May 01, 2011

Explaining the Fourth Dimension

Has a kid ever asked you what the fourth dimension is? What it looks like? Whether it could possibly exist?

No, no kid has ever asked me either. But I really wish one would one day.

Anyway, I was reading this book by one of my favourite authors, the hilarious Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre. The book is called Pandaemonium and for goodness' sake don't recommend it to any of your pupils. The "c" word appears frequently, there's a lot special hugging* in it, there's really really gross violence and gore, and it's just generally very offensive. If it was released as an audiobook, it would be read by Frankie Boyle.

I loved every page.

Anyway, I'll try and get to the point. There's this bit in it where CB explains the concept of a fourth dimension really nicely. I loved it so much I highlighted it and wrote a little note (I LOVE my new Kindle!!). I'll try and paraphrase it here:

Imagine there are some ants crawling across the duvet on your bed. They are only aware of two dimensions: walking forwards and walking sideways. There is no up or down for them. So if you picked one of the ants up and suspended it in the air, all the other ants would think the ant had vanished. They would have no idea where it went. And then if you put the ant back down a few centimetres from where you picked it up, the ants would all think it had teleported.

Maybe there's a higher dimension out there that we can't comprehend. Maybe there's something out there that could pick one of us up and put us down somewhere else, and it would look like we've teleported. If we could access this fourth dimension, think of the possibilities: we could perform surgery without breaking the skin.

Back to the ants on the duvet: imagine picking up two opposite corners of the duvet and bringing them together. The ants are still only moving in two dimensions, but now they can walk off one edge of the duvet and return at the opposite end, walking in the opposite direction. This involves moving their world around in three dimensions, but keeping it as a two dimensional world, and without them noticing. Could something similar happen to us? Could we walk off one "end" of the universe and end up on the other side? Is dying walking off the end? Does God live in the fourth dimension?

Well, I found it interesting.

Emma x x x

*credit goes to Lizzie Bowen, drama-with-English trainee, for that very useful phrase.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Hi Emma,
    In actual fact my 8-year-old asked me what the 4 dimensions are only yesterday. It was instigated by Legoland having a ‘4-dimensional cinema’. We didn’t go in but I don’t think there were any ants or duvets involved, just weird glasses and lego bricks! My suspicion is that one of the dimenssions may have been missing but now I wish we had gone in to find out.
    Anyway, if you need to find out more, Legoland is very nice, full of children up to about 9 years old and you can get tickets with your Tesco vouchers!
    I am currently reading one of your other recommended books (Curious Incident…) but I might give this one a miss!

    02 May 2011, 19:20

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