Part of the following book review was excerpted from my Goodreads.com review. To read the full review, follow the link given after the blockquote below.
Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman, falls nicely into the category of books that I’m used to reading: heavy on ideas, sciencey, and good at making people wonder what it is I actually study in college. And yet, it’s not at all the type of book I’m used to reading.
First of all, this lovely little tome is completely fiction! That already makes it something of an outlier (though, as I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m trying to change that). But make no mistake, for a work of fiction, it still draws heavily on the real-world physics of relativity.
Second, it doesn’t actually try to teach you any physics. The book’s primary goal is to vividly, poetically illustrate stories of life and the world given the particular type of time they’re immersed in. There are no proofs, no equations, no extended logical chains of explanation meant to convince the reader of the truth of what’s been written. It’s science through beautiful storytelling, and maybe that’s part of why I picked it up in the first place.
From my Goodreads.com review:
Through the narrative of a fictional Albert Einstein’s dreams about varied manifestations of time (or lack thereof) in complementary versions of Berne, many critical questions about the nature and properties of time are skillfully raised and illuminated without bogging the reader down in complicated jargon or explanations of the physics that make it all possible. Lightman’s focus is on the strangeness of time and what the world would look like if time acted or was something else entirely. He does this by painting a picture of life in the city of Berne (and surrounding areas) as it might be according to whatever kind of time governs that particular little dream world of Einstein’s. Each change in the workings of time is explored in a new dream. In this fabulously engaging universe of possibilities, the reader is coaxed into putting aside his doubts – about whether or not life would even be able to form under that incarnation of time; about what the other physical laws would look like; and etc. – in order to simply appreciate a series of What ifs…?
Clever, concise, and charming. Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams is a must-read; no background in physics required. Though, if you’re at all like me and you do know a little bit of something about the topic, you will not be disappointed. Knowledge only deepens the experience of each dream world, and helps to make sense of what you already know. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to turn the world on its head without having to do something drastic.
Read the full review here.
I’ve always been fascinated by time, by the physics of space-time, and I’ve had the good fortune to be able to pursue various research projects on the topic over the course of my time as an undergraduate. Some would argue that it’s not relevant to my overall academic goals or that it takes up too much time for something that’s almost purely a hobby – I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes think about trying my hand at reformulating our concept of time… maybe receiving a Nobel Prize for my efforts? However, I’ve learned so much thanks to them.
Time is something that factors into every aspect of our lives. In my own studies, I’ve come to realize that our very ability to conceive of time is somewhat of a mystery. A mind without time is nothing – nonfunctioning. According to some new research, a mind with a time delay or time discrepancy in neuronal firing might lead to schizophrenia (I’m still looking for the specific research paper I read this in; it will appear here when I find it).
From my perspective, studying time is a necessary part to understanding cognition. So, I push on unperturbed. One day, it might all make sense. Having read Einstein’s Dreams, I’m a bit more confident knowing that I’m well on my way.