Honors 229F The Problem of Time: Puzzles about Time in Philosophy, Literature, and Film TuTh 11-12:15

In this course we will examine several philosophical puzzles concerning time. We all seem to experience time in a very fundamental and direct way. Yet once we begin to reflect on what time really is, it is easy to feel as puzzled as St Augustine was, who wrote: “If no one asks me, I know what [time] is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.” The first set of issues we will discuss concern the question whether time is ‘real.’ Time appears to consist of past, present and future. But do the past and the future exist in the same way as the present or is only the present real? Does time ‘flow’? In what ways is time different from space? What would it be to ‘spatialize’ time? Next we will ask whether certain views of time imply that there can be no freedom of the will. One might worry that if facts about the future (including facts about what I will do tomorrow) already existed in the same way as facts about the present exist, then I could not be free to choose what I will do. After all, how can I be free to decide to skip class tomorrow, if it is ‘already’ a fact today that I will attend class? What, if anything, is the connection between various views of time and ‘fatalism’? The third topic we will discuss is time travel. First we will ask whether time travel is a conceptual possibility. As we will see, there are certain conceptual puzzles associated with the possibility of time travel. For example, one might think that if time travel is possible, then I should be able to travel back in time and kill my father before the date of my conception. But this scenario seems to lead to a contradiction. Some have taken considerations such as these to argue that the very idea of time travel is incoherent. Is this right? If not, why not? Then we will look at what the theory of relativity says about the nature of time in general and about the physical possibility of time travel more specifically. Finally we will examine several issues concerning the asymmetry of time..
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