the Little Red Reviewer

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

Posted on: February 3, 2012

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

published in 1993

where I got it: my bookshelf

why I read it: It’s very meditative.

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How can such a tiny book be filled with such readable enlightenment?

How can something as complex as the nature of time be put forth in simple words and stories?

Alan Lightman, professor of physics and creative writing at MIT is also a magician. He takes the thoughts and dreams that Einstein might have had in Berne Switzerland and turns them into perfect little vignettes of how time works, or how time might work, or how we wish time would work, and turns them into meditative magic.

In some worlds, time moves in fits and starts, in others, it moved backwards. In still others, there is no past or future, only now, and as people can’t remember what they did this morning or where they will be tonight, there is no responsibility for one’s actions.  In some worlds, time moves faster or slower depending on how fast or slow you are moving, or how close you are to the center of the Earth, in others, time is a sense, like touch or smell.  In one world, time is sticky:

“Hypothetically, time might be smooth or rough, prickly or sticky, hard or soft. But in this world, the texture of time happens to be sticky. Portions of towns become stuck in some moment of history and do not get out. So, too, individual people become stuck in some point in their lives and not get free”.

ahh, perhaps these dreams of Switzerlands where time is a little different, perhaps they aren’t so different from how time works in our world after all.  Time after all, is relative, and we all seem to know someone who suffers from being stuck in a moment in their past. Sometimes that person is ourself.

There are a few interludes, a few sections where we see Einstein in his real life. He doesn’t sleep at night. His friend Besso is concerned for him.  He is so close to finishing his calculations, so close to catching time and learning it’s secrets, and in so, getting closer to God.   But as Besso tells him:

“Perhaps the Old One is not interested in getting close to his creations, intelligent or not. For another, it is not obvious that knowledge is closeness, For yet another, this time project could be too big for a twenty six year old.”

No matter what the truth of time may be, we are all, along with the people in his dreams, ultimately trapped by it. That’s usually a depressing thought, but in reflection of Einstein’s Dreams, it feels surprisingly empowering.

This is a very small book. really. it’s about the height of my hand.  I have very little hands.  It’s 180 pages long, with not that many words on each page. There are a few illustrations.  You could easily read this book in a day. But I suggest stretching out the magic.  Leave it on your night table next to your bed. Read a few vignettes every night before you turn the light out.  Don’t rush it.

and see what you dream.

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4 Responses to "Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman"

I’ve had this book kicking around the house for a few years. Maybe it is time I read it.

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it’s a super quick read, and very easy on the eyes.

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Great post – I really got a sense of the mood this book lulled you into. I’ll have to see if I can find it.

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I will now be seeking out a copy of this, it certainly sounds interesting, great review it has me intrigued about this title.

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