Einstein's Dreams | Study Guide

Alan Lightman

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Course Hero. "Einstein's Dreams Study Guide." March 30, 2017. Accessed January 19, 2019. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Einsteins-Dreams/.


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Einstein's Dreams | 22 May 1905 | Summary



It is dawn in a city full of strange sights: a half-finished old bridge, a house with no foundation. This is a world of changed plans, where time flows in fits and starts and people can glimpse the future briefly. This makes it difficult for people to live as usual in the present; being able to glimpse and anticipate the future alters their choices. Those who haven't glimpsed their future "sleep most of the day and wait for their vision to come." This also means people don't take many risks, yet some do whatever they can to defy their future: fall in love with a different person, take a different job. But inevitably they catch up to their futures.


This dream world deals with the consequences of the future rather than the past. Because people can glimpse their futures, in their present they are constantly reminded of the consequences of their actions. Lightman presents a paradox: either knowing or not knowing the future has repercussions. Those who don't know the future feel uncertain about the choices they make in the present, leading them to inertia. Yet knowing the future also robs people of their sense of free will, since they are unable to make any decisions in the present without feeling the ghost of its future consequence. This leads to a state of paralysis; people take few risks in their lives, causing the narrator to wonder "what sense is there in continuing the present when one has seen the future?" People have lost all sense of discovery and risk, which the narrator presents in a litany of Dream Figures who make decisions based on seeing their own future.

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