Saturday, April 3, 2010

It's All a Matter of Perspective

Flatland. Originally introduced in a novel in 1884, it has become an illustration of dimensional observation as well as a highbrow punchline in the century-and-a-quarter since. It's a 2-dimensional world whose residents cannot comprehend the free movement in three dimensions that we enjoy. The idea is that there's a square that lives on a single plane, unable to exist in multiple segments of the third dimension at one time. It sees the world differently, not understanding our enhanced view.

I've been thinking about Flatland lately. Actually, I've been thinking about the 4th dimensioners that would see us the way we see Flatlanders. We can witness a 4th dimension (time) only in individual slices, but is it possible that there is some being that can exist in multiple points of time the way we can in space? When I look at it this way, time and time-travel for a 3-D being makes so much more sense. It's not that different copies of us exist simultaneously in several parallel time periods. More likely, it is just as it would be with the square moving in the third dimension. When it enters a new plane, it must leave the old one. That's not to say that it has to travel the dimension linearly, maybe it finds a way to drop several units in an instant, but to the other residents of Flatland, it would seem to disappear instantly from one and appear instantly in the other. I think that's how time-travel would have to work for us.

What's more, Flatlanders experience time as well. They are, in fact, experiencing all of the same dimensions as a 4th dimensioner would, but they are only capable of expanse in two of them. Are there other dimensions out there that we are already experiencing one point at a time, but cannot perceive without the continuum? We don't know what we don't know. Dogs don't know that color exists, even though they mingle with those of us who can see it. Do we walk among bees that span centuries? Spiders that span gravitational leaks? Cockroaches must exist in at least six dimensions, right? And if there's truth to any of this, what is the Möbius Strip of higher dimensions? I'd love to take a walk on that!


Jimmy said...

A couple of things.

I think the application of the parable of Flatland to time travel is ill-advised, considering as you said that the Flatlanders experience time as well. I believe it was about a hypothetical fourth spatial dimension. Further, I think our vocabularies and minds are ill-equipped to comprehend a being that travels through time like we travel through space. For one, what does it mean to "travel" through time? When we travel through space, it means that we were once at one place, and now we are at a different place. That doesn't correspond to time travel, except in the limited sense that we come up with it in science fiction.

On a different note, dogs experience color in approximately the same way as humans with red-green color blindness.

Kiki said...

Okay, then use deer instead of dogs. The point is that what we see may be augmented from even the other creatures that share our life space.

As far as experiencing dimensions, I believe that we are all experiencing every dimension already, but there are some that we just cannot perceive without moving through them or existing in multiple levels of them simultaneously. With regard to time travel, I merely use the idea of Flatland to illustrate that I don't necessarily believe that we all exist in all points in time simultaneously. For example, we can't go back and run into ourselves.

Jimmy said...

Sure, I understood the point you were trying to make. I just thought it a good opportunity to point out the misconception that saying dogs are "color blind" tends to engender.

Anyway, I'm not sure what it means to experience a dimension when one is trapped in a cross-section of it.