Einstein's Dreams

Einstein's Dreams

Alan Lightman

Language: English

Pages: 144

ISBN: 140007780X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.

Now translated into thirty languages, Einstein’s Dreams has inspired playwrights, dancers, musicians, and painters all over the world. In poetic vignettes, it explores the connections between science and art, the process of creativity, and ultimately the fragility of human existence.

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who deny the future and live two lives? • 29 May 1905 A man or a woman suddenly thrust into this world would have to dodge houses and buildings. For all is in motion. Houses and apartments, mounted on wheels, go careening through Bahnhofplatz and race through the narrows of Marktgasse, their occupants shouting from second-floor windows. The Post Bureau doesn’t remain on Postgasse, but flies through the city on rails, like a train. Nor does the Bundeshaus sit quietly on Bundesgasse.

of him for a month. Besso sees Einstein now and wishes he could help, but of course Einstein does not need help. To Besso, Einstein is without pain. He seems oblivious of his body and the world. “I’m making progress,” Einstein says again. “I think the secrets will come. Did you see the paper by Lorentz I left on your desk?” “Ugly.” “Yes. Ugly and ad hoc. It couldn’t possibly be right. The electromagnetic experiments are telling us something much more fundamental.” Einstein scratches his

the issue of Annalen der Physik bearing his first paper, he imitated a rooster for fully five minutes. • 2 June 1905 A mushy, brown peach is lifted from the garbage and placed on the table to pinken. It pinkens, it turns hard, it is carried in a shopping sack to the grocer’s, put on a shelf, removed and crated, returned to the tree with pink blossoms. In this world, time flows backward. A withered woman sits in a chair hardly moving, her face red and swollen, her eyesight almost gone,

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 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 a young

people yawn and take their toast and coffee. Ten thousand fill the arcades of Kramgasse or go to work on Speichergasse or take their children to the park. Each has memories: a father who could not love his child, a brother who always won, a lover with a delicious kiss, a moment of cheating on a school examination, the stillness spreading from a fresh snowfall, the publication of a poem. In a world of shifting past, these memories are wheat in wind, fleeting dreams, shapes in clouds. Events, once

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