The Christian Science Monitor

Alan Lightman, time, and ‘the most exciting part of being alive’

Source: Photo illustration by Ann Hermes/Staff

For Alan Lightman, dreaming up a character in a novel or discovering a new equation leads to unparalleled exhilaration.

“You’re just in this disembodied state of seeing the cosmos and being with the cosmos, and it’s the most exciting part of being alive,” says Dr. Lightman. 

Dr. Lightman is a professor of the practice of the humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As an astrophysicist, he has advanced our understanding of the behavior of the materials orbiting stars and black holes. As a writer, he has produced work spanning a wide range of genres.

His bestselling novel “Einstein’s Dreams,” which follows Albert Einstein as he works on his special theory of relativity in 1905, imagines several different ways in which time could work. It conveys, in a way that no textbook could, how Einstein’s insights radically altered our view of the cosmos.

In this bonus episode of “It’s About Time,” hosts Rebecca Asoulin and Eoin O’Carroll talk to Dr. Lightman about his definition of time, Einstein’s work, and the joys of creating. They also discuss a subject close to Dr. Lightman’s heart: how technology is fragmenting our sense of time – and with it, our ability to think deeply about the world around us. 

“We are losing something very important,” Dr. Lightman says. “The ability to sit in a chair quietly for 10 minutes without any external stimulation. To take a walk and just observe the world around us, without checking our email. To quietly think about what’s important to us and who we are.” 

This is a bonus episode in a six-part series in the Monitor’s “Rethinking the News” podcast. To listen to the other episodes on our site or on your favorite podcast player, please visit the “It’s About Time” series page.

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