Dreams Are Poems. Dreams Are Time Travel.

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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

Spring or No Spring, Move Ahead

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Whether or not it looks and feels like spring in your neighborhood, your clock springs ahead once again this weekend.

Just last March 2022, the United States Senate voted to abolish daylight saving time. But that legislation stalled. Should we set one standard time and stick to it? Sleep researchers recommend we stay on standard time rather than daylight saving time since standard time is more aligned with our internal clocks.

Set your clock ahead early today, then go to bed your normal time.

I have never noticed any major changes in myself mentally or physically when we change the clocks but I am not a fan of waking up in the dark.

Perpetual Tea Time

Time is a cruel master, said Alice’s mother.
No, Time is a thief and a villain, Alice replied.
Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll was quite interested in thinking about time. In Wonderland, tea time is six o’clock in the evening. Unfortunately, time has stopped in Wonderland, so it is perpetually six o’clock, perpetually tea time.

Alice changes her mind about many things in the books, including time. She tells Time (who is a character), “I used to think time was a thief. But you give before you take. Time is a gift. Every minute. Every second.”

The Mad Hatter explains that Time is a “him,” not an “it.” He tells Alice that Time has been upset because the Queen of Hearts said that he was “murdering time” while he performed a song badly. That is when he fixed the time at six o’clock.

Time is rather whimsical and impulsive. Hatter says that “Suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!”

Time with Chronosphere (Sacha Baron Cohen)

Filmmakers who have adapted the books have played with time in their interpretations of Alice’s adventures. In Alice Through the Looking Glass, Time lives in a castle of eternity. He has one human hand and one mechanical hand and possesses the Chronosphere, a glowing, spinning, metallic sphere inside the chamber of the Grand Clock that powers all time. If you were to take the Chronosphere, you could travel the Ocean of Time to the past. When it was taken, Time weakened and was dying. Alice and the Mad Hatter returned the Chronosphere to its proper place and Time was resurrected.

Alice once asked the Hatter, “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers. “
“If you knew Time as well as I do,” said the Hatter, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.”

Poor White Rabbit with his clock is a modern person worn down by the relentless pressure of time.

Head and shoulders drawing of a girl (Alice) holding a key
Lewis Carroll’s own drawing of Alice Link

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is about a child struggling to survive in the confusing world of adults. Alice is open-minded, as are most children, but she learns – and it is rather sad – that adults need rules to live by.

In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Alice climbs through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it. Everything there is reversed – a reflection. Logic is reversed, so, for example, running helps one remain stationary. Time runs backward. Chessmen are alive, and nursery rhyme characters exist.

It is also about being curious, taking chances, and maybe even falling down a rabbit hole. Or looking closely in the mirror, because it is also about what Caterpillar asks Alice to answer for herself. Who in the world am I?

Mark Twain said “the stillest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met” was Lewis Carroll, who was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Daresbury, England in 1832. He went to Oxford, was gifted at math, graduated with honors, and stayed at the college as a teacher for the rest of his life. He didn’t really like teaching, but it earned him a living, and he thought of it as a temporary endeavor while he worked on becoming famous as an artist of some sort.

He wrote poems and short stories and took photographs. One day in 1856, he took three little girls, Ina, Edith, and Alice on a boating trip and told them a story that would become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was published in 1865. Six years later, he published its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Self-portrait taken when he was 24 years old

Not Measuring the Days, Weeks, Months and Years

This year I got one of those birthday cards that has a little almanac of things that happened the year you were born. It’s a silly thing to read since I don’t recall any of those things. R.E.M. (not the band) was discovered. That totally went past me in my crib. The U.S. and North Korea signed an armistice ending the Korean War. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain was crowned. I was much more interested in eating, sleeping, and pooping.

This card also told me that on that day “You have been on the planet for 25,185 days.” That is a bit overwhelming. That’s a lot of wake-ups and I don’t feel like I have accomplished enough.

I converted that to 3,588 weeks but it still sounds like I must have wasted a lot of weeks doing nothing much. For example, I basically did no writing at all during the first 260 weeks. That’s enough time to write a novel.

But I like that it was 828 months. That seems a more reasonable number. Of course, in years it is an even smaller number, but I have never been very concerned with the years. At times, I have even told someone my age in the wrong number of years (though it’s an error factor of + or – one).

Even better is thinking that I have made it through 276 seasons. Like the planet, I have tilted a bit every year. The Sun keeps seeming to move even though I know it is not really moving at all. As I started writing this, it was shining through the patio doors right on my lap. The Sun will be setting when this post is sent out into the universe. I’ll be outside cleaning up the last of the garden and turning the soil with some compost and leaves and thinking about next spring. That is 108 days away or only 15 more weeks – and just one season away.

A very nice engraving showing the Earth’s progression round the sun source

Playing With Time


Do you enjoy the game of turning the clocks back before bedtime and getting an “extra hour” of sleep as Daylight Savings Time (DST) ends? According to my Fitbit, I actually got less sleep last night than usual.

There is not much more to say about Daylight Savings Time that I haven’t already said, so read up if you missed those earlier posts. But this month, I have heard more squawking about DST than in past years. I saw that there are actually items on ballots for this week’s elections about getting rid of DST in some states. Congress would need to act to allow states to change since federal law doesn’t permit it. Only two states don’t observe DST – Hawaii and Arizona (though the Navajo Nation, which cuts through part of Arizona, does).

Moving ahead with clocks in spring is the game that seems to cause more problems psychologically and physiologically with people and their internal clocks. Honestly, I’ve never really felt any effect with the spring or fall changes. Maybe my internal clock is already screwed up.

What would it be like if we didn’t change our clocks twice a year?

If we were on Standard Time all year – which is what is most often proposed – we would probably notice it most during the summer. Without summertime DST, on the longest day of the year (June 21), the sun would rise at 4:11 a.m. and would set at 8:10 p.m. That’s early sunlight through your bedroom window. You might get nostalgic with those old DST later sunsets during summer.

What if we were on Daylight Saving Time year-round? You would notice it more during the winter months. On the shortest day of the year (December 21), the sun wouldn’t rise until 8:54 a.m. and would set at 5:20 p.m.

Time Flies

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What is the most commonly used noun in the English language? I read that it is “time.”

Time is always on our minds. We try our best to control it, but we know that it advances so matter what we do or don’t do.

I can’t really remember what my concept of time was as a child. I know that I wasn’t as concerned about it as I am now in my 60s. Time didn’t move slower or faster but I think I remember thinking I had all the time I would ever need.

As an adult, I have even studied time, from quantum mechanics to time travel fiction. I know that we can’t slow down or speed up time. Well, I guess Einstein would say we can kind of do that if we can travel very, very fast. Albert did not actually say this (but it is often attributed to him) “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours you think it’s only a minute, but when you sit on a hot stove for a minute you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” It is true that time seems to slow down when we’re bored. It seems to speed up when we’re enjoying ourselves. And it seems to speed up when as you get older even if you’re not enjoying yourself.

Without getting into anything at a quantum level, I think we all agree that Time is relative.

Someone wrote a book about this feeling that time flies. It’s called Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation.