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Teaching

Space and time are probably intuitive concepts to many of us. Clocks tick down, trees grow taller. Things were here, now they are there. We have memories of the past, of things back then, but not of things in the future. But despite their familiarity, space and time do not seem to be the same sort of stuff as tables or chairs. So what are they, really? Are they “real"? Is there a sense in which space and time are substantial ‘stuff’ at all? If they are, are they the same kind of stuff? Can we travel through time, like traveling through space? Could we live in a world where space and time are not ‘really’ there, where they are merely emergent? Can we really know the structure of spacetime in our universe?


Some of the greatest thinkers in history have considered these questions, from the Presocratics and Aristotle, to Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Poincare, and Einstein. These are also questions which continues to occupy many philosophers and physicists today. This course will introduce you to some of the ways one can conceptualize, and question, the nature of space and time. The first half of the course will take us through a brief tour of the history of philosophy of space and time, from the Presocratics to Einstein’s theory of relativity. The second half will sample some contemporary topics in the philosophy of space and time.

The word “epistemology" stems from the Greek words “episteme” and “logos”, translated roughly as “knowledge", and “reason" or “argument", respectively. In short, epistemology is the branch of philosophy which focuses on the study of the various aspects of knowledge, asking questions like “what can we know?", “how do we know?", “what are the conditions for  knowledge?", and “what are we justified in knowing?", among other questions.In this course, we will focus on the study of scientific knowledge. Interestingly, the word “science" stems from the Latin “scientia", which also translates roughly to “knowledge". After all, a paradigm of contemporary human knowledge is scientific knowledge. We frequently appeal to and rely on scientific knowledge: our GPS works because of general relativity, our semiconductors are designed with quantum-mechanical principles in mind, and we take vaccines because we think the science behind it is trustworthy, etc. But what is scientific knowledge? How do we acquire scientific knowledge? These two questions will be the driving questions of our course for the next five weeks, and I hope you will walk away from this course with at least some tentative answers to these big questions.

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