Beyond our Fourth Dimension

Another Dimension

  by Joseph Siry      
  "Susan Griffin explains it, [a story is] but a way of narrating events that gives the listener ‘a path through those events that leads to some fragment of wisdom.”  
under the waves   From beneath the water what may a breaking wave appear to be to the school of fish below? As you swim beneath the wave, look up and do you not see a faintly familiar pattern? How is the disturbance of the ocean's surface wave similar to events we see in our world of the air above the waves? Is this crushing water sort of like the cloud formations we see in the sky above our heads on a stormy day? I will now further suggest that both of these events are not so different from what we experience when we see the Aurora Borealis in the northern hemisphere or the Aurora Australis in the southern hemisphere. Instead of water molecules, do we see ions in collision?
A surface wave breaking resembles a cloud in the sky when seen from underwater.
Are theses natural features that we see not harbingers of forces in another dimension that hint to us --because they clue in the more suggestive among us-- that there is a concrete condition beyond what we call the firm reality of our furtive thoughts? Beyond the validity of our fleeting senses, does there loom beyond our vision more than three dimensions? One must take care though, as we try to represent these facts about four, five or more dimensions in our stories that we should not make mistakes. But starting in this story with the fifth dimension will suffice because I want you to think of that dimension as the electromagnetic sea in which we are immersed, but may not comprehend very well.


Considering more dimensions than we ordinarily sense is likely to be fraught with errors. But as insensible as it may seem, Einstein –in trying to make sense of the force of gravity– suggested that there could be a fourth dimension that he called spacetime. Making sense of the insensible is a dangerous vocation, that turns into a solitary madness should no one else agree with you. Or worse, if others agree with you, then you may suspect that you are all part of a mass hallucination because merely the deranged will agree with you.

Are we able to unravel the clues, the hints, or the suggestions hidden behind the appearances of the Aurora? Is there a lesson to learn within St. Elmo's fire? Can we admit with honest incredulity that we exist suspended in a sea of electrical discharges, floating amongst seas neutrinos as numerous as water drops in the ocean? Do we not dance about on a hidden froth of quantum foam?

dimensionality Now think that for most people there are but three dimensions. But they are asleep to the fourth and fifth. Now cubemost people will think I am mad at worst and deluded at best. But there are inklings all around us of extensions beyond the length, width and depth of places that fourth and even fifth dimensions lurk beneath our self-satisfied 3-d views. Such thoughts infect anyone reading Einstein's explanation of the speed of light and I see now why in a Journey to Another Dimension by Michio Kaku suggests that mathematicians have expressions for these fourth and fifth dimensional extensions of space into the realms of time and electromagnetic fields. More recently Brian Greene has said that there are six additional dimensions of space curled up within the comforting and familiar edges of the rooms we haunt.

curved spaceWell hidden dimensions of elusive fields are the problem in this story of what do we call the fifth dimension? Einstein called the fourth dimension, spacetime, because he perceived that the world changed profoundly due to acceleration. That is the faster one moves --the more quickly one travels in a train down the tracks-- the more distorted is the experience of three dimensions becomes to us in terms of our length, width and height bound world. So as we speed into, well into the future, accelerating relentlessly, Einstein recognized that the first familiar fiction we live by --simultaneity-- disappears. Right now you think that you and I are simultaneously in the room together speaking. At or near the speed of light, Einstein concluded from the hint he had about acceleration, there is no meaning to the word simultaneous if it means happening at the same time when traveling at light speed over very small distances.


Now Kaku, studied Einstein, getting drunk enough on Einstein's unified field theory to suggest in his book Hyperspace that other dimensions exist. In converting the mathematical expression of dimensions into a literary metaphor, Kaku asks us to consider the world of the coy pond where a fish senses the rustling of a powerful wind amongst the reeds that line the pond's shore. Suspend your disbelief for the sake of understanding that Kaku recognizes that a fish grabbed by a person on the shore and removed from the water is very much like what you and I would experience --if we could-- when confronted with space-time and this elusive fifth dimension. Yes, we know that fish-experience is beyond our capacity to comprehend. But in this imaginative realm we at least want to visualize Kaku's suggestion. What would a fish make of the moving reeds, the plunging human hand of the catcher and its own humiliating removal from the coy pond?

There are, for those of us who go beneath the ocean's waves, suggestions of what denizens of the deep sense. I once snorkeled along a reef in the Florida keys when a cuttle fish swam up to me, swiftly and silently sidled up to me –I should say– and we stared at one another. The creature looked at me. I in wrapped attention stared also into this invertebrate's gaze. I knew of course that squids, octopi and cuttlefish have the most visually sensitive and thus well developed eye in the submarine world. I could only wonder what it thought of --sensed of me-- this half naked, dangling vertebrate suspended in a sea where cuttle fish emerge from the deep darkness to experience the thin wedge of light we label the photic zones on our imaginative maps of the oceans. Did the invertebrate brain record and image of a five limb creature as an uncommon occurrence? Did it file my image away in some sector along with starfish and brittle stars with which the cuttlefish is more familiar?

Although I cannot say what the cuttlefish saw, I will suggest to you that we have all sensed, if not fully recorded and mapped out the fifth dimension when on a cold day, we trudged across a woolen carpet and then extended our hands to a metal doorknob only to feel a twinge of strong to weak electrical discharge. Shocked and annoyed perhaps by static electricity, we say to ourselves, what was that tingle? We file the experience and may or may not map the whereabouts of the field we intruded upon. Shocked, yes, but are we informed that the fifth dimension disrobed and exposed at that moment jolted our sense of touch? Probably not. Having been jolted, we only have this hint of a world we can sense, but may not make any real sense of what it is like, let alone how this world of flowing electrons actually appears.

If we have five senses to compress the three dimensional world [3-D world] into our mental imagery, how many senses would we need to possess sufficient abilities to formulate an image of the five dimensions within which we swim?

Here below the surface of five dimensions, we swirl in the eddy of time amidst a sea of neutrinos where a discharge of electrical forces --a flow of electrons-- may be the only imagery our febrile nervous system can construct of what really is the fifth dimension. And if we could construct a five dimensional map, where would it take us and what would it protect us from?

While the practical among the audience scoff, and the mystical amongst you fear the map will profane the sacred realms beyond sensory perception, there is growing need for some of us who are hooked, drunk on Einstein and drawn into Kaku's story, to sketch the path of the journey we find we are lost within. The oldest map in the British Museum is by no means easily intelligible, because it may intermix dimensions and looks more like a picture than a map of a place. Now when I ask you to draw a map of the fourth of fifth dimension, please don't worry if like this Hittite drawing of Katal Huyuk that the rendering is local, somewhat repetitive, and because the dimensions are intermingled the rendering is altogether hard to interpret.

First of all, a five dimensional map would take us from here to there, just like any map, because we are already in five dimensions,and it would protect us from the very things we now blame on - oh bad luck, chance, probabilities, god, the devil, or lord Shiva! So don't fret, draw the map and lets begin to see if we agree that space-time is the extension along one dimension, then we can merely argue over the other bound.

In a classroom setting I often ask my students what accounts for the iron filings in a glass jar to seemingly defy gravity and hang suspended from a magnet? Now I realize if they were to draw what they see, they would be starting out to map the fifth dimension, unseen, yet omnipresent in our daily rituals. If indeed the force lines of magnetic fields are the bounds of the fifth dimension --the clue to us of this comes from the shock we feel at opening a door by touching a metal knob, on a very cold day, having traversed a wool pile rug.

What should our map display? Yes, confusion, yes unclear areas, and to a certain degree some as yet to be determined details. But our map like all mental images would be a work in progress. The Electro-weak force, or so quantum physicists now tell us, is responsible for electricity, or electromagnetic energy, or radiation. Only in 1823 and 1833 did William Faraday and Joseph Henry build electromagnets. Their electrified, iron magnets thus verifying in practice the intimate relation between magnetism and electricity. Not until four decades later did Maxwell formulate an equation unifying electromagnetic forces as a single entity. As electrons flow generating an electrical current –as if a stream of water were the analog– so they form a magnetic force field perpendicular to the direction of their movement. Early experimenters in electricity drew diagrams to understand this unseen, but clearly not undetected force.

Electricity does of course appear to us as ball lightning, St. Elmo's fire, and bolts of electrical discharges during a storm. All awaken us to the disturbing fact that we are not alone on a three lighteningdimensional sphere orbiting through the solar system and isolated in interstellar space. Instead the very light we see emerges from the hidden fifth dimension of electromagnetic fields which we inhabit and which are embedded in our fibers.

So for only 180 years or so have we hadconclusive proof that like a mother and dad, electricity and magnetism together conjoined give birth to our world. Yes, we inhabit a five dimensional world with time on one axis or line and electrons and their relatives on another. Could we expect a robust language to inform our stories today since electricity and magnetism were only barely understood 180 years ago? From such stories could we hope to piece together an adequate map of space-time and electromagnetic fields? Einstein tried, having received a disturbingly clever letter in 1919. Kaku and others have made metaphors of mathematical expressions given to Einstein by Theodor Kaluza on a cold spring day in 1919, when Einstein read a letter Kaluza had sent him from Konigsberg. Yet, here you and I sit in the dawns early light of another century trying to make a mental map of the fifth dimension which Kaluza told Einstein would make mathematical sense of his theory of relativity by adding another dimension in spacetime.

Clearly history is the realm of the fourth dimension since over time the shape of everything undergoes changes. Einstein understood time as an unseen -- but clearly sensed fourth dimension. People come and go speaking of the meaning they know, but meanings of stories change as we discover new findings, such as nuclear power in the forms of fission and fusion. We encapsulate the past, bind the past into prose or poetry, collect remnants from the past and throw them in to museums, catalogue the ineligible masterpieces of past material culture, trade, lose and discard the rest in a frantic effort to make sense of times' passage as it sucks us along into the whirlpool from which nothing ever returns. History as an understanding of the fourth dimension has been around as a story since the Chinese some five to seven thousand years ago. Chinese court scholars began to record cosmic and earthly events that long ago. They did so in order to divine the will of heaven. Only since 1905, a century now, have we been told that time's passage-- that the history of past events-- is really the dimension of spacetime. Are we still searching after two centuries, a very short duration, for the proper metaphors to explain our four and five dimensional situation?

I think we are. Theodor Kaluza in 1919 proposed to Einstein that the fifth dimension would mathematically make both exquisite sense of and a beautiful portrait of Einstein's ideas concerning special and general relativity. Further, as Kaluza developed the equations to express the fifth dimension, he discovered within his symbolic rendering the very formulas that Maxwell had used to describe electromagnetism nearly fifty years before World War One. Now in the dreary mortality that was the aftermath of that Great War, Kaluza told Einstein that he had glimpsed the additional dimensions of an electrical field beyond our full vision of the world.

Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher of science, in the 1930s, suggested how impartial our visions of reality are when he said that we had not yet developed an adequate language to describe the uncertainty principle, distortions of the speed of light, and the half-life of radioactive decay. It is here and now that a map would protect us, but we have neither the legend nor adequate words to interpret the map and only the worst outlines scrawled across our page.

Many societies today place human hopes on developing nuclear fire, or fission reactors, the product of the electroweak force. The electroweak force of the atomic nuclei is a fundamental power of nature inherent in the mother of electrons and protons: the neutrons. We have strung our continents in Christmas decor-like fashion with electrical wires enmeshing our lives in wired webs of flowing electrons. As if the products of an ancient alchemists table, we possess neutron bombs that when exploded will send out an electromagnetic shock wave that erases computer memories because electrical circuits which now store information will then be destroyed. We need a map because we have evoked the powers and tapped the electrical and fissioning forces residing in the fifth dimension. Our microwaves, cell phones, blenders and television screens sing, like sirens all, and call to us from that dimension.

On all our maps of the fifth dimension will be shocks, those places where flesh has met electrons flowing at the speed of light: 300,000 meters per second. But besides these lightning bolts that are not unlike the waves breaking above the fish at the surface of a disturbed sea in that they appear to emerge from nowhere and into our lives, we will need to improve our maps and metaphors. We will need to redraw what we know to have some more reliable rendering of the electrical, magnetic, weak radioactive decay filled world in which we are enmeshed and upon which we now depend for our survival, our communication, our comforts and our sanity. We will have to disturb our contented three-D views of the world with some big blank spots on our five-d maps. Radiation is just one clue that we have huge blank spots on the map we are constructing of the electron-ridden world of atomic reactivity.

People, I suspect lived contentedly before fire, but to what level did their discontent rise when fires were extinguished, once they had become used to and even reliant on a fire's light and warmth? In the maps of the fifth dimension there will need to be hot spots, deep wells, indeed clear renderings of the very contours we must avoid if we are to live in the peaceable kingdom of neutrons, protons, electrons and a sea of streaming neutrinos.

Where are these other dimensions?

An artists rendering of the fifth and further dimensions in a mathematical grid.

Together the fourth dimension of time and the fifth dimension of Electro-weak decay paint a vivid picture of things we cannot sense but are too intimately associated with to ignore. Take the neutron --for instance-- it decays when not held together in an atomic nucleus. It decays at the rate of thirteen (seconds - minutes) into a proton and an electron. By definition a proton and a neutron is either a hydrogen atom or a hydrogen ion, depending on the escape velocity of the electron. The sea in which we float is filled with the decayed remains of neutrons. They float like plankton awaiting a wave so forceful, called the strong force, that they under pressure are fused into helium. And at ever more powerful levels to fuse helium into carbon in what we call the pressures of stellar fusion. Our sun is a stellar fusion furnace where hydrogen is forcefully fused into helium and so much electromagnetic radiation is emitted that the earth's sky is lit up from dawn to dusk and the entire planet needs a protective shield to guard it from the very fury of the solar winds that constantly tear at the atmosphere above us.

We as a planet are caught in the eddy of our sun and on our five -D maps we need to note that the high energy discharges of the sun, not only disrupt our radio communications, but could on some fateful day fry every electrical transformer on earth, leaving us in the non-electric utility world of 1889 unless we are cautious. No? Unless we are fortunate. For there is nothing we can do to escape a burst of electromagnetic energy, a solar flare from the sun. We are too close, we are too dependent, because we are subjects to her solar majesty in the fifth dimension. She/he is a vengeful willful and reactive creature responding only to the fusion of mother neutrons and father protons in the heart of a plasma sea that burns in the pit of the sun. Our sun, as Akhenaton recognized, and we may have forgotten to put on our maps of the fifth dimension, is that sun which giveth and the sun which taketh away. When the solar sea shudders, we will be swept away like the Pompeiians huddled on the cave lined shore of Herculaneum under the weight of Vesuvius massive explosion. The massive solar flare will reorder our world. Embedded as the Earth is in electromagnetic forces beyond our capacity to moderate or to control, the solar wind can strip electrons from their constructive shells and leave us apart, abandoned and absolutely powerless as the fifth dimension intrudes into our cozy, yet indifferent, three dimensional world.

Just as Pliny, the Roman naturalist, could not have understood what ultimately caused Vesuvius to explode in 79 AD, many of us have no idea what occurred on March 13, 1989 when a solar flare struck the earth and interrupted electrical deliveries in North America. New York and the northeast went without power, into a "blackout." But as lightning is sometimes a bitter example of the powers lurking about the fifth dimension, the capacity of the sun to disrupt electrical transmission on earth is just another example of why our metaphors, our language and our maps need further refinement to serve as charts adequate enough for us to navigate the shoals of fusion and the whirlpools of black holes into which numerous argonauts of the fifth dimension are taking the rest of us at an ever more rapid pave. At a pace too fast for us to invent appropriate metaphors to serve as legends on our maps.

Amidst the froth we live out our four dimensional lives in a five-d quantum foam of even six or more dimensions. But since we dwell now at the beckon call of electronic appliances, keeping time by atomic clocks, and tapping the fissionable power of uranium and plutonium, sketches of the fifth dimension can help us to traverse this region within which we travel. People need such a map for the safety of each of us and our neighbors. We need the map as a reminder to keep in mind the dangers we may encounter. A massive burst of lightning last month, my colleague tells me, destroyed his hard drive, fried his mother board and robbed him of his electronic page of thoughts. I too know that because of nearby lightning my phone is dead, my fax machine doesn't work, and the sand is become glass in a little place in my yard. Why? Because, although they dwell in the fifth dimension, as we all do, these appliances, from time to time we brush beside, ever so close to, an eddy whose abruptness, force and extent, fiercely take away electrons leaving these quartz crystals and appliances helpless to resist the shock. I took my students to a turtle museum last month where its curator showed us the skeletal remains of a Galapagos tortoise. Yes it had been struck dead by lightning in south Florida, just this past August.

Like iron fillings attracted to a magnet, these stolen electrons will no longer do the work they were captured, bound and designed by us or by nature to perform. We sit at the edge of an abyssal, five-D sea and look for signs to protect us from some sudden shift in the electromagnetic field that forms the shore upon which we sit. We must learn to be alert for some abrupt removal of the water from the spacetime basin, because that is the warning of a powerful wave approaching our shore. For we are always in a field submerged partially in an extra-dimensional sea from which signal lights as waves press forever against the apparently solid grains of sand that Blake honestly told us long ago where the journey work of the stars.

As the song says, "teach your children well."

Electricity | electromagnetism | visual | dimensions | Gell-Mann | Hawking | Kaku | Einstein