Philosophers have long pondered the nature of space and time. Is the universe infinite? Was there a beginning, and will there be an end? Starting in the late 19th century, Einstein and his contemporaries discovered that, remarkably, space and time are related to each other and to the apparently distinct concept of gravity. Even more surprisingly, our current understanding of these subjects leads to black holes, points of no return that seem rooted in science fiction but that in just the last twenty years have been understood as fundamental players in the development of galaxies and the formation of structure in the universe.

In this course, Professor Miller will give a broad overview of thought on space, time, and gravity, from the apparently commonsense musings of the ancient Greeks to our latest discoveries about the active role played by black holes in our universe. Throughout the course he will encourage discussion about the nature of scientific theories and the strength of evidence required to believe in the existence of apparently absurd objects such as black holes. He will conclude with an evaluation of the possible limits of advanced civilizations, including whether it is possible in principle to use wormholes and engage in time travel.

Assignments include:

• Considerable class time will be devoted to discussion. Weekly reading responses will be the launching point for your contribution to the discussion. Assessments will be determined by class participation (10%), reading responses (20%), quizzes (10%), midterm exam (20%), 10-page term paper (20%) and a final exam (20%). Exams will be a mixture of essay, fact based knowledge, and challenges of critical reasoning.

Readings include:

Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy by Kip Thorne