issue 4

The Theory and Practice of Time Travel: A Syllabus, by David DeGraff

Alfred University
PHYS 324: The Theory & Practice of Time Travel
MWF: 1:20-2:10
Whittaker Hall 233

Professor DeGraff
Office Hours Baker Hall 255 – Any time you want. Drop me a line before (or after) you come to my office and I’ll be there. Even if I’m in class.

Catalog Description

This class will look at both the scientific uses of time travel as well as their fictional uses. Students will learn the importance of distinguishing Personal (Proper) Time from Co-ordinate (Calendar) Time, how that distinction can be used to overcome the common objections to time travel in the history of literature, and how to use closed time-like curves to visit the past. Students will devise and perform experiments to test the nature of reality as long as there is minimal chance the experiment will destroy the universe. And no one dies. 3 credits. Pre-requisites: Latin IV, Calculus II, at least one History, Paleontology, or Archeology course. This is my last time teaching the class and I really don’t want anyone to die this semester.


Goals & Objectives

  • Be able to resolve paradoxes…
  • Prepare for travel into the past or future
  • Design and safely run experiments to distinguish between models for the nature of reality
  • Use proper English tenses when discussing time travel.

Required Reading

Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, E D Walker, Andy W Taylor, Eds

Time Travel for Dummies David R DeGraff & Leonardo daVinci


Tests & Papers

The first half of the class is devoted to time travel as depicted in the literature before and after the invention of the Thorne Drive. We’ll look at the problems with time travel, using the Disaster of 2016 as an example. The midterm will be given the Wednesday before Spring Break. In the second half of the semester, we will apply the practical aspects of time travel, visiting points in the past of particular interest to students. You’ll choose your own trips for this year. These will be the Apollo moon landings, Roman Era Judea, and, as always, medieval jousting tournaments. One group will spend way too much time arguing whether Jurassic or Cretaceous dinosaurs were the dopest. There will also be small-group trips to some era of the past. You will write a paper on this trip explaining your attempts to create a paradox. Please, please, I beg you please do not think about trying to create a sexual paradox. That’s why Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” is on the reading list. I won’t name you out of respect for your privacy.


Classroom Behavior

This is going to seem like a silly list, but someone in class will actually try to do each of these things. Do not do anything that will get you accused of witchcraft in the 17th century (Jaqi). Do not bring little baby dinosaurs back to the present, no matter how cute you think they are (Andria)–Velociraptor claws sharpen with age the first five years of their life. Do not use the excursions to visit the classes you missed (Peter) and don’t use them to make up the times you fell asleep in the middle of class (Josiah). The class isn’t that big, and I will notice two instances of the same person in the room. Don’t try to visit a Roman orgy if your functional Latin skills do not extend beyond sexual terms (Dan, Meg), or body parts (Julio, Peter (again)).

As fun as it might seem to try, do not go back to alter reality. Any major alterations in historical events will seal that reality off from the rest, and you won’t be able to return to your own time line. Worse, you will fail the class (Davit, Christopher) and die before the internet gets invented. This includes trying to kill Hitler. There are thousands of closed off realities with dead baby Hitlers, dead WWI soldier Hitlers, and art student Hitlers. If anyone else dies trying this stunt, the university will cancel this class because we have the highest fatality rate of any class on campus. Actually, we are the only class on campus with a non-zero fatality rate—other than that one Organic Chemistry class in 1967. I really want to keep teaching this class, so be safe.

Students Accommodations

All reasonable accommodations for physical and learning disabilities will be taken into consideration. You can have all the time you need for tests–it’s a time travel class after all. If you want to visit medieval castles (which are notorious for their inaccessibility—that’s kind of the point), you may want to pop over to the year 2143, reality K (if it’s still accessible). They have amazing prosthetics, but you should return them at the end of the excursion. Also, you will need to make sure you have been vaccinated against the appropriate diseases, especially if you travel back before 1960, or to 2019-2025.


Academic Integrity

Anything you do in the past must be for this class. For extended excursions, you may work on assignments for other classes that are in your own (personal time) future, but you may not use your excursions to turn in past assignments, get copies of future tests or gain any advantages over classmates who are not taking this class. Violation of academic integrity will result in a letter to the Dean of your College and the University Provost. Don’t do it. A second report of academic dishonesty will result in immediate expulsion from the university. Seriously, don’t. You get caught, person who I will allow to remain anonymous. You get caught.


Grading Policy

All students still alive at the end of the semester will receive a minimum grade of B-. The midterm and final will count for half the grade, and the term paper will be the other half. Dead students automatically fail. Be really careful, Max. You avoid all the obvious traps, but I couldn’t see exactly what you did.

Oh right. I should also say that if anything that happens in this class results in my death, everyone fails. This has never happened before.


David DeGraff is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Alfred University. In addition to the usual classes, he has also taught, or cotaught, classes called, “Science in Science Fiction,” “Aliens & Alienation,” “Tricorders, Tribbles & Transporters,” “Muggles, Magic & Mayhem,” “The Doctor in the Police Box” and “The Theory and Practice of Time Travel.” This story is probably not the actual syllabus for that class.

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