The Architecture of Contemplation
In Conversation With: Alan Lightman
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A byte, an atom, a letter, a number, a pixel; each a fundamental unit of measurement, or, a packet of information - choose your own adventure, one could say.
Alan Lightman glimmers across several of these micro-universes. He is currently the Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at MIT, and until 2003, he was a senior lecturer in physics and the John Burchard Professor of the Humanities at MIT.
Alan the child would build rockets in his own makeshift laboratory at home and write poetry; as a college student undertaking a PhD in physics, he dabbled in art and sculpture. The Alan I speak with today is now firmly planted in the world of literary possibility, underwritten by an awareness of the laws of nature.
What drew me into Alan's orbit was his now seminal book, Einstein's Dreams. He has since written several books and articles, but this small tome imprinted deeply. For his subject matter, Alan takes on Einstein's theories of relativity, and what unfolds are a series of mini-stories, all centred upon the small Swiss town of Einstein's dwelling as a clerk in the patent office, that explore the passing of time in a near dizzying number of ways. Each experience of time is painted with a tender beauty, and pathos, too. A fire fly only experiences a life of twenty four hours; humans must navigate 700,800 hours of life, for an average age of 80 years. No wonder time occupies our psyche so much, and Alan's exploration of this concept provides an invitation to examine our individual relationship to time.
The conversation here traverses themes of beauty in science, being compelled to a calling, the risks of specialisation, and mental havens. Across Alan's works, one near consistent call to those who are ready to hear, is the preciousness of each moment, and, should we be willing to slow, the profundity of this experiment we call life.
Without further ado, I bring you Alan Lightman.
Produced by Annika Sost
| Alan Lightman MIT EXPLORE
| Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman WANDER
| The Two Cultures by C. P. Snow READ
| Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke ESSAY
| Dreams of a Final Theory by Steven Weinberg BOOK
| Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges PERUSE