Treasure the Moment, says physicist

The importance of treasuring the moment resonated with the author of the best-selling book, “Einstein’s Dreams”.

Prof Alan Paige Lightman from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, expressed this sentiment during his public lecture titled ‘Einstein’s Dreams’ held at the main campus today. Over 70 people attended the event organised by WOU’s School of Science & Technology (SST).

Prof Lightman presents an overview of his lecture.

Prof Lightman presents an overview of his lecture.

He introduced his book, written in 1992, as a work of fiction containing 30 short fictional dreams by Albert Einstein as he was conceptualising his theory of relativity while working as a clerk in a patent office in Switzerland in 1905 at age 26.

Prof Lightman admitted his preference for those dreams in which “people appreciate the preciousness of the moment. They are not trying to think what they are going to do the next day or the next thing but they are trying to live right in the moment.”

The affable Prof Lightman charms the audience.

The affable Prof Lightman charms the audience.

He continued, “Over my own lifetime, I think I have gained more and more appreciation of how important living in the moment is. I have learned that nothing lasts. That everything is impermanent, that everything around us is passing away. Even our own children will pass away. And all we have is the present moment and we should fully experience the present moment.  So there were certain chapters where the moment was important. And I think those are the closest to my heart now. I probably would not have understood that many years ago when I wrote the book. “

Earlier, WOU Pro-Chancellor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon introduced the speaker, whom he met in 1966 when they were both undergraduates in physics at Princeton University. 

Dr Koh - referred as 'TK' by Prof Lightman - introduces the speaker, his friend.

Dr Koh - referred as 'TK' by Prof Lightman - introduces the speaker, his friend.

Prof Lightman read out loud three dreams from his book, invited comments, and showed short video clips of related productions. The book has been translated into 30 languages and there are over 150 adaptations of his writings by artistes, dancers, musicians and theatre playwrights.

One dream recounts body-centered time where people eat when hungry and time darts in the company of loved ones as opposed to mechanical time in which routines follow a pre-determined time. Another was on people trying to go further away from the centre of earth like living on stilt houses, mountains to live the longest or moving faster to make time go slower, while the third was on time standing still.

Engaging the audience in provoking dialogues.

Engaging the audience in provoking dialogues.

He clarified that in Einstein’s theory of relativity, time is relative to motion and so two identical clocks moving relative to each other do not tick at the same rate. He said time moves more slowly from the point of view of the person who is at rest looking at the other. “If you have an identical twin and that twin goes out on a space ship and goes very, very rapidly, and comes back, when he returns, he will be younger than you.”

To comments of removing time from our vocabulary, he said, “We need the physical nature of time for computers, GPS and other technology that depends on the quantitative concept of time,” while Dean of SST, Dr Wendy Bong Chin Wei, cited traffic lights as an example.

Dr Bong (left) receives a copy of Einstein's Dreams.

Dr Bong (left) receives a copy of Einstein's Dreams.

Regarding the psychological aspects of time, which his book mainly deals with, he stated, “There’s a mental experience of time, which does not follow clocks. Sometimes you are doing very pleasurable things, and the time seems to go by very quickly in your mind. And other times you are doing things that are very unpleasant, and they seem to take a long time.”

Prof Lightman later presented copies of his book to Vice Chancellor Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye, Dr Bong, and three other senior academics. His book can be downloaded for free from the Internet.