Sunday, March 13, 2016

Saving Time

Thinking about the vagaries of time . . .
and Daylight Saving Time . . .
and posting belatedly . . . befittingly . . . but also early . . .

HAPPY 137th Birthday to Albert Einstein!
born: 14 March 1879, Ulm, Germany
died: 18 April 1955, Princeton, NJ
My little friend Beata at the 12 - foot tall
Albert Einstein Memorial ~ Washington DC
or, as she affectionately refers to him,
"The Smarty Pants, Uncle Albert"

Seeing Beata posing here with the gargantuan Einstein, larger - than - life, made me think of one of all - time favorite little books, Einstein's Dreams. Chapter by chapter, author Alan Lightman describes a series of time - bound or time - free worlds, as Einstein might have dreamed them. The multi - dimensional dreams feature history and fiction, science and science fiction, poetry and time travel, moving dreamily through days of future passed, back to the future, forward to the past:
"In the long narrow office . . . the room full of practical ideas, the young patent clerk still sprawls in his chair, head down on his desk. For the past several months . . . he has dreamed many dreams about time. His dreams have taken hold of his research. His dreams have worn him out, exhausted him so that he sometimes cannot tell whether he is awake or asleep. But the dreaming is finished. Out of many possible natures of time . . . one seems compelling. Not that the others are impossible. The others might exist in other worlds." (6 - 7)
Although some of the worlds seem so far - fetched, in one way or another each one provides an illustration of life as we currently know it and time as we humanly experience it:
"Suppose time is a circle . . . time is like a flow of water . . . time has three dimensions . . . there is mechanical time and there is body time . . . time flows more slowly the farther from the center of earth . . .Time is visible in all places . . . cause and effect are erratic . . . time does pass, but little happens . . . The world will end . . . Everyone knows it . . . Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone . . . the passage of time brings increasing order . . . a place where time stands still . . . the center of time. From this place, time travels outward in concentric circles . . . Imagine a world in which there is no time. Only images . . . A world without memory is a world of the present . . . a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions. From this world, time flows not evenly but fitfully . . . in this world time passes more slowly for people in motion . . . " (8 - 93)

"Imagine a world in which the people live just one day . . . a world where time is a sense, like sight or like taste . . . Suppose that people live forever . . . Suppose that time is not a quantity but a quality, like the luminescence of the night above the trees just when a rising moon has touched the treeline. Time exists, but it cannot be measured . . . In this world, no person can imagine the future . . . In this world, time is visible dimension . . . In this world, time is discontinuous . . . In this world time is a local phenomenon . . . In this world time is not fluid . . . For time is like the light between two mirrors . . . In time, the past never happened . . . For the children, time moves too slowly already. They rush from moment to moment anxious for birthdays and new years, barely able to wait for the rest of their lives. The elderly desperately wish to stop time . . . They yearn to capture a single minute at the breakfast table drinking tea . . . " (107 - 175)
In the world where "time flows backward" (105), Lightman transports the reader to the Nobel Prize for Physics award ceremony in Stockholm -- a nice touch since, in fact, Einstein was unable to attend in December 1922. But in this world, at last, he gets to accept the honor personally, rather than sending a diplomat in his absence:
"A middle-aged man walks from the stage of an auditorium in Stockholm, holding a medal. He shakes hands with the president of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, receives the Nobel Prize for physics, listens to the glorious citation. The man thinks briefly about the award he is to receive. His thoughts quickly shift twenty years to the future, when he will work alone in a small room with only pencil and paper. Day and night he will work, making many false starts, filling the trash basket with unsuccessful chains of equations and logical sequences. But some evenings he will return to his desk knowing he has learned things about Nature that no one has ever known, ventured into the forest and found light, gotten hold of precious secrets. On those evenings, his heart will pound as if he were in love. The anticipation of that rush of the blood, that time when he will be young and unknown and unafraid of mistakes, overpowers him now as he sits in his chair in the auditorium in Stockholm, at great distance from the tiny voice of the president announcing his name." (105)
Lightman intersperses Einstein's time - motion dreams with moments of camaraderie between Einstein and his best friend Michele Besso:
"Einstein has been explaining to his friend Besso why he wants to know time. But he says nothing of his dreams . . . 'I want to understand time because I want to get close to The Old One.'

Besso nods in accord. But there are problems, which Besso points out. For one, perhaps The Old One is not interested in getting close to his creations, intelligent or not. For another, it is not obvious that knowledge is closeness. For yet another, this time project could be too big for a twenty - six - year - old.

On the other hand, Besso thinks that his friend might be capable of anything.

'I'm making progress,' says Einstein. . . . 'I think the secrets will come.'

'I think you will succeed with your theory of time,' says Besso. 'And when you do, we will go fishing and you will explain it to me. When you become famous, you'll remember that you told me first . . . ' " (52 - 53, 98, 147)
And he did.
See my previous post Spring ~ Time
for more references to Einstein's Dreams,
plus some Einsteinian poems by Ernest Sandeen.

Many Thanks to Beata for her consistent inspiration
and contributions to my blogs:

Equinox Harvest
Saving Time
A Full House, A Full Deck
Colored Panes: Flaubert & Pearce
Vintage Thanksgiving
Mere PhD
Instead of Poppies
What Makes Life So Sweet
Bouquet on the Kitchen Counter
Alas, Poor Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern! We Knew Them!
Time Fulfilled
American Tune
Confidence in Confidence
Alabaster City
Bridge of Air
Czeslaw Milosz
Intellectual Cup of Lyrics
Fortnightly: Luna Moth of Summer
Book List: Young Adult & Mona's Clothes

1 comment:

  1. "Imagine a world in which the people live just one day" - There was an absolutely wonderful novel (story?) by Andrey Platonov (Russian writer of the first part of the 20th cent.), named "Sun's children" (or Children of Sun). People there (at the end) live for just one day. I think you might enjoy it. By the way, I have been fascinated by the concept of time in general, and I had several papers on various temporal issues in language and how they may correspond to the different dimensions of understanding time.