What SpaceTime is It?

The New York Times Review of Books takes a look at Jean-Claude Carrière’s new novel, Please Mr. Einstein:

In its uncounted hours of conversation, “Please, Mr. Einstein” touches down lightly and charmingly on some of the thorniest philosophical consequences of Einstein’s genius and, by extension, the scientific preoccupations of the 20th century — the nature of reality, the fate of causality, the comprehensibility of nature, the limits of the mind — while scrolling through Einstein’s life. It’s easy to see this novel as the germ of a future playlet or movie along the lines of Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” or the play and movie “Insignificance,” which featured a mythical Einstein in a hotel room with Marilyn Monroe.

I like Carrière’s Einstein. He’s frank, down to earth and not prone to cosmic mustiness. He’s actually worn an Einstein T-shirt and admits he’s happy to be talking to a woman, especially a woman from the 21st century, because that means his godchild, the atomic bomb, hasn’t destroyed civilization — yet. “I think better when eyes like yours are looking at me,” he tells her, “and when I’m talking to them.”…

Among the features of Einstein’s unusual office are doors he seems able to open on any time and place. At one point, discussing his years in Germany, he and his visitor step out into a Nazi book-burning. Another excursion provides the surprising climax to an amusing side plot about Newton, who just doesn’t get relativity and quantum theory and keeps pestering Einstein to explain what was so wrong with the clockwork world he described in the 17th century. Finally, exasperated, Einstein calls Newton over and opens a door on the atomic blast that destroyed Hiroshima. Newton’s wig flutters in the wind from the shock wave. He stares, aghast, then slowly turns transparent and disappears. Newton’s universe is truly, undeniably dead, and so his sojourn in this intellectual aerie is over.

Carrière’s novel relies upon spacetime as a literary device. But what is spacetime? This "Spacetime 101" page explains the history of spacetime from Pythagoras to Einstein.