Through the life and work of Albert Einstein, the changing role of physics in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Einstein's engagement with relativity, quantum mechanics, Nazism, nuclear weapons, philosophy, the arts, and technology
How to engage with questions about what it means to understand physics in its broader history.
Albert Einstein has become the icon of modern science. Following his scientific, cultural, philosophical, and political trajectory, this course aims to track the changing role of physics in the 20th and 21st centuries. This history course addresses Einstein’s engagement with relativity, quantum mechanics, Nazism, nuclear weapons, philosophy, the arts, and technology, and raises basic questions about what it means to understand physics in its broader history.
Participants in the course will follow seventeen lessons, each of which will present a mix of science (no prerequisites!) and the broader, relevant cultural surround. Some weeks will examine the physics concepts, while others will see excerpts of films or discuss modernist poetry that took off from relativity. Or we might be looking at the philosophical roots and philosophical consequences of Einstein’s works. At other times we will be fully engaged with historical and political questions: the building, dropping, and proliferation of nuclear weapons, for example.
Typically, in a lesson (about an hour of streamed material), there will be opportunities for individual mini-essay writing, some multiple choice questions to bolster your understanding of the science, and a group activity which might one week be a debate and another a collective commentary on elements of an artwork from 1920s Weimar Germany.
Will this be a good fit for someone interested in the history of science?
Will this be a good fit for someone interested in physics?
Yes. While the math and equations are not reviewed in detail, relevant physics concepts and their history will be explored.
Will this be a good fit for someone interested in art?
Yes. Many will be surprised at how great the influence of science and scientists on art is.
Will this be a good fit for someone interested in philosophy?
Yes. The connections and influences between science and philosophy are deep and bidirectional. These influences are explored at some length.
Will this be a good fit for someone interested in Einstein?
Absolutely. While not every moment of the course is focused on Einstein, the overall course traces the development of Einstein’s thought, his inspirations, and how he influenced the world around him.
Will I be required to buy a textbook for this course?
Will I be required to do math?
This course is focused on concepts. To work with these concepts, some basic algebra will be helpful. Some questions are calculation based. However, there is no advanced math (calculus) required or covered.