PH230      Half Unit
Einstein for Everyone: From time travel to the edge of the universe

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Bryan Roberts LAK 1.01


This course is available on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


There are no prerequisites for this course; it is accessible to students of all backgrounds.

Course content

Does the universe have an edge? Is time travel possible? What is a black hole, and in what sense are space, time and gravity a matter of "geometry"? The modern theory of spacetime introduced by Einstein provides a precise framework in which to ask these questions. This course makes their analysis accessible to everyone.

Students will have the opportunity to engage with Einstein's theories of relativity, to use them to analyse philosophical problems, and to examine their philosophical and practical implications. Students will learn to apply these conceptual tools to the analysis of space, time and gravity, as well as to formulate and argue for their own perspectives on the philosophical implications of relativity theory.

One is often faced with unsubstantiated declarations about the implications of Einstein's theories, by both scientists and non-scientists. This course will equip non-scientists with the conceptual tools needed to critically analyse these claims for themselves. It will also provide students with the tools needed to discuss the philosophy of space and time from a modern perspective.

Einstein for Everyone requires absolutely no background in physics or maths.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes and flipped-lectures delivered as short online videos.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Students are also expected to prepare answers to a few short questions each week for discussion in class.

Indicative reading

- Norton, John D. (2015) Einstein for Everyone.

- Hugget, Nick. (2010) Everywhere and Everywhen: Adventures in Physics and Philosophy.

- Einstein, Albert (1920) Relativity: The special and general theory.

- Euclid (1908) The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements, Vol I.

- Poincaré, Henri (1905) Science and Hypothesis.

Weekly essential readings will be provided on Moodle, selected individually from various book chapters and journal articles.


Essay (50%, 1500 words) in the MT.
Essay (50%, 1500 words) in January.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
First 35.7
2:1 57.4
2:2 6.2
Third 0.8
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2019/20: 41

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Capped 2019/20: Yes (45)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills