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?

It was a perfect picture of utter joy, and utter tragedy. Because I wanted my daughter back as she was at age ten, or twenty. As we moved together toward that lovely arch that would swallow us all, other scenes flashed through my mind: my daughter in first grade holding a starfish as big as herself, her smile missing a tooth; my daughter on the back of my bicycle as we rode to a river to drop stones in the water; my daughter telling me the day after she had her first period. Now she was thirty. I could see lines in her face.

No one ever expects poetry to sell.

Part of the grief was that each member of the family was mourning his own mortality.

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. Politicians do not know they will shout from the same lectern an infinite number of times in the cycle of time. Parents treasure the first laugh from their child as if they will not hear it again. Lovers making love the first time undress shyly, show surprise at the supple thigh, the fragile nipple. How would they know that each secret glimpse, each touch will be repeated again and again and again, exactly as before?

The tragedy of this world is that no one is happy, whether stuck in atime 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.

Time paces forward with exquisite regularity, at precisely the same velocity in every corner of space. Time is an infinite ruler. Time is absolute.

When I used to play golf. It's a terrible miserable game. It's incredibly frustrating. In 18 holes you make 150 horrible shots off in the woods, in the water...You make one good shot and it brings you back the next time. With writing a long book there has to be at least one bit that has some magic in it that you can go back to.

You've made something grand, but it will be grander if it has feeling and beauty and harmony.

It's exciting having a student who is not used to expressing their emotional side and bringing that out in them and see that developing and helping to nurture that. That's an exciting thing. In a class of fifteen there are usually two very good writers, equal to good student writers anywhere in the country. Those two make the class wonderful.

No one knows the nature of God, or even if God exists. In a sense, all of our religions are literary works of the imagination.

People are content to live in contradictory worlds, so long as they know the reason for each.

That has been the great achievement of our age: to so thoroughly flood the planet with megabits that every image and fact has become a digitized disembodied nothingness. With magnificent determination, our species has advanced from Stone Age to Industrial Revolution to Digital Emptiness. We've become weightless, in the bad sense of the word.

The urge to discover, to invent, to know the unknown, seems so deeply human that we cannot imagine our history without it.

To my mind, it is one of the profound contradictions of human existence that we long for immortality, indeed fervently believe that something must be unchanging and permanent, when all of the evidence in nature argues against us. I certainly have such a longing. Either I am delusional, or nature is incomplete. Either I am being emotional and vain in my wish for eternal life for myself and my daughter (and my wingtips), or there is some realm of immortality that exists outside nature.

When the first mechanical clocks were invented, marking off time in crisp, regular intervals, it must have surprised people to discover that time flowed outside their own mental and physiological processes. Body time flows at its own variable rate, oblivious to the most precise hydrogen master clocks in the laboratory. In fact, the human body contains its own exquisite time-pieces, all with their separate rhythms. There are the alpha waves in the brain; another clock is the heart. And all the while tick the mysterious, ruthless clocks that regulate aging.

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.

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