Einstein’s Dreams

Hardly ever (i.e. never) do I read a book in one sitting. I started this book last night and it’s noon today when I read its last page.

I have always been intrigued by Einstein’s theory of relativity and the non-intuitive nature of time it suggests. So when I read a summary of this book I suddenly jumped on it.

The author, Alan Lightman, has imagined time in various forms and has illustrated each of those forms as dreams that Einstein might have had in 1905.

Here are some excerpts from the book. If they intrigue you, then you should consider reading the book.

* For in this world, time has three dimensions, like space. Just as an object may move in three perpendicular directions, … so an object may participate in three perpendicular futures. Each future moves in different direction of time. …

* In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time.

* At some time in the past, scientists discovered that time flows more slowly the farther from the center of earth. The effect is

*Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic. Sometimes the first precedes the second, sometimes the second the first.

* The world will end on 26 September 1907. Everyone knows it.

* In this world, the passage of time brings increasing order.

* There is a place where time stands still. Raindrops hang motionless in air…. As a traveler approaches this place from any direction, he moves more and more slowly. His heartbeats grow farther apart….

* Imagine a world in which there is no time. Only images.

* This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. For in this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully

* Why such a fixation on speed? Because in this world time passes mere slowly for people in motion. Thus everyone travels at high velocity, to gain time.

* In this world, time flows backward…

* Imagine a world in which people live just one day.

* In a world where time is a sense, like sight or like taste, a sequence of episodes may be quick or may be slow, dim or intense, salty or sweet, causal or without cause, orderly or random, depending on the prior history of the viewer.

* Suppose that time is not a quantity but a quality, like the luminescence of the night…

* In fact, this is a world without future. In this world, time is a line that terminates at the present, both in reality and in the mind.

* In this world, time is a visible dimension. Just as one may look off in the distance and see houses, trees, mountain peaks that are landmarks in space, so one may look out in another direction and see births, marriages, deaths that are signposts in time, stretching off dimly into the far future.

* In this world, time is a local phenomenon. Two clocks close together tick at nearly the same rate. But clocks separated by distance tick at different rates,…

* This is a world in which time is not fluid, parting to make way for events. Instead, time is a rigid, bonelike structure, extending infinitely ahead and behind, fossilizing the future as well as the past. Every action, every thought, every breath of wind, every flight of birds is completely determined, forever…. like a chess game in which every move is forced …. a world of fixed future.

* For time is like the light between two mirrors, Time bounces back and forth, producing an infinite number of images, of melodies, of thoughts. It is a world of countless copies.

* … a world of shifting past …

* … Because this flock of nightingales is time. Time flutters and fidgets and hops with these birds. Trap one of these nightingales beneath a bell jar and time stops.

The author describes people’s day-to-day lives in these alternate worlds and that part is very amusing. You can read some detailed excerpts here.

I came to know about this book while reading about Braid (the game), it was influenced partly by this book.


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