This happens to be one of my favorite books, so I read the entire thing all over again, happily. Alan Lightman takes notes from Einstein’s journals and weaves them into neat little stories about time and human existence. It’s a beautiful way to learn about metaphysical theories through the context of a novel. Each entry begins with a different conceptual concept of the passage of time, some even beginning with the common knowledge of the world ending very soon and so money slowly loses its value but people end up paying for their last drinks anyway.
The idea of time being a sense similar to that of touch, taste, sight, etc. is very interesting to me. Lightman talks about the “time-deaf” in the June 5th entry. This has always enlightened me, as I studied Philosophy during undergrad. He talks about how philosophers sit around at cafe’s, pondering about whether time could exist outside the realms of human perception. I’ve had many of these conversations myself. “Some few people are born without any sense of time. As a concequence, thier sense of place becomes heightened to excruciating degree” (p. 90) I agree, some people do have a better “sense” of time, and we do, in fact, use the terminology “sense of time” which implies the notion of time being something that is inherently felt by the subject. The time deaf can only “tell time” through clear observable changes. I happen to be a person who doesn’t have a good grasp on the passage of time throughout my life. Often, I forget when things happened in time unless there is a clear indicator, an image in my mind’s eye of my surroundings, or even more so, smells that identify that point in time.
At times, the book can be very melancholy. The narrative Lightman creates of lovers missing chances they could have had if only they met one minute later or of loves lost forever in death or an estranged child knocking on the door of his mothers house who does not answer — all hints at Einstein’s notion of separate universes existing all at once but one millisecond of time apart in time. The theory of events happening one after the other but also preceding one another speaks to a world in which free will is an illusion. Actions that occur in time exist in a world where the current event has already happened in another dimension but hasn’t happened yet in another. This is where the idea of a deja vu comes from according to Einstein. It is a glitch in the universe where two events happen at once that we’re supposed to happen either milliseconds before or after in another dimension.
In a way, each entry could represent the way one person feels in their body about time and space. The illusion of time could be different for all of us in the same way we can never truly know if the green I see is the green you see. This novel definitely leaves its reader thinking about the way time is stored in their own body and what it means to exist in a world where people understand time as a reality that exists around but also, possibly, because of them.