Despite its use of the famous name Einstein in the title, Einstein’s Dreams is less about the man himself than the possibilities within each of us for imagining time and existence. Albert Einstein appears irregularly in the book, twice in his job as a patent clerk, three times in interludes with his friend Besso, and occasionally as a violin-playing young man in some of the thirty dreams that make up the body of the novel.
Einstein’s Dreams is divided into thirty dated sketches that describe the experience of time, each of which represents a fictional dream of the young Albert Einstein. These dated sketches are introduced by a prologue which introduces Einstein, precisely timed at ten minutes past six late in June, 1905, when Einstein arrives at the patent office in Berne, Switzerland where he worked from 1902-1909. This will be the morning that he turns in his earth-shattering paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" (later known as the Special Theory of Relativity) to a typist so that it may be submitted as a paper to the Annalen der Physik. The book closes a few hours later, at eight o’clock, when the typist enters the office. In between are the thirty dreams and three interludes that predate the prologue and epilogue, as if Einstein had been dreaming, waking, working, writing, dreaming, waking, working, writing.
The novel itself, in other words, plays with time. Within the dreams lie commentaries on Newton’s concept of absolute time, the Special Theory of Relativity, and second law of thermodynamics, and the Christian conception of eternity.
Albert Einstein was born on 14 March 1879 in Ulm, Wurttemberg. He spent his early years in Munich where his father set up a small electrochemical business. As a boy he was fascinated by algebra and geometry, though he detested the barracks discipline of German schools. In 1896 he entered the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school in Zurich, graduating in 1900 and receiving his doctorate from Zurich in 1905. Unable to get an academic position, he took a post with the patent office in Berne while continuing to pursue his concern with the fundamental problems of physics.
In 1905 he published four brilliant papers in the Annalen der Physik which were to transform twentieth-century scientific thought. He established the special theory of relativity, predicted the equivalence of mass (m) and energy (e) according to the equation e=mc^2, where c represents the velocity of light; he created the theory of Brownian motion and founded the photon theory of light (photoelectric effect) for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1921. Einstein emigrated to the United States where he became a Professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies (Princeton) and an American citizen in 1940.
The year 1905 has been referred to as Einstein’s "miracle year," for in that year he published four papers on physics with the German Annalen der Physik that were to change the nature of scientific research and knowledge. He was only 26. The special theory of relativity was the subject of the third of these papers, published in June 1905. The title of the paper was "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies." Einstein wrote it in five or seven weeks, later recalling, "When the Special Theory of Relativity began to germinate in me, I was visited by all sorts of nervous conflicts... I used to go away for weeks in a state of confusion." Alan Lightman explains that Einstein’s special theory of relativity "proposed that distance and time are not absolute. The ticking rate of a clock depends on the motion of the observer of that clock." Measurements of time and distance vary, space and time are relative to observers, and only the speed of light remains constant at 186,000 miles per second.
Prologue Ten minutes past six in the morning, 29 June 1905
14 April 1905 Time is a circle; individual experience endlessly repeats itself
16 April 1905 Time is like a flow of water, sometimes moving backward
19 April 1905 Time has three dimensions; each act has three possible outcomes
24 April 1905 There are two times, mechanical and body
26 April 1905 Time flows more slowly the farther one is from the center of the earth
28 April 1905 Time is absolute, an infinite ruler
3 May 1905 Cause and effect are erratic; at times effect precedes cause
4 May 1905 Time passes, but little happens
Interlude Einstein and Besso, perhaps in April and May, but before June
8 May 1905 Time is captured in its last moments, the end of the world
10 May 1905 Those trapped in time are alone, and no one is happy
11 May 1905 The passage of time brings increasing order
14 May 1905 Time stands still
15 May 1905 There is no time; there are only images
20 May 1905 People have no memories
22 May 1905 The world is a world of changed plans, leaving many things incomplete
29 May 1905 Time passes slowly for people in motion, thus everything moves
Interlude Einstein and Besso, sometime before June
2 June 1905 Time flows backward
3 June 1905 People live just one day, but that day may be an eternity
5 June 1905 Time is a sense like taste
9 June 1905 People live forever, dividing into two populations: Laters and Nows
10 June 1905 Time cannot be measured; it is a quality
11 June 1905 There is no future; time is a line that terminates at the present
15 June 1905 Time is visible; one can step into the future or remain in the present
17 June 1905 Time is discontinuous, containing gaps and pauses
Interlude Einstein and Besso, before June 1905
18 June 1905 There is a Great Clock in the Temple of Time
20 June 1905 Time is local; clocks separated by distance tick at different rates
22 June 1905 Time is rigid; every action and thought is determined
25 June 1905 Time and event may be copied infinitely with different futures
27 June 1905 In a world of shifting pasts, the past may be firm or forgotten
28 June 1905 Time is a nightingale
Epilogue Six minutes past eight in the morning, 29 June 1905