The power of instilling philosophical enquiry in young students8 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
By Rhea Kuthoore
What is time (a force, an object, a motion, energy or something else)? Where is it (inside us, outside us, or both)? Is there one time or are there many times?
A place of wonder
An exploration of philosophy with younger students (philosophy for children or p4c, is an approach to teaching and learning, in which children take part in philosophical enquiry) always begins with wonderment; quizzical eyes, long silences, and eager participation. At the beginning of class, children express their initial and spontaneous thoughts to an open-ended question. In one of my sessions, a student’s response on time was, “Of course time exists outside of us. Time flows as the planets move around the sun and can be measured by clocks.”
After listening and responding to each other’s preliminary thoughts, we begin to consider other perspectives. During this process, children develop the skill to patiently and methodologically think through questions using reason. Introducing varying perspectives may take place through any media — reading from a book, a piece of art, a clip from a film, etc. In the class on time, we looked at a hypothetical situation from The View from the Oak. The selected passage was:
‘Imagine a time microscope and time telescope. The time microscope would allow us to see changes that we ordinarily can’t see: for example, every movement of a hummingbird’s wing, every step was taken by a cheetah in full pursuit of a deer, every step in a bee’s dance. We might, for example, focus the time microscope on the bulb of a lamp. From the perspective of our eyes, the lamp gives out a steady light which we can use to read. Focussing in on the bulb, however, we would lose that steady illumination— would see the flickering on and off of the filament which takes place too fast to be perceived ordinarily. Through the time microscope, the bulb would seem like a strobe light and the room would seem to consist of shapes and forms that moved in jerks and jumps rather than of people and objects that had stability or moved smoothly and continuously. If we focussed the time microscope even more finely, the world of people and objects might dissolve altogether. We would be left experiencing the movement of neutrons, protons and electrons— a world in such constant motion that it might seem composed solely of the motion of small particles and empty space. Every second of our time would be filled with millions of perceivable changes — would provide a lifetime of experience.
Now switch instruments. Think about a time telescope that can see the growth of a redwood tree or the life and death of a star. In the perspective of stretched time, the life of a human being is like the one-night existence of a moth to one who can perceive the life and death of a star.’
Reading about the time telescope and microscope led to a lively conversation about everything we would like to see through them. Moreover, the exercise of imagining the time telescope and microscope helped us understand how our experience of time, being a result of perceivable changes, is determined by how we see what we see. If we could perceive more fine changes in the world, our reality would shift. This is the part of the class when we learned to process and understand new information.
To take our discussion a step further, we decided to do an activity and look microscopically at our own relationship with time! It was time for the class to creatively put to use their experiments with time.
The guiding question: If our experience of time is linked to how we see, do we all experience time differently in our lives and what does it tell us about how we see?
The process: To reflect on our experiences of time by drawing a month of a calendar. (Look at the examples below)
Reflections : We realised how each of our experiences of the days of the month differed and further reflected our relationship to things, events and feelings. As we became more cognisant of our relationship with time, we became more aware of various aspects of ourselves.
We ended our class with few open questions; Irrespective of our varying experiences of time, is there something objective about time? Given that all of us have had different relationships with time at different points in our life, is there a specific relationship to time that is more beneficial than others?
A philosophy session with children can end by summarising the various perspectives that were discussed and realised, by sharing the ways in which we may have re-evaluated our standpoint, by highlighting a pending confusion or by pinpointing other relevant questions. Such sessions are valuable because they allow children to engage in speculative thinking, question their own beliefs and ideas and become independent thinkers.
Author’s Note: Rhea Kuthoore’s passions include asking questions, reading, and thinking again. Other than that, she enjoys swimming in the ocean, being in nature, listening to music and dancing.
Rhea studied philosophy at Ashoka University, after which she became an educator at Sholai school where she did philosophy with children.
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Rhea, I am delighted with your inquiry of the nature of time. To draw attention to the relative nature of time, as how we perceive it. This is quite removed from the static nature of time as defined by the movement of the sun and planets, as one child points out. " Time flies when you are having fun", is an old adage, that highlights time as a perception. Good work! Please listen to and read the lyrics of Pink Floyd's song "Time".