Prof George Ellis


Academic Staff | Departmental Homepage

Professor of Applied Mathematics, FRS

Degrees: B.Sc.(Hons) (Cape Town), B.Com.(Hons) (Cape Town); Ph.D. (Cantab).

Google Scholar page: here

Past Positions:

  • Lecturer, DAMTP (Cambridge)
  • Professor of Cosmic Physics, SISSA (Trieste)
  • Visiting Professor: Texas University, University of Chicago, Hamburg University, Boston University, University of Alberta, London University.
  • Visiting Fellow Commoner, Trinity College, Cambridge from April to September, 2013


Teaching and research interests:
- General Relativity theory and its application to the study of the large-scale structure of the universe (cosmology).
- The history and philosophy of cosmology.
- Complex systems and emergence of complexity.
- The human brain and behaviour.
- Science policy, developmental issues.
- Science and mathematics education.
- The relation of science to religion.

Representative publications (books):

·         The Large Scale Structure of Space Time (with Stephen Hawking):

Cambridge University Press, 1973 and reprints [> 7000 citations]; Russian and Chinese editions.

·         Low Income Housing Policy in South Africa, (with David Dewar):

Urban Problems Research Unit, UCT, 1979.

·         Flat and Curved Space Times, (with Ruth Williams):

Oxford University Press, 1988, revised 2nd edition 2000.

·         Before the Beginning,

Bowerdean/Marion Boyars, 1993.

·         The Renaissance of General Relativity and Cosmology, (with A Lanza and J Miller): University Press, Cambridge 1993; paperback, 2005.

·         Science Research Policy in South Africa,

Royal Society of S Africa, 1994. 

·         On The Moral Nature of the universe: Cosmology, Theology, and Ethics, (with Nancey Murphy): Fortress Press, 1996; Russian and Chinese editions (review here).

·         Dynamical systems in cosmology, (with John Wainwright, Eds.):

Cambridge University Press, 1996; paperback, 2005.

·         Is The Universe Open or Closed? The Density of Matter in the Universe, (with Peter Coles): Cambridge University Press, 1997.

·         The Far Future Universe, (Ed.):

Templeton Foundation Press, 2002.

·         Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will (Ed., with Nancey Murphy and Timothy O’Connor). Springer: New York, 2009

·         Substance Use and Abuse in South Africa Insights from brain and behavioural sciences (Ed, with Kevin Thomas, Dan Stein, Ernesta Meintjes): UCT Press, 2012

·         Foundations of Space and Time: Reflections on Quantum Gravity (Ed., with Jeff Murugan and Amanda Weltmann): Cambridge University Press, 2012.

·         Relativistic Cosmology (with Malcolm MacCallum and Roy Maartens):

Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Representative publications (papers on cosmology/relativity):

·         “Cosmological Models” (with Henk van Elst):, Cargese lectures 1998.

·         “Cosmic microwave background anisotropies: Nonlinear dynamics” (with Roy Maartens and Tim Gebbie):, Phys.Rev. D59 (1999) 083506.

·         “On Holography and Cosmology” (with Reza Tavakol): Phys.Lett. B469 (1999) 37. .

·         “83 years of general relativity and cosmology: progress and problems”.

Class. Quantum Grav. 16 (December 1999) A37-A75.

·         “Cosmology and Local Physics”, Int.J.Mod.Phys. A17 (2002) 2667-2672. .

·         “`c' is the speed of light, isn't it?” (with Jean Phillipe Uzan): .

·         “The past attractor in inhomogeneous cosmology” (with Claes Uggla, Henk van Elst, John Wainwright): .

·         “WMAP data and the curvature of space.” (with Jean Phillipe Uzan and Uli Kirchner): .

·         “On the Stability of the Einstein Static Universe” (with John D Barrow, Roy Maartens, and Christos Tsagas):, Class.Quant.Grav. 20 (2003) L155-L164. .

·         “The Emergent Universe: inflationary cosmology with no singularity” (with Roy Maartens): .

·         “The Emergent Universe: An Explicit Construction” (with Jeff Murugan and Christos G. Tsagas): .

·         “Multiverses and physical cosmology” (with Uli Kirchner and Bill Stoeger):. .

·         “An emergent universe from a loop” (with David Mulryne, Reza Tavakol, James E. Lidsey).

·         “The universe seen at different scales” (with Thomas Buchert):

·         “Physics in the real universe: time and spacetime”. .

·         “Causality and the speed of sound” (with Roy Maartens and Malcolm MacCallum):.

·         “Time drift of cosmological redshifts as a test of the Copernican principle” (with Jean-Philippe Uzan and Chris Clarkson):

·         “A note on infinities in eternal inflation” (with Bill Stoeger).

General Relativity and Gravitation, Volume 41: 1475-1484 (2009)

·         “Dark matter and dark energy proposals: maintaining cosmology as a true science?” Paper for CRAL-IPNL conference "Dark Energy and Dark Matter", 2008.

·         “The evolution of our local cosmic domain” (with Bill Stoeger).

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 398: 1527-1536 (2009)

·         “Relativistic cosmology”: Golden Oldie reprint of Varenna Lectures 1971:

General Relativity and Gravitation, Volume 41: 581 (2009)

·         “Time and Spacetime: The Crystallizing Block Universe” (with T Rothman):

Int. J. Theor. Phys., vol. 49, 988 (2010)

·         “A two-mass expanding exact space-time solution” (with Jean-Philippe Uzan and Julien Larena): GRG 43, 191 (2010)

·         “On the Trace-Free Einstein Equations as a Viable Alternative to General Relativity” (with Jeff Murugan and Henk van Elst):

·         “Almost Birkhoff Theorem in General Relativity” (with Rituparno Goswami)

·         “On Shear-Free perturbations of FLRW Universes” (with Anne Marie Nzioki, Rituparno Goswami, and Peter Dunsby)

·         “Does the growth of structure affect our dynamical models of the universe? The averaging, backreaction and fitting problems in cosmology” (with Chris Clarkson,  Julien Larena, and Obinna Umeh): Reports on Progress in Physics

·         “Mis) interpreting supernovae observations in a lumpy universe” (with Jean-Philippe Uzan, Roy Maartens, Chris Clarkson, Andreas Faltenbacher, and Obinna Umh)

·         “Birkhoff Theorem and Matter” (with Rituparno Goswami)

·         The Trace-Free Einstein Equations and inflation GRG 46, 1169

·         Blackness of the cosmic microwave background spectrum as a probe of the distance-duality relation with R Poltis, JP Uzan, A Weltman

·         A gravitational entropy proposal With Timothy Clifton, Reza Tavakol

·         Discrete Newtonian cosmology (with Gary Gibbons)

On philosophy of cosmology, and time:

·         “Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology”

·         “Editorial note to "Large number coincidences and the anthropic principle in cosmology"

·         “On the philosophy of cosmology” (2013) Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics text of Granada (2011) talk

·         “Space time and the passage of time” for Springer Handbook of Spacetime

·         The arrow of time and the nature of spacetime: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 44, 242–262

Representative publications (papers on education/developmental issues):

·         A view on the school maths syllabus. (CASME talk, 1995).

·         The Development of Quantitative Social Indicators. (Notes 2001).

·         South African Developmental Issues. SAIRR (Western Cape), 2001.

·         Science, technology and Humanity (for STIAS New Humanism Project).

Representative publications (papers on complexity/emergence):

·         Physics and the real world [full length Foundations of Physics article supporting shorter Nature version].

·         Top-Down Causation by Information Control: From a Philosophical Problem to a Scientific Research Program (with Gennaro Auletta and Luc Jaeger): Journal of the Royal Society Interface 5:1159-1172 (2008).

·         On the nature of causation in complex systems (extended version of RSSA Centenary Transactions paper, 2008).

·         “Top down causation and emergence: some comments on mechanisms”

(talk at London meeting).

·         “On the limits of quantum theory: contextuality and the classical/quantum cut”

·         “The arrow of time, the nature of spacetime, and quantum measurement”

(Response to FQXI Meeting)

·         True complexity and its associated ontology (Talk at John Wheeler birthday meeting)

·         Recognising Top-Down Causation (FQXI essay 2012)

·         Necessity, purpose, and chance: the role of randomness and indeterminism in nature from complex macroscopic systems to relativistic cosmology (integrative paper for CTNS meeting)

Representative publications (papers on the brain and language):

·         Neural Development: Affective and Immune System Influences. (with Judith Toronchuk): In Consciousness and Emotion: Agency, Conscious Choice, and Selective Perception Ed R D. Ellis and N Newton (John Benjamins, 2005), 81–119.

·         Disgust: Sensory Affect or Primary Emotional System? (with Judith Toronchuk): Cognition & Emotion, 21 (2007), 1799 – 1818.

·         Affective Neuronal Darwinism: The Nature of the Primary Emotional Systems. (with Judith Toronchuk).

·         Commentary on “An Evolutionarily Informed Education Science” by David C Geary. Educational Psychologist 43 (4), 206-213 (2008).

·         Language Infinities. (with Bill Stoeger: unpublished).

·         Biology and mechanisms related to the dawn of language. In proceedings of Homo Symbolicus meeting.

·         Comment on “Taking emergence seriously: The centrality of circular causality for dynamic systems approaches to development” by David Witherington (with Carole Bloch)

·         Salience Affected Neural Networks (with Leendert Remmelzwaal and Jonathan Tapson)

·         The myth of a purely rational life (Theology and Science 5:87-100, 2007)

For a beautiful description of how reading and writing is really learnt by young children, here is Chloe’s story by Carole Bloch.

Web Notes:

1: The Universe Around Us: An Integrative View of Science and Cosmology.

2: Course on General relativity.

Other activities:
I am chairperson of Quaker Service (Cape), and am on the board of the Association for Educational Transformation (ASSET). ELRU, Philani, Nalibali, and The Little Hands Trust are other inspiring local organisations (I was on the Boards of ELRU and Philani for many years). I am an avid fan and supporter of the Pro Cantu Youth Choir. I am an amateur photographer on my mountain walks; the photos below are from an exhibition I held in 1999. And here is our joint lamentation about the destruction of shade trees in Cape Town (walking in the shaded forest in Cape Town has been a privilege I have enjoyed for 50 years, now a thing of the past: they have been destroyed by fynbos fundamentalists).

Finally, for those interested in my views on science and religion, here is a paper I wrote on the Quakers a long while ago, and here is my Backhouse Lecture to the Australia Yearly Meeting of the Quakers; and here is a paper on fundamentalism in science and religion. For much evidence of scientific fundamentalism, see various very informative links here as well as the writings of Alistair McGrath.

For more photographs, see here