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University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA 92617-3066)
James Owen Weatherall (Project Director: September 2013 to October 2017)
NEH Enduring Questions Course on Conceptions of Time in Physics, Philosophy, Fiction, and Film

The development of an undergraduate seminar on conceptions of time in physics, philosophy, fiction, and film.

The development of an undergraduate seminar on conceptions of time in physics, philosophy, fiction, and film. James Weatherall, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, develops a course to consider What is time? from the perspectives of physics, philosophy, fiction, and film. As its title suggests, this course approaches the question of time as a humanistic inquiry, surveying traditional Chinese philosophy, Abrahamic theology, Ancient Greek philosophy, Kantian and modern philosophy, historical and current physics, and the modern novel. The goal of the course is twofold: to engage students in multiple perspectives on the human conception of time, and to highlight for them critical tensions between the representation of time in the physical sciences and in literature and the arts. The course is divided into two parts. The first part investigates the physics and metaphysics of time; students read selections from Plato's Timaeus, Aristotle's Physics, Augustine's Confessions, Newton's Scholium on Time and Space, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In addition, discussion of early Taoist and Zen Buddhist writings on time are paired with the screening of the film Groundhog Day. The second part of the course explores the depiction of time as a subjective experience in fiction, film, and psychology. Readings include James Joyce's Ulysses; excerpts from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain; Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse; Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49; Vladimir Nabokov's Ada, or Ardor; and Ernst Pöppel's Mindworks. Students write two essays for the course and participate in a weekly online discussion board. The project director interviews students after the first iteration and revises the course based on their feedback.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
Philosophy of Science

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

$21,991 (approved)
$21,991 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2014 – 6/30/2017