I thoroughly enjoyed my assigned section of Einstein's Dreams. Einstein is one of those individuals that can be credited with popularizing science and physics. Although I imagine most people couldn't tell you what his general theory of relativity is, what it means, or what the equation E = mc^2 actually means, the important part is that they've heard of it. I remember some years back reading a book, ironically enough called E=mc^2 : A biography of the world's most famous equation. It was a fascinating and simplified explanation of Einstein's life and the events that led up to formulation of his theory. It covered the important discoveries of the physicists and thinkers that came before him and how his own work expanded upon theirs.
The thing I enjoyed most about the book was that it managed to explain the complex topics necessary to grasp his work in such a way that you didn't feel like an idiot for not understanding it in the first place. It's this same tone that I enjoy about Einstein's Dreams. Without treating the reader like a child, it manages to explore complex philosophical and existential questions without constantly inquiring "does that make sense"? Perhaps my favourite section is the one in which we're told the story of a peach, and an old woman, but in reverse. Without asking the reader to consider time as something that only moves forward, we're allowed to relate to it from an objective standpoint, utilizing a narrative that begins at the end and ends at the beginning. I couldn't help but ask myself if time is indeed linear, or if it is categorized in a linear fashion as a sequential series of cause-and-effect related events.
In the section that begins 3 June 1905, he posits the meaning of life in relation to time. "Time is too precious. A life is a moment in a season." The author raises the question of our significance in the universe, how our experience of life, no matter how many years it spans, is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things. He ends the entry by questioning the very existence of the past, where it "resides", and whether or not is a construct that lives in human memory alone. One can't deny the existence of past events, or then again maybe one can, that's a question for another day - I'll point simply to the annual rings of a tree; inedelible marks that can't be erased or altered, unlike human history that is written, and rewritten, by those with the authority to do so, regardless of whether or not is was a position they earned or took by force.
There's a lot I could say about each and every one of these entries, but I'll end with a personal insight into the entry that begins 11 June 1905. I feel that most of the people I've chosen to surround myself are the type of people that ask questions about life - both there own and life in general. As an atheist I don't subscribe to an idea of purpose. It places me in a position such that I've come to accept that for some questions there are no answers, or rather it's likely they can never be answered. I've come to realise that the act of accepting that there are some things we will never know is as important as the search for the things we might.
I was particularly moved by the thought experiment involving the existence of only two types of people in a world in which there is no future.
"A person who cannot imagine the future is a person who cannot contemplate the results of his actions. Some are thus paralyzed into inaction .... Others leap out of bed in the morning, unconcerned that each action leads to nothingness, unconcerned that they cannot plan out their lives."
I think this idea echoes much the same way most people today live their lives. I think the greater truth is that both of these people reside in all of us, and that life is a constant battle to reconcile the two. This led me to thoughts about death, or more specifically near-death experiences. Though I've never experienced one, I can't help but feel an experience such as that provides perspective, a type of clarity. It allows a person to step out of themselves and make an objective assessment of what side of the scale they've been leaning towards. Perhaps someone who's never taken risks realises how much they've been missing out, and someone else who lives without consequence begins to see the consequences of that choice. All in all, we'd all be better off spending a bit more time thinking about our own place in the universe, and just how insignificant it is. There's something liberating in that idea, but to most it represents something terrifying.