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Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Einstein's Dreams (1993)

by Alan Lightman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
Each dream explored the relationship between humans and time.

Fun times infinity! My brain is all tingly right now. After the first chapter, about five pages long, I knew I was gonna have to buy my own copy of Einstein's Dreams. There were dozens of worlds to explore and ponder, and one reading just won't do it. I would love, love, love to read longer stories set in any of those worlds. So I'll be reading more of Lightman's fiction in the near future. Or maybe I won't? Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow not knowing I ever read it the first time?

5 stars ( )
  flying_monkeys | Dec 6, 2014 |
66. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman (1993, 144 page e-book, Read November 9-16)

Couldn't take it in. I just wasn't in the right state of mind. I liked what I "saw", but in the same way one wanders through a museum casually, noting each exhibit but not engaging. So, I could kind of appreciate that there was something nice here.

Einstein's Dreams gets rave reviews for its inspiration for creativity. Lightman uses Einstein as sort of source because of Einstein's ideas of space-time and relativity. Each chapter is about four pages on a different world with different physics, and the imagined experience on those worlds. Most of the physical changes have to do with time. In some worlds time moves backwards, in others people can sense time, in one world they can even see it. In some worlds time is relative to the observer so that each person experiences time differently.

Our sense of time is outside our regular senses. As our awareness of it comes and goes, so our sense of time becomes more and less attuned to real time. One cumulative affect is that we do actually each have a varying sense of time perception. Further, we don't really know what time is. It has a physical reality that alludes our senses. It's out there, fundamentally affects us, and yet we have trouble understanding its fundamentals. But yet we count on time's regularity. It has a permanence that we rely on for our sense of reality. Lightman puts it less concretely, "A world in which time is absolute is a world of consolation. For while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable. While people can be doubted, time cannot be doubted."

Each of Lightman's worlds has an aspect that we can relate to in some way, that is they all touch on something in our reality. But each offers a change of perspective. It also offers an opportunity for the reader to continue well beyond the four pages of the chapter, and create their own worlds that Lightman's ideas might lead us to. That, I think, is the true value of the book. But...I didn't do that. Instead I got caught up in a soft but persistent skepticism, looking for inconsistencies or shrugging at some of the silly details. I maintained a safe, observational distance, if you like. So, I missed out. I'll have to consider trying again.

"Suppose that time is not a quantity but a quality, like the luminescence of the night about the trees just when a rising moon has touched the treeline. Time exists, but it cannot be measured."
2 vote dchaikin | Nov 19, 2014 |
I Love LOVE LOVED this book and it was over too quickly. I could have kept going with even more stories of different worlds with different types of time. It was just the most sensuous retelling of the Theory of Relativity. I'll have to purchase a copy of this for my husband. ( )
  pussreboots | Aug 15, 2014 |
So far, I find this book to be thought provokingly strange. I love the word choice and the style used in the vignettes. I notice that the author seems to make an example out of making love and emphasize its relation with time, which I found intriguing.
  marielreads | Jun 20, 2014 |
Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

A meditation on time. As with Einstein's Theory of Time how we relate to the time we have will color our life’s experiences.

We are all aware how, as we grow older, time moves more quickly. How is this so?

When we are caught up in rapture, is it not true that time seems to stand still. Likewise when we are feeling confused and tormented time seems endless, never stopping and hard to endure.

How is it that we can experience the events in our lives with such temporal variety?

These are the questions Alan Lightman explores in this unique little book. Set in the early years of the 20th century in Berne, Germany where the young patent clerk, Albert Einstein is lost in his own dreams as he spends his time imagining up theories that will change mankind’s destiny.

This is a book that reads like poetry and, if the reader is paying attention, will result in moments of clarity and awareness that are profound, enlightening, amusing and mysterious. ( )
  berthirsch | Feb 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 78 (next | show all)
A beautifully written and thought-provoking book.
added by Katya0133 | editVirginia Quarterly Review (Jun 1, 1993)
The dreams do more than just catalog our neuroses. They also underscore some fundamental conflicts in the human relationship to time.
added by Katya0133 | editTechnology Review, David Brittan (May 1, 1993)
THIS book contains 30 brief fictional dreams. All are about time, and all are dreamt by Albert Einstein in Berne, in the spring and early summer of 1905, as he works on his paper 'On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies' and proceeds inefficiently towards the special theory of relativity. Some contain distorted traces of his discoveries. In one dream, people live up mountains and build their houses on stilts, having discovered that time flows relatively more slowly as one moves further from the centre of the earth. In another, banks, factories and houses are all motorised and constantly on the move, for time is money and slows down as you accelerate, so the faster you go the more you have.
Like the best fables, Lightman's seriousness is seductively cumulative.
added by Katya0133 | editNew Statesman & Society, Guy Mannes-Abbott (Jan 29, 1993)
The writing, beautifully simple, conveys better than most texts the strangeness of Einstein's ideas.
added by Katya0133 | editTime (Jan 18, 1993)

» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alan Lightmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Costello, ChrisIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griese, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In some distant arcade, a clock tower calls out six times and the stops.
"It is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity. It is a world in which every word spoken speaks just to that moment, every glance given has only one meaning, each touch has no past or future, each kiss is a kiss of immediacy."
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Book description
Im Jahr 1905 sitzt der junge Patentexperte Einstein an seinem Schreibtisch im Berner Patentamt. Seine revolutionäre Abhandlung zur speziellen Relativitätstheorie ist so gut wie beendet, und Einstein schließt die Auten und träumt - von neuen, unerhörten Wirklichkeiten, in denen die Zeit nicht mehr gleichmäßig fließt, sondern stockt oder springt, sich umkehrt oder verschwindet...

Mit jeder Wendung des Traumes entsteht eine neue, faszinierende Welt, die unsere eigene Welt in erhellendes, ungewohntes Licht taucht.

14. APRIL 1905

Angenommen, die Zeit ist ein Kreis, in sich gekrümmt. Die Welt wiederholt sich, exakt, endlos.

Die meisten Leute wissen nicht, daß sie ihr Leben nochmals leben werden. Händler wissen nicht, daß sie dasselbe Geschäft wieder und wieder abschließen werden, Politiker, daß sie vom selben Pult aus im Kreislauf der Zeit endlose Male reden werden. Eltern bewahren das Andenken an das erste Lachen ihres Kindes, als würden sie es nie wieder hören. Liebende, die sich zum erstenmal lieben, legen schüchtern ihre Kleider ab, sind erstaunt über den geschmeidigen Oberschenkel, die zarte Brustwarze. Woher sollen sie wissen, daß jeder verstohlene Blick, jede Berührung sich noch und noch wiederholen wird, genau wie vorher?

In der Marktgasse ist es das gleiche. Wie können die Ladenbesitzer wissen, daß jeder handgestrickte Pullover, jedes bestickte Taschentuch, jede Praline, jeder Kompaß und jede komplizierte Uhr wieder in ihren Laden zurückkehren wird? Wenn der Abend kommt, gehen sie heim zu ihren Familien, oder sie trinken Bier im Gasthaus, begrüßen ihre Freunde in den überwölbten Gassen mit fröhlichen Rufen, liebkosen jeden Augenblick wie einen Smaragd, der ihnen vorübergehend anvertraut wurde. Wie sollen sie wissen, daß nichts vergänglich ist, daß alles erneut geschehen wird?
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140007780X, Paperback)

If you liked the eerie whimsy of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, Steven Millhauser's Little Kingdoms, or Jorge Luis Borges's Labyrinths, you will love Alan Lightman's ethereal yet down-to-earth book Einstein's Dreams. Lightman teaches physics and writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, helping bridge the light-year-size gap between science and the humanities, the enemy camps C.P. Snow famously called The Two Cultures.

Einstein's Dreams became a bestseller by delighting both scientists and humanists. It is technically a novel. Lightman uses simple, lyrical, and literal details to locate Einstein precisely in a place and time--Berne, Switzerland, spring 1905, when he was a patent clerk privately working on his bizarre, unheard-of theory of relativity. The town he perceives is vividly described, but the waking Einstein is a bit player in this drama.

The book takes flight when Einstein takes to his bed and we share his dreams, 30 little fables about places where time behaves quite differently. In one world, time is circular; in another a man is occasionally plucked from the present and deposited in the past: "He is agonized. For if he makes the slightest alteration in anything, he may destroy the future ... he is forced to witness events without being part of them ... an inert gas, a ghost ... an exile of time." The dreams in which time flows backward are far more sophisticated than the time-tripping scenes in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, though science-fiction fans may yearn for a sustained yarn, which Lightman declines to provide. His purpose is simply to study the different kinds of time in Einstein's mind, each with its own lucid consequences. In their tone and quiet logic, Lightman's fables come off like Bach variations played on an exquisite harpsichord. People live for one day or eternity, and they respond intelligibly to each unique set of circumstances. Raindrops hang in the air in a place of frozen time; in another place everyone knows one year in advance exactly when the world will end, and acts accordingly.

"Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic," writes Lightman. "Scientists turn reckless and mutter like gamblers who cannot stop betting.... In this world, artists are joyous." In another dream, time slows with altitude, causing rich folks to build stilt homes on mountaintops, seeking eternal youth and scorning the swiftly aging poor folk below. Forgetting eventually how they got there and why they subsist on "all but the most gossamer food," the higher-ups at length "become thin like the air, bony, old before their time."

There is no plot in this small volume--it's more like a poetry collection than a novel. Like Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, it's a mind-stretching meditation by a scientist who's been to the far edge of physics and is back with wilder tales than Marco Polo's. And unlike many admirers of Hawking, readers of Einstein's Dreams have a high probability of actually finishing it.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:53 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A fictional work in which a twenty-six-year-old Albert Einstein, working in a patent office in Switzerland, imagines possible worlds in which time works differently as he formulates his theory of relativity.

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