“Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but is noble to live life and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.” ― Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams
Imagine a book with a diaphanous plot -- a book of dreams if you will. The multiplicity of events, scenes, vignettes in the dreams are pasted together by the fourth dimension, time. These multiple visions of time provide an evocative and poetic imagining of Einstein, his world and his dreams. By recreating those dreams attempts to mimic the physics of Einstein in prose. The result is an unusual novel that is ultimately a humane picture of some of the most forbidding science for many readers. The action is focused on a few days in the calendar of 1905 -- a critical year for Einstein when his thoughts exploded and much of what he is noted for was published. This is an elegiac attempt to communicate what that year was like.
In my first encounter with Einstein's Dreams I read it for discussion with a study group to which I belong. Neither I nor most of the study group was convinced that the author had succeeded in his project. My second reading in 2012 was also for a book group. The more I read this book the more divided I am between thinking it is a literary parlor trick and thinking it is a poetic reverie of substance on themes of Einstein's thought. For now I'll continue to go with the latter interpretation.
“In this world, time has three dimensions, like space. Just as an object may move in three perpendicular directions, corresponding to horizontal, vertical, and longitudinal, so an object may participate in three perpendicular futures. Each future moves in a different direction of time. Each future is real. At every point of decision, the world splits into three worlds, each with the same people, but different fates for those people. In time, there are an infinity of worlds.” ― Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. Vintage Books, 2011 (1992)