Time as a Dimension

Scott McCloud’s exploration of duration, time, or the fourth dimension and how it can and is represented within comic strips and more generally all types of media brings my mind to string theory and several concepts I am still trying to wrap my head around.

My first realization came when I watched Carl Sagan’s Video on Flatlander’s and began to understand that something that lives in the second dimension can only perceive things in the first dimension.  This, if I am following this theory right, leads me to believe that we humans live in the fourth dimension, time, and perceive things one dimension below us or in the 3rd dimension.  Our memories and perception of the world around consist of nothing more than a series of geometric configurations from which we are able to derive meaning and a type of understanding about the significance of those configurations.  McCloud’s 2-Dimensional Discussion is able to achieve the same thing simply using a series of lines on paper.

When the discussion extends to 10 dimensions things get a bit more complex but if a two dimensional medium is able to represent a fourth dimensional concept.  What is something not limited by the 3 dimensional world able to represent and is it possible for beings living in the 4th dimension to potentially perceive the higher dimensions through the use of this tool.

1 thought on “Time as a Dimension

  1. Reading McCloud’s comic made me think of similar things, as we sort of brought up in today’s discussion. Time is a strange thing, in some ways it does seem to act as the 4th of another dimension that we are more used to thinking about, but on the other, it has some weird properties that we don’t seem to experience in the 3 spacial dimensions (e.g. directionality).

    I still need to read Flatland myself (I think I have it on my Kindle, just waiting to be read), but I really like the idea of imagining how a being living in a 2-D world would/could perceive or think about a 3rd or 4th dimension.

    We continue to find new metaphors that fit conveniently into our 4-D limited way of perceiving the world to help understand properties of time, and higher dimensions as well. I like Brian Greene’s loaf of bread metaphor that I posted about, but it as well reduces the spacial universe to 2 dimensions. I wonder sometimes if trying to wrap our heads around what that and other metaphors would look like if we bumped it up to a higher dimension and whether or not that is a useful exercise. I think it’s certainly interesting that we can even try to “visualize” higher dimensions, but in many ways we will always be limited by our sensory perceptions and a lifetime of intuitions we have built up in a 4th dimensional experience.

    But that’s where the math can help us. Believe you me, growing up, I thought I hated math. And even in undergrad I remember sitting through linear algebra and remembering the professor saying “and this can easily be extended to Nth dimensional space” on various theorems and concepts and thinking “why the hell would I ever want to extend this to Nth dimensional space and what does that even mean” What I’ve come to realize is that the beauty in that, (which was completely and utterly lost in the way the material was originally presented to me in linear algebra class) , is that once we understand how the equations work in 2 or 3 dimensions extending the model to higher dimensions is usually trivial. The simulation I am working on for my research is… 15 dimensions, depending how you look at it. So “points” in my simulation are really moving through a 14th dimensional space (and that motion, the moving through time in the 14th dimensional space brings it up to 15 dimensions) but whenever I try to visualize it I always think of a point moving through a 3-D space and then do a mental hand wave argument to myself and say “and this actually works in higher dimensions”

    So I would argue that math is another medium, or a part of a larger medium, and certainly another tool that can aid us in exploring and understanding how a 10 dimensional universe may work.

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