Alan Lightman, fully Alan Paige Lightman

Lightman, fully Alan Paige Lightman

American Physicist, Writer and Social Entrepreneur, Professor of Humanities at The Massachusetts Institute Of Technology

Author Quotes

Awake ? what are these quick shots of warmth, fractals of forests that wind through my limbs? Fragrance of olive and salt taste of skin, razz-tazz and clackety sound? Figures and shapes slowly wheel past my view,villas and deserts, distorted faces, children, my children ?

Distant, the pink moons of my feet. What rules do they follow? I think movement, they wondrously move, moons flutter and shake. I probe the hills and the ruts of my face ? Now I grow large, now I grow small, as the waves of sensation break over my shore. There, a gnarled tree I remember, a stone vessel, the curve of a hill. What is the hour? Some silence still sleeps In my small sleeping room ? Is it end or beginning?

Great Newton, you hid in your rooms, outcast like me, careless of meals, stockings untied, drinker of rosewater, olive oil, beeswax ? you found the force between planets and sun, pattern of cosmic attraction, heard clearly the music of spheres. You gauged the distance to stars and the vast rooms of space, which were naught to the space of your mind. You struck the door of the universe. What raging night seized you and screamed that the world must be number and rule?

I knock on the door of the universe, asking: What makes the light of the stars? What makes the heat of my flesh? What makes the tear shape of rain?

I knock on the doors of the universe, asking: what makes the swirl of Ghazali love songs? And the parallel singing of loss? And the choice to live life alone? I surrender my calipers, rules, and clocks, microscopes, diodes, transistors, glass flasks. For how can I measure the stroke of a passion? Or dissect a grief with the digits of pi? Thus, I stand naked, with nothing except a fierce hunger to fathom this world, to embark on this road without length without breadth.

I take up my pen, dry for some years. What should i write? What should I think? ? I knock on the door of the universe. Here, this small villa, this table, this pen. I ask the universe: What? and Why? Now weakened, I must remake the world, one grain at a time.

One thousand questions, and each gives an answer, which then forms a question. The questions and answers will meld with each other like colors of light, like the light rays that once crossed the space of the cosmos and rest now in the small warmth of a hand.

So much i?ve lost, i have nothing except a fierce hunger to fathom this world. Naked, I knock on the door, wearing only my questions.

This is the world of the ticking of clocks, menses of women and tides of the moon. Orbits of planets, the swing of the pendulum, spin of the earth, cycles of seasons. This is the cosmos of time and of space, and of light rays that travel twelve billion years, and the whale-raptured sprawl of the galaxies. But is this not also the cosmos of life, that rare cluster of atoms and forms, a few grains on the beach of nonlife?

Is it possible for a person to love without wanting love back? Is anything so pure? Or is love, by its nature, a reciprocity, like oceans and clouds, an evaporating of seawater and a replenishing by rain?

Music is, of course, a universal emotional experience, cutting across cultures and languages. I studied piano for ten years as a child and consider that experience one of the most valuable in my life.

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.

Some say it is best not to go near the center of time. Life is a vessel of sadness, but is noble to live life and without time there is no life. Others disagree. They would rather have an eternity of contentment, even if that eternity were fixed and frozen, like a butterfly mounted in a case.

The relationship between science and the humanities is two-way. Science changes our view of the world and our place in it. In the other direction, the humanities provide the store of ideas and images and language available to us in understanding the world. The exploding star of A.D. 1054, the Crab Nebula, was sighted and documented by the Chinese, but nowhere mentioned in the West, where the Aristotelian notion of the immortality of stars still held sway. We often do not see what we do not expect to see.

Thus, in this world of brief scenes from the future, few risks are taken. Those who have seen the future do not need to take risks, and those who have not yet seen the future wait for their visions without taking risks.

We've lost our way, we have lost our centeredness. We don't have the time, literally, to think during the day. To listen to ourselves think. To think about where we are going, who we are, what's important. I would bet most people don't have thirty minutes in a day where they can just sit down and think. Or maybe they don't have to be sitting, they can be walking.

Writers read essays and serious thinkers and serious readers... that is a small population.

It [the mind] can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. In our constant search for meaning in this baffling and temporary existence, trapped as we are within our three pounds of neurons, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real. We often invent what isn?t there. Or ignore what is. We try to impose order, both in our minds and in our conceptions of external reality. We try to connect. We try to find truth. We dream and we hope. And underneath all of these strivings, we are haunted by the suspicion that what we see and understand of the world is only a tiny piece of the whole.

My second novel, Good Benito, was not finished. I wished that I had spent another year with it.

Originality is also very important to a writer. And all of the writers I've mentioned, of course, are original, but it's important to me that every book that I do be really a completely fresh and new look at the world. And of course, that makes it frightening to start a new book because you can't really depend upon what you've done with previous books.

Something else gets under your skin, keeps you working days and nights at the sacrifice of your sleeping and eating and attention to your family and friends, something beyond the love of puzzle solving. And that other force is the anticipation of understanding something about the world that no one has ever understood before you.

The target of power is more interesting than its quantity.

Thus, to explain what we see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove.

What sense is there in continuing when one has seen the future?

Yet the time-deaf are unable to speak what they know. For speech needs a sequence of words, spoken in time.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Lightman, fully Alan Paige Lightman
Birth Date

American Physicist, Writer and Social Entrepreneur, Professor of Humanities at The Massachusetts Institute Of Technology