Friday, June 14

who and when?

various friends and strangers have been recommending Einstein's Dreams to me for what seems a very long time, but may actually have only been one year. it looks like I added it to my 'to-read' list in June of last year. I finished it Tuesday evening. the whole book is like the most delightful vacation you ever found yourself enjoying. new places and sights like postcards, bite size and almost (but not really, because there is the next place and the next) over too soon. two of its chapters attached themselves most stickily to my brain, particularly because of the people they remind me of.
each section (other than the interludes about Einstein himself) begins with a date. they're all short and easy and blatantly thought-provoking.

3 May 1905 presents us first with the line "Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic."

anyone who has listened over the past six months to my mopey confusion concerning feelings and their causes can probably see why I smiled so readily at this chapter. it reminds me of me. and while the completely untamable chaos it describes may not make the happiest or most comfortable of stories, such a universe would certainly be interesting, wouldn't it? there would always be something new and unexpected. or maybe we would not be able to be properly interested, exactly. maybe it would be too horrifying, too unsettling, to not know how your actions might affect the future.

or maybe we wouldn't treat the world very differently at all. connections would be found, or forced. superstition would paint patterns for us between all the broken bits of occurrence. we would infer clear causes no matter how randomly events might proceed. part of me suspects that we do this already. how do we know there is any thoroughly consistent order in what we seem to accept as our reality? the complexity of causality (emotional, biological, chemical, or of whichever system) will always be beyond us, but we will pretend to understand it anyway. maybe.

I especially love the closing trio of sentences at the end of the not-quite-four-page dream of 3 May 1905:
"It is a world of impulse. It is a world of sincerity. It is a world in which every word spoken speaks just to that moment, every glance giving has only one meaning, each touch has no past or no future, each kiss is a kiss of immediacy."
such narrowly pinned-down yet utterly uncontextualized spontaneity might be a thing I dream about, too. to have moments of immediate, crystal clear sincerity? to create words of perfect, timeless meaning? yes please.

the other section I felt especially drawn to was 9 June 1905, which presents for the reader an immortal world. "Suppose that people live forever," we are instructed. this is just one of dozens of dreams of versions of time. in another, people live for one very long day. in another, they live backwards from age to infancy. in this one of 9 June, where people live forever, there are two kinds of people: the Laters, in no hurry at all, and the Nows, who waste no time doing whatever they feel like doing or learning or saying or changing or working on. I wonder which kind I would be.

the person this chapter reminds me of often says that having endless life would take away the value of everything we do or have or are. he finds immortality a terrifying and awful prospect. it's because we will all expire someday (hopefully not soon, but someday) that our choices now mean anything to us.

we don't get to choose any of Einstein's dreams to live in. here, time for us works a certain way, at least so far. life doesn't last forever, so our fears and dreams and goals and mistakes all have to fit within a certain unknown chunk of time. finding value in that limitation makes sense, right? limits are possibilities. the Nows would probably say so. just because there are infinite tomorrows doesn't mean you should leave today empty. if time doesn't give you a deadline, give yourself one.

and the Laters... they might also agree. with limitless time, possibilities get lost, or shrink into imperceptible specks. how is anyone to find motivation in such endlessness? we need to draw lines around stuff and create order, it seems. but, the Laters might be quick to point out, limits are also responsibilities. they create pressure. as mortals we must choose carefully, for this moment is one of only so many. our impending deaths and the impending deaths of everyone else force us to consider plans, causes, effects, futures and costs. waste no time. you only get so much.

you can fail. you probably will. someday you will run out of everything.


Janeheiress said...

I did a class project on this book when I was 18. I have a feeling it would be totally different to read now. Thankfully, I still have it!

amelia chesley said...

you should blog about it too! :)
I could actually see myself owning this book... it's so short and lovely and great.