Thursday, May 24, 2007

Einstein’s Dreams

Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.

Has anyone read Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman? It is one of my favorite books.

Lightman is known as the man that made fundamental contributions to the theory of astrophysical processes under extreme temperatures and densities. His research has focused on the relativistic gravitation theory, the structure and behavior of accretion disks, stellar dynamics and relativistic plasmas. In a way, his book Einstein’s Dreams brought science and literature together. The book contains 30 little fables about places where time behaves quite differently, but these are also the fables about the way we live. I liked Lightman’s style very much. I found this book to be very original and interesting. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading it. I totally recommend it.


Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.

For the most part, people do not know they will live their lives over. Traders do not know that they will make the same bargain again and again. Politicians do not know that they will shout from the same lectern an infinite number of times in the cycles of time. Parents treasure the first laugh from their child as if they will not hear it again. Lovers making love the first time undress shyly, show surprise at the supple thigh, the fragile nipple. How would they know that each secret glimpse, each touch, will be repeated again and again and again, exactly as before?

On Marktgasse, it is the same. How could the shopkeepers know that each handmade sweater, each embroidered handkerchief, each chocolate candy, each intricate compass and watch will return to their stalls? At dusk, the shopkeepers go home to their families or drink beer in the taverns, calling happily to friends down the vaulted alleys, caressing each moment as an emerald on temporary consignment. How could they know that nothing is temporary, that all will happen again? No more than an ant crawling round the rim of a crystal chandelier knows that it will return to where it began.

In the hospital on Gerberngasse, a woman says goodbye to her husband. He lies in bed and stares at her emptily. In the last two months, his cancer has spread from his throat to his liver, his pancreas, his brain. His two young children sit on one chair in the corner of the room, frightened to look at their father, his sunken cheeks, the withered skin of an old man. The wife comes to the bed and kisses her husband softly on the forehead, whispers goodbye, and quickly leaves with the children. She is certain that this was the last kiss. How could she know that time will begin again, that she will be born again, will study at the gymnasium again, will show her paintings at the gallery in Zürich, will again meet her husband in the small library in Fribourg, will again go sailing with him in Thun Lake on a warm day in July, will give birth again, that her husband will again work for eight years at the pharmaceutical and come home one evening with a lump in his throat, will again throw up and get weak and end up in this hospital, this room, this bed, this moment. How could she know?

In the world in which time is a circle, every handshake, every kiss, every birth, every word, will be repeated precisely. So too every moment that two friends stop becoming friends, every time that a family is broken because of money, every vicious remark in an argument between spouses, every opportunity denied because of a superior's jealousy, every promise not kept.

And just as all things will be repeated in the future, all things now happening happened a million times before. Some few people in every town, in their dreams, are vaguely aware that all has occurred in the past. These are the people with unhappy lives, and they sense that their misjudgments and wrong deeds and bad luck have all taken place in the previous loop of time. In the dead of night these cursed citizens wrestle with their bedsheets, unable to rest, stricken with the knowledge that they cannot change a single action, a single gesture. Their mistakes will be repeated precisely in this life as in the life before. And it is these double unfortunates who give the only sign that time is a circle. For in each town, late at night, the vacant streets and balconies fill up with their moans.


Nikola said...

Cao. Hvala za link :)

Kahl said...

This, among many books, is on a list to be read. My father had an adoration for the man that, beyond the richness of his science, I never quite understood. I hope, in some small way, this book may carry an answer.

Little Wing said...

Oh, how terrible, but would explain de'ja vu' in a different sort of way, eh? I'd hate to think that we experience so much of life's down side, to not be able to correct it in another life time, and live a better way. Then again, live for today... not yesterday or tomorrow. I've heard of parallel lives, too. Thanks for the book info.

Little Wing

Milena said...

Little Wing, yes, it can be terrible. However, Lightman have taken several possibilities into consideration. There are 30 fables and different time theories. Not all of them are depressing but each one is definitely interesting.

Little Wing said...

That is good to know... then we can pick and choose our reality.