Dreams Are Poems. Dreams Are Time Travel.

Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

In Alan Lightman’s first novel, Einstein’s Dreams, he imagines what Einstein may have been dreaming about in Bern, Switzerland before he published his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. I have had a fascination with Einstein ever since I was a teenager. I first came to him because he seemed connected to an earlier fascination with the possibility of time travel.

The 26-year-old Albert Einstein in the novel is in an unhappy marriage. He has a job as a patent clerk that he dislikes and that is far below his abilities. In his head are dreamscapes of theoretical realms of time. Alan Lightman describes the dreams which occur between April 14, 1905, and June 28, 1905.  Of course, all of it is pure imagination.  There is science in the imagined worlds. People’s lives are based on time being circular or flowing backward, or slowing down. The project Einstein was working on concerned electricity and magnetism, but the solution required a reconception of time. When the book opens, Einstein has finished with his new theory of time and, while he waits a few hours for a typist in his patent office, he thinks of his dreams.

To me, many of the dreams seem in their language very much like poems. That makes sense because dreams do seem poetic to me. At least, the dreams I remember and am able to record. If I take some of Einstein’s dreams and do some line breaks, they look and sound more like poems. Found poetry.
For example:

14 April 1905

time is a circle,
the world repeats
births, deaths, a glass falls and breaks,
all is repeated
and then again
nothing is temporary
or permanent.
Some people know
all this has happened before.
They walk the night streets
and cannot unbreak the glass,
prevent the death,
erase one unkind word.

16 April 1905

Time flows like a stream here
and when some rivulet
turns away and connects backstream,
it carries the people back.
Do you see them?
They are the fearful ones.
They know that any change they make
in the past,
will change the future.

Okay, let’s move from dreams and poem and on to that fact that I have wanted to build a time machine ever since I saw the movie version of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. I probably read the Classics Illustrated comics version before I read the novel. I had boxes of discarded electronics and machines in my basement that I had culled on garbage collection days. I loved playing with the gears, knobs, and circuit boards. I learned some things along the way, got some nasty shocks, and burned myself on my soldering iron, but I never did get a working time machine. Many years later, watching the movie E.T., I watched that alien build his communicator using kids’ toys in that same ridiculously easy way I had hoped would work.

I have read that Wells wrote his novel partially in response to Charles Darwin publishing his theory of evolution which was the big scientific news of the time. His novel can be seen as a story about evolution, as he tells how we will evolve in the future. It’s not a pretty, but a cautionary, tale.

Can we go back in time? Einstein was not much fun for time travel enthusiasts.  Though we might imagine going back in time and righting wrongs (small ones of our own or large historical ones), he pretty much concluded that if we were to travel back, we would be who we were and do what we had done again. It’s an infinite loop. It doesn’t make for a good story or film. (So much for Back to the Future.) We couldn’t go back before our birth because we didn’t exist.

Simplified, Einstein said that by traveling at the speed of light, you would force time to slow down, then to stop, and finally to go backward. Of course, even if we could go faster than the speed of light, none of us could survive the speedy journey. (Though Superman did in a film in order to save Lois Lane.) Special relativity states that your mass would become infinite in the process. Some proponents of time travel point out that Einstein’s equations for general relativity do allow some forms of time travel, but then we are into science that is not for this post.

If you do want to still pursue some time travel, check into the ten-dimensional hyperspace theory, wormholes, and dimensional windows.

Time travel is a risky business. Personally, I am not a fan of blasting into some other time and finding myself binding into some substance in the space which I or the machine now occupies.

Einstein also warned of paradoxes. Meeting your parents before you are born is a popular one.  (See the first Back to the Future film) But then, that couldn’t happen because you didn’t exist then. Of course, you could go back to when you were 15 and get killed in an accident. Then what? Paradox.

4th May 1905

Time passes
but little happens.
Year to year,
month to month,
day to day,
the passage of events
are the same.
If you have no ambitions
you are unaware of your suffering,
the ambitious ones
know and suffer
but very slowly.

8th May 1905

The world will end
on the 26th of September 1907.
Everyone knows it.
Schools close the year before.
Businesses close the month before.
People are surprisingly unafraid.
They think over their coffee that
now there is nothing to really fear.
On September 25th
there is laughter on the streets,
neighbors who never spoke
greet each other as friends.
We are all equal in the world of one day.
One minute before the end
everyone in Berne gathers together.
No one moves or speaks.
It is like leaping off a mountain.
They hold hands as the end approaches.
They are weightless,
cool air rushes by,
the whiteness
of snow fills their vision.

Read On:
The Time Machine
Einstein’s Dreams
Back to the Future – The Complete Trilogy
The Time Machine

The Full Moon Is There Even When It Is Not Here

The May 2023 Full Moon made its appearance on May 5. It did not appear to me in Paradelle because it was cloudy and rainy. But the Flower Moon was there and this weekend will be filled with flowers as the temperatures finally climb into the seventies. That was the second Full Moon of this spring and the second after the spring equinox. There was also a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse at the same time as the Full Moon. (Technically 9 minutes before its peak.)

The May Full Moon is in Scorpio. The predictions don’t sound very good for those who believe in such things. One source says, “Scorpio rules the eighth house of sex, death, and transformation as well as the reproductive and excretory systems and the sacral chakra. The focus here is on what is buried, and themes of rot and renewal, endings and beginnings…Scorpio is the patron sign of obsession (sorry, not sorry) and this eclipse points to patterns, compulsions, and behaviors that we repeat but reap no reward from. This eclipse wants you to cut that s–t out. Scorpio is about what we keep hidden from others so these obsessions, underlying energies, personal pains, and anxious attachments are for us to identify, expose, politely thank, and heartily cast out.”

As with all astronomical and celestial events, happenings in nature, and many very human events around us, things go unobserved. Our view of the stars and planets shirt. The sun rises in a slightly different place each morning. Trees, leaf out, bloom, and produce fruits and seeds during spring whether or not you take notes. People you don’t know die. People you know get depressed but for whatever reason you never noticed. People, nature and the universe doesn’t always announce themselves to us. You have to be observant.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on

Today is William Shakespeare’s birthday. probably.

He was baptized on April 26, 1564, and typically that was done after three days. There are few records of the pre-fame part of his life and he left behind no personal papers. That always seemed odd for a writer. Most of what we know, what has been written and what students are taught about him are based on public and court documents.

His father John was a glove maker and alderman. His mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William learned what he knew of Latin and Greek from his hometown’s well-respected grammar school.

The lack of hard facts has led to much inference and speculation. That slight education generated hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays. Did Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, or even Queen Elizabeth I, write the plays? No way.

He married the older, pregnant, Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that. Hamnet died at age 11. He began to write Hamlet soon afterward, but that play is hardly autobiographical.

When he moved to London around 1588, he might have been running from deer-poaching charges in Stratford, but for some reason, he started a career as an actor and a playwright. In six years, he would be a managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was a popular playwright and poet in his lifetime. In 1611, after 23 years in the theater, he retired to his home in Stratford-On-Avon.

He died on or around his birthday in 1616 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford. He is supposed to have written his epitaph with a thought to curse any graverobbers who were considering digging him up.

Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare
to dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man who spares these stones,
and cursed be he who moves my bones.

His 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems have stayed studied, read, and performed on stages and screens for all these years.

I really enjoyed the BBC series Upstart Crow which loves and mocks Shakespeare and makes comedy with a modern eye from the myths and theories and shortcomings of his writing and life.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. The TV series often points out words, phrases, and plots he borrowed from other writers. They poke fun at his overly complicated lines and the many coincidences he used for plots. Still, he made those words and phrases popular and put them into more common usage. Go ahead and brush up on your Shakespeare by throwing “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air” into your conversations.

Carol Kane and Sam Waterston in the 1974 Lincoln Center production of The TempestNew York Public Library Digital Collections

His final play, The Tempest (1610), is my favorite. It is often said to be his farewell to the theater and writing. The wizard Prospero’s soliloquy in the play seems to say that from his mention the “revels now are ended” to the “the great globe” – the name of the theater where it would be performed.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The first time I saw the play performed on a stage was in 1974 in New York City. I was in college, sitting with my girlfriend, both of us English majors, and the sea spray washed over us, and the ship wrecked onto the island, and the mast fell beside us in the aisle. Sam Waterson was Prospero, Christopher Walken was Antonio and Carol Kane was Miranda.

When Prospero in that final speech told the audience “… release me from my bands / with the help of your good hands” the audience interrupted him with a long ovation. But there were still some lines to finish:

Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Dark Sacred Night

This is International Dark Sky Week. It’s a good reminder to look up at the night sky and see the stars and planets – if you can see them.

Jared Flesher’s “Dark Sacred Night,” is a short (16 minutes) documentary about the rapidly increasing problem of light pollution. Dark skies are threatened or endangered depending on where you are on the planet. The award-winning documentary is now live for all to watch on YouTube.

Photo: Pexels.com

More than 80 percent of the world’s population, and 99 percent of Americans and Europeans, now live under light-polluted skies. Many people live and die without ever seeing the Milky Way. 

Princeton University astrophysicist Gaspar Bakos wants to change that. He is one of a growing number of experts championing simple, commonsense changes to outdoor lighting that can dramatically reduce light pollution. 

As Bakos teaches, light pollution is a problem that impacts far more than astronomical research and stargazers. New studies show that excessive amounts of outdoor lighting contribute to a range of human health problems, squander energy, and have a dramatic negative impact on wildlife, particularly birds and insects. 

Bakos’s approach is to promote change one streetlight at a time. Simple solutions to light pollution can be summed up in a few words: make lights dimmer, shield lights so they only shine downward, and use warm-colored lightbulbs. 

In Princeton, New Jersey, where Bakos lives and works, he dreams of a park set aside for dark sky viewing, where all surrounding lights are muted and properly shielded. By setting a good example, he hopes other communities will be inspired to do the same. 

Crossposted at Endangered NJ


Some simple cairns on a recent vacation

On a recent vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands, my friend Hugh built a few simple cairns to mark our space on the beach. I’m sure they were disassembled after a day or two. That is how it should be.

A cairn is a human-made pile of stones. It is impermanent. Sometimes a cairn is made to guide hikers by marking the trail or a turn in the trail or a mountain top. Many native peoples used stacks of rocks to mark water, food sources, land boundaries, hunting locations, or places of some importance. Stone mounds were sometimes made as monuments to mark a burial site or as memorials.

Looking at my vacation photos, I wondered about the word “cairn.” It comes from a Gaelic term meaning “heap of stones.” I have read that cairns date back to ancient times and are mentioned in the Bible. (Example Genesis 31:45-52)

Cairns can be built by one person but sometimes they grow by the contributions of people who add a rock as they pass the site.

Some people do cairns or more elaborate piles of stones as art. Michael Grab’s “balances” work because he uses what he calls “gravity glue” since the stones stay together without glue but use gravity. His rock piles are a meditative art.

That is not hard to understand since Buddhist writers describe the construction of a cairn as a form of worship. It can be seen as an effort to physically balance energies.

The ancients used them for pointing toward the setting sun for solstice celebrations. Cairns can also be a place and object of prayer and peace. I have made them when I walk a trail to mark a place I would stop or to mark a turn to a special place.

There is a simple beauty in a cairn. It connects us with people from the past. If you are looking for symbolic meaning in cairns, you can see it as representing balance, simplicity, spirituality, peace, prayer, patience, direction, priority, and sometimes just play.

A Neolithic burial cairn at Camster, Caithness, Scotland.

Cinematic Religion

I realized I was pretty tough yesterday on the 1956 film The Ten Commandments. Despite the datedness of the film by 2023 standards, it was a very big film at its release and had an effect on my thoughts about religion.

It is an epic religious drama Paramount film that was produced, directed, and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille. It was made for big screens, shot in VistaVision with color by Technicolor.

It is not based on the Bible, though it uses passages from it, especially the Book of Exodus. The screenplay used versions of the story found in the novels Prince of Egypt Pillar of Fire and On Eagle’s Wings. It is a dramatized version of the story of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who ultimately delivers the enslaved Hebrews.

Charlton Heston is Moses, Yul Brynner is the Pharoh Rameses, and there are plenty of other Hollywood stars playing these Middle Eastern figures.

This is actually Cecil B. DeMille remaking his silent film of the same name as a big-budget sound film. They filmed in Egypt and the Sinai. It had one of the biggest sets ever constructed for a motion picture, and thousands of players and crew.

At the time of its release, was the most expensive film ever made. It paid off grossing approximately $122.7 million at the box office during its initial release, making it the most successful film of 1956 and the second-highest-grossing film of the decade. According to Guinness World Records, in terms of theatrical exhibition, it is the eighth most successful film of all time when the box office gross is adjusted for inflation.

In 1957, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but only won Best Visual Effects.

I have still vivid memory of the scene where Moses’ staff becomes a cobra. I also recall my childhood confusion when Ramses’ priests are able to do the same “magic trick.” Of course, Moses’ snake satisfyingly devours the two others.

The most well-known scene in the film is when Moses parts the Red Sea. In its time, that was an awesome special effect. I have a much more powerful memory of that scene. My family was driving home from the Jersey Shore one summer night when I was very young and the film was playing at the Amboys drive-in which was close to the Garden State Parkway. You could always see the giant screen from your car. (Probably that caused a few accidents over the years.) As we passed, Moses parted the sea. Very impressive.

The Ten Commandments is broadcast at Passover in the United States on the ABC Television Network. Watching it again this year, I had many of the same feelings as when I saw it as a boy. So much cruelty by Ramses and by God. So many people die. These Bible stories made me doubt that this God was a good one. Certainly not a kind one.

As a child, I wondered how much of this story was true. Did God really allow Moses to turn the Nile River into blood? Enraged at the plagues, Rameses orders that all first-born male Hebrews will die. That seems believable. But God’s “cloud of death” instead kills all the first-born of Egypt, including the child of Rameses and Nefretiri. That, I doubted. Did the Red Sea part so the Hebrews could cross and escape Ramses soldiers? And did God drown all the soldiers who followed them across? So much death.

Paramount Pictures poster – Link