Review: Einstein’s Dreams

More summer reading I hoped to adapt for my games. This book however was not very useful or good.

Einstein’s Dreams

By Alan Lightman

This novel consists of a collection of idea stories about time contained within an overarching story about Einstein’s struggle to work out his theory of time in 1905. The premise is that these visions are the dreams he has during the spring and early summer of that year.

The stories describe worlds where time works differently than our own. Earths where time runs backwards, where people can move through time, with branching time, and so forth.

So far so good.

This book fails to consideration of consequences of these variant laws of time, both the prosaic concerns and interesting twists. As an example, the author casually equates slowing the earth’s rotation to equal a human lifetime with speeding up humanity’s perception of time so that a life passes in a day. However the first would lead to a planet alternatingly blasted and frozen by the its exposure (or lack thereof) by the sun. The second idea leads to interesting situations like the experience of subjective months passing while the bath water warms up. Instead the author simply looks at the experience of living half of one’s life in the dark verse the light.

It’s not just hard science that the author disregards in these stories. In a world where humans have no sense of the future, he proposes a class of people paralyzed by choice. But how can someone be paralyzed by choice if they can’t weigh the value of one choice relative to the other. If I have two buttons and I don’t know what either will do (and how could I? There is no subjective future) why are am I going to agonize over the decision. That requires at least some thought to what comes next. Which invalidates the premise. More practically a character in that story has a pastry. But in a world where people can’t think of the future how do things get baked? I guess we can lump basic cooking into ideas ignored by the author.


I wanted a book of interesting ideas for use in time travel games. Instead I got a grab bag of unexamined poorly thought out concepts. I was left with the impression I could write something better. Maybe I should.