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U of M Freshmen and Others Will Explore Concepts from Einstein's Dreams
For release: May 8, 2006
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This fall's incoming freshmen at the University of Memphis will explore alternative concepts of time as part of a new reading program. "Memphis Reads" will involve the entire freshman class, some current students, and many University faculty and staff. Alan Lightman's book Einstein's Dreams will be common reading for all entering freshmen, who are being encouraged to purchase the book and read it over the summer. It will be required reading in certain courses, including ACAD, a class that introduces students to University life.

The program is designed to inspire community spirit and a sense of identity with the University. Through discussions, lectures, and film series, "Memphis Reads" will introduce incoming students to college work and encourage interaction among students and between students and faculty. Similar reading programs have been instituted by other colleges and universities, including Cornell, Duke, Indiana, Marquette, North Carolina, Temple, Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee.

Each year's book will focus on a general theme that will serve as a common thread in courses throughout the curriculum as well as in extracurricular lectures, discussions, and other activities.

A native Memphian, Lightman is both a scientist and a novelist. He attended Princeton University and earned a Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics from California Institute of Technology. He is an adjunct professor of humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches creative writing and physics.

In Einstein's Dreams, Lightman takes readers on an imaginative tour of alternative conceptions of time that might have passed through Einstein's mind in 1905 as he was formulating his revolutionary theory of relativity. Lightman asks readers to break out of their ordinary way of thinking and to consider possible worlds in which time repeats itself, or where time stands still, or where memory of time past is lost with each new day, or where people are randomly sent back into the past, or where dozens of other disruptions might occur. How would we function in one of these alternative worlds? What effect does it have on us to consider these strange possibilities?

These questions about time raise lively issues about who we are, how we know what we know, and why we value the things we do. These are issues that enter into all facets of our lives and into every discipline in the University, from music to biology, from philosophy to physical education. They are also themes that enter popular culture through science fiction novels and films such as Groundhog Day, 50 First Dates, and Memento.

"This program is an exciting new addition to the University," said Dr. Michael Leff, professor and chairman of the Department of Communication and chairman of the committee charged with creating the program. "It opens a special opportunity for students to participate in our academic community, for faculty to talk across disciplinary lines, and for students and faculty to engage in conversation with one another. We also hope that alumni of the University and all other interested Memphians will join us in reading and talking about Alan Lightman's wonderful book."

For more information, visit the program's Web site at http://memphisreads.memphis.edu.

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