“Einstein’s Dreams”

Happy 137th birthday to Albert Einstein!* Here’s the Google doodle from back in 2003 which celebrated his 124th.

Yes, there is a connection with dreams, as I happen to have a book called “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman on my bookshelves. It is billed as a novel, but its structure is a collage of short stories as dreamed by Einstein between 14 April and 28 June 1905. He is employed by the Swiss Patent Office, his office a “room full of practical ideas”, but he is also working on his theory of relativity and a new concept of time.

In his dreams, Einstein imagines many possible worlds, set in the towns of his homeland, in the valleys of the Alps, on the banks of the River Aare:

24 April 1905: “In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time… Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist… They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires… Then there are those who think their bodies don’t exist. They live by mechanical time… Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.”

3 May 1905: “Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic. Sometimes the first precedes the second, sometimes the second the first… In this world, scientists are helpless… In this world, artists are joyous… Most people have learned how to live in the moment.”

10 May 1905: “Hypothetically, time might be smooth or rough, prickly or silky, hard or soft. But in this world, the texture of time happens to be sticky. Portions of towns become stuck in some moment in history and do not get out. So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and do not get free.”

22 June 1905: “In a world of fixed future, there can be no right or wrong. Right and wrong demand freedom of choice, but if each action is already chosen, there can be no freedom of choice. In a world of fixed future, no person is responsible.”

It is a work of great beauty and poignancy, the dreams capturing the deep reality of the fragility of human existence and our capacity for creativity and joy.

* Also, Happy Pi Day!