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The Evergreen State College

Last Updated: 03/27/2008



The Nature of Space and Time

Knowing Nature

2007 - 08

Assignments for The Nature of Space and Time

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Krishna Chowdary
The Nature of Space and Time

What is Space? Time? Are space and time relative or absolute? What is the relationship between space, time and the mind? What does a study of space and time tell us about the natural world, and about human nature? In this satellite, we’ll explore the historical, philosophical, and scientific development of these concepts and our understanding of them.

Philosophers and physicists including Aristotle, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Kant, and Einstein, have struggled with the complicated and fascinating concepts of space and time. From Aristotle’s consideration of the relationship between space, time and the soul to Kant’s argument that space and time are the pure forms of sensible intuition under which we perceive all possible objects of experience to Einstein’s conclusion that space and time are intertwined as a unified space-time where duration and distance are relative to the observer, the search to understand space and time has driven philosophical and scientific inquiry. We’ll deduce from first principles some of the mind-blowing consequences of the intertwined nature of space-time: time itself can pass differently for different observers, moving objects can shrink, and different observers can observe the same events occurring in different orders.

What is the geometric connection between space and time? How is the Pythagorean Theorem (known to ancient civilizations) generalized in modern physics to lead to invariant quantities upon which all observers can agree? We’ll explore how motion, acceleration, and gravity are unified through the geometry of space-time. We will study time-keeping devices from ancient sun dials and water clocks through Harrison’s Longitude Prize-winning clock and modern atomic clocks. Hands-on in class inquiries will supplement our primary source readings. A study of space and time inevitably leads to studying motion and light. Possible additional areas of inquiry, based on student interest and time, may include quantum theory, cosmology, and non-western cultural and philosophical conceptions of space and time.

Texts to purchase: (see books page for required editions)

Aristotle. Physics (translated by Robin Waterfield, edited by David Bostock)

Galilei, Galileo. Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences (edited by Stephen Hawking)

Kant, Immanuel. Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (edited by Michael Friedman)

Einstein, Albert. Relativity: The Special and General Theory

Lightman, Alan. Einstein's Dreams