Friday, July 8, 2011

EINSTEIN'S DREAMS by Alan Lightman

What if time stood still? What if time ran fast for some people and slow for others? What if time ran backwards? What if time were not continuous? What if we knew the future? Would we try to derail it or resign ourselves to its inevitability? These are a few of the scenarios that Lightman proposes, ostensibly as Einstein's dreams while he was writing his paper on relativity. These various imaginings are delightful but devoid of characters and plot and therefore do not exactly constitute a novel in the usual sense, and, from a physics standpoint, I didn't get the point. There are a very few conversations between Einstein and Besso, his sounding board at the patent office, but these scenes are too infrequent. I loved the suggestion that Einstein denied many patent requests as impractical but sent back suggestions for overcoming the flaws to the submitter. My favorite vignette is one about a world in which people build their houses on stilts, because time moves slower at higher altitudes. This seems to be a quirky reverse take on Einstein's gravitational time dilation theory, which explains why the atomic clock in Greenwich, England runs slower than the one in Boulder, Colorado. Einstein's theory predates the invention of atomic clocks. Incredible.

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