Spring 2023: The philosophy of black holes

The philosophy of physics deals with methodological, epistemological, and metaphysical issues in physics. This seminar has the dual purpose of systematically introducing the background necessary to do research in philosophy of physics as well as discussing current research in the field.

This seminar is co-taught by Saakshi Dulani and Christian Wüthrich.

Black holes are some of the most intriguing objects in physics and astronomy, the study of which has revolutionized our understanding of the universe and shaped the development of quantum gravity theories. In this seminar, we will investigate how a deeper understanding of black holes can bear on questions in metaphysics concerning the nature of space and time, causality, and more. (The exact list of topics will depend on pacing and interest.) We will also examine the philosophical dialectic surrounding the infamous black hole information loss paradox.

While some background in physics, mathematics, and philosophy will be helpful, all necessary concepts will be introduced throughout the course, and we will not assume any specific knowledge beyond high school mathematics.

This seminar will be conducted entirely in English.

Course Requirements

If this seminar is taken for credit, please let us know. You will have to fulfill requirements, depending on the module for which you are taking this course. For credit in philosophy:

- travail écrit de recherche avec soutenance (env. 25 pages, 50'000 signes)
- travail écrit de recherche (env. 12 pages, 24'000 signes) ou présentation orale durant le séminaire

Contact us if you need credit in physics or in another programme.

Our expectation is that everyone prepares the assigned readings ahead of time, actively participates in the seminar (including those featuring a guest speaker), and accepts a reasonable share of presentation duties.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc may be made available as they will be used in class.

The readings for this seminar will be from the following sources:

  • All reading materials will be made available on Moodle.

Presentation materials:

Schedule (Spring 2023)

This is the schedule for the seminar. It is subject to adjustment. For titles and abstracts of the guest seminars, visit https://beyondspacetime.net/. Readings marked with an asterisk (*) or dagger (†) are optional. The first category of optional readings, denoted by an asterick (*), indicates that the reading provides further clarification on that week's topic without technical details. The second category, denoted by a dagger symbol (†), indicates that the reading provides a more detailed, technical treatment of that week's topic. It usually builds upon or represents an opposing view to the assigned philosophy article.

Date Readings Presenter(s)
23.02. • Thorne (1994), Prologue Christian Wüthrich, Saakshi Dulani
02.03. • Levin (2020), chapters 2 and 3
• Thorne (1994), chapter 2
• †Carroll (2022), chapter 8 and 9
Saakshi Dulani
09.03. • Eckart et al (2017), sections 1, 2, 5, and 8
• †Kiefer (2020)
Guest seminar: Claus Kiefer
16.03. • Curiel (2019);
• *Thorne (1994), chapter 12, pp. 422-427 and 435-448
• *Susskind (2008), chapter 10
• *Hossenfelder (2020)
Guest seminar: Erik Curiel
23.03. • Levin (2020), chapter 4
• Lehmkuhl (2018)
• *Levin (2020), chapter 7
• †Duerr and Calosi (2021)
30.03. • Levin (2020), chapter 5
• Baron and Le Bihan (forthcoming)
• *Thorne (1994), chapter 12
• †Sengers (2017)
06.04. • Thorne (1994), chapter 14
• Smeenk and Wüthrich (2011), sections 1, 3, and 5
• †Miller (2017)
13.04. No seminar (semaine de lecture)
20.04. • Levin (2020), chapter 6
• Earman (1996)
• *Callender and Hoefer (2002), pp. 185-189
• †Lam (2007)
27.04. • Crowther and de Haro (2021), skip section 3
• †Crowther (2018)
04.05. • Susskind (2008), chapter 8
• Wüthrich (2019)
• *Susskind (2008), chapter 7
• †El Skaf and Palacios (2022)
11.05. • Susskind (2008)
• Demarest (ms)
• †Bokulich (2005)
18.05. No seminar (Ascension Day)
25.05. Lausanne-Geneva Workshop
• Dulani and Le Bihan (ms)
Saakshi Dulani, Baptiste Le Bihan