Further information on Winter 2020 courses


Richard Noer: It’s About Time


Expanded description:

Classes will consist of informal lectures, interspersed with student questions and discussion.


Course text

In Search of Time: The History, Physics and Philosophy of Time, by Dan Falk (St. Martin’s Press, 2010, paperback; list price $19) – available at Content bookstore and online.  Used copies are available (Amazon.com, AbeBooks.com, and elsewhere) for considerably less than the new price; several versions are available, each with a different subtitle but (as far as I can tell) identical text.  A Kindle e-book version sells for about $10.

This is an historically oriented book for a general audience, written in a very readable and non-mathematical style. I’ll recommend reading almost all of it, in chunks that average about 25 pages a week.


Schedule of classes (subject to modification)

Class     Topics

Jan. 6:  Gather questions & issues from class

   “Now”; past, present, future

   History: cyclic vs linear time


Jan. 13:  History: astronomical clocks, how decide which is right?

            Units: day, month, year; then hours, minutes, seconds

            Calendars: Julian vs Gregorian; leap years, leap seconds…


Jan. 20:  Clocks

   Pulse beats, water flow

            Gravity clocks: pendulum, escapement

            Spring watches

            Harrison & longitude measurement challenge

            Digital watches

            Atomic clocks

            Carbon dating (timing the past)


Jan. 27:  Newtonian absolute time

            Newton vs Leibniz controversy

            Causality & block time


Feb. 3:  Einstein’s time; clock synchronization

            Relativity of simultaneity; time dilation

            World lines, light cones


Feb. 10:  Time travel

            Twins “paradox”; travel to future

            Wormholes: travel to past, problems & paradoxes


Feb. 17:  Arrow of time

            Second law of thermodynamics, billiards vs scrambled eggs

            Geologic time, evolution

            Darwinian evolution

            Big bang, cosmic evolution


Feb. 24:  Time as illusion vs real flow (of what?)

            Final thoughts