A Sense of Space (and Time)





John Huth (Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 50Y        4 credits (fall term)        Enrollment:  Limited to 15

What is space? What is time? How have humans viewed these over the years? How are the views of these shaped by our environments and cultures? We often employ spatial metaphors for social situations, e.g. “they’re very close,” or “they split apart.” It seems that as concepts of space change, and our horizons are broadened, these changes are reflected in a shift in cultural awareness. Although we don’t think about it now, the question of how the sun gets back to the east after setting in the west created imaginative solutions for ancient cultures, including an underworld populated by the dead that the sun traverses. Over time, a more mechanistic concept of the universe developed, but this also had culture projected on it, where astrology and astronomy were one. Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy represents a kind of pivot, where cosmology and morality were last intertwined, or perhaps not. With the development of the telescope, astronomers began to wonder about extraterrestrial life, which is now commonplace in modern culture. The developments of relativity, quantum mechanics, and the realization of the vast size of the universe dramatically changed our views of space and time, culminating in concepts like the many worlds view of quantum mechanics and the multiverse. 


See also: Fall 2022