Uncommon Sense

July 22, 2021

I-mag-i-na-ay-shun . . .

Filed under: Education,Reason,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
Tags: , ,

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Brian Greene, a science populizer (specifically physics), on the PBS program NOVA:

NOVA: Well, for example, most people have trouble envisioning a fourth spatial dimension. Can you?

GREENE: No. I cannot envision anything beyond three dimensions. What I can do is I can make use of mathematics that describe those extra dimensions, and then I can try to translate what the mathematics tells me into lower dimensional analogies that help me gain a picture of what the math has told me. But the picture is certainly inadequate to the task of fully describing what’s going on, because it’s in lower dimensions, and in higher dimensions, things are definitely different.

To tell you the truth, I’ve never met anybody who can envision more than three dimensions. There are some who claim they can, and maybe they can; it’s hard to say. But it’s very hard, when your brain is involved in a world that appears to have three dimensions and is well suited to envisioning that world, to go beyond that and imagine more dimensions.

The discussion was about understanding Einstein’s view of physical reality, so I found this strange. Einstein was the inventor of “space-time” that is four dimensional “space” in which three of the dimensions are spatial and the fourth is time. Basically Einstein claimed that these four dimensions are interdependent.

Note that no fourth spatial dimension is mentioned.

It is easy to think in four dimensions. Imagine a small ball hanging in space. Its position is determined by three “dimensions” being up-down, left-right, to and fro and one can be time, it being 10:47 AM CST as I type this. We can add another dimension to make five: temperature. We can specify that this ball is 22.2 Celsius. We can add another dimension by adding color: the ball is blue. We are now up to six dimensions and you are having no trouble keeping up, right?

Trying to imagine four dimensional space would be quite a trick. If you have read the book Flatland, you have imagined one dimensional space (weird) and two dimensional space (intriguing but limited), and we all are quite versed in three dimensional space, but what about four dimensional space?

Uh, uh . . . has anyone ever succeeded at this? I would love to hear about them is they have.


  1. Actually the whole 3 dimensions plus time is rather old hat these days. According to string theory there are actually 9 dimensions, plus time, for a total of ten. Or maybe 11. Or maybe 24. Or maybe 26… Well, you get the idea. Personally I have enough trouble dealing with 3 dimensions a lot of days. Once upon a time I got fascinated with a branch of mathematics known as topology where things get rather odd sometimes. Fortunately my family staged an intervention and after treatment I was as good as new.


    Comment by grouchyfarmer — July 22, 2021 @ 11:14 am | Reply

    • Actually it takes a lot of brain power to get three dimensions because our eyes project everything we see onto a two dimensional surface, thus losing one whole dimension, which we must reconstruct form clues. I only had a surface attraction for topology . . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — July 22, 2021 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

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