Astronomy 40

Inventing Reality: The Human Search for Truth

California Institute of Technology

Spring 2005


Creating order out of our universe has been a perennial human pastime. Accepted truths have had a history of transience, with the models of each age yielding to the paradigm shifts of the next. Here we examine this continuing human dialogue, tracing a crooked line from ancient Babylonia to the present, accompanied along the way by such powerful thinkers as Aristotle, Lucretius, Newton, and Einstein. We will explore the physical world on all scales, from the fundamental constituents of matter to the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. Though the focus will be on astronomy (and cosmology in particular), related topics in classical physics, quantum mechanics, and philosophy will not be avoided.

No prior background beyond high school physics is required, and the course may be profitably taken by students at all levels, from first-years desiring a broad overview of human inquiry into the physical world to seasoned astrophysics majors seeking a ``big picture'' view of what they have been studying. We shall directly confront the original writings of the philosophers, scientists, and theologians studied, and there will be frequent short writing assignments in addition to one longer paper.


Professor Douglas Leonard, leonard@astro.caltech.edu
626-395-4421, Rm. 6 Robinson
Meeting Times and Places Tuesday, 4:00 -- 5:30 PM (Rm. 023 Robinson)
Thursday, 8:00 -- 9:30 PM (Rm. 106 Robinson)
Office Hours (in Rm. 6 Robinson) Tuesday, 5:30 -- 6:30 PM
Thursday, 9:30 -- 10:30 PM
and by appointment


  • Course Description, References, and Syllabus PS PDF
  • Weekly Assignments
  • Class Handouts
  • Powerpoint slides shown in class
  • Web links shown in class
  • Library Reserve Materials


    Last Updated 2005.06.02 By Douglas Leonard

    This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0401479. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.