments?


Tuesday 11 March
Curved Spaces (DW)
We discuss Euclidean geometry and the more general geometries of Riemann and Lobatchevsky where spaces have intrinsic curvature. The idea that we may live in a universe with hidden compact dimensions or large external dimensions is also discussed.
reading: Randall - Entryway Passages

Wednesday 11 March
Relativity Before Einstein (DW)
Galilean relativity and Newton’s laws of motion are introduced, and the special role played by gravity as a long range force is discussed.
readings: Novikov - Science of Time is Born;
Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity

Thursday 13 March
Light Cones (DW)
The constancy of the speed of light can be used to deduce many facts relating to relativity using space-time diagrams and light cones.
reading: Hawking - Space and time


Tuesday 18 March
Relativity According to Einstein I: Special Relativity (DW)
The consequences of the observation that the speed of light is a universal constant leads Einstein to develop Special Relativity. We discuss the counter-intuitive ideas that emerge from this theory.
readings: Novikov - Light;
Novikov - Time Machine;
Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity

Wednesday 19 March
Relativity According to Einstein II: General Relativity (DW)
We discuss Einstein’s deep insight on the nature of gravity leading to the revolutionary idea that space and space-time are intrinsically curved. An outline is given of the General Theory of Relativity.
readings: Novikov - Time, space and gravitation;
Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity

Thursday 20 March
The Structure of the Universe I: Forces and Particles I (DW)
The laws of nature seem to be largely governed by symmetry. We discuss this idea and start to look at its historical development.
readings: Lazer - Seven steps to quantum physics;
Lazer - The importance of being discrete


Tuesday 25 March
The Structure of the Universe II: Forces and Particles II (DW)
More on the symmetry of physical laws, and how this and other ideas have led to our current view of elementary particles, forces, and their cosmological origin.
reading: Randall - Approaches to Theoretical Physics

Wednesday 26 March
The Structure of the Universe III: The Large-Scale Universe (DW)
Astronomers use photons as a time capsule to reveal the history of the universe. We discuss the principles involved.
readings: Novikov - The Universe after the explosion;
Randall - Rolled up extra dimensions

Thursday 27 March
The Structure of the Universe IV: The Large-Scale Universe (DW)
readings: Novikov - The Universe after the explosion;
Randall - Rolled up extra dimensions


Tuesday 1 April
Three Main Arrows of Time (JG)
The direction of time can be described by observing changes that occur in the universe. We discuss the three main arrows of time; namely the physical, psychological and cosmological arrows of time.
reading: Savitt

Wednesday 2 April
Entropy (JG)
The Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is argued that the current low state of entropy of the universe may be explained if one takes into consideration gravitational entropy.
reading: Greene

Thursday 3 April
More Arrows of Time (JG)
Savitt distinguishes seven arrows of time. Might they all be explained by one fundamental arrow? More about entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
reading: Savitt



Tuesday 22 April
Life in the Universe I: Life (JG)
What is life? If that turns out to be a useless question (hint hint), then what is evolution and what is an ecosystem?
reading: Feinberg & Shapiro

Wednesday 23 April
Life in the Universe II: What Evolves? (JG)
What are the units of natural selection on Earth? Does this give us any clues for how evolution might happen elsewhere in the Universe?

Thursday 24 April
Life in the Universe III: The Diversity of Life on Earth (JG)
We’ve tended to think that all life is more or less like us. In the past, this has always turned out to be a mistake. Maybe we’re making the same mistake now.


Tuesday 29 April
Life in the Universe IV: What Evolves? (JG)
What are the units of natural selection on Earth? Does this give us any clues for how evolution might happen elsewhere in the Universe?

Wednesday 30 April
Life in the Universe V: Constraints on Evolution (JG)
Darwinian evolution is not just survival of the fittest. It also has to take account of both physical and biological (e.g. genetic) constraints. This suggests that Life elsewhere will have its own constraints, presumably different in different environments.

Thursday 1 May


Tuesday 6 May
Life in the Universe VI: SETI and SETD (JG)
There must be intelligent aliens, otherwise they’d be here by now.

Wednesday 7 May
Quantum Mechanics I: The Double-Slit Experiment (JG)
An introduction to quantum systems and the wave-particle duality.
readings: Schrödinger, Pagels

Thursday 8 May
Quantum Mechanics II: Schrödinger’s Dog and the SUCK Theory (JG)
We experiment on a dog, without approval from the university ethics committee. Also, an brief overview of the mathematical apparatus of quantum mechanics (Schrödinger’s Equation). One of the main competing theories is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation or the Shut Up and Calculate (København) theory. The SUCK theory uses a probabilistic rule, the Born Rule, to make all its predictions.
reading: Sudbery


Tuesday 13 May
Quantum Mechanics III: More on the SUCK Theory (JG)
It turns out that even the SUCK theory is really several theories in disguise. And a quick look at some more of the many, amazingly diverse theories which all count as versions of quantum mechanics. Some say that every measurement makes an infinite number of universes. Some say that almost nothing is real. Some say that the future causes the past, or that our minds caused the Big Bang.
reading: Sudbery

Wednesday 14 May
Quantum Mechanics IV: The Transactional Theory (JG)
The Transactional Theory, a modern alternative to the SUCK theory of quantum mechanics. An overview of the variety of theories of quantum mechanics, and a recap of the main take-home messages on quantum mechanics.

Thursday 15 May
Phenomena and Reality I: Idealism (JG)
Having weirded ourselves out with quantum mechanics, we’ll look at the history of the idea that the purpose of science is to predict our experience (as opposed to finding out what’s really out there). This was a popular approach among the philosophers who influenced the great 20th-century physicists. We'll start with the theory that everything is mental ("Idealism").
readings: O'Hear, Einstein


Tuesday 20 May
Phenomena and Reality II: Logical Positivism and the Impact of Philosophy on Physics (JG)
The early-20th-century philosophy which had a direct impact on Einstein and on the other founders of quantum mechanics and relativity.
readings: O'Hear, Einstein

Wednesday 21 May
Towards the Big Bang (DW)
General relativistic models of the expanding universe are introduced. The Big Bang and Steady State Models are discussed.
reading: Novikov - The Universe after the explosion

Thursday 22 May
The Big Bang I (DW)
More on the early universe. Dark matter and dark energy continue to confront physicists and cosmologists, with no clear model emerging for the observed universe.
reading: Novikov - The Universe after the explosion


Tuesday 27 May
The Big Bang II (DW)
The manner in which the discovery of the micro-wave background radiation revolutionized cosmology is discussed. The ideas of inflation, and quantum fluctuations in the early universe, are introduced. Some plausible models for the origin of space and time are discussed.
reading: Davies - Can the universe create itself?

Wednesday 28 May
Black Holes (DW)
Black holes are a prediction of General Relativity and are seen on many mass scales in the universe. We describe their properties and show how there is a deep connection between black holes and the origin of the universe.
readings: Novikov - What is a black hole?;
Novikov - Black holes and quanta

Thursday 29 May
Anthropic Principles and Multiverses (DW)
Is our universe with intelligent life special or an accident? We present the Weak, Strong and Perfect Anthropic Principles and discuss the philosophical implications for the origin of our universe. The likely fate of our universe is discussed.
readings: Rees; Coyne

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