In Search of Time: The Art and Science of the Fourth Dimension


“What then is time?” asked Saint Augustine. “If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I try to explain it to him who asks, I know not.” And despite the best efforts of modern science and philosophy, still, today, we “know not”. This course celebrates the many mysteries of the fourth dimension, examining the inexhaustible lure of time’s arrow for physicists, writers of literature, film-makers, theologians and historians. We also explore the cultural origins of minutes and months and the myriad ways in which humans engage with time, from crude scratch-marks on stone to the mind-bending constructs of relativity and quantum mechanics, from art-house movies to the metaphysical musings of the novel.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city.

Please note that OUDCE reserves the right to alter course content and/or cancel field trips in accordance with government guidance.

Clocking Time: From the Palaeolithic age to the Postmodern, we consider the implications for daily life of the precise measurement and strict imposition of seconds, minutes, months and millennia. How has the inexorable drive toward technological accuracy and historiographical delineation shaped human society and affairs?

Time and Space: Einstein dismantled Newton’s intuitive model of absolute time, replacing it with “spacetime”, a startlingly counter-intuitive, ever-evolving construction in which universal time is anything but absolute. We learn in detail about the great man’s theories and discover how even within our teaching room, time is advancing at differing speeds. And I’ll be explaining how we can visit the year 3020.

Storytime: We uncover the earliest time-travel fiction, some dating from the Eighteenth Century and engage with the ever-growing body of writers inspired by the possibilities of temporal manipulation, among them H.G. Wells, James Joyce, John Wyndham, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. We also consider how in films such as La Jetée and Memento, cinema creatively challenges our perception of time.

Time in the Mind:  Why does time appear to drag when we are bored? And might we somehow prevent the years from whizzing by? Contrasting the latest developments in neuroscience with a range of venerable metaphysical hypotheses – those of Aquinas, Spinoza and Husserl, for example – today’s class examines how humans strive to comprehend and control their personal experience of time

Time’s Arrow: Was there ‘time’ before the Big Bang? Why does time ‘flow’, and why only in one direction? And does time ‘stop’ inside a Black Hole? Quantum physics can supply some if not all of the answers and we’ll hear about these and other possible solutions to the intractable questions of determinism, infinity and The End and we will ask, finally, if human beings can ever truly ‘understand’ time.


Description Costs
Fee option 1 (single en suite accom and meals) £1565.00
Fee option 2 (single standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 3 (twin en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 4 (double en suite accom and meals) £1472.50
Fee option 5 (twin set standard accom and meals) £1380.00
Fee option 6 (no accom; incl lunch and dinner) £1070.00


All fees are charged on a per week, per person basis.

Please be aware that all payments (and refunds) are subject to exchange rates at the time of processing.

Payment terms

  • If enrolling online: full payment by credit/debit card at the time of booking
  • If submitting an application form: full payment online by credit/debit card or via bank transfer within 30 days of invoice date

Cancellations and refunds

Participants who wish to cancel must inform the Programme Administrator in writing: by email to or by post to The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, OXFORD, OX1 2JA, UK.

The following cancellation and refund policy applies in all cases:

  • Cancellation within 14 days of online enrolment / payment of fees – full refund of all fees paid

  • Cancellations received up to and including 30 April 2021 – OUDCE will retain an administration fee of £100 per week booked; all other fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received between 1-31 May 2021 – OUDCE will retain 60% of the fees paid; the remaining 40% of fees paid will be refunded.
  • Cancellations received on and after 1 June 2021 - no refunds will be made.

Important note: You need to take out travel insurance to cover the programme fee and travel costs.


Dr Tim Barrett

Tim Barrett lectures in political history and the history of science. Ten years an OUDCE International Programmes tutor, he is also an Honorary Research Fellow of Keele University, Staffordshire.

Teaching methods

Participants will be taught in seminar groups of up to 12 people. Elements of this teaching will normally include mini lectures and presentations by tutors and tutor-led class discussions.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Registration closes on 1 May 2021.

Please note: most courses fill up fast so early registration is strongly recommended.

Single accommodation and non-residential places may be booked online by clicking on the “Book now” button in the “Course details” box at the top right-hand side of the course page.

If you experience any difficulties enrolling online please contact the Programme Administrator at

Those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form as these rooms cannot be booked online. Completed forms should be sent:


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

Participants should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The following types of accommodation are available:

  • Single en suite

  • Single standard

  • Twin en suite

  • Double en suite

  • Standard ‘twin set’

En suite rooms include private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Standard rooms have their own washbasin and shaver point but bathroom facilities are shared. ‘Twin sets’ comprise two single rooms opening off a sitting room.

Please note that only single accommodation may be booked online; those requiring twin or double accommodation should complete an application form. (See “Application”.)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form), together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.

We also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals (lunch and dinner) at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.