Space and Time
Depth of philosophical insight, accuracy of information, and quality of argumentation are the paramount factors affecting the essay grades, but English writing skill is also a significant factor.
On the day of your chosen class presentation (for 15% of your total grade), you will be the teacher for 15 minutes. Begin with about a ten minute presentation to the other students on some part of that day's course material. End by proposing one or two questions for group discussion on the material, and then facilitate this discussion for about five minutes. The presentation should be an introduction that explains the main points made in one or more of the required readings or viewings for that day. Before 7:00 pm on the night before your presentation, email an outline to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The outline should list at least six separate phrases (or sentences), followed by two discussion questions that are related to the philosophical material in your presentation and that you plan to ask the class. A sample outline of a presentation is available in SacCT. Coordinate your presentation with the other student who is speaking during your week so that you don't have too much overlap. Here is the sign-up list for Student Presentations that will be distributed on the first day of class. There will be no class during the Nammour Symposium.
The 6% class presentation is a five-minute summary to the class of what happened in the previous class period not counting the student presentation at the beginning. You cannot choose to report on your own previous presentation. You do not have to respond to students' questions about your summary. Your presentation will normally be given at the beginning of the class period.
There is no required textbook, nor anything to purchase. Here is an optional textbook: Introducing Time by Craig Callender and Ralph Edney. 2001, 2005. Any edition of this book is OK (that is, don't worry if your book is cover is different from the picture below because all editions have the same content).
The Introducing Time book is not required, but will be helpful. It is a book of pictures with text, like a graphic novel, but not at all a novel in its content. It is written by a famous American philosopher of time. The Introducing Infinity book in the same book series is to be avoided.
Required reading and viewing assignments are available on the Internet and in SacCT,
as indicated below in the weekly schedule of assignments.
Our course is about space. What sort of space? If you have a cubic box, one foot on an edge, and you fill it with marbles, then how much space is there in the box? There are two answers: (1) A cubic foot. (2) It depends on how big the marbles are. Our course is about space only in sense (1).
We will explore theories of the origin of space and the variety of ways to answer the cosmic question "Why is there
something rather than nothing?" We will explore the fourth dimension,
parallel universes, the surprising ways that space acts upon matter, and
the ways empty space can change its shape. How do we know whether space,
at its most minute level, is smooth or lumpy, that is, continuous or
Our course is about space. What sort of space? If you have a cubic box, one foot on an edge, and you fill it with marbles, then how much space is there in the box? There are two answers:
(1) A cubic foot.
(2) It depends on how big the marbles are.
Our course is about space only in sense (1). We will explore theories of the origin of space and the variety of ways to answer the cosmic question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" We will explore the fourth dimension, parallel universes, the surprising ways that space acts upon matter, and the ways empty space can change its shape. How do we know whether space, at its most minute level, is smooth or lumpy, that is, continuous or discrete?
Our course is about time. We don't mean free time,
nor time management. We mean an investigation into what clocks are used to measure. Consider this one issue upon which philosophers are deeply divided: What sort of ontological differences are there among the present, the past and the future? There are three competing theories. Presentists argue that necessarily only present objects and present experiences are real, and we conscious beings recognize this in the special vividness of our present experience compared to our dim memories of past experiences and our expectations of future experiences. So, the dinosaurs have slipped out of reality even though our current ideas of them have not. However, according to the growing-past theory, the past and present are both real, but the future is not real because the future is indeterminate or merely potential. Dinosaurs are real, but our future death is not. The third theory is that there are no objective ontological differences among present, past, and future because the differences are merely subjective. This third theory is called “eternalism.”
Only one of these three competing theories can be correct.
Here are some of our other issues about time: What time actually is; Whether time exists when nothing is changing; Whether both forward and backwards time
travel are physicallly possible; Why time has an arrow; and How to correctly analyze
the metaphor of time's flow.
Here are some of our other issues about time: What time actually is; Whether time exists when nothing is changing; Whether both forward and backwards time travel are physicallly possible; Why time has an arrow; and How to correctly analyze the metaphor of time's flow.
Our course is about infinity and the infinite. There is no end to the strangeness of the infinite. To prepare you for what is to come on that topic, here is a quotation from the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges: "There is a concept which corrupts and upsets all others. I refer not to Evil, whose limited realm is that of ethics; I refer to the infinite."
We will explore the infinite in metaphysics, science, and mathematics. We will encounter the following issues and more: How has Aristotle's concept of potential infinity fared since its encounter with the concept of actual infinity? Was Gauss, who was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, correct when he made the controversial remark that scientific theories involve infinities merely as idealizations and merely in order to make for easy applications of those theories, when in fact all physically real entities are finite? How did the invention of set theory change the meaning of the term "infinite"? What did Cantor mean when he said some infinities are smaller than others? Was Quine correct when said the first three sizes of Cantor's infinities are the only ones we have reason to believe in? What are we assuming when we say there are fractal curves that enclose a finite area but have an infinite circumference? What are the best candidates for being infinitely large, infinitely small, infinitely numerous, and infinitely divisible?
Here are three more examples of some of the philosophical issues that we will explore in our course:
These and many other issues of ours will be placed in historical context, but they won't be covered in chronological order. Still, the course's historical range is broad. For example, we will begin our discussion of infinity with the Greek philosopher Zeno. Working with the infinite is tricky business, and Zeno’s paradoxes first alerted philosophers to this in 450 B.C.E. when Zeno argued that a fast runner such as Achilles has an infinite number of places to reach during the pursuit of a slower runner. Since then, there has been a struggle to understand how to use the notion of infinity in a coherent manner. Has the struggle been successful?
We will also consider the impact of the 20th century theories of relativity and the 21st century theories of cosmology and quantum gravity on our civilization's understanding of space, time and the infinite. The relevant scientific theories will be introduced as needed, but only informally, with an emphasis on the philosophical controversy.
Regarding the philosophical issue of travel through space, the most important point for you to remember is that wherever you go on a trip, there you are. Your luggage is another story.
click photo to expand
To add the course, try to do so by using
the CMS system. If
the course is full, then see me about signing up on the waiting list.
To drop the course during the first two weeks, use the CMS system. No paperwork is required. After the first two weeks, it is harder to drop, and a departmental form is required, the "Petition to Add/Drop After Deadline." As with any university course, make sure you are dropped officially (by CMS or by the instructor or department secretary); don't simply walk away into the ozone or else you will get a "U" grade for the course, which is counted as an "F" in computing your GPA (grade point average).
The goal is for you to acquire a broad understanding of the major
philosophical issues that involve the nature
of space and time and infinity. You will know what is controversial about various
important claims that have been made, you will know the major arguments in defense of these claims, and you will be able to carefully
express and to defend your own views on these topics.
Students will be able to:
Students will be able to:
Laptops and cell phones:
Photographing during class is not allowed. Audio recording is OK. During class, turn off your cellphone's ringer. Your computers may be used only for note taking, and not for browsing the web, reading emails, or other activities unrelated to the class. If you use a computer during class, then please sit in the back of the room or on the end of a row so that your monitor's screen won't distract other students. Educational research shows that students learn more when they take notes by using a pencil or pen rather than by typing.
Updated: December 6, 2017