Einstein's Dreams is a 1992 novel written by physicist and writer Alan Lightman. The novel is loosely based on Albert Einstein's time as a patent clerk as he is developing his theory of relativity in 1905. During his research, he is troubled by dreams of worlds who are similar to our own but are governed by radically different laws of time. For example, in one chapter he dreams of a world where time flows backwards instead of forwards. In another, a world where cause and effect are erratic, where sometimes cause precedes effect and effect precedes cause. A world where time doesn't exist. A world where time stops when someone catches a nightingale. A world where the past is constantly shifting and events disappear and reappear at will. And so on.
The novel features 30 or so chapters describing a world who's laws of time function differently to our own, with a prologue, three interludes, and an epilogue. These interludes take a break from the Mind Screw chapters and shift the focus to Einstein as he talks with
This book provides examples of:
- Alternate Timeline: In "19 April 1905," the chapter describes a world in which every decision creates three alternate timelines. In this chapter, a man contemplates whether or not he should visit a woman in Fribourg. This decision causes three other worlds to be created; one where he decides not to visit her and falls in love with another woman, one where he does visit the woman and ends up in an abusive relationship with her, and one where he visits her but fails to fall in love.
- Anachronism Stew: A couple examples in the book:
- "10 May 1905" portrays a universe where time is "sticky." Places, people, and objects get permanently stuck at certain points in time. This chapter describes a town whose neighborhoods have been divided based on the period of time they're stuck in. One is stuck in the fifteenth century, another in the eighteenth century, and one manages to stay in the present.
- In "20 June 1905," time flows differently depending on where you are on Earth. What might take a second in one town would take an hour in another. This causes towns to become isolated from one another, and over the years develop radically different cultures and technologies. One town would've invented cars while another still rides in horse and carriage.
- Butterfly of Doom: In "16 April 1905," people and objects sometimes get accidentally sent back in time. These time travelers tend to be extremely paranoid about each and every little thing they do, because any slight difference they cause could utterly change the future. Obviously, these people are anxious to get sent back into the future, as they cannot act freely without destroying the future.
- Cozy Catastrophe: In "8 May 1905," the world ends on September 26th, 1907, and everyone knows about this. Nobody is saddened or distressed by this. Instead, as the end approaches, people take the time to be happy and make peace with each other. It's oddly comforting for an end of the world story, especially considering how depressing every other story tends to be.
- Downer Ending: A surprising amount of these stories leave on a dour note, such a man desperately trying to get in contact with his mother, but they are stuck in two different periods of time. Or a couple, in an attempt to stay together forever, enter a place where time stands still, only to leave it realizing that lifetimes have passed and they can no longer love each other in this new world. Even the book itself ends on one."Einstein walks back to his desk, sits down for a moment, and returns to the window. He feels empty. He has no interest in reviewing patents of talking to Besso or thinking of physics. He feels empty, and he stares without interest at the tiny black speck and the Alps."
- Eternal Recurrence: The world in "14 April 1905" is in a time loop. Every action that has ever occurred has already happened millions of times over. The citizens of this world are only vaguely aware of this phenomenon, as they constantly sense they're fated to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
- For Want of a Nail: A time traveler in "16 April 1905" walks without kicking up any dust, because if she did, some of that dust might land on Peter Klausen, who dislikes having dirty clothes and will take the time to dust it off, which could cause him to miss the appointment to the apothecary, which means he wouldn't have gotten any ointment for his wife's bad leg, and because of that, she would decide not to go to Lake Geneva and happen to meet a certain lady, who would introduce their daughter to her son, and because the daughter and son would never meet, they would never marry, and their great-grandson Hans Klausen wouldn't have existed and without Hans the European Union of 1979 would never happen, all because one guy hates having dirty clothes.
- Time Dissonance:
- Time Stands Still: There are a few examples of this:
- In "June 17 1905," time just stops randomly, although its for less than a second and nobody notices this time stop.
- In "June 28 1905," one is able to stop time if they catch a nightingale, as they are somehow connected to time itself.
- Unusual Chapter Numbers: Each chapter has a date associated with it, as each chapter is a dream that Einstein had on that day.
- Year Outside, Hour Inside: "14 May 1905" has an area on Earth where time moves so slowly that it's practically frozen. Parents who wish to never see their children grow old or lovers who wish to embrace for eternity come to this location to stay together forever. However, when some come out of this place, they realize that centuries have passed since they entered and the world they were once familiar with is now long dead, along with any friends or family they've had.