I once went to see a woman who was a sort of psychic and read the future through stones.
She arranged them on a tray and you put your feet into a tub of them. It sounds a little cuckoo, but she was delightful, in her 80s, laughed a great deal and kept chickens. Part of her routine was telling you which dead people wanted to say hello to you. She mentioned various people who didn’t sound at all familiar, and I nodded politely. Then she said, ‘There’s someone here who looks a bit like Albert Einstein.’ I said, ‘Oh! Could it be Einstein?’ She giggled and said, ‘Yes, it could.’ Then she said, ‘He watches you a lot, and finds you amusing.’
Albert Einstein finds me amusing. This was the highlight of my day, my decade. You see, I have a bit of a crush on Einstein. I have two large posters of him; in one, in my study, he is saying ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ The one in my bedroom declares: ‘I never said gravity was responsible for people falling in love.’ I’ve also written several short stories featuring Einstein – so the idea that this might tickle him was rather wonderful.
I mention all this not to entertain you – well, not just to entertain you – but to explain how the whole damn thing started. I read Einstein’s Dreams (1992), by Alan Lightman, not long after it was published. I was in my mid-20s, freshly released from a degree in maths and physics I had understood very little of, and then a diploma in journalism. I wasn’t a scientist, certainly not a physicist (I loved physics but just wasn’t any good at it). I was working as a science journalist, but what I really wanted to write was fiction that somehow incorporated science. And Alan Lightman was the first author I’d come across who did this, beautifully.
Lightman is a former astrophysicist, now a professor of science and writing at MIT. Einstein’s Dreams was his first book-length work. In a nutshel
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