What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Einstein’s Dreams
by Alan Lightman

Field-Tested by Andrew Huff

on a plane headed to New Orleans, Louisiana

It is June and the air wafting down the Marktgasse is heady with the perfume of flowers. A man tucks a copy of Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams into his carry-on bag and hails a taxi to the airport. As the 727 levels off at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet, the man takes the book out and reads about the many ways time could manifest in the world, imagined in the mind of Albert Einstein as he developed his theory of relativity.

The man reads about a world in which the passing of time brings increased order, and wishes his office were located there. He reads about a world in which time moves slower at higher altitudes, so people build homes on stilts high in the mountains so as to live longer. He daydreams of glimpsing the upraised homes peaking through the clouds, and fails to notice that time has sped up.

He wonders at the chaos of a world in which time is a local phenomenon, moving at a different tempo from one location to another. As the flight attendant refills his drink, he feels sympathy for the inhabitants of that world, unable to travel without falling out of synch with home. He imagines what he would do if he found himself in such a world when he landed.

The book is not long, so he is surprised when, just as he finishes the last passage, a flight attendant asks him to put his tray-table up in preparation for arrival. He worries that, perhaps, he is in that world, but his fears are relieved when he disembarks the plane and calls home to find everything in its right place — and time.

As the man waits for his luggage, he continues to muse about time, and decides to purchase another book for the flight home. It is a wise decision, for in this man's world, time passes faster when you read a book. It is not so different from our own.

Andrew Huff is editor and publisher of Gapers Block, a Chicago-centric webzine. He also writes at Me3dia.

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