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Month: December 2011

Book Review: Einstein Dreams

Book Review: Einstein Dreams

Beautiful little book. A series of short stories with one common theme: time. Read one story per day, and let it sink in. The author takes us through a series of scenarios where the one variable is time, and reminds us of the unavoidable truth: time is all around us, it shapes every part of our lives, and the outcome of our actions ultimately depends on time.

There is some science behind this book. You can’t have Einstein in the little, and Lightman, a scientist himself as the author, and not have it be about science. We even get to enjoy some of Einstein’s scientific and philosophical chats with his friend every now and then. But the fantastic approach to the subject of time makes us forget about facts and reality, and redirects our focus to what matters: the way we see time, and what relationship we choose to have with it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Einstein’s Dreams:

“The tragedy of this world is that no one is happy, whether stuck in a time of pain or of joy. The tragedy of this world is that everyone is alone. For a life in the past cannot be shared with the present. Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone.”

“With time, each person’s Book of Life thickens until it cannot be read in its entirety. Then comes a choice. Elderly men and women may read the early pages, to know themselves as youths; or they may read the end, to know themselves in later years. Some have stopped reading altogether. They have abandoned the past. They have decided that it matters not if yesterday they were rich or poor, educated or ignorant, proud or humble, in love or empty-hearted–no more than it matters how a soft wind gets into their hair. Such people look you directly in the eye and grip your hand firmly. Such people walk with the limber stride of their youth. Such people have learned how to live in a world without memory.”

“For those who have had their vision, this is a world of guaranteed success. Few projects are started that do not advance a career. Few trips are taken that do not lead to the city of destiny. Few friends are made who will not be friends in the future. Few passions are wasted.”

“Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free. Over time, some have determined that the only way to live is to die. In death, a man or a woman is free of the weight of the past.”

“In this world, the passage of time brings increasing order. Order is the law of nature, the universal trend, the cosmic direction. If time is an arrow, that arrow points toward order. The future is pattern, organization, union, intensification; the past, randomness, confusion, disintegration, dissipation. Philosophers have argued that without a trend toward order, time would lack meaning. The future would be indistinguishable from the past. Sequences of events would be just so many random scenes from a thousand novels.”

“If a person holds no ambitions in this world, he suffers unknowingly. If a person holds ambitions, he suffers knowingly, but very slowly.”

Playing for Meaning

Playing for Meaning

Here’s Peter Stromberg on why some people play video games (or even chess) too much:

“In life, there is an ending, but we don’t get to know what it is, because we are dead. The point is that games are like living life—we make decisions that influence the outcome—but in games the situation is set up so that we can know how it all adds up. This adding up, this meaningfulness, is one of the most important things that draws people to games.”

This makes sense to me, and it comes back to what I see everywhere around me: people don’t know how many options they truly have. If we have problems seeing meaning, is because we fail to see it, not because it’s not there.

Lack of clarity strikes again. Whether it’s improving our business, educating ourselves, or seeing meaning in life, clarity of the goal and our available options is step one.

Video games are appealing because of how clear everything is: we know what we can do, and what’s out of the question. It’s the boundaries, objectives and a meaningful end what makes them fun. Clarity in our work and life should achieve the same thing: Structure limits and goals around a self-defined meaning.

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