A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL WORLD VIEW
4. DO DIMENSIONS REALLY EXIST?
This section is really for those who want to go a bit further in understanding what dimensions are.
After the foundations of a house, the next thing to be constructed is the framework. In New Zealand it is timber framework of the whole house, including internal wall framework, that is put up before any of the walls or roof is put on.
The roof is put on before the walls are then constructed, windows inserted and the internal walls lined.
The framework gives the shape or properties of the house, and the house depends for its existence on the framework. But when the house is finished, the framework is not visible any longer.
Is the existence of dimensions something like that? Dimensions can be thought of as the framework that provide the properties for how things can exist. Just as the framework remains necessary throughout the life of the house even though it is hidden, so also dimensions have a real although hidden existence.
The dimensions of space then could be explained as the framework that allows us to experience an expanse around us that we can move in. The dimension of time is the framework that allows us to feel that we have come from the past, are being busy in the present, and are looking to the future.
How can there be any seconds, minutes or days existing, if there is no dimension of time that exists to allow such a property? How can clocks work if time itself doesn't exist?
Does anything exist?
Physicist Brian Greene calls spacetime the fabric of the cosmos. Fabric implies something that is actually there. He succeeds in showing us that our universe is a lot stranger than we had thought. But he ends up without an answer. He says, "Is space a something or isn't it? Is spacetime a something, or isn't it?" [TFOTC pg 491] He suggests that dimensions could be a way of expressing the relative relationships of objects. That implies that dimensions don't actually exist in themselves, but they are just a idea we use to explain what we experience in our universe. Brian Greene runs a great relay race, but drops the baton at the end.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1717), the English scientist and theologian, was able to work from common experience, simple experiments and a few mathematical equations to explain everything about motion on earth and in the universe. Newton was a man of deep faith and believed that his discoveries were revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. He realised that for things to move they needed somewhere to move so he wondered what space was. In his book Principia Mathematica Newton declared space and time to be absolute and immutable entities that provided the universe with a rigid arena for its structure. In terms of my illustration above, he saw space and time as a rigid framework. There were those who disagreed with him, saying that one cannot ascribe existence to something that cannot be seen or touched. But Newton's laws worked, so they thought the questions could be safely ignored. [TFOTC pg 7]
Just 99 years ago, Einstein came out with his first paper on special relativity and followed it later with another on general relativity, and showed that space and time are not independent and absolute but work together as spacetime to support the universe. He showed how space and time are flexible and dynamic. His theories and illustrations such as Fig 2 (on pg 7) seem to confirm the reality of spacetime. The framework is still there, but it is all joined together, and it is built to earthquake standards of flexibility.
Now with the discovery of superstring theory we have more dimensions to think about, and the picture changes dramatically again. At first glance the discovery of further dimensions confirms their reality, but it also raises the question more insistently that was there from the beginning, 'What is the nature of these dimensions anyway?'
No-one has too seriously questioned the reality of these dimensions until now when we are forced to ask about their nature. Newtonian physics and Einstein's theories about the nature of the universe depend on the reality of these dimensions. But more than that, science itself relies of their reality. So for a modern physicist such as Brian Greene to come to wonder if they exist is truly amazing.
The nature of dimensions is not just an issue for a multi-dimensional worldview but is an issue for the whole of science. The foundations of science are not as strong as one would think. Science itself has been built on a worldview which has assumed the reality of certain dimensions, but is as yet unable to prove those assumptions. All the proofs of science when put together are still unproven.
Has science come to an end of itself? What science has shown in the discovery of superstring theory and extra dimensions opens up a new way for us to think about our universe. But the discovery takes us to the boundary of science for dimensions themselves are not matter or energy to put under the microscope. There are different kinds of questions we must ask about the nature of dimensions. We must take hold of that opportunity rather than end up in a dead end street that will never have any answers.
Science works by proposing theories to fit the facts as we know them, and then tests out those theories to see if further evidence fits with them. When things arise which do not fit those theories, it develops new theories to account for observation. Now seems to be a time when a new theory should be developed to account for the dimensions of the universe.
The Nature Of Existence
Don't we need to examine our idea of existence? If dimensions do not exist, what does that say about the existence of the universe? Dimensions are what enables existence in the universe, so if there are no dimensions then it would be logical to assume that there is no universe either. The question we are faced with is not only, "Is there a God?", but, "Is there a universe?" Could we be just dreaming it all?
The choice we have is that either something of the universe exists or nothing of the universe exists. However if we say 'nothing exists', then because the statement exists, it really denies itself. Therefore something of the universe exists. If something of the universe exists then the universe exists, because whatever exists is the universe. Is this universe that exists what we know as the universe? Well there is only one universe to choose from and that is the universe we live in!
What does that say about dimensions? If we doubt the existence of dimensions we are left with no framework for existence, and the existence of the universe itself is left in limbo. But because the universe does exist, we have to conclude that dimensions do exist. That still leaves the question of the nature of that existence.
A basic problem that we come to again is the naturalistic assumption that existence has to be matter and energy in spacetime. It is science itself that has come up with the discovery of superstrings dimensions that are beyond our ordinary spacetime. We are forced to move our definition of existence beyond the four dimensions of spacetime to recognise what science itself is telling us.
Apart from superstrings, it is obvious that because our universe has a finite beginning, that something other than the universe started it all. But you say, it could have spontaneously generated. The first law of thermodynamics, one of the foundational laws of our universe is that matter and energy do not spontaneously generate themselves. If it was the case, we would get strange things appearing anywhere, even inside of ourselves. That would be rather disruptive to life to say the least. For our natural universe to exist, it would have to be something other than our universe to have caused it, and for the cause to be outside of nature, in other words it would be supernatural.
We have to go beyond our assumption of nature to find the definition of what exists. Fortunately there are other ways we can determine existence.
We Experience Dimensions
Basic to our human experience, including science and Christian belief has been that what we experience in this world is real. It has led us to trust in our reason, and made us look for laws of physics and biology. That is also a Christian understanding that God created a real universe. If the universe is only a computer-like matrix in God's mind, then we are all deceived. God is not a deceiver or he wouldn't be the truth of the universe.
We therefore have to trust our human experience of what we discern to exist as being reality. That does not mean that our experience is always correct, but that we are always open to learn from our experience and the experience of others. We let reality guide us in our learning.
My experience is that I can discern each of the seven dimensions as real in themselves. I can experience the space around me as something real in itself.
I sense the presence of time and its flow even without looking at my watch. I know there is a now moment as I am typing this.
All the things around me that I can touch, see or hear, and as I move my own body, give me the sense reality of mass-energy. I am not talking here simply of objects or warmth from the sun which are easy to see as real when I touch them. But it is the dimension that gives rise to mass-energy, mass-energy itself which is expressed in a great variety of objects and energy forms, that is the issue here.
I am very aware of thoughts in my brain that record all sorts of knowledge. This is the easiest dimension to recognise as existing. I am not saying that this is a subjective dimension, but that this knowledge was gained by observing reality around me. So it is both a subjective and objective dimension.
And I know that I am uniquely me as distinct from everything and everyone else. The experience of everyone would bear with me on that, although our experiences may all be different.
Why not give equal weight to all of that experience and say that all of these are real dimensions of life as we experience it in this universe.
Three Ways We Experience Existence
What exists is what we experience as real. Our experience can come in three ways. What we, sense, reason or believe, are ways that we come to experience the truth about this universe.
Sensing. Our senses allow us to observe and relate to the world around us, and to judge what is real. This does not mean that something only exists because I can sense that something, it is just that given that something exists, sensing it is one way that is demonstrated. Senses work directly (when I taste my food) or indirectly (as when I use a telescope to look at the moon).
Science has relied strongly on this method. The experimental method is about the repeatability of observation. Yet we can see that there are limits to how much we can observe with the very tiny and the laws of the universe themselves.
Dimensions are something that I can both observe and relate to. I can touch the mass-energy of things around me. The fact that I can remember the past, act in the present, and plan for the future is a valid way to experience the passage of time.
I can also measure, just as I can measure the size of my fish tank. There is actually a limit to how much I can measure, because the quantum theory of the particles of the atom describe the uncertainty principle which states that all the properties of a particle cannot be measured at the same time.
Our ability to sense reality is dependent on our ability to relate to the physical world around us. But on its own sensing is not enough. We need to be able to calculate from our measurements, we can't observe everything, and sometimes our senses deceive us.
Reasoning. The existence of many things depends on being able to logically demonstrate them. I don't taste the vitamins in my food, but logically I know they are there in fresh food I eat, so I affirm them. I have reasoned it out that others have done reliable experiments to test for their presence in food similar to what I am eating, so that these vitamins will be in my food also. Then I reason out that I have not got vitamin deficiencies so the results also show that I have eaten enough vitamins.
Reason can correct our sense experience. Simple logic tells me that someone can't be in two places at once. So when I hear a report that someone was in Hamilton and I saw them in Auckland at the reported time, I know that the report was not true.
We can calculate with or logically study the dimensions. Five metres + ten metres = fifteen metres. Ten minutes + twenty minutes = half an hour.
We accept measurements and numbers as real. Numbers are real even when they have no objects they represent. There are some irrational numbers such as the square root of prime numbers, so not all possible numbers are real. Numbers are only concepts, but we have to accept them as real enough.
Maths is a good way to reason logically where this is possible. Superstrings are in this category, as having been discovered through maths, rather than through observation. But if a maths problem is proven, then it is a strong proof of reality.
From Newton to Einstein we have formed a science using mathematics to demonstrate its reality. Yet maths in itself is not something we can see or touch. Science has already been using a method that does not match with what some would see as its own standards of proof.
The point is that we have to trust the reality of logic if we want to get anywhere, although not everything that we reason is real. Speculation and imagination can lead us astray. We still need our sense experience to back up our logic.
Reasoning relies on the knowledge dimension for its validity as a means of determining what is true.
Believing. I'm not using the term here as a noun, for the doctrines or objects of our belief, but as a verb that expresses the inner sense that leads us to apprehend what is true. In human experience there are some things that are real yet go beyond what we sense or can reason. We believe that love is real. Love is not discerned to be real by our senses, or by logic. But we just know that we know when we love someone.
It is by our belief that we determine what is right and wrong, beautiful or ugly, true or false.
Belief also helps us to sort out the value of the mass of things that we sense or could reason about, as to what is significant or not significant. Belief also leads us to consider the ultimate nature of our universe, and our reason for being.
Belief on its own can mislead us. There are many religions in this world that have opposing concepts of reality. The study of theology is our attempt to sort out what is right and wrong in our human beliefs, and is a necessary activity if we are to grow in our understanding of what is real.
Our spiritual experiences should not be discarded if we are going to come to a world-view that does encompass the whole of reality. Belief relies on the spirit dimension to demonstrate its validity for what is true.
Isn't the truth that we need each of these three ways to find what exists? There are limits to each of the ways of experiencing things. But if we use all of these ways to check each other as we normally do, and also check out each others experience, we should be able to come closer to the truth.
For this reason I believe we need to look at what each of science, logic and theology have to say about the existence of dimensions. When we find them all in agreement we have a solid basis for belief in their existence.
Beyond The Cosmos
I have been indebted to Hugh Ross's work for being the person who first tackled the subject of the extra-dimensionality of God in his book 'Beyond the Cosmos'. As a Christian astronomer he quickly saw the significance of the discoveries of superstring theory. It is surprising that there has not been more response to his work and that it has not become more known to the general public. I would suggest that because it is also a theological book, scientists have shied away from it.
In his book Ross genuinely brings together a deep understanding of science and theology, and so does a great service to the world that tries to keep them apart.
Ross's thesis is that the extra space dimensions revealed in superstrings, and the extra time dimensions that are required by the universe having a beginning, lead to new ways of thinking about how God works through these extra dimensions in our universe.
Ross says, "The space-time theorem of general relativity establishes not only the Creator's extra time dimension(s) or their equivalent, but also His capacity to operate in all the space dimensions the universe has ever possessed (or their equivalent). What follows, then, from string theory and from all these recent findings in particle physics and astrophysics, is that God must be operating in a minimum of eleven dimensions of space and time (or their practical equivalent)." [BTC pg 45]
Unfortunately however Ross doesn't go beyond the dimensions of space and time to explore the possibility of other types of dimensions. He stays with the physical dimensions, "The laws of physics God designed for physical life require that all the matter and energy of the universe be situated on (and confined to) the manifold, or "envelope" of these four dimensions." [BTC pg 19]
Ross is therefore not fully trusting in the role of dimensions to explain things. Spirituality remains on the outside, not as another dimension but as something still unexplained. By retaining a limited definition of dimensions that are proscribed by the four dimensions of spacetime, he is really limiting himself in the end, and not making the challenge to science itself that he could have. It reveals God as a kind of mixture of an extra-dimensional being (meaning only dimensions of spacetime) and other attributes that are not dimensional. His position is an uneasy compromise of dimensions and non-dimensional theology. Such a worldview is not a unified one.
A More Comprehensive Theory
A better way is to accept that dimensions exist to cover all the properties of existence. It is difficult to prove that some kinds of dimensions exist if others don't. Generally the same reasons for the existence of dimensions apply across them all.
- That we can experience things as dimensional and experience the effects of all the seven dimensions.
- That logically there need to be dimensions to allow anything to exist in all the areas covered by the dimensions, and because things exist in the areas, there must be dimensions for all of them.
- That the nature of existence itself depends on a God who has created all aspects of our universe to be a place of order and reality, so if part of our universe exists as a real dimensional universe, it is consistent to accept that God has created all of the universe the same way.
Dimensions have been generally accepted as existing, although their nature is little understood, and some would doubt that they do exist in themselves. But dimensions force us to look again at what we mean by existence. A good starting point is to define dimensions in terms of what we can sense, reason, or believe. In each of these ways they could be said to exist, but we now need to look at each one.
Rev Brian Brandon, Revised October 2004
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