Campuswide Honors’ seminar course challenges students to ask: “What is Time?”

“How is time represented in our physical theories, from Newton to Einstein? What is our subjective experience of time and how does it relate to narrative and memory?” Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science James Weatherall’s seminar, “What is Time?” explores how humans “individually and collectively experience time” and how “scientists, philosophers, and artists have thought about and tried to represent time over the last ~2500 years.”

In this course, Campuswide Honors students from a wide variety of majors engage with a broad spectrum of fields, including physics, philosophy, fiction, and film. The goal? To gain a satisfying understanding of time as it relates to our subjective experience and as it is represented in physics. Professor Weatherall explains, “it feels to us as though time flows, sometimes quickly and sometimes more slowly; we believe that we can affect the future but not the past, and conversely, that we can remember the past but not the future; and we have a conception of a common ‘now’ shared among the people we interact with. Yet it is difficult to find a basis for any of these features of our experience in physics. Our goal will be to understand the relationship between these two ways of understanding the question and to try to reconcile them.”

With each class, open-ended discussions break new ground, allowing students to “draw surprising and novel connections between ideas from physics, philosophy, and the arts.” Professor Weatherall states that he “love[s] how creative [Campuswide Honors] students are when given the chance to bring their own perspectives to bear on deep and lasting questions about time, memory, narrative, history, psychology — and so many other topics that get intertwined in this class.”

When asked about their experiences in the class, Campuswide Honors students Kaylie Wong and Kelly Chen responded: “Most people come in with an idea of what time is, and this class will either confirm, partially change, or even radically change this.” Through this course, they “learned to investigate and communicate [about a topic] that is so salient and prevalent in our everyday lives, yet difficult to verbalize.”

This is a skills-and-experience-based course, according to Professor Weatherall. Students are not expected to walk away with a specific body of knowledge, but “should expect to be challenged to combine creative thinking with analytic, critical thinking, by trying to understand and relate ideas from different traditions and disciplines, while also carefully scrutinizing those connections.” Wong and Chen invite students to take the leap: “If you have genuine interest in simply pursuing an intellectual topic and unravelling the mystery of time, this class is for you!”