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Einstein's Dreams | Quotes


She is terrified ... she will kick up dust, ... as a Peter Klausen [makes] his way to the apothecary.

Narrator, 16 April 1905

This image of a woman creeping in and huddling in the dark illustrates the terror with which people in this dream world feel over the possibility of altering the past in a way that will affect the future. Peter Klausen will go on to have a descendent who helps form the European Union, which the woman knows is essential to the future.


Time struggles forward with a weight on its back when ... rushing an injured child to the hospital.

Narrator, 24 April 1905

People experience time as "body time" in contrast to "mechanical time." Whereas mechanical time is rigid and fixed, body time is more connected to individual sensations, moods, and rhythms. This image depicts the way in which time can seem to drag unbearably when in a moment of crisis.


While people can be doubted, time cannot be doubted.

Narrator, 28 April 1905

This dream world is concerned with time and people being predictable or unpredictable. Here time is an absolute, and for many people that is a consolation that inspires near-religious reverence. This is because people can be unpredictable, moody, and hard to believe. Yet in this world time is indifferent and solid, it can be quantified and therefore cannot be doubted in the same way as people.


Einstein ... explain[s] to ... Besso why he wants to know time. But he says nothing of his dreams.

Narrator, Interlude

This Interlude depicts "real life" outside of Einstein's dream worlds, and offers a rare glimpse into Einstein's relationships with his friends and family. The reader is aware of how rich and vast Einstein's dreams are, and so it is of significance that Einstein chooses to hide this aspect of himself from his best friend. It is something he keeps hidden because he doubts himself or does not know how to articulate it.


So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and do not get free.

Narrator, 10 May 1905

In this dream world time is sticky, and portions of it become stuck in a particular moment of history. This also means that people become stuck in their own history as well. Here Lightman offers a comment on the way people's perception of time can alter their relationship with the way the past influences their present.


Order is the law of nature, the universal trend, the cosmic direction.

Narrator, 11 May 1905

In this dream world the future becomes more orderly as time marches on. Time is organized to increase in its orderliness, and here Lightman shows how humans are powerless to control "the law of nature" in this way. Ultimately people try to rebel against it but are powerless to its force.


Who would fare better in this world of fitful time?

Narrator, 22 May 1905

The narrator asks the question of a world in which people can glimpse their own futures. He wonders if people who have seen the future would fare better since they know the life they will lead. Or perhaps those who have not seen their future will fare better since they must wait to see what happens and be surprised.


Philosophers sit in cafes on Amthausgasse and argue whether time really exists outside human perception.

Narrator, 5 June 1905

Time only exists as a sense in this world, and so each individual's observation of time is different. It's significant that philosophers would debate whether time really exists since there is no way to prove or perceive another individual's unique perception. If time cannot be measured it's difficult to quantify how it can be perceived.


Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free.

Narrator, 9 June 1905

Here the narrator presents a paradox about immortality. Though one might assume that to be immortal would be the ultimate freedom, the cost the narrator is depicting here is one in which everyone is bound to their ancestors, and since everyone is still alive their accomplishments are diminished. Things are also rarely completed since there is no sense of urgency.


In this world, time is a line that terminates at the present, both in reality and in the mind.

Narrator, 11 June 1905

The implications of this world are hard for the reader to grasp since in our ordinary world we have sense of the past, present, and future. Yet the consequence that the narrator offers here is one in which living in the present is filled with dread, since every parting seems like the final parting, and every loneliness feels permanent. The past and the future are necessary to give the present meaning.

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