General Relativity: The Curvature of Spacetime

Professor Dave Explains
25 May 201706:20


TLDRIn this informative video, Professor Dave delves into Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which revolutionized our understanding of gravity and space. He explains how space is not governed by Euclidean geometry but is instead curved around massive objects, demonstrating that parallel lines can intersect in a non-Euclidean universe. The video highlights the theory's experimental support, such as gravitational lensing, and acknowledges its incompleteness without integration with quantum physics.


  • 🌟 Einstein's special relativity, developed in 1905, established him as a significant scientific figure.
  • 🚀 General relativity, published in 1916, revolutionized our understanding of gravity and the geometry of space.
  • 📐 The traditional Euclidean geometry, with its perfect parallel lines and triangles, does not apply to the universe as per general relativity.
  • 💫 Space is not flat; it is curved and distorted around massive objects, similar to how a two-dimensional plane can wrap around a third dimension.
  • 🧠 Visualizing the four-dimensional curvature of space-time is beyond human comprehension, so analogies like paper bending help in understanding these concepts.
  • 🌌 General relativity describes a non-Euclidean universe where parallel lines can intersect in curved space-time.
  • 🚀 The theory expanded the scope of special relativity to include all reference frames, not just inertial ones.
  • 🌍 The warping of space by mass explains gravity without the need for a mystical action-at-a-distance force field.
  • 💡 Space and time are interconnected as the space-time fabric, influencing each other's curvature and movement.
  • 🔬 General relativity is supported by numerous experiments, including the observation of light bending around the Sun during a solar eclipse.
  • 🔄 Despite its strengths, general relativity has not yet been successfully integrated with quantum physics.

Q & A

  • What is the main difference between special relativity and general relativity?

    -Special relativity, developed by Einstein in 1905, deals with the behavior of objects in inertial reference frames, while general relativity, published in 1916, extends this to include all reference frames and describes the geometry of space and the gravitational force as a curvature of spacetime caused by mass.

  • How did Einstein's general theory of relativity change our understanding of the universe?

    -General relativity introduced the concept that spacetime is not flat as previously thought with Euclidean geometry, but can be curved by massive objects, thus revolutionizing our understanding of gravity and the structure of the universe.

  • What is the significance of the bending of a piece of paper in explaining general relativity?

    -The analogy of bending a piece of paper is used to illustrate how space can be distorted or bent around massive objects, helping us to conceptualize the otherwise physically impossible to visualize idea of a three-dimensional space wrapped around a fourth spatial dimension due to the presence of mass.

  • How does general relativity explain the orbits of planets?

    -General relativity explains that the space around massive objects, like the Sun, is curved, causing objects such as planets to move in orbits as they follow the curvature of spacetime, thus providing a natural explanation for planetary motion without the need for an undefined force like 'gravity' as in Newton's theory.

  • What is gravitational lensing and how does it relate to general relativity?

    -Gravitational lensing is a phenomenon where light from a distant object is bent around a massive object, creating multiple images of the distant object. This is a direct prediction of general relativity, which states that light follows curved paths around massive objects due to the curvature of spacetime they cause.

  • What was one of the famous experiments that confirmed general relativity?

    -During a solar eclipse, a famous experiment observed light from a distant star curving around the Sun, demonstrating that light follows curved paths as predicted by general relativity. The eclipse allowed astronomers to observe the star's light without the Sun's glare, confirming its shifted position due to gravitational bending.

  • What are some limitations of general relativity?

    -Although general relativity is a powerful and well-tested theory, it has not been fully merged with quantum physics, which governs the behavior of particles at the smallest scales. This lack of integration represents a limitation and an area of ongoing research in theoretical physics.

  • What is the relationship between space and time in general relativity?

    -In general relativity, space and time are not separate entities but are part of a single, interconnected fabric known as spacetime. Matter influences how spacetime curves, and in turn, the curvature of spacetime dictates how matter moves.

  • How does general relativity explain the anomalous orbit of Mercury?

    -General relativity accounts for the observed anomalies in Mercury's orbit, which could not be fully explained by Newton's law of gravitation. The curvature of spacetime caused by the Sun's mass, as described by general relativity, provides the additional force needed to explain Mercury's orbit accurately.

  • What is the significance of the equivalence principle in general relativity?

    -The equivalence principle, a key aspect of general relativity, states that the force experienced by an object in a gravitational field is indistinguishable from the forces experienced by an object in a non-inertial (accelerating) reference frame. This principle underlies the idea that gravity is not a force transmitted at a distance but arises from the warping of spacetime by mass.

  • How does the concept of spacetime curvature explain the falling of objects towards Earth?

    -The curvature of spacetime around massive objects like Earth causes objects to move towards it. This is not due to a mysterious force acting at a distance, as previously thought, but rather the natural result of objects following the curved paths dictated by the geometry of spacetime.



🌌 Introduction to General Relativity and Its Implications

This paragraph introduces the concept of general relativity, developed by Einstein in 1916, which revolutionized our understanding of gravity and space. It explains how Einstein's theory of special relativity from 1905 was expanded to include all reference frames, not just inertial ones. The key idea is that space is not Euclidean and is distorted around massive objects, causing a non-intuitive curvature that affects even light. This warping of space is what we perceive as gravity. The explanation also touches on how this theory improves upon Newton's law of universal gravitation by providing a physical mechanism for gravity rather than an action-at-a-distance force. The paragraph concludes by mentioning experimental evidence supporting general relativity, such as the observation of light bending around the Sun during a solar eclipse.


🔍 Gravitational Lensing and the Incompleteness of General Relativity

The second paragraph discusses the phenomenon of gravitational lensing, where light bends around massive objects, creating multiple images of distant objects, such as stars or galaxies. It highlights the predictive power of general relativity in explaining various astronomical observations, including the orbit of Mercury, neutron stars, and black holes. However, it also points out that general relativity is not a complete theory because it has not been successfully integrated with quantum physics. The need for a comprehensive understanding of all particles is emphasized to solve this issue, encouraging viewers to stay engaged with the content for further exploration.



💡General Relativity

General Relativity is a theory developed by Albert Einstein in 1916 that describes the geometry of space and how it's affected by the distribution of matter. It revolutionized our understanding of gravity by presenting it as a curvature of spacetime caused by mass. In the video, this theory is contrasted with earlier beliefs in Euclidean geometry and is shown to explain phenomena such as gravitational lensing and the orbit of planets.

💡Special Relativity

Special Relativity, developed by Einstein in 1905, is a theory that deals with the behavior of objects in the absence of gravity, specifically addressing the principles of space and time. It introduced the concept that time and space are relative to the observer's frame of reference. In the video, it is mentioned as a precursor to general relativity, which expanded the scope to include all reference frames, not just inertial ones.

💡Euclidean Geometry

Euclidean Geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, which is based on a set of axioms and deals with two-dimensional shapes such as lines, circles, and triangles. It assumes a flat, non-distorting space. The video explains that general relativity challenged this long-held view by showing that space is not necessarily Euclidean, as it can be curved by mass.


Space-Time is the four-dimensional continuum that combines the three dimensions of space with the one dimension of time into a single framework. In the context of general relativity, it is the fabric of the universe that is curved by mass and energy. The video emphasizes that space and time are not separate entities but are interconnected in the space-time continuum.

💡Gravitational Lensing

Gravitational Lensing is a phenomenon that occurs when light passes through a region of space that has been curved by a massive object, causing the light to follow a curved path. This effect can result in multiple images or distorted appearances of distant objects. It is a direct observational evidence of general relativity.


In the context of general relativity, mass refers to the amount of matter in an object and is the property responsible for causing space to curve. The greater the mass, the more it warps the space around it, which in turn affects the motion of other objects.


Acceleration in the context of the video refers to the rate of change of velocity of an object. It is used to illustrate the equivalence of gravitational force and acceleration. An object accelerating in deep space at a certain rate would experience a force similar to that of gravity on Earth.

💡Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation

Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation describes the attractive force between two masses, which is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. While it was a groundbreaking theory, it did not explain the nature of gravity or how it propagates. The video contrasts this with general relativity, which provides a more comprehensive explanation of gravity as the curvature of spacetime.


Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects, space, and the universe as a whole. It applies the principles of physics and chemistry to understand the behavior and evolution of stars, planets, galaxies, and other cosmic phenomena. The video mentions that general relativity has been crucial in advancing our understanding of astronomical phenomena like the orbit of Mercury and the nature of black holes.

💡Quantum Physics

Quantum Physics is the branch of physics that deals with the behavior of particles at the smallest scales, such as atoms and subatomic particles. It is based on the principles of quantum mechanics and describes the fundamental interactions and properties of matter and energy. The video mentions that general relativity has not yet been merged with quantum physics, indicating an area of ongoing research in theoretical physics.


In the context of the video, curvature refers to the bending or warping of spacetime caused by the presence of mass. This concept is central to general relativity, where the curvature is not a physical surface but a geometric property of spacetime that dictates how objects move within it.


Einstein developed the theory of special relativity in 1905.

General theory of relativity was published by Einstein in 1916.

General relativity describes the geometry of space and revolutionizes our understanding of gravity.

Einstein showed that the universe does not obey Euclidean geometry.

Space is distorted or bent around massive objects, unlike Euclidean geometry.

The three spatial dimensions are wrapped around a fourth spatial dimension according to the distribution of matter.

Our brains can only comprehend three spatial dimensions, making higher dimensions challenging to visualize.

The universe is described as non-Euclidean by general relativity.

General relativity expanded special relativity to include all reference frames, not just inertial ones.

The source of acceleration does not affect the force imparted, as demonstrated in deep space.

General relativity improved upon Newton's law of universal gravitation by explaining gravity as the warping of space.

Massive objects cause space to bend, leading to the phenomenon we recognize as gravity.

Space and time are part of the same fabric, known as space-time.

Matter and space-time influence each other's curvature and movement.

General relativity is supported by a tremendous amount of experimental evidence.

Light follows curved paths around massive objects, as observed during a solar eclipse.

Gravitational lensing is a phenomenon where light bends around compact objects like black holes, creating multiple images.

General relativity has not yet been merged with quantum physics.

A comprehensive survey of all particles is necessary to reconcile general relativity with quantum physics.



Hey it's professor Dave, I want to tell


you about general relativity.


We just spent a good amount


of time learning Einstein's theory of


special relativity, which he developed in


1905. This and other publications of that


year put him on the map as a force to be


reckoned with. A decade later in 1916, he


published his general theory of


relativity, which described the geometry


of space itself, and revolutionized the


way we think of the gravitational force.


An adequate description of general


relativity requires extremely


complicated math that goes far beyond


the scope of these tutorials, so we won't


even try to touch it from that approach.


But we can still briefly describe some


of the conceptual implications of the


theory that will dramatically change


your perception of the universe, so let's


see what Einstein had to say.


For centuries we thought that the universe


obeyed Euclidean geometry. This is the


kind from high school geometry class


where parallel lines never intersect, the


angles of a triangle add up to 180


degrees, and all kinds of other


geometrical perfections hold true. With


general relativity, Einstein showed that


this is not the case. Just the way you


can distort the shapes drawn on a piece


of paper by bending the paper, space


itself is distorted or bent around


massive objects. That is to say that just


the way that bending a piece of paper


results in a two dimensional plane


becoming wrapped around a third spatial


dimension, the three spatial dimensions


of space are wrapped around a fourth


spatial dimension, according to the


distribution of matter in the universe,


as mass is the property that causes


space to bend in this way. This is


physically impossible to visualize, so


don't worry when you find that you can't do it.


Our brains can only comprehend three


spatial dimensions, and so the best we


can do is to employ analogies, like the


bending of the piece of paper, and


understand that space does the same thing,


illustrated in an image like this, where


a two-dimensional representation of


space-time is curved around a star or


planet. This does not accurately depict


the true curvature of space, it is simply


the best we can do. These conclusions


describe the universe as non-Euclidean.


Parallel lines can indeed cross if they


move through curved space-time. Einstein


derived this theory in an attempt to


expand special relativity, which applies


only to inertial reference frames, to


include all reference frames, which is


why it is called general relativity.


One result of this is the idea that the


source of an acceleration has no effect


on the force imparted, such that a ship


in deep space accelerating at 9.8 meters


per second squared would impart a force


on someone inside that would feel


exactly like the gravitational pull on


the surface of the earth. Because we now


understand that space is warped around


massive objects, we see that general


relativity is a big improvement on


Newton's law of universal gravitation in


terms of a satisfactory theory of


gravity. Newton outlined aspects of the


gravitational force, but he didn't know


exactly what gravity is or how it


propagates. Now we can regard it as the


warping of space that deflects the path


of other objects, like a bowling ball


pressing down on a membrane. This


curvature creates what we know of as


gravity, being that massive objects tend


to fall towards more massive objects, and


this explains the orbits of the planets


around the Sun, as well as the falling of


objects towards Earth, without having to


resort to a magical field force


imparting action at a distance. Space is


therefore no longer an empty expanse


just the way that time is not a detached


parameter. These two constructs are


actually part of the same thing.


They comprise the space-time fabric.


Space-time tells matter how to move, and


matter tells space-time how to curve.


General relativity, just like special


relativity, enjoys a tremendous amount of


corroboration by experiment. One necessary


result of the theory is that light


should follow curved paths around


massive objects, and a famous experiment


observed light from a distant star


curving around the Sun during a solar


eclipse, whereby the blocking of the


sun's light allowed us to directly


observe the light from the star behind,


which appeared in a shifted location.


When light is deflected around more


compact objects like black holes, the


light from the more distant object can


bend around the mass in a way that


results in multiple images of the object.


This phenomenon is called gravitational


lensing, and it is a common astronomical


observation. General relativity predicts


and explains all kinds of other


observable phenomena, like anomalies in


the orbit of the planet Mercury, and


things like neutron stars and black


holes, which we will cover in the


astronomy course. But as strong as the


theory of general relativity is, it is


not complete, because it has not merged


with the particle world. That is to say,


we do not yet know how general


relativity can be reconciled with


quantum physics. To understand this


problem, we need to do a comprehensive


survey of all particles, so that we know


exactly what we are dealing with, so


let's move forward now.


Thanks for watching, guys. Subscribe to my channel


for more tutorials, support me on patreon


so I can keep making content, and as


always feel free to email me:

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Related Tags
General RelativityEinstein TheoriesSpace-Time GeometryGravitational LensingCosmologyPhysics TutorialScientific RevolutionEuclidean vs Non-EuclideanQuantum PhysicsAstronomy Concepts