Einstein's Dreams | Study Guide

Alan Lightman

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Einstein's Dreams | 28 April 1905 | Summary



Time is a visible reminder everywhere in this world, from clock towers to wristwatches. These objects neatly divide time into increments, but beyond them is "a vast scaffold of time" where all time is equal and absolute. In the town of Berne people convene every afternoon to pay tribute to time and set their watches by the tolling of the clock tower chimes. Those who are religious see time as evidence God exists; time is so perfect and precise it must be divine. For these people time is a way to judge actions. This idea of time as an absolute also provides consolation: people can be unpredictable, but time never is. In this way time can become a refuge from uncertainty.


In this dream world Lightman continues to investigate how a rigid concern with time affects people's happiness and comfort. Here people feel reassured by the stability and prescriptions of time—it offers rules and guidelines about the past, present, and future. The narrator points out, "while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable." This means people can find a sense of safety and certainty in time, something absent from personal relationships. People are mercurial, changing, and fickle; time remains constant and assured.

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