Imagining ten dimensions

One of the things I love about the internet is the ability to explore a subject or an interest through links. Because of the huge variety of people and content out there, we never really know what we will find behind any link … its like Frost’s crossroads, and until we choose to go down one path or the other, we have no way of knowing whats around the next corner. In this particular case, I ended at a wonderful little clearing in the cognitive landscape, a flash animation website that goes a long way toward giving a REAL way for the layman to understand and ‘visualize’ the esoteric dimensions that physics talks about these days.

This animation isn’t perfect, IMO. While it does an amazing job of conceptualizing higher dimensions (or rather, one particular interpretation of them, but an interpretation that is very logical for the most part), there are a few places where I think simplification has caused a bit of a problem. I won’t go into details on the full argument, since the website does such a wonderful job of explaining it … I couldn’t do it justice to be honest … but the website does fall into one anthropomorphic trap that i worry about the danger of.

In essence, the argument and conceptualiazation for the 4th and 5th dimensions involves time, which isn’t a surprise to many people, I’d imagine. It’s fairly easy to conceive of time as a 4th spatial dimension, and that “we” each form a 4 dimensional line from birth to death whose length is measured in years, rather than meters. In this idea, the 5th dimension includes all the choices that we make through life, since in every case choice allows us to “branch off” from a strictly linear progression from past to future. So far, so good IMO … this makes a lot of sense.

My problem comes more when they move into talk of the sixth and higher dimensions. One of the (seemingly) fundamental aspects of the universe that ‘annoys’ physicists is that from the perspective of the math that describes the universe, there is no arrow of time (or more accurately, time could flow in either direction and the math would all still work fine … from the math, there is no reason to say time should “flow one direction” or the other, and there is no way to ‘predict’ the sort of ‘flow’ that we see, as opposed to a ‘flow’ in the other direction). This isn’t intuitive for humans … we CLEARLY perceive time flowing in one direction, and one direction alone. Still, the math that describes the universe couldn’t care less what we humans perceive … from THAT perspective, time has no inherent directional flow.

What this means to talk of dimensions is that its a more complex picture than this animation can portray. They describe the 4th dimension (in the big picture example) as the line between the Big Bang and the eventual end of our universe (which is only one of the possible “ends” that have the “Big Bang” as a “start”). You might be able to being seeing the problem now … if the math shows no arrow of time, no inherent direction to time, then discussion of single beginnings leading to multiple endings is only an anthropomorphic view of things. The reality might be closer to causality pairs, where two events exist at either “ends” of a 4 dimensional line, but where both of those events are firmly fixed, with no concept of start or end. A line only has direction if we move along it in a certain way … viewed “from above” it is nonsensical to talk about the “direction” of a line between two points in 2d space without some indication of motion along that line.

What that means is the description of the 5th dimension is immediately more complex, and simpler at the same time. If what we understand about the mathematics of time is true, and it actually describes reality in some non-trivial way (there IS an argument to be made that math does not describe reality in any way, but merely allows us to predict it and model it through processes wholly separate from what is actually going on), then it strikes me that ALL possible choices for us must exist within a given dimension … in the example of a line with discreet end points, ALL of our 5th dimensional choices must exist on the line from the big bang to the ACTUAL end of this universe, or contrarily from the actual end of this universe to the actual start of it. More likely, we are looking at something similar to the Mobius strip analogy, extended up several dimensions, allowing us to travel a straight line in the 4th and have the “start” and “end” points be in the same place from our perspective (leading to something akin to an ever-present oscillating universe perhaps?).

That’s a long way of saying that, if the math about the arrow of time being non-existent is true, then it strikes me our “infinity” (or point in the 6th dimension from the animation) isn’t the line from the Big Bang to all possible futures … that sort of language assumes a direction to time that isn’t apparent to the universe, only to us. No, all of our infinity MUST be contained “between” discreet end points, even if that means the same spot on a 6 dimensional mobius strip. Unless science can somehow show that the universe shares our predilection for perceiving time flowing in a certain direction, and to this point all the math says otherwise, it seems to me we can’t talk about the past as though it were set in stone, and the future as though it hadn’t happened yet, at least not in the macro terms of cosmology. To say we live in a universe that extends from the big bang to some unknown future may SEEM accurate from a human perceptual perspective, but from the perspective of the math, none of that is apparent. Given that, the MOST we can say is that its a “line between” two discreet states of the universe (call them start and end, or on and off, or whatever you like), or possibly between two amorphous states (ie, perhaps the big bang is just one possible ACTUAL start to our universe, and the only one we can currently see using existing tools) … but to infer ANY sort of direction to it is to add our own perceptual bias to the science. When talking about our own experience, its perfectly reasonable to speak as if time flows in a particular direction, since we have no other frame of personal reference. However, when talking cosmology, the math seems to make it clear that the universe cares far less for that arrow than we do, and in any general description of the scope of the dimensions of time and space, we would be better off sticking with the math than introducing the human bias of directional time.


One Response

  1. Here is another way of thinking of the ten dimensions.

    The first four dimensions are known to our senses. The next six are not intuitively grasped. String theory as well as common sense teaches there are more dimensions than the few dimensions our physical senses are equipped to manage. But, mathematicians have not yet tried to explain the nature of these additional dimensions. In the absence of any other explanation, I thought I would take a shot at it as a “thought-starter” to provoke better brains than mine to get to work on this issue.

    So, here are the ten dimensions and a beginning discussion of each (Start of Discussion at
    I’m still early at working it, but this seems a useful approach.











    The Eleventh (or prior) is “No Dimension.” No Dimension is outside of and contains the Ten.

    – by Larry Weiss March 2007

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