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Philosophy of gravity: Intuitions of four-dimensional curved spacetime

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General Relativity describes the universe as a four-dimensional spacetime manifold which is somehow ‘curved’. Accounts of curved spacetime often claim that most of us find it impossible to imagine four-dimensional spacetime, and so should not even try to do so. This paper examines the claim that the best description of the universe is counter-intuitive and suggests ways to re-educate our intuitions to make them compatible with what seems to be the best science around. The paper examines two world views, or pictures of the universe — the Aristotelian and the Newtonian — and argues that we have forgotten (or perhaps never realized) how much of an idealization the Newtonian world view actually is. For this reason we have come to believe that we can only ‘see’ the world in three spatial dimensions. The paper ends by describing an alternative idealization, or set of pictures, that would lead us to find the claim that the universe is a four-dimensional spacetime manifold ‘perfectly natural’.

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Chandler, M. Philosophy of gravity: Intuitions of four-dimensional curved spacetime. Sci Educ 3, 155–176 (1994).

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