'eb ot ton ro eb oT' -eraespekahS mailliW
by Larry Zeller
Death does not exist but for the moment of our birth. The record of Einstein's June 2, 1905 romp with REM, which at first appears to represent the premonition of death as life flashes before his eye (lids), is instead a fantasy focused solely on life. In Alan Lightmanıs Einsteinıs Dreams each death is a birth which allows life to be fully realized. While taken from this view the dream is nostalgic. A world of discovery seems to await the sleeper. 'His thoughts quickly shiftı to a time of his youth where trial runs to conclusion.
A man dismisses a comrade's death for the life that is about to begin. The woman passes through her life and captures its fondest moments. And yes, even our fruit is gifted with the super-vegetal powers of reverse-peristalsis - never to be eaten, it serves as testament to the strength of perseverance. Unfortunately, even the rosiest picture of time has its dark side. Lightman has missed his chance to turn this sequence into the nightmare it represents. I am left not with a feeling of warmth when only grace is discussed. Instead, my hackles rise at the exclusion of immorality or vice - human history has lows and highs - and I feel misled by his interpretation.
There are no consequences to the actions in this dream. The scientist stands for his laureate without the consideration of the death and strain his ideas have placed upon the world. The Cold-War, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and John Wayne's lung cancer are forgotten out of hand. I worry that the fine fellow at the cemetery is standing before a grave of his own construction and a body bereft of light by his own wicked hands. Our woman's husband poisoned by her gourmet of arsenic because her life is to be filled with false laughter and yards upon yards of miss-stitched yarn. The peach never fulfills its goal of tree and bough.
Today it's death and taxes, but for Lightman and his characters every action is inevitable. This depressing melange is filled with potential heartache, as each action never quite meets the expectations that memory and time have heightened and obscured. The scientist recalls fondly a youth 'unknown and unafraid to make mistakes' but forgets that same confused and stunted young man who will be insecure and socially inept. The man 'waits longingly' for a moment in time that when reached may be nothing more than a storm that kept him from playing ball. Were the woman's husband's final words, 'Rosebud'? Perhaps her students pelted her with paper airplanes and improper epithets. Lastly, the peach for its part has forgotten the sting of the hummingbird's sharp beak.
I have made a run on life as much as anyone has. It has been a path shoveled with sorrows and sewed with happiness. I try not to forget the miscues and bull's eyes thrown. While I try to learn from these experiences, I also enjoy the open unpaved road ahead of me. You see, I prefer to allow time to heal my wounds instead of rushing them toward me at light-speed.
Lightman, Alan. Einsteinıs Dreams. New York: Warner Books Edition, 1994.
Reflections on Einstein's Dreams
To contemplate existence in a reverse path of the current reality leaves no limits to the imagination. If indeed, it were in any way possible to see our universe with some sense of premonition, as is apparent by the sense of anticipation described in Einsteinís Dreams, the prospect forces a stunning departure from that which we have become accustomed. To see the elderly, growing slowly straighter, stronger, and returning to their youth would be a wondrous dream. No doubt, those in poor health currently would revel to see themselves in that new universe. However, there is unfortunately another side to the situationódiscussion of the reversal of "bad" also leads one to wonder regarding the consequences of the reversal of "good."
Imagine briefly the physiological processes of our current birth, growth, maturation, degeneration, and death. To take these processes in a reverse order would lead to the same end, nothingness, but would accomplish it via a nefarious destruction of what we currently hold sacred. Conventional birth and the mother would be seen not as giver of life, but rather as taker. Death would not be an enemy, but a welcome friend. Is that a preferable universe? This contemplation assumes much thoughónot the least of which that there could be some present "consciousness" before the new beginning of death. Even that prospect alone would lead to more reverse riddles; consider for a moment what the concept of "life after death" would mean in the reverse universe.
Further, it must be considered that to some extent, the present cycle of birth and death is not a linear path, but rather a circular course. We begin the world helpless; we survive on instinct and the help of others alone. As we mature, we become more independent, educated, and most importantly, self reliant. And yet, as we age, the knowledge of previous years becomes less and less relevant for the daily tasks of life. For the truly unfortunateódementia sufferersóage brings forgetfulness of their previous lessons, family and friends. All become less able to care for themselves. With few exceptions, the elderly become dependent again on outside help. Sadly, (unless subjected to accidental early demise) we all ultimately die when either our bodies have betrayed us or when the pains of life are no longer worth suffering. Reviewed philosophically, a reverse path and most importantlyóits outcomeóis no different from the current life cycle.
There is much to contemplate in life, and occasionally much to regret. Hopefully, there are also memories to take joy in remembering, and experiences to be proud of. Ultimately, there is the same conclusion:uncertain evolution after the cessation of the present struggle. To take the moment one second at a time, to thrill in either success or hopefully recover from the failures is the important approach. Otherwise, we remain trapped in the false hope of going backwards,a prospect that while interesting to contemplate, remains an experience only possible in dreams.
Fall í98, 20th C. Writers
Reflections on Einsteinís Dreams
Imagine a world where everything has happened before. It may have transpired in that previous moment with slightly different details, but it was nevertheless similar. Everything. In the universities, similar students have attended the same class. The same homework has been already. Details change, but nothing is fundamentally new. All will happen again. In this world, there can be minor diversion from the past, but the fundamentals remain the same. There can be no release from the cycle. In the city park, people walk hand in hand with their lovers, children, family, enjoying the last few breaths of summer. They hurry to catch the remaining sunrays before the approaching gloomy winter, not thinking that this has happened here before. They look forward to spring. Last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before thatÖ The same worries, the same smiles, the same time.
This is our world of repeating life cycles, repeating seasons and repeating family units, but altogether remaining the same. We cannot relive our own existences, but it is certain that someone will live a similar one. No doubt, the details of new lives will be differentóbut will also remain the same. Certainly, one family will have one child, yet another three or four, and perhaps yet another family will be childless. One child will learn to build airplanes, another will excel in mathematics. One girl will become a writer. Another will go into the business world. One child will eventually fail and become destitute and hungry. There still remain infinite themes to allow their placement within a list of already existing categories. Strolling through the park, struggling with the moments of time. We will live again, in the breath of another person, in the smile of another child in the park, in the struggle of another homework assignment.
It is curious that mostly without the prodding of a work like Alan Lightmanís, we are hardly aware of this cycle. Probably, we would like to consider ourselves clearly defined, unique individuals. Who, after all, would want to be labeled predictable? Tried? Happened before? Old? And yet, this is our reality. This is the life cycle, whether that of a unique entity, or of the entire population of a nation. We cannot, after all, be expected to reinvent the world. That would require complete destruction of our past, our habits, and our identities. The past has taught us what to expect, what to praise, what to condemn. To break the model altogetheróand to be released by the cycle of timeóby creating the totally unexpected requires complete ignorance of the expected. A clearly impossible task, for how can one realize he has achieved the unexpected, when that would require knowledge of its uniqueness? Actions will always remain labeled. Old. Conformist. Non-Conformist. Funny. Sad. Welcome to our infinite, cyclical, predictable world. There are no new frontiers.