Einstein's Dreams | Study Guide

Alan Lightman

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Einstein's Dreams | 16 April 1905 | Summary



In this vignette a pattern begins to emerge: each night's dream starts with a narration or principle of time that the dream will show, which resembles a journal entry of the dream. In this world time is "like a flow of water." It flows in one direction, but it can be disturbed and carried to its past. People who have experienced this transportation to the past move carefully to avoid making changes that will affect their future. One such person is crouched in the shadows of a building, careful not to kick up any dust because it might make a Peter Klausen, a passerby, pause; if he pauses he might not buy ointment for his wife, which might prevent her from making a trip in which she will have an indirect effect on Hans Klausen's birth. Hans Klausen played a role in forming the European Union in 1979. The woman crouched in the shadows knows the slightest alteration to the past might destroy the future.


Here Einstein's dream shows the ways in which humanity attaches emotions to time. Fear permeates this world as the Dream Figures worry about the consequences of his or her decisions if they are carried back to their past. This reflects a universal human anxiety about the future; everyone is constantly aware of the ways in which their past affects their future. The example of the past affecting the future birth of Peter Klausen shows that the Dream Figures are aware that their very existence hangs in the balance of the smallest actions, decisions, or interference. The paradox in this dream world is no one knows which slight move or change in the present will affect the future, so those who are transported to their past are careful not to alter even the tiniest thing. It is unclear whether or not the Dream Figures in this world have been transported to the past of their own accord, but they do seem acutely aware of the potential consequences of their actions in the past.

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