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Einstein's Dreams | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In 20 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams what does the narrator imply about the importance of human memory?

In this world no one has memories. They must relearn their relationships and places in the world every day, which means people eternally live in the present. Everyone carries their own own Book of Life containing their history. The narrator implies people cannot comprehend the scope of their lives, and the impact of their past on the present and future, without memories to draw from. Everyone's individual Book of Life eventually becomes quite long and burdensome, so people can either choose to spend all their time reading their book or forget about it altogether. This can be seen as a metaphor for the importance of human memory in general; some people are burdened by the weight of their memories, and others choose to forget them.

What are the consequences of the world depicted in 22 May 1905 of Einstein's Dreams, in which time moves in fits and starts?

The narrator notes, "This is a world of changed plans, of sudden opportunities, of unexpected visions." When time moves in fits and starts, it shapes the conditions and outcomes of people's lives and actions, and people also can glimpse the future. Foreknowledge of the future implies fate plays a strong role in people's lives, and people tend to neglect the possibilities of their present in anticipation of the future they have glimpsed. As a consequence people don't take risks. The narrator ponders whether it is better to see the future and live life based on what you know will happen or not see the future and wait to be surprised. Lightman continues to point out the paradoxes in how time shapes people's lives.

In Einstein's Dreams what do the Interludes reveal about Einstein and Besso's relationship?

Einstein and Besso's relationship is revealed slowly through the Interludes, which are delivered as vignettes that interrupt Einstein's dream of time. Einstein is characterized as dreamy, a trait linked to his dream life, and absentminded when he is yanked away from his studies and research; he ignores his family and forgets to eat. The Interludes reveal Besso worries a great deal about Einstein, yet he also sees a great deal of himself in Einstein. Besso reveals Einstein took care of him during Besso's grief after his father died; as a result Besso feels a strong duty and loyalty to Einstein. Besso constantly attempts to ground Einstein in the everyday reality of his life and marriage. Lightman shows the ways in which Besso and Einstein are similar and kindred spirits, as well as the ways in which they approach life differently.

How is Einstein characterized throughout the Prologue and Interludes in Einstein's Dreams?

Throughout the Interludes Einstein is characterized as dreamy and aloof, preoccupied by his obsession with time. He doesn't seem terribly tethered to earthly and human demands: he neglects to eat and neglects his family. Thus his waking life resembles dreaming. He thinks and speaks in the abstract and seems unconcerned about receiving payment for his ideas and patents. The Prologue finds him at work before dawn, suggesting his obsessive, workaholic tendencies. Lightman chooses to show Einstein in these moments—often contrasting with his good friend Besso—to demonstrate the workings of his mind and his preoccupation with work. This portrait helps shed light on the intricate worlds of time Einstein dreams about throughout the novel.

In 2 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams why does the narrator compare Einstein's discoveries to falling in love?

This vignette details a world in which time flows backward and makes reference to Einstein winning the Nobel Prize in Physics. From the moment he receives his medal on stage the vignette travels backward to all the exhaustive work he will do to reach this point and the secrets he has learned about time and nature. As the narrator notes, when Einstein learns those secrets "his heart will pound as if he were in love." Comparing these discoveries to falling in love reveals how emotionally invested and charged Einstein feels about his work and makes it clear how his work is Einstein's one true love. This laser-focused love contrasts sharply with Einstein's marriage as portrayed in the novel, a relationship in which he is largely distracted and absent.

How does the passage of time affect people's relationships in 3 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

People only live for one day in this world, so their sense of time isn't affected by the concept of weeks, months, and years passing. They don't witness seasons, and half their life is spent in the darkness of night. For these people there is no time to lose—they are in a hurry to live their one day to the fullest. When it comes to relationships, the narrator notes, "when old age comes, whether in light or in dark, a person discovers that he knows no one. There hasn't been time." When time passes in one day, people's relationships are scattered and fragmented, and many people begin to doubt the validity of their own existence.

In 5 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams what does it mean to be "time-deaf"?

In this world people experience time at different speeds and therefore perceive the world in different ways. For everyone in this world time is more of "a sense, like sight or like taste." Some people debate whether time really exists outside human perception, and some are born without any sense of time at all. These people are referred to as "time-deaf," and "their sense of place becomes heightened to an excruciating degree." Yet they are unable to describe this sense of place; to do so they would need to be able to describe time. Here Lightman addresses the paradox of subjective time and posits that it cannot be understood without language to describe it.

What does the narrator mean by the phrase "such is the cost of immortality" in 9 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

Since this is a world in which people live forever, time is both a consequence and a reward. Time can be a consequence if there is no sense of urgency, but it can be a reward because it is limitless. Some in this world choose to take their time when it comes to falling in love or starting a family or job, and others attempt to pack in as much as they can. Yet everyone is burdened by their infinite history and lineage. They seek input from everyone in their family before making decisions. Parents ask their own parents for advice, and those parents ask their own parents, and on and on. People have an infinite number of resources. As a consequence projects and plans are rarely finished, and no one is free. The narrator implies this ongoing burden is "the cost of immortality."

In 10 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams what are the implications of measuring time as a quality rather than a quantity?

The narrator says time as a quality is "like the luminescence of the night above the trees just when a rising moon has touched the treeline." In this world time cannot be measured even though it still exists. Time is instead recorded according to colors, tones, and feelings. It has an intangible quality and can take on different textures and different scopes. The narrator also implies it is human nature to attempt to quantify time, but in this world those who try to do so are turned to stone. Here Lightman conveys the idea that if time can be qualitative, it can take on an even more subjective quality.

What is the consequence of living in a world with no future in 11 June 1905 of Einstein's Dreams?

In this world time "terminates" in the present, and therefore no one is able to imagine the future. As a consequence the narrator notes, "each parting of friends is a death ... each loneliness is final ... each laugh is the last laugh." In this world everyone tends to cling to the present moment because they fear its end. In addition people never see the consequences or results of their actions; this leads some to become gripped by inertia, afraid to do anything. Here Lightman emphasizes understanding the past and anticipating the future are key to living in the present—when people lack a sense or understanding of both, their present suffers greatly.

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