In Sunday school, Pastor Jeff says a prayer for the kids as they all get ready to go back to school. When Sheldon raises his hand to ask if this prayer also applies to college-bound kids, Jeff says it’s for everyone, and thanks him for once again reminding everyone he’s going to college. As Pastor Jeff leads the prayer, Billy pledges allegiance to the flag.
Back home, the phone rings as Sheldon’s watches TV. Sheldon answers the call from Dr. Linkletter and tells him he’s watching Star Trek: The Original Series. When Dr. Linkletter says he isn’t up on his cartoons, Sheldon points out it’s the live-action sci-fi series he’s watching, although there is a cartoon. After Dr. Linkletter asks to speak to his mommy, Sheldon calls Mary and continues giving Dr. Linkletter Star Trek trivia, even as Mary hops on the line. After Sheldon gets off the line, Dr. Linkletter tells Mary that he will be available if Sheldon needs anything at the college. Although Mary finds that reassuring. Dr. Linkletter makes clear it was his boss’s suggestion that he look out for Sheldon.
At the dinner table, Mary leads grace and prays for God to watch over the children as they start school tomorrow. After Sheldon says Pastor Jeff already covered this, Missy confirms they’re good and says amen. When Georgie asks his dad if he can drive his truck to school tomorrow, George tells him he’s riding with him as Mary takes Missy to school and Meemaw takes Sheldon to college. Mary tells Sheldon the good news that Dr. Linkletter has promised to look out for him at college. Missy finds it funny that Sheldon is starting college and needs a babysitter, although Sheldon insists he doesn’t need a babysitter. When Mary says Dr. Linkletter is just there in case Sheldon needs anything, Georgie jokes “like a new diaper”. George tells them that’s enough.
The next day at the college, Sheldon goes to see Dr. Linkletter, who says how wonderfully early it is to see him. Linkletter mentions he bought Sheldon some crackers shaped like fish. After Sheldon tells him that he doesn’t need a babysitter, Dr. Linkletter is relieved as he doesn’t have much experience with children. Linkletter wonders how old he is - six, seven? After Sheldon points out he’s eleven, Dr. Linkletter expresses relief he kept the receipt for the bottle of bubbles shaped like a bear. Sheldon says he should get going as he’s got a philosophy class in a few minutes. Dr. Linkletter remarks, “Ah, yes, the great thinkers. Socrates, Plato.“ Which reminds Dr. Linkletter, he got Sheldon some Play-Doh.
As they sit in the car outside the middle school, Mary says she assumes Missy won’t want her to walk her in. Missy says she’s trained her well. After Mary checks she’s got everything, she figures Missy won’t want a hug. Missy agrees to a hug if she makes it short. After they hug, Missy asks her mom to wish her luck before she gets out of the car. As Mary watches Missy walk off, Brenda Sparks comes to talk to Mary. Brenda figures Missy didn’t want Mary to walk her in. Brenda says she walked Billy into school and took him to his homeroom, then had to explain that a homeroom is different from his room at home. After Mary says it’s a tough day and asks Brenda if she wants to go get a coffee, Brenda says she was thinking vodka but coffee will do.
As Sheldon arrives at his philosophy class, Adult Sheldon explains that he’s always considered himself a collector of knowledge. His mind is like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but instead of artifacts it’s just facts. Now he’s a full-time college student, his mind is about to grow exponentially. When Professor Ericson starts the class, she says most classes are about teaching you things you don’t know, this class is about showing you that you don’t even know what you think you know. “Oh, boy”, says Sheldon.
Professor Ericson says Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu believed it was possible he didn’t really know anything and was just a butterfly dreaming he was a philosopher. Sheldon raises his hand to say he wasn’t a butterfly, because butterflies don’t have enough neurons to generate dreams. Plus, she just referred to him as Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu and not Chinese butterfly Chuang Tzu. Professor Ericson realizes he must be Sheldon Cooper. When she asks him how he knows he isn’t just dreaming that butterflies can’t dream, Sheldon says he’s awake. Or is he dreaming he’s awake? Sheldon points out she can see he’s awake and hear him talking. Ericson argues that for that to be true you have to believe in your senses, explaining she “saw” some pretty trippy stuff at a Grateful Dead concert. Sheldon says we can validate what we see by comparing with other observers. As Ericson sits on top of her desk, she points out that too would require trusting our senses, so does Sheldon see the flaw in his argument? Sheldon says he would be able to concentrate better if she wasn’t flashing her toes at him.
As Brenda and Mary sit down for coffee in the Coopers’ kitchen, Brenda says Billy’s a nice kid but the middle-schoolers are going to eat him alive. After Mary says maybe the kids will be nice, Brenda says if they were in middle school she would have Mary’s head in a toilet so fast. When Mary proposes asking Missy to hang out with Billy, Brenda is dead-set against that. She says Missy is cute and sassy and has a real chance of being popular, so don’t take that away from her. Brenda says she’s miserable, Mary’s always worrying, so it would be nice to have a girl succeed around her. Mary says she’s not always worrying, but Brenda points out it’s Sheldon’s first day of college. Mary admits it’s on her mind, but Sheldon’s been waiting for this for a long time and she’s sure he’s having a great day.
Back at the college, Sheldon is complaining to Dr. Linkletter about his philosophy teacher, Professor Ericson. Sheldon argues she displayed complete contempt for science, claimed knowledge was a myth, and even told the class they could take their shoes off. Dr. Linkletter says they’ve already established that Sheldon is a mature young man capable of figuring things out on his own. When Sheldon asks if Linkletter isn’t offended by this as a man of science, Linkletter explains it’s a college campus featuring all sorts of people. Sheldon doesn’t know how he’s going to last all semester with this free-wheeling hippy, so Dr. Linkletter suggests he could always drop the class if he’s unhappy. Sheldon is thrilled with the idea and says he’ll be coming to Dr. Linkletter with all his problems now.
When Sheldon goes to Professor Ericson’s office and tells her he would like to drop her class, she thinks that’s a shame as she enjoyed their discussion on skepticism and butterflies. Sheldon says he’s a scientist and doesn’t find those types of questions worthy of his time. Ericson concedes the questions of philosophy are extremely challenging and people have spent 2,000 years trying to solve them, so she doesn’t blame him for giving up. Sheldon insists he’s not giving up, he just thinks the questions are not important. When Professor Ericson asks what is important, Sheldon argues the acquisition of factual knowledge. And how do you know it’s factual? By testing it and seeing if it holds true. And how do you know that’s factual? Sheldon says she’s doing it again, but Ericsons points out maybe he’s dreaming she’s doing it again.
As Meemaw drives Sheldon home from college, she asks how his day was. Infuriating. Meanwhile, as Mary drives Missy home. When Mary asks Missy about her first day, she says it was so good. As George drives Georgie home, George asks Georgie about his day, but Georgie is wearing headphones and doesn’t respond. Back to Sheldon, he tells Meemaw he’s going to drop Ericson’s class, but not before systematically destroying her half-baked ideas in front of the whole class. Missy tells Mary a boy said he liked Funyuns too. Sheldon tells Meemaw he stopped at the library to pick up philosophy books so Professor Ericson will rue the day. Missy is happy to be sitting between two her two friends, Heather B. and Heather M. Mary thinks it’s nice Missy is with friends, but she says the best part is all the notes go through her, giving her total power.
At dinner, Adult Sheldon explains it was up to him to defend Lady Science’s honor after her good name was besmirched. He has a lot of ground to cover in one night, but thankfully, 11 years’ of his family’s incessant yammering had given him an extraordinary ability to concentrate. As the family eats dinner, Sheldon is blissfully unaware of the conversation as he reads his book. Missy wants to watch Fresh Prince, but Georgie and his dad are wanting to watch the game that’s on. As they bicker over watch to watch, Mary proposes playing a board game instead. Later, it’s just Sheldon and Mary at the dinner table when Mary tells Sheldon it’s his turn, pulling him out of his trance. When Sheldon expresses surprise they’re playing a game before dinner, Mary points out he’s already eaten.
When Brenda Sparks stops by to ask how the first days went, Mary says Sheldon’s day wasn’t great. He’s already in some sort of fight with his philosophy professor, and is plotting the destruction of her worldview. When Mary asks about Billy, Brenda says it wasn’t much better. Every time the Spanish teacher said “Si”, Billy said “See what?” Brenda admits if she didn’t laugh she’d cry. Brenda is thrilled when Mary says she thinks Missy had the best day of her life. Mary explains Missy is sitting between her two friends, so all notes go through her, and an eighth-grade boy talked to her at lunch. Brenda says Missy is going to be prom queen, she’s calling it. Back inside, Missy tells a bored George and Georgie that the guy on screen is the Fresh Prince. He’s from West Philadelphia. Born and raised.
Later that night, Sheldon is up past his bedtime reading a book by Descartes in bed. After he falls asleep, Sheldon has a dream that he meets Descartes, who is reading a “garbage” book by Aristotle. Sheldon admits he’s also having trouble with his philosophy professor, who claims we don’t know if science is true. Mon dieu! Without science we are nothing, argues Descartes. Sheldon wonders how he can get Ericson to see that science can form true beliefs about how reality really is. Descartes says he’s asking what is the foundation of knowledge. As Descartes starts to explain it, Sheldon wakes up in his bed. “Of course.”
The next day at college, as Professor Ericson talks to her class, Sheldon enters the lecture hall. He says he’s done some reading since last they spoke, and he is ready to show her how everything we know about science is true. Sheldon says Ericson said we can never truly know anything, but there is one thing he does know: “If I question, I must think; If I think, I must exist. Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am.” Ericon tells him he’s right and asks for a round of applause. Sheldon is confused when she offers him a flower full of sweet nectar. Why would he want that? Because he’s a butterfly and this is just a dream. When Sheldon insists he’s not a butterfly, Professor Ericson laughs. When Sheldon wakes up in his bed, he realizes it was just a dream. As he looks down, he is shocked to find he is a butterfly. Sheldon panics that nothing he knows is real. When he calls for Missy’s help, she approaches him with a flyswatter. As Sheldon screams, he wakes up in his bed. When Sheldon asks Missy if he’s awake or this too is a dream, she says “Shut up, dingus.” Sheldon realizes he is actually awake this time.
That morning, when Mary finds Sheldon still in bed, she asks why he’s not dressed yet. Sheldon wonders why he should. After Mary points out he’ll be late for school, Sheldon says he’s not going to school. Why not? Because he doesn’t know what’s real. Mary wonders what that means. “Dreaming and waking, life and death, philosophers and butterflies, they're all the same. Nothing matters.” After Mary says that’s an interesting way of looking at things, she quickly heads out the room and calls for George. To be continued...