Ask A Scientist
Is there another dimension besides the 3rd dimension?
Asked by: Halie Carden
School: Maine Endwell Middle School
Hobbies/Interests: Cheerleading, singing, dancing, soccer
Career Interest: Teacher, professional singer and advertising
Answer from Stanley N. Salthe
Visiting Scientist, Binghamton University
Ecology, evolutionary biology, semiotics, systems science, and thermodynamics. Woodland gardening, nature walks, all of the arts
Ph.D.: Columbia University
Family: Wife Barbara, two children Becky and Eric
Yes, Hallie, there are at least one more dimension in our world, as physicists model it in their thinking. In a diagram, the first dimension is represented as a line, and the second as a flat plane, which can have many lines crisscrossing it. The Third is a space like the one we exist in, which has an up and down, as well as a left and right, orientation, and lines which can exist in this dimension in any direction. To better explain this third dimension, imagine the upward lifting of a flat plane, creating a 'three dimensional' area. This models space just like it seems to be to us in the actual world. In this way of seeing things, there is a basic object out of which these dimensions are produced. This is a point, or dot, giving us the basics -- point, line, plane, and space. Now, a point can be imagined to move within a three-dimensional space, just as a ball can move in the actual space that we occupy. An arrow pointing in its direction of motion can represent the motion of a point within this space. Now, motion results not only in changing from one place to another, but it also takes time. That is, it could move slower or quicker. Such a difference in rate of motion can be measured using one or another kind of timing device, or clock. The faster a point moves, the more space it will traverse, just as running will cover more ground than walking. From this it was considered that we needed another dimension to represent change; this fourth dimension in time. With time, we get ideas like speed and acceleration, which is how fast a speed increases from the push that gets it going. Applying, and using up, some energy make that push. Energy could almost be thought of as yet another dimension of the world. But physicists today have imagined several more dimensions to exist, in a very complicated theory that very few understand. Using mathematics they have suggested that there are several to many more dimensions of sort of curled up, in such a way that we cannot feel them like we can feel space and speed. These dimensions would be -- where? Curled up inside the dot in our diagram model of the world!