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Einstein's Dreams | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In 19 April 1905 of Einstein's Dreams what does the narrator imply about the fate of people who "are content to live in contradictory worlds"?

Time in this world operates in three dimensions, and people are faced with three distinct futures. Each future is just as real as the others. When it comes time to make decisions, "the world splits into three worlds, each with the same people but with different fates for those people." This brings up the theme of fate and whether people's decisions even matter; the same outcome will occur regardless. Yet for those content to live in contradictory worlds, where "each decision must be considered and committed to," fate is beside the point. They choose to find meaning in their decisions and actions. As is the case in many of these worlds, Lightman shows inhabitants divided over a paradox about time and fate. He seems to be saying there is no one way to interpret the events of one's life.

Why does the narrator carefully explain the difference between mechanical time and body time in 24 April 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

The narrator takes great care to describe the difference between mechanical time and body time: the former is "rigid and metallic" and the latter "squirms and wriggles." These sensory descriptions enable the reader to concretely sense the difference between the two types of time rather than try to understand it abstractly. People react to these two types in contrasting ways, again illustrating time is invariably a subjective experience regardless of a particular dream world's mechanics. People who subscribe to body time, for example, "know that time moves in fits and starts." People who live by mechanical time believe the opposite, that time is orderly. The narrator notes, "each time is true, but the truths are not the same," which seems like a riddle of sorts. The takeaway here is both body time and mechanical time feel true to their believers, but their truths cannot be measured quantitatively and so cannot be compared.

In 28 April 1905 of Einstein's Dreams what comparisons does Lightman draw between time and religious belief?

Since this a world in which people are constantly reminded of time's role in their lives, they see it as an "infinite ruler" and an "absolute" they must obey and adhere to. The people in this world even pay a daily, ritualistic tribute to time that echoes a religious ritual. The narrator also notes, "Those of religious faith see time as the evidence for God. For surely nothing could be created perfect without a Creator. Nothing could be universal and not be divine. All absolutes are part of the One Absolute." Here Lightman draws a parallel between the "command" of God and the "command" of time. Lightman equates the role of time, with its "absolute" nature, to the role God plays in the lives of believers. Time governs people's actions and beliefs about their world in much the same way religious belief can.

What points does Lightman make about time's ever-present nature in 28 April 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

In this chapter Lightman points out that time is everywhere in people's lives—wherever they go they meet "an instrument of time" in the form of a clock, a clocktower, or a watch. People measure their lives through hours, minutes, days, months, and years. Time is a certainty and, for most people, a consolation, since "while the movements of people are unpredictable, the movement of time is predictable." People can fluctuate in their moods, intentions, and motivations, but time remains steady and thus is the perfect counterweight to human flightiness. Lightman makes the point that people don't know how to exist without time; they can't make sense of the world without it.

What does the narrator's statement "each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own" signify in 3 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

Since there is no clear relationship between cause and effect in this world, people cannot necessarily examine the source that led to a particular event or action. The narrator's statement, "each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own" highlights how much people normally rely on cause-and-effect relationships to explain the order and origin of things. Here logic doesn't seem to exist, and uncertainty is the norm. Because they cannot rely on cause and effect, "most people have learned how to live in the moment." The past and the future are almost irrelevant, and therefore each present moment is "an island in time." It can't be judged by its influence or ability to affect any outcome, so this world is one of "impulse" and "sincerity."

What paradox about time and events is presented in 4 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams, and what are the implications of this paradox?

In this world "time does pass, but little happens"; this is demonstrated by couples who vacation together every year but find almost nothing ever changes in their lives or at the hotel where they stay. In this world, the narrator notes, "if a person holds no ambitions in this world, he suffers unknowingly"—not even sensing the passage of time—but "if a person holds ambitions, he suffers knowingly, but very slowly." In this chapter Lightman implies people's self-determined perception of time as slow moving or fast moving can have an effect on how they view the events of their own lives.

In 8 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams why does the narrator portray people as relaxed rather than fearful about the end of the world?

In this world people know all life will end on 26 September 1907. While one might expect this knowledge to inspire massive fear, panic, and remorse, the opposite is true. People relax, close their businesses, and spend time with their loved ones. People feel equal to each other for the first time, and as a result they are freer and more honest with one another. Here the author presents yet another paradox about people's subjective view of time. Since people in this world already know and anticipate the exact date on which their world will end and realize they are powerless to fight it, they simply yield to their fate.

According to the narrator, why is everyone unhappy to be "stuck" in the world of 10 May 1905 in Einstein's Dreams?

In this world time is "sticky"; people and places become stuck in a moment of history and can't escape. Some neighborhoods are stuck in the 15th century; others are stuck in the 18th century. Similarly people "become stuck in some point in their lives and do not get free." Those who are stuck become lonely since the other people in their lives can move on to the next moment, leaving them behind. As the narrator notes, "the tragedy of this world is that no one is happy, whether stuck in a time of pain or joy," since they are stuck alone, with no one to share their pain or joy. Here Lightman is pointing out that since time by nature is subjective, it is also deeply personal; it is also potentially quite lonely.

What are the implications of the "orderly" world depicted in 11 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

The passage of time brings increasing order to this world, shaping the way people think about and respond to time. People view the future as consisting solely of "pattern, organization, union," and they dismiss the past as random and confusing. In this world order provides meaning and differentiates the future from the past. However, the narrator implies people eventually grow tired of all this predictable order, and each spring they stage a revolt to bring disorder back into their lives. Here Lightman makes a strong statement about the sense of free will and surprise for which people yearn with the passage of time. To be unsurprised by the future is to be bored and disillusioned.

What are the implications of the time paradox revealed in In 14 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

The paradox revealed in this world revolves around time slowing down as one approaches the world's center. The people drawn to this center are those who want to slow time down: namely lovers and parents. In the center no one ages, and nothing changes. Those who return to the outer world curse those who kept them at the center because there is no real life to be had there; yet they wish to stop time again for their own children and their lovers. The implications of this paradox are that life will always be a return to sadness; but without time there is no life. One can either remain frozen and fixed, trapped in a contented moment, or constantly yearn to return to a slower time after living their life.

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