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A novel or short story I read probably 30-40 years ago about a man who lives in a cabin with such thick windows (or glass with special properties) that he can see light that was passing through the windows some years ago from when his wife was still alive. He watches her outside in the garden. Does anyone know the name of this story or the author?

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That is part of Bob Shaw's "Other Days, other eyes" (e.g. mentioned in this review on tor.com).

For the most part, however, Other Days, Other Eyes is serious and even sad. The most memorable part of the novel is the first “sidelight,” the Hugo and Nebula award nominated short story “The Light of Other Days” (1966). Nobody could forget the image of a man sitting in the rain staring at the windows of his house for glimpses of his dead wife and child

The conceit of "Other Days, Other Eyes" is the invention of a type of glass that slows down light to a point where it gradually releases pictures of things that happened at some point in the past, the lag depending on the thickness of the slow glass.

The same idea was previously used in Shaw's short story Light of Other days" (featuring a similar scene with the deceased woman).

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  • I wonder if something like that is scientifically possible -- light slows down in some media and the slowdown can be made to be very significant.
    – releseabe
    Jan 3 at 18:45
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    @releseabe probably not in the way envisioned in the story, but light speed is fixed only in a vacuum - light does travel at different (slower) speeds in different media: micro.magnet.fsu.edu/primer/java/speedoflight/index.html Jan 3 at 18:55
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    @releseabe The problem would be that you’d end up separating all the different wavelengths of light, as they would both refract separately (à la a prism) and also (I’m pretty sure) wind up with significantly different travel speeds, so light that had entered the glass together would exit it separately.
    – KRyan
    Jan 3 at 23:52
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    okay, but it is not completely outlandish --close enough to real science if inaccurate to still be evocative of very deep emotions. i recall telling someone when i was just 9 or 10 that i could never REALLY see them and that troubled me more than it should have. (This is because of the related idea that light is minutely delayed even face-to-face. I tried once to see if i could get a light beam to bounce between two mirrors in a darkened room -- I thought a lot about light growing up. parents assured me i was not smart enough to become a physicist, funny thing about those kind of predictions.
    – releseabe
    Jan 4 at 0:03
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    @MooingDuck no; check eg here - refractive index in eg glass is a function of wavelength, and since refractive index is the ratio of speed-in-vacuum to speed-in-medium, this means that different wavelengths generally really do travel at different speeds in refracting media. When light enters and exits the refracting medium normally (ie, at 90 degrees to the boundary on both entry and exit) this results in no beam deviation, but exactly what KRyan describes - different frequencies exiting the medium at different times.
    – MadHatter
    Jan 4 at 9:26

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