Einstein's Dream

By Luke Jermay - Friday, August 14, 2020

It seems to me that the ancient Romans had a very healthy relationship to the notion of creativity. They had the charming belief that creativity itself did not spring from human beings, but instead it was believed that the creative act was one driven by a spirit which brought with them good ideas to share.

In the ancient Roman religion they called this spirit a 'genius.' A genius would visited humans from some unknowable place to whisper good ideas into their minds.  If you were an especially lucky artist you might even have such spirit choose to live in the walls of your studio, constantly inspiring and shaping the work your created with their good ideas.

This meant that the act of creation was not connected to the individual's self worth but rather that the individual simply became a vessel for creation itself.  What a wonderful disclaimer for all those bad ideas we have!  What a wonderful way to reduce the paralysing pressure of creating something 'good' that so often renders us unable to produce anything at all!  What a wonderful psychological construct to free yourself from internal pressure and allow your actual creativity freedom, knowing that if the idea is not as good as you hoped, you can always blame the spirit for it!

While this is to modern minds seems an antiquated but nonetheless charming notion, I believe it is also one that upon closer examination isn't as strange as it might first sound.

The effect I will describe below is the result of my own direct interaction with several geniuses.  Geniuses in the ancient Roman sense and in the modern day sense.

I can not really take any credit for the eventual outcome, since it in reality the entire concept was borne from influences and sources that came into my consciousness brought fourth by the spirit of creativity.  All I needed to do was see, feel and combine what each of them presented.

The Audience Experience

The performer removes a sheet of paper and a pen.  He silently draws an outline of a strange shape.  He then comments: "I want to tell you about a very special place.  At first glance it looks like any other town.  It has a hospital, a school a church..."

As the performer talks, he adds some symbols to the paper indicating the positions of the church, hospital and school.  It is beginning to look like a very simple, child like, map of a town.  He continues: "But this is no normal town... because right at the centre, at the heart of this strange place, time stands still.  Right there in the centre of this strange place raindrops hang motionless in the air, the mechanical movements of watches remain forever still, the aromas of flowers hang endlessly..."

As the performer talks, he draws a small circle in the centre of the paper.  He then requests the spectator remove their wristwatch and loan it to him.  He places the watch on the table outside of the paper and then continues "As people approach the centre of this town they begin to move slower and slower..."

The performer moves the watch onto the paper, and begins moving it closer and closer to the circle drawn in the centre,  as he continues: "A person's heartbeats become further removed, their temperature drops, their thoughts begin to diminish... until they reach the very centre, until they enter that strange place where time stands... still."

The watch is now positioned above the circle drawn in the centre of the paper and amazingly the hands on the watch stop ticking.  The performer continues: "Who would want to visit such a place?  Parents with their children and lovers.  At this place where time stands still you see parents embracing their children in a moment of connection that will never end and lovers frozen in a kiss that never ends. Those not at the very centre do indeed move but at the pace of glaciers.  A smile might take a year, a laugh might take a million..."

The watch hands remain frozen in time.  The performer pauses, as he is too his frozen in time.  After a moment he continues: "Those who are brave enough to leave the centre, to return to the normal world... see their children grow and experience life evolving with their lovers, they become aware of their own mortality understanding that without time there is no life."

The performer moves the watch away from the centre of the paper and the hands on the watch once again begin moving at normal time.


This is a very simple routine to perform.  I am certain the reader will already have a method in mind, which would bring about the effect as described, that best suits their own preferences.  Indeed, so many methods for stopping a watch from ticking are available across the literature of magic of that to offer one here feels slightly redundant.  However, for the sake of completeness and for those who might be interested in my own preference I include it here.

I make use of a small very powerful 'disc' magnet, which is placed several sheets down in the pad of paper I use to draw the 'town.'  I do not hollow out any part of the pad to house this magnet.  Instead, I allow it to sit between the pages, attached using a small piece of magicians wax.  This allows me to feel its location through the pages above as a small raised area which guides me when I draw the circles emanating outwards from the centre, later becoming a visual guide to the position of the magnet in performance.  Additionally since the magnet is not permanently attached to the page, should wish to, I can dislodge it and secretly palm it out of the pad.

I have also made use of a large magnet attached to my knee, which I then raise to contact the underside of table, allowing the magnetic force to pass through the table and a single sheet of paper which I have illustrated as the 'town' to stop the watch ticking.  This method is more deceptive, since it uses only a single sheet of paper which will be given to the spectator at the end, but does mean you need to walk around with a magnet on your knee and you are required to sit when performing.

There are positive and negatives to each of these methods and I make my decision as to which I will use based on the context of the performance and the logistical constrains I am facing.  Many alternative methods exist and I am certain you will have your own preference for your own performance context and logistical reality.

In performance, I simple bring the watch closer to the centre of the paper, which also brings it closer to the magnetic force, timing the action with the story to ensure that the hands stop ticking when the watch reaches the centre of the illustrated paper.  The magnets I use allow me to hold the watch above the paper, so it is not touching any surface, this isn't strictly needed but I do feel it adds a small layer of additional deceptiveness to the effect so its worth finding magnets that are strong enough to allow for this.

I always use a quartz movement watch for this demonstration.  I never use a mechanical watch under any circumstance.  I find it easy to spot the difference between watches, as I happen to like watches and know a little bit about the way they are made.  If you intend on performing this routine, I would highly recommend spending a few hours learning about the differences between quartz movements and mechanical movements, since if you do use a magnet on a particularly delicate mechanical movement it might well damage the watch and leave you with a very heft repair bill and a furious spectator.  You have been warned!

Final thoughts

This effect was directly inspired by reading Einstein's Dreams written by Alan Lightman.  This modern fiction classic presents a series of stories as dreams experienced by Einstein about time, relativity and physics during his constructing his theory of time in 1905.  One of these fictional dreams is of a town in which time stands still at its centre.  The entire script for this routine was directly influenced and inspired by this.

From here, the obvious step was to combine this wonderful notion with the neo-classical premise of stopping a watches hands moving.

While this is not a premise I would normally find myself drawn to, I found the story to wonderful and when the thought to bring this fictional town to life as a drawing appeared in my mind I found it to enchanting and whimsical to ignore.

It is thanks to the genius of Lightman whose words literally whispered a good idea into my ear that this trick came to be.

Reader comments:


Monday, 24 August 2020 23:09 PM - Reply to this comment

I LOVE your presentation and effect. And, thank you also for the cite of the book and author. I'm heading over to Amazon Prime as soon as I finish this comment.

The premise of that book sound very interesting and quite thought-provoking, I have a layman's love of astronomy, and, Einstein's Special and General Theories of Relativity fascinate me...all the more so because I cannot grasp the two concepts. They seem so at odds with the natural world. How the hell could (and did) Einstein come up with such concepts? This Lightman book is exciting to contemplate.

Thank you for your Vanishing Inc Magic Masterclass and for this wonderful Einstein's Dream blog. I love people (like you) that challenge my mind. You are truly fascinating on so many levels.

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