Einstein's theory of relativity made many common sense concepts of time and space relative. In the absence of an absolute frames of reference in space, up down, right left, fast slow, bigger smaller, and even night and day could only be determined from a particular point on the Earth.
In this book, Alan Lightman has created a series of vignettes that describe some dreams that Einstein could have had while trying to understand the mysteries of relativity, space, and time. Each vignette contains a world that behaves according to a particular model or perception of time and space, inhabited by people who have evolved behaviors and philosophies as a consequence of this paradigm.
Einstein's Dreams compel us to reconsider the meaning of time in our own lives.
How often have each one of us wished we could "capture time in a bottle," stall time, speed it up, escape it?
How do we each experience time, especially when we tell stories about ourselves?
What happens when two people with fundamentally different perceptions of time try to relate events, stories, and meaning to one another?
EINSTEIN'S DREAMS ACTIVITY
- Read your assigned vignette of Einstein's Dreams.
- Type the answer to the questions.
1. Why do you think Lightman wrote his novel in the present tense?
What effect does it have on the reader?
2. Write a short paragraph that gives the plot summary of your vignette.
3. Answer the questions given in your assigned vignette of Einstein's Dreams.
4. Discuss the reading with your partner.
5. Finally, write some joint conclusions about the questions given in your assigned
Time is a circle; individual experience endlessly repeats itself
"Suppose time is a circle..." In this vignette, most people are not aware that "they will live their lives over" and that everything they do "will be repeated again and again, exactly as before." But those who are aware of the nature of time are the ones who lead miserable lives. Why?
16 April 1905 (page 13):
Time is like a flow of water, sometimes moving backward
In this vignette, time is a river in which some people get stuck and are redirected to the past. These people from the future are call "wretched" and are "left alone and pitied." Why are these time "exiles" said to have "lost their personhood"? Why aren't they sought after and admired instead?
19 April 1905 (page 18):
Time has three dimensions; each act has three possible outcomes
In this vignette, some people can "make light of decisions, arguing that all possible decisions will occur." In this kind of world, these people cannot be responsible for their actions. For other people, each decision "must be considered and committed to". Discuss which view do you subscribe to, and why?
8 May 1905 (page 55):
Time is captured in its last moments, the end of the world
Explain what is the narrator meant by the following statement: "A world of one month is world of equality". Imagine yourself in this situation. What would you do? Is it worth to spend your time trying to rectify your errors?
22 May 1905 (page 85):
The world is a world of changed plans, leaving many things incomplete
This is a world of changed plans because time stops and starts in fits. Answer the questions given by the narrator at the end of the vignette:
Who would fare better in this world of fitful time? Those who have seen the future and live only one life? Or those who have not seen the future and wait to live life? Or those who deny the future and live two lives?
11 June 1905 (page 128)
There is no future; time is a line that terminates at the present
If we can imagine a world without a future, in which we "cannot contemplate the results of [our] actions" and are "thus paralyzed into inaction," what logical consequences can we imagine in from our place in this world? When we are children, why don't we understand when older people tell us, "It's not the end of the world." How does our perception of the future change as we age?
15 June 1905 (page 133):
Time is visible; one can step into the future or remain in the present
If the universe offered you a chance to see your future spread out before you, would you take it? Would you run ahead to a particular place that looked more interesting than where you are now, or would you take your time?
22 June 1905 (page 158):
Time is rigid; every action and thought is determined
The world of this vignette is "rigid, bonelike," "completely determined forever." Thus, "In a world of fixed future, there can be no right or wrong," and "In a world of fixed future, no person is responsible." What social consequences might these ideas create in the world as we know it?
This activity is a modified version of the some of the activities on the
Einstein's Dreams website by Marguerite Helmers Department of English . University of Wisconsin Oshkosh