Why can’t we picture a fifth dimension? One, two, and three seem so easy to grasp. We can even see how one leads to the next: a line, composed of points, is a component of a shape on a plane, which in turn is a component of a spatial object. Consider that object with an additional aspect, enduring through time, and you can almost envision a fourth–a curving sense of endurance, relative to our space. So, why not imagine another dimension, not just curved, but twisted or spun, which consists of the aspects of time, present, future and past, relating to one another? Ok… don’t picture it too hard… it hurts. I’ve tried, plenty. At the same time, it IS something we can sense. We sense it all the time, and it confuses the hell out of us. Our plans, based on multiple influences and contingencies, don’t turn out exactly as we expect. We learn from the past, trying not to repeat the same mistakes, but they appear to happen again, just with all new twists. It isn’t just a personal problem issue, however. In science, it is described perfectly by the laws of thermodynamics–energy persists, but entropy increases. So, for lack of a better term, I’ve labeled the fifth dimension “chaos”.
(This is where I always expect to hear some old science fiction soundtrack in the background, and the evil villain jumping out. I’ve even heard people say “a dimension of pure chaos” and thought they had no clue as to what they were saying. It was amusing enough that I pasted the phrase onto my coffee mug… one of these days, I’ll come up with a cafe press version. Anyways… back to the subject.)
Here’s what we have, so far:
As much as I talk about chaos theory, in relation to the study of fractals in nature or other complex, scaling phenomena, the term seems woefully inadequate here. It does indeed relate to things at all scales–each individual part of a system, consisting of these dimensions, is in turn the part of a larger system, connected by the same pattern of dimensions. Still, it seems like there should be a better word to describe it. But what do you call a level at which there is an evolving relationship between all things, where everything affects everything else, with such a subtle influence that all we can perceive is uncertainty? “Chaos” doesn’t quite cut it. It seems to me worthy of a more beautiful term. (The Japanese equivalent, the kanji konton means both “primeval chaos” and “new birth”, similar to the English term, but without the evil stigma.) Regardless of name, because of this aspect, things can change. Values can be readjusted, information can expand, experience diversifies.
If we were able to see it from the outside, with a full perception of all five of these dimensions, it would seem like a harmonious master plan. More than a complete history, it would be the what-ifs and never-weres, and the subtle influences of each. I think you’d almost have to be a deity–or, at least, have access to the combined knowledge of a sentient species–to grasp it. Alone, we don’t have a chance. The more we learn from science, both at the detailed level and at the interdisciplinary level, the closer we come, as a society, to glimpsing the big picture. (I guess that’s why I’m so concerned about us adapting now. It would really suck to come this close to seeing the whole, and then screw our chances of surviving to enjoy the study of it.)
It seems almost obvious why it is difficult to understand some of these dimensions. But why do we struggle with even the plain ones? You’d think a simple relationship between values would be easy to settle on, but as I showed with the example of a sunflower, it isn’t. You could call it a flaw of human perception, even… we have a limited perspective, with limited senses to gain information about our world. Because we’re stuck with a one-way perception of time, we learn about the world after considerable lag. (A few milliseconds, anyways.) I believe this is because an individual is, in this context, nothing more than a mass conglomeration of 5D patterns, just another piece in a larger 5D pattern. Because we are a part of the pattern, we can’t see the whole picture by ourselves. To us, the 5D picture really does look chaotic, because we perceive the chaos before we sense the other, more seemingly stable dimensions. We only see time moving one way, experiences tend to vary, information can be misinterpreted, and values, up close, seem fuzzy. To make sense of things, we are forced to look for patterns in the details, rather than grasp the synthesis of a thing.
Of course, as I mentioned above, we’ve already found a way around that. We came a long way when we started writing things down and creating complex systems of symbols in order to communicate–it was a way to chart the patterns. Just look where the variations on that theme have brought us.
We’ve discovered that we are the parts of bigger organisms, from our families and communities (even the online ones) to our larger cultures, or to humanity as a whole. Even humankind is just a rather active part of a larger ecosystem. Each level is capable of a larger perspective than one individual. Will we, as species, ever bother to look?
For more information: At this point, I could quote so many other people who have seen similar views, or whose writings have influenced my thoughts on the subject. I’m planning to re-write this series, polish it up, and toss in some cited references–then I’ll stash it until I have to write a dissertation in philosophy. In the meantime, I’d be happy to answer any questions, or dig up any relevant quotes or sources for influences on a particular aspect, if anyone is interested. Also, I’ll probably post some of my earlier notes on these ideas while I’m on vacation next week, so look for more, then.
On the 6th and beyond: Some ask me at this point, “what about higher dimensions?” I’ll head that one off at the pass and say it: I don’t know. While physicists sometimes use 11 or other odd numbers of dimensions to describe strings or membranes, they aren’t necessary in this case. From one point of view, a dimension higher than five would be practically impossible to envision. Even if it were possible, I’m not sure I’d want to. It seems to me that we have our hands full trying to perceive just what is here.
Regarding the simplicity of the diagrams (as opposed to the strange art usually found here): There are many ways to represent these ideas. Sometimes, I use symbols, like the hourglass and ribbon turning into a butterfly on the banner. Other times, I like the more factual representation, showing the scaling patterns. My favorite is DNA, with amino acids as the “matter”–values determined by chemical bonds at one scale, fitness at another. This time, I just wanted to keep it as simple as possible. If anyone wonders why they are all in black and white, that’s another story, waiting for a day to be reposted. If you’re impatient, click here.
Image notes: Konton kanji via Door Country Art. All other images made by the author.