“Each time is true, but not all truths are the same.” – Alan Lightman
This quote from Einstein’s Dreams probably sums up the book better than I can, although that won’t stop me from trying. I enjoyed this book so thoroughly and I could genuinely recommend it to anyone, particularly those with a particular interest in the concept, or concepts, of time.
The beauty of this novel, as with life, is in the details. The man who “sits at his bedside table, listens to the sounds of his running bath” is someone I can relate to, he’s someone who I know, he’s someone I’ve been. The descriptions Lightman paints with his words are transportive. When this man wonders, “whether anything exists outside of his mind,” I, too, am wondering.
With each ultra-brief chapter, this book introduces the reader to a new world with a conception of time all its own. Interspersed with this is the story of a young Einstein developing his theory of time. Both Einstein’s journey and the journeys of those in each world are revealed in the most delicate of manners. We first lean what plagues the inhabitants of the new world, and from these clues we must determine which world this is. Is it the world where time runs backwards? Or the one where with no future? Or no past?
Each world seems to be tragic in its own way. In one instance there are certain people who cannot perceive time at all. Called “time deaf,” these individuals are considered great minds and are studied by scholars all over the world. “But they are unable to speak what they know, for speech needs a sequence of words, spoken in time.” Every chapter ends abruptly, and then a new conception of time emerges, with new people, in a new place.
One of these places, in particular, stands out for me:
In this world, time is not measured. All watches and clocks are outlawed except for one. This super clock becomes a place of pilgrimage that every person in the world must travel to at some point in their lives. At any given point, there is a line of 10,000 people waiting silently in line to see the clock, but “secretly they seethe with anger. For they must watch measured that which should not be. They have been trapped by their own inventiveness and audacity.”
Yes, we have.