This syllabus is subject to change to suit the needs of the class.

Some lectures have associated readings. You can download them invididually using the links below; or all at once from See also Further Reading. Citations for the readings are at

Please keep an eye on this page during semester, so you can see where we're up to with the plot of the course as a whole and with the readings.

(no tutorials this week)

Wednesday 2017-02-22
Concepts and techniques I: Introductory Stuffs (lecture given by JG = Jason Grossman)
An introduction to the rest of the course, and some hints about getting good marks.
optional reading: [Brooks - How Not To Be A Cosmologist](*

Thursday 2017-02-23
Concepts and techniques II: Two Important Concepts (JG)
An introduction to dimensions and geometry.

Friday 2017-02-24
History of Astronomy I: The Music of the Spheres (lecture given by DW = Dayal Wickramasinghe)
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.
optional reading: [Kuhn - The Copernican Revolution](*

(no tutorials this week)

Wednesday 2017-03-01
Methods of Science I (JG)
Discussion of how to handle controversies, including in essays.

Thursday 2017-03-02
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.

Friday 2017-03-03
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.
optional reading: [Layzer - The unity of science](*

(tutorials start this week)

(evening of Tuesday 2017-03-07: optional, but guaranteed fun, tour of Mount Stromlo Observatory, led by astrophysicists)

Wednesday 2017-03-08
Methods of Science II (JG)
Science is full of anomalies. No theory is ever fully supported by the data: theories are "born refuted" (Lakatos). Examples.

Thursday 2017-03-09
Curved Spaces (JG)
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.

Friday 2017-03-10
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.
optional reading: [Novikov - Science of Time is Born](*
required reading: [Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity](*
required reading: [Barrow - Selection Effects](*

Wednesday 2017-03-15
Light Cones (JG)
The constancy of the speed of light can be used to deduce many facts relating to relativity using space-time diagrams and light cones.

Thursday 2017-03-16
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.
required reading: [Novikov - Light](*
required reading: [Novikov - Time Machine](*
required reading: [Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity](*

Friday 2017-03-17
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.
required reading: [Novikov - Time, space and gravitation](*
required reading: [Randall - The evolution of Einstein’s Gravity](*

Wednesday 2017-03-22
Methods of Science III (JG)
What do scientists typically do about disagreements between theory and observations? Also, a recap of relativity theory.

Thursday 2017-03-23
The Structure of the Universe I: Forces and Particles I (JG)
The laws of nature seem to be largely governed by symmetry. We discuss this idea and start to look at its historical development.

Friday 2017-03-24
The Structure of the Universe II: Forces and Particles II (JG)
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.

Wednesday 2017-03-29
Astrobiology I: Life (JG)
In which I actually spend the whole lecture catching up on topics I should have finished in previous lectures.

Thursday 2017-03-30
Astrobiology II: 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.
optional reading: [Egan - Wang’s Carpets](*

Friday 2017-03-31
Astrobiology III: What is Life? (JG)
optional reading: [Feinberg and Shapiro - Life Beyond Earth](*
optional reading: [Machery - Why I stopped worrying about the definition of life... and why you should as well](*


Wednesday 2017-04-19
Astrobiology IV: SETI, SETD, and Panspermia — Life On And From Other Planets (JG)
Searches for life on other planets, the possibility of life having arrived here FROM other planets, and other out-there possibilities.
There must be intelligent aliens, otherwise they’d be here by now.
optional reading: [Feinberg and Shapiro - Life Beyond Earth](*
optional reading: [Davies - Are Aliens Among Us?](*

Tutorials: Estimating the number of extraterrestrial biospheres, and the Fermi Paradox

Thursday 2017-04-20
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.

Friday 2017-04-21
The Structure of the Universe IV: The Large-Scale Universe (DW)
required reading: [Novikov - The Universe after the explosion](*
optional reading: [Randall - Rolled up extra dimensions](*

Wednesday 2017-04-26
Quantum Mechanics I: The Double-Slit Experiment (JG)
An introduction to quantum systems and the wave-particle duality. What all theories of quantum mechanics agree about (which is not much).
required reading: [Schrödinger - Schrödinger's cat](*
required reading: [Pagels - Schrödinger's cat](*

Tutorials: The Big Bang

Thursday 2017-04-27
Towards the Big Bang (DW)
General relativistic models of the expanding universe are introduced. The Big Bang and Steady State Models are discussed.
optional reading: [Novikov - The Universe after the explosion](*

Friday 2017-04-28
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.
optional reading: [Novikov - The Universe after the explosion](*

Wednesday 2017-05-03
Quantum Mechanics II: Schrödinger’s Dog and the SUCK Theory (JG)
We experiment on a dog, without approval from the university ethics committee. Also, a 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.

Tutorials: Schrödinger’s Dog and other thought experiments.

Thursday 2017-05-04
The Big Bang II (DW)
The manner in which the discovery of the micro-wave background radiation revolutionized cosmology is discussed. The idea of inflation is introduced. Some plausible models for the origin of space and time are discussed.
optional reading: [Davies - Can the universe create itself?](*

Friday 2017-05-05
Quantum Mechanics III: Many theories (JG)
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.
required reading: [Sudbery - Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics](*
required reading: [Putnam - A Philosopher Looks at Quantum Mechanics (Again)](*

Wednesday 2017-05-10
Quantum Mechanics IV: Time-Symmetric Quantum Mechanics (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.
optional reading: [Price - Einstein and the Quantum Spooks](*

Tutorials: Reading by Pagels on the SUCK theory; and other versions of quantum mechanics

Thursday 2017-05-11
Quantum Mechanics V: Does Quantum Mechanics Explain the Big Bang? (JG)
As we saw in the previous quantum mechanics lectures, people can't agree with each other on what quantum mechanics says. This means that they don't agree with each other when they apply it to cosmology. That's fine (in fact it's completely normal — this sort of thing happens all over the place in science). However, people often fail to realise that they don't agree with each other. So when they apply it to cosmology there's a sort of facade of agreement that hides a horrible mess of unstated assumptions. We look at these assumptions under the headings of the various theories we've studied, and revisit the idea that quantum fluctuations might explain the existence and/or the nature of the universe.

Friday 2017-05-12
Theories of Truth (JG)
What does it mean to say that a theory is true? Philosophers have held a surprisingly wide variety of positions about this. We'll look at this question in general now (no physics in this lecture!), and then next week we'll see the history of how philosophers thought about it at the time when the SUCK theory of quantum mechanics was invented.

Wednesday 2017-05-17
The Impact of Philosophy on Physics I (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 (not to find out what’s really out there, and maybe not even to explain anything). This was a popular approach among the philosophers who influenced the great 20th-century physicists and who therefore influenced our current physical theories.

Tutorials: Continental Drip

Thursday 2017-05-18
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.
optional reading: [Novikov - What is a black hole?](*
optional reading: [Novikov - Black holes and quanta](*

Friday 2017-05-19
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.
optional reading: [Rees - Laws and Bylaws in the Multiverse](*
optional reading: [Coyne - Some Theological Reflections on the Anthropic Principle](*

Wednesday 2017-05-24
The Impact of Philosophy on Physics II: Logical Positivism (JG)
Logical positivism is an early-20th-century philosophy which had a direct and major effect on Einstein and all the other founders of quantum mechanics.
optional reading: [Einstein - Remarks on Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge](*
optional reading: [O’Hear - Scientific Realism](*

Tutorials: End-of-semester stuff

Thursday 2017-05-25
Time I: 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.
required reading: [Savitt - Introduction to time’s arrow](*

Friday 2017-05-26
Time II: 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.
optional reading: [Greene - Entropy and the Big Bang](*
optional reading: [Egan - The Hundred-Light-Year Diary](*
optional reading: [Price - A Telescope To Look Into The Future?](*
optional reading: [Price - A point on the arrow of time](*