Sunday, August 30, 2009

Contemplating time: Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman



Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman is one of the most compelling little books I have ever read. And when I say little, I am in no way diminishing the scope of its fictional creativity! On the contrary, it is a masterpiece... I like to think of it as a creative literary elaboration, or a literary analogy for Einstein's theories on time.

I was required to read this book for a Literary Analysis class in college that focused on fiction. Suffice it to say, the second I picked it up and began to read, I was forever mystified. Ever since I read Einstein's Dreams I have been telling everyone about it, it's just that interesting...

Through its detail this book communicates to the reader a realm of ideas that might otherwise seem difficult to understand. Each chapter is a different scenario, representing a different theory of what time is or could be, the way it is perceived by people and the different effects it has on the course of life. It's a short book, which makes it good for those of you anti-book or ADD readers, haha... And that's what I call it when you're too hyped up to focus on a book. Hell, it happens to me a lot and I love to read! I get stuck on a line, like a computer glitch, rereading it over and over for a couple seconds before I realize what I'm doing... ha =)

Anyway, this book is amazing, believe me, you will be telling all of your friends about it once you read it... It jump starts your imagination and piques your curiosity about the mystery of life. Go get it! On Half.com for a used alternative... which is perfectly fine folks, it's how I bought/buy all my college books! Also, more recently, all of the books I want at the book store... I just write down ISBNS, stifle my urges for instant gratification, come home and buy them on Half.com. I don't have the money to pay full price all the time, plus buying used is better anyway.

Here is an excerpt from the book, this is one chapter, thus one story/theory:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"It is Tuesday morning in Berne. The thick-fingered baker on Marktgasse is shouting at a woman who has not paid her last bill, is flailing his arms while she quietly puts her new purchases of zwieback in her bag. Outside the baker's shop, a child is skating after a ball tossed from a first-floor window, the child's skates clicking on the stone street. On the east end of Marktgasse, where the street joins Kramgasse, a man and a woman are standing close in the shadow of an arcade. Two men are walking past with newspapers under their arms. Three hundred meters to the south, a warbler is flying lazily over the Aare.

The world stops.

The baker's mouth halts in mid-sentence. The child floats in mid-stride, the ball hangs in the air. The man and woman become statues under the arcade. The two men become statues, their conversation stopped as if the needle of the phonograph had been lifted. The bird freezes in flight, fixed like a stage prop suspended over the river.

A microsecond later, the world starts again.

The baker continues his harangue as if nothing had happened. So, too, the child races after the ball. The two men continue debating the rise in the beef market. The bird flaps its wings and continues its arc over the Aare.

Minutes later, the world stops again. Then starts again. Stops. Starts.

What world is this? In this world time is not continuous. In this world time is discontinuous. Time is a stretch of nerve fibers: seemingly continuous from a distance but disjointed close up, with microscopic gaps between fibers. Nervous action flows through one segment of time, abruptly stops, pauses, leaps through a vacuum, and resumes in the neighboring segment.

So tiny are the disconnections in time that a single second would have to be magnified and dissected into one thousand parts and each of those parts into one thousand parts before a single missing part of time could be spotted. So tiny are the disconnections in time that the gaps between segments are practically imperceptible. After each restart of time, the new world looks just like the old. The positions and motions of the clouds appear exactly the same, the trajectories of birds, the flow of conversations, thoughts.

The segments of time fit together almost perfectly, but not quite perfectly. On occasion, very slight displacements occur. For example, on this Tuesday in Berne, a young man and woman, in their late twenties, stand beneath a street lamp on Gerberngasse. They met one month ago. He loves her desperately, but he has already been crushed by a woman who left him without warning, and he is frightened of love. He must be sure with this woman. He studies her face, pleads silently for her true feelings, searches, for the smallest sign, the slightest movement of hr brow, the vaguest reddening of her cheeks, the moistness of her eyes.

In truth, she loves him back, but she cannot put her love in words. Instead, she smiles at him, unaware of her fear. As they stand beneath the street lamp, time stops and restarts. Afterwards, the tilt of their heads is precisely the same, the cycle of their heartbeats shows no alteration. But somewhere in the deep pools of the woman's mind, a dim thought has appeared that was not there before. The young woman reaches for this new thought, into her unconscious, and as she does so a gossamer vacancy crosses her smile. This slight hesitation would be invisible to any but to the closest scrutiny, yet the urgent young man has noticed it and taken it for a sign. He tells the young woman that he cannot see her again, returns to his small apartment on Zeughausgasse, decides to move to Zurich and work in his uncle's bank. The young woman walks slowly home from the lamppost on Gerberngasse and wonders why the young man did not love her."

- Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

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