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Book Review: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Einstein's DreamsEinstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of the best fun I have had in recent years of reading came in the two hours it took me to read this (including frantic back-tracks and hop-skips). Time is the hero of this collection and comes veiled in every twisted garb we can conceive, or rather, that Einstein can dream up. Einstein in his mad canter towards discovering the most revolutionary idea in science tumbles right down an imaginary wonderland in this book.

What comes out of the recesses of Einstein’s brooding on the nature of time and its relation to our lives is a montage of dreams that stretch our imagination to its limits. Time goes backwards, becomes personal, loops in on itself, slows down and speeds up according to your speeds and even stops altogether in his various dreams. But in the process we also see our own natures reflected in these bizarre behaviors that Einstein (or rather Lightman) subjects our protagonist to.

While each of the ‘worlds’ are immensely entertaining and thought-provoking, the real crux of the book comes out in the interludes, which are the only times we meet the dreamer – Einstein. The book is an exploration of the twists and turns of the creative process, of the blind alleys and the arcane notions, the tomfoolery and the Baudelaire circus contortions that the creative imagination has to be twisted to before a coherent idea emerges.

Of the dreams, numbering around thirty, some are particularly imaginative while others are variations on earlier themes. At first I was disappointed to encounter these variations and slight modifications, until I realized that Einstein, the dreamer/thinker, has to revisit ideas and try these mutations before he can proceed with them or discard them. Some of the ideas had to be short, some elaborate, some gripping, some boring and some outlandishly silly.

But through it all, the constant feeling, almost magical, of being part of this evolution of thought and of peering into the wildest musings (even if imagined) that led to the conception of time as we know today makes the book a treasure to be revisited and indulged in at every opportunity.

Did I mention that I read the book three times today?

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Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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The Trippin’ Quantum Dance

The Dancing Wu Li MastersThe Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The happiest thought I take out of this book is the fact that science is no longer taking a direction opposite to that of religion, philosophy or spirituality – all the noblest endeavors of mankind were fundamentally tied together after all. It was just that we with our obsessive propensity to classify and divide had made the artificial boundaries.

The only complaint about the book is the fact that it goes into needless depth about the fundamental classical physics and then skims over the “new physics” to an extent. Also, Zukav seems to feel that repeating an idea or concept three times is the best way to convey it to the lay person.

Except for these peeves, it was magnificent to look at Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg etc not as scientists discussing theories and experiments but as philosophers arguing over the nature of reality and mysticism.

The reader has to keep in mind that this is by no means a very up to date book and Einstein and his contemporaries star in the narrative more than CERN or Hadrons or Higgs. But this does not take away the fact that the new theories, though radically departed from what was “new physics” at the time of publishing of this book, still corroborates his base arguments. That too in even more weirder and psychedelic ways.

The more I read in the realm of new physics, the more I am convinced that all truly fundamental scientific theories tend to follow a life cycle – rejection, ridicule, incredulity, acceptance, dogmatism, degeneration, overthrowal, and finally resurrection. This is the case with all true ideas – so it might be with our vedic and oriental philosophies too. The physics classes and laboratories of this century might have meditation lessons and yogic experiments…

Science might finally grow up enough to explain to lay people what only mystics and yogis could experience – we might finally evolve the language and the concepts to explain and understand the structure of the universe without experiencing it – we might know nirvana without feeling it. Is that an uplifting or depressing thought, I am not sure.

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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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