Einstein's Dreams Essay - Critical Essays

Alan Lightman

Einstein’s Dreams

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Using his background as professor of physics and writing atMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Alan Lightman has producedEINSTEIN’S DREAMS, his first fictional work, which he dubs a novel,although some quarrel with that designation. The book, consistingof thirty chronologically sequential sections or intervals, most ofthem less than five pages long, presents a reconstruction of whatmight have been Einstein’s ruminations on time as he worked towardthe perfection of his famed Theory of Special Relativity,represented by the formula E=mc squared.

The thirty intervals, dated April 14 to June 28, 1905, arepreceded by a brief prologue and followed by a brief epilogue. Theinterludes that follow every eight intervals detail Einstein’sinteraction with his lifelong friend and scientific associate,Michele Angelo Besso (1873-1955), and provide insights intoEinstein’s tortured personal life.

Among the temporal possibilities Lightman suggests arediscontinuous time, eternal recurrence, time’s slowing at highaltitudes or at high speeds, time frozen, and infinite time. Writing with a marvelous sense of satire and whimsy, Lightmansqueezes his tale into a two-hour time frame (a day in late June,1905 between six and 8:06 in the morning) when a young patent clerk(Einstein) arrives at the Patent Office early bearing the fruits ofhis thinking about time, a byproduct of his research on magnetismand electricity. He awaits the arrival of the secretary who willtype his manuscript in her spare time.

Lightman’s book reminds one of Kahlil Gibran’s THE PROPHET(1923), but it burns with many times Gibran’s intellectual wattage. Like Gibran’s meditation, it is filled with quotable aphorisms andwith memorable insights, the shallowest much deeper than thedeepest in THE PROPHET. Printed in appealing format, EINSTEIN’SDREAMS is little larger than a package of cigarettes. It isavailable on audio cassette for $16.95.

Sources for Further Study

The Economist. CCCXXVI, January 16, 1993, p.90.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 10, 1993, p.3.

Nature. CCCLXII, March 4, 1993, p.28.

New Scientist. CXXXVII, March 20, 1993, p.41.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, January 3, 1993, p.10.

The New Yorker. LXVIII, January 18, 1993, p.111.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, October 19, 1992, p.57.

Time. CXLI, January 18, 1993, p.65.

The Times Literary Supplement. January 22, 1993, p.19.

The Wall Street Journal. February 1, 1993, p. A8.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, February 7, 1993, p.4.