Natural Science 280 -- Inventing Reality: The Human Search for Truth

Spring 2002, Hampshire College

Creating order out of our universe has been a perennial human pastime. Accepted truths have had a history of transience, with the models of each age yielding to the paradigm shifts of the next. Here we examine this continuing human dialogue, tracing a crooked line from ancient Babylonia to the present, accompanied along the way by such powerful thinkers as Aristotle, Aquinas, Newton, and Einstein. We will explore the physical world on all scales, from the fundamental constituents of matter to the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. Though the focus will be on astronomy, related topics in classical physics, quantum mechanics, religion, music, art, and philosophy will not be avoided.

No prior background in astronomy or physics is assumed, and math will be limited to high school algebra and geometry. Students will directly confront the original writings of the philosophers, scientists, and theologians studied, and there will be frequent short writing assignments in addition to one longer paper.



Douglas Leonard,
413-559-5422, A-2 Prescott

Meeting Times


Monday, 2:30 - 5:20
Wednesday, 8:00 - 9:20 (PM)

Meeting Place

Cole Science Center, Rm. 333

Office Hours


Scheduled hours -- sign up in advance (meet in my office, A-2 Prescott)
Monday: 11:00 AM - noon, 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

Wednesday: 10:00 - 10:30 (PM)
Drop-by hours -- no appointment necessary, just stop in (held after class, in Rm. 333 Cole):
Monday 5:30 - 6:30 PM
Wed. 9:30 PM - 10:00 PM
(Note that drop-by hours will end early if no students remain after class.) Other days and times are available by appointment.
To sign up for the scheduled office hours (or to request a different meeting time), send an email to
at least 24 hours in advance -- you will receive an email confirming the appointment, and your name will appear on Doug's office hour schedule. We will meet in my office (A-2 Prescott.)

Class web page

News Flash: The end is near!

  • Course Syllabus HTML PS PDF

  • Reading Assignments

  • Class Handouts

  • Class List

  • Course Links

  • Local Amherst Weather Daily Forecast or Hourly Conditions


    Last Updated 2002.05.01 By Douglas Leonard