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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Summer Solstice & Alan Lightman

Happy first day of summer! Today at 11:54 a.m. the summer solstice occurs. This is when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, or at 23.5 degrees north latitude. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this means that today is our longest day of the year. Here in Connecticut it means that there will be approximately fifteen hours, five minutes and 36 seconds of daylight today! Additionally, the solstice also gives us the longest twilight of the year, usually lasting about one to one and a half hours after sunset, which is why the days seem particularly long near the solstice.

I do find it a bit ironic though that today is also known as the first day of summer, mainly because after today our days begin shortening albeit only a few seconds each day. By July 9th there will be a minute less of daylight, but that was also true on June 4th. So for me I view the association of the summer solstice with the first day of summer as being pretty much a human construct, just as the marking of time is, which brings me to one of my all-time favorite novels.

Einstein's Dreams, written by Alan Lightman in 1992 features the fictional dreams of the real-life scientist Albert Einstein in the year 1905, when he developed his theory of time. Each essay contained within this book examines a different construct of time. Rather than try and explain this on my own, I have included a few examples from the book below.

"14 APRIL 1905 Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly. For the most part, people do not know they will live their lives over. Traders do not know that they will make the same bargain again and again. Politicians do not know that they will shout from the same lectern an infinite number of times in the cycles of time."

"16 APRIL 1905 In this world, time is like a flow of water, occasionally displaced by a bit of debris, a passing breeze. Now and then, some cosmic disturbance will cause a rivulet of time to turn away from the mainstream, to make connection backstream. When this happens, birds, soil, people caught in the branching tributary find themselves suddenly carried to the past. Persons who have been transported back in time are easy to identify. They wear dark, indistinct clothing and walk on their toes, trying not to make a single sound, trying not to bend a single blade of grass. For they fear that any change they make in the past could have drastic consequences for the future."

"26 APRIL 1905 In this world, it is instantly obvious that something is odd. No houses can be seen in the valleys or plains. Everyone lives in the mountains. At some time in the past, scientists discovered that time flows more slowly the farther from the center of earth."

This book has resonated with me for over two decades. Unfortunately, right now it is currently not on my bookshelf because my most recent copy has once again been passed on to a friend or acquaintance that I thought would enjoy it. I may have to run to the bookstore and pick up another copy if they have it in stock today as I can't think of a better way to celebrate the summer solstice than sitting in the sun and contemplating the passage of time.

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