EINSTEIN’S DREAMS: PROLOGUE-MAY 4
In this series of entries, we see several of Einstein’s brainstorm scenarios regarding the nature of time. In each, he describes a particular hypothetical world, focusing on its perception of time, and then hypothesizes the consequences of each perception/paradigm.
The “nature” of time relates to the “perspective” of time, but these are not one in the same. He realizes throughout this series of brainstorms that the generally accepted nature of time has the power to change the way people live their lives, for better or for worse. Science, and therefore, Einstein himself, have the power to hypothesize theories that can change reality as we know it.
For instance, in Einstein’s first scenario, time “is a circle, bending back on itself,” people who cannot perceive this cyclical concept live in anxious misery, feeling that every action is final, every opportunity singular. Those who understand this cyclical nature of time are unconcerned with time passing, because it will always come back around again. One might compare this to the difference between a person who has absolute faith that there is a traditional heaven versus someone who doesn’t believe in any afterlife. The former will be unconcerned with time passing, as this only get him closer to this projected paradise, and if he believes that his good deeds will get him into heaven, he will act good for that purpose. One who believes in no afterlife can have multiple attitudes towards it: They can be terrified of the thought of eternal oblivion, or they can project the concept that without an afterlife, they will have no perception whatsoever of any sort of oblivion, and then might not worry about death. This relates to conceptual perception of time in that we live our lives differently based on beliefs about something we have no control over, and no way of knowing the absolute truth about. If time truly is a circle bending back on itself, people in this world live in the unaware state of it, as actions do seem final and absolutely consequential.
Some of his scenarios are more fantastical, such as the concept that time flows back into itself at certain junctures, creating time travelers who have the power to change the already-existing future by going back into the past and interacting with anything. He portrays these people as hiding in the shadows, stuck in the past and terrified to be seen for risk of affecting somebody’s actions and changing the whole future. This feels almost like a Philip K. Dick scenario, and shows that Einstein’s brainstorms could veer off into fantasy in the course of exploration of real truths.
An interesting one is the scenario in which scientists discover that we age slower the further away we are from the center of the earth. Science has been known to unearth new theories that change the way people live, and one must ponder the consequences such a “finding” would have. In this scenario, he explores the nature of human desire and the folly of certain types of elitism (it reminds me of the Beatles song “Fool On The Hill,” in which the rich man in the mansion on the hill sees the world from afar, satisfied with his elite status as the “lower status” people live happy, fulfilling lives below him.)
Other scenarios describe theories that are currently theorized by modern scientists, such as the “Sliding Doors” theory that parallel universes exist in which different decisions were made at difference junctures, resulting in different outcomes, and that all those worlds exist on different planes concurrently.
Others describe actual, real-life perceptions of time as we know it. The “mechanical clock vs body clock” is one that stands out— in our world we really do have two separate clocks, and individuals do focus on one or the other. Some live according to a strict, time-based schedule while others live according to their internal desires.
Same for the “time visible in all places” scenario. While his idea that everyone is perfectly content and comforted by time might not be universally true, the ubiquity of clocks in every public place and on every device is very much true. Our society is extremely time-based and “normal” people are expected to eat at certain hours, work at certain hours, wakeup and sleep at certain hours.
Overall, a very interesting set of concepts. I like that the fantastical is mixed in with the realistic scenarios, and we can see that our actual concept of time has much of the oddity that the more out-there scenarios have.
This feels like a very productive exercise for Einstein in the development of his theories.