Einstein’s Dreams

Reading through Einstein’s Dreams, I found myself repeatedly identifying with the inhabitants of the many different worlds described, where time supposedly behaves differently than it does in ours. In my own experience, sometimes time moves fitfully; sometimes it seems to stop or speed up; occasionally it feels terrifyingly that it moves in reverse, and deja vu is nothing if not the uncanny certainty that time is circular. More than literal temporal perception or the possibilities of time under different laws of physics, Einstein’s Dreams addresses the many functions of time in human lives in this world, and how our emotional experiences interact with, and are affected by, time.

We construct time in our lives through memory, and it’s this interplay between moment and memory at the heart of the most affecting stories here. The dream of June 15, 1905 might have hit me the hardest of all – the world where you can move through time as though it were another dimension of space. But (brutally) apparently only forward, at a fast or slow pace. The dreamer posits two scenarios – one where a person clings to the present, frightened of the future, as his friends walk past him, and another, where a young woman, traumatized by the present, rockets into old age to get away from her fighting parents. I have been both of these people, and perhaps I still am, in different aspects of my life.

If there’s one thread that ties all of the stories together, it’s the uneasy relationship that humans have with time – the obsessive desire to capture it when it suits you, to grow younger, to have more of it (but only the time that brings you what you want). These stories posit time as a slippery thing, which can never be contained, and the inhabitants of these strange worlds seem happy or unhappy in proportion to how well they’ve adapted to how it works in their world.

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