Thinking About Our Universe

Our adventures in other times and spaces:

Our exciting trip to London and the surrounding area stems from our year long participation in a reading group sponsored by the Hales Fund established in honor of Stan Hales when he retired as our College President.  Our topic for the group last year was “Time and Space” and we began our readings with Stephen Hawking’s book A Briefer History of Time (2005).  John Lindner’s significant contributions to our reading group on the physics of space and time will be sorely missed on this adventure.

Hawking introduces his history of time with a series of questions that may be answered using our “powerful mental tools such as mathematics and the scientific method, and technological tools like computers and telescopes” (p. 4).  Our trip explores some of the questions posed by Hawking:  “[W]hat do we really know about the universe, and how do we know it?  Where did the universe come from?  Where is it going?  Did the universe have a beginning, and if so, what happened before then?  What is the nature of time?  Will it ever come to an end?  Can we go backward in time?” (Pp. 4 & 5).

We begin our sojourn at the Museum of London to explore how contemporary curators have envisioned London of the past.  We visit the Royal Observatory where we will stand on the Greenwich Meridian Line and visit the museum that explains one perspective on the history of time and astronomy.  We will follow Tom Pendergast to Westminster Abbey, founded in 1245, to learn about his research in his new book, Poetical Dust: Poets’ Corner and the Making of Britain (University of Pennsylvania Press).   We will explore Roman ruins in London and Bath; meet with an archaeologist who specializes in the study of the Neolithic British Isles and the archaeology of death and burial; and visit the Chiselhurst Caves, man-made spaces credited to Druids and Romans.  We will even take a Jack the Ripper tour with “Ripper Vision” a portable projector that flashes images of the past onto the buildings of the present as we wind through the back streets haunted by the infamous killer. 

And for me, the heart of our trip into other times and spaces will be our visit to Stonehenge, a prehistoric UNESCO site dating from @3,000 BC.  Hawking wrote that “[a]ncient people tried hard to understand the universe, but they hadn’t yet developed our mathematics and science” (p. 4).  I am not so sure about that, Stephen.  Or perhaps our mathematics and science are not the only tools with which we can understand our world.  Gerald Hawkins (Stonehenge Decoded 1988) first introduced me to this megalithic structure through his argument that Stonehenge was an astronomical observatory designed to predict eclipses, among other cosmic phenomena.  Burials and other henges close by have been discovered since Hawkins wrote his book.  And the continued worship by Druids at this site make it an important link between time, space, and an understanding of our cosmos. 

The trips associated with the Hales reading groups are amazing in part because of the disciplinary perspectives offered by the members of the groups who travel together.  This group of scholars traveling to London promises to teach me a great deal; new knowledge that I can bring back to share with my students and that I can weave into my own research interests.  I can’t wait!




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1 Response to Thinking About Our Universe

  1. John F. Lindner says:

    The Time and Space itinerary sounds fascinating. Although I wasn’t able to make the trip, I will be reading the blog. I agree that Hawking’s toolkit may be too limited; if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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