Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity Lecture 1 by Leonard Susskind (Full Transcript)

Leonard Susskind

Full Text of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity Lecture 1 by Leonard Susskind at Stanford University. Recorded September 22, 2008.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – Lecture 1


Gravity. Gravity is a rather special force. It’s unusual. It has different thin electrical forces, magnetic forces, and it’s connected in some way with geometric properties of space — space and time. And that connection is, of course, the general theory of relativity.

Before we start, tonight for the most part we will not be dealing with the general theory of relativity. We will be dealing with gravity in its oldest and simplest mathematical form. Well, perhaps not the oldest and simplest but Newtonian gravity. And going a little beyond what Newton, certainly nothing that Newton would not have recognized or couldn’t have grasped — Newton could grasp anything– but some ways of thinking about it which would not be found in Newton’s actual work. But still Newtonian gravity. Newtonian gravity is set up in a way that is useful for going on to the general theory.

Okay. Let’s begin with Newton’s equations. The first equation, of course, is F equals MA.

F = ma

Force is equal to mass times acceleration. Let’s assume that we have a frame of reference, that means a set of coordinates and a collection of clocks, and that frame of reference is what is called an inertial frame of reference. An inertial frame of reference simply means one which if there are no objects around to exert forces on a particular – let’s call it a test object. A test object is just some object, a small particle or anything else, that we use to test out the various fields — force fields, that might be acting on it. An inertial frame is one which, when there are no objects around to exert forces, that object will move with uniform motion with no acceleration. That’s the idea of an inertial frame of reference.

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And so if you’re in an inertial frame of reference and you have a pen and you just let it go, it stays there. It doesn’t move. If you give it a push, it will move off with uniform velocity. That’s the idea of an inertial frame of reference and in an inertial frame of reference the basic Newtonian equation number one — I always forget which law is which. There’s Newton’s first law, second law, and third law. I never can remember which is which. But they’re all pretty much summarized by F equals mass times acceleration. This is a vector equation. I expect people to know what a vector is. A three-vector equation. We’ll come later to four-vectors where when space and time are united into space-time. But for the moment, space is space, and time is time. And vector means a thing which is a pointer in a direction of space, it has a magnitude, and it has components.

So, component by component, the X component of the force is equal to the mass of the object times the X component of acceleration, Y component Z component and so forth. In order to indicate that something is a vector acceleration I’ll try to remember to put an arrow over vectors. The mass is not a vector. The mass is simply a number. Every particle has a mass, every object has a mass. And in Newtonian physics the mass is conserved. It does not change. Now, of course, the mass of this cup of coffee here can change. It’s lighter now but it only changes because mass has been transported from one place to another. So, you can change the mass of an object by whacking off a piece of it but if you don’t change the number of particles, change the number of molecules and so forth, then the mass is a conserved, unchanging quantity. So, that’s first equation.

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