Thursday, January 28, 2010

Playing Games in Extra Dimensions

Here's a video demonstrating a new iPhone/iPod Touch game created by Brazil's Roger Sodré, of Studio Avante: the game is called Hipercubo.

A direct link to the above video is at

Roger tells me he's a long time fan of Imagining the Tenth Dimension. This game allows you to manipulate a four-dimensional hypercube, and if go to Apple's Apps Store, you'll see it's available free in a basic version, with additional levels available for purchase. You'll also see in the description that Roger suggests we could use this game as a way of thinking about how our universe is finite but unbounded (as opposed to infinite), a concept we've talked about in previous blogs like Are We a 3D Sphere on a 4D Hypersphere and Life is But a Dream. In fact, there's a poll question running here at the tenth dimension blog right now that asks whether you support that idea or not.

Music and sound effects for Roger's game are by Cromo.Sonica. I've just downloaded the free version and it's quite the brainbuster, really a fine way to force your brain into thinking about how the shadows of extra dimensional objects behave as you manipulate them. We're going to talk about hypercubes next week again in an entry called Dancing on the Timeline: and one of my more popular blog entries from a couple of years ago called Hypercubes and Plato's Cave also shows my suggestion for a way of visualizing how we could exchange the word "duration" for "length" in imagining the fourth spatial dimension. As we can see in this game, there is no way for us to appreciate the shape of this hypercube when it's static and unchanging. Only by using "time" to manipulate the object can we begin to visualize how, just like with a 3D cube, with this 4D cube every edge is the same length, and each side is at a 90 degree right angle to the next.

A direct link to the above video is at

Here's another game for you to play online: a 4D Rubik's Cube called Magic Cube 4D. Superliminal Software has a number of interesting links on their pages, check 'em out. The above video shows the 4D cube being solved automatically by the program, it would of course take much, much longer for a human being to solve this crazy-looking puzzle, but there are definitely people out there who have mastered such a feat!

And if you get the hang of this 4D version, then go one further with Magic Cube 5D!

This image is from the web page for Magic Cube 5D, which is posted at Gravitation3D. I love what they say in the text above this image:

In the spirit of taking things too far, here is a fully functional 5-dimensional analogue of Rubik's cube.

"In that blessed region of Four Dimensions, shall we linger on the threshold of the Fifth, and not enter therein?"

- Edwin Abbott, Flatland

I hope you enjoy playing Hipercubo and these extra-dimensional Rubik's Cube puzzles! Next time we're going to keep things on the lighter side with something that ties back to our last entry: "I'm You From the Future".

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Top Ten Tenth Dimension Blogs - January Report

Previous lists:
. April 08 . May 08 . June 08 . July 08 . August 08
. September 08 . October 08 . November 08 . December 08 .
Top 100 Blog Entries of 2008 . May 09 . June 09 . July 09
. August 09 . September 09 . October 09 . November 09 .
. December 09 . Top 100 Blog Entries of 2009 .

Based upon number of views, here are the top blogs for the last thirty days. As always, the number in brackets is the entry's position in the previous month's report.

1. Consciousness in Frames per Second (new)
2. Time is in the Mind (new)
3. Flow (new)
4. Life is But a Dream (8)
5. Coconut-Carrying Octopus (new)
8. You Are the Point (new)
6. The Very Model of a Singularitarian (new)
7. Time and Schizophrenia (new)
9. Skhizein (new)
10. Time and Music (new)

And as of January 26th, 2010, here are the twenty-six Imagining the Tenth Dimension blog entries that have attracted the most visits of all time. Items marked in bold are new or have risen since last month.

1. Jumping Jesus (1)
2. Creativity and the Quantum Universe (2)
3. Augmented Reality (3)
4. What's Around the Corner? (7)
5. The Holographic Universe (4)
6. An Expanding 4D Sphere (6)
7. Slices of Reality (5)
8. Just Six Things: The I Ching (8)
9. Poll 44 - The Biocentric Universe Theory (9)
10. Roger Ebert on Quantum Reincarnation (11)
11. Urban Garden Magazine (10)
12. Alien Mathematics (13)
13. Seeing Time, Feeling Colors, Tasting Light (22)
14. Polls Archive 43 - Is the Multiverse Real? (24)
15. The Quantum Solution to Time's Arrow (18)
16. Modern Shamans (12)
17. When's a Knot Not a Knot? (16)
18. Mandelbulbs (new)
19. The Comedian (14)
20. Scott McCloud and the Brothers Winn (15)
21. The Big Bang is an Illusion (21)
22. The Shaman (17)
23. Beer and Miracles (25)
24. Poll 46 - Big Bang an Illusion? (new)
25. Our Non-Local Universe (19)
26. Astrotometry (20)

Which means that these worthy submissions are leaving our top 26 of all time list this month:

Going to the Light (23)
Norway's "Reverse Deja Vu" (26)

By the way, if you're new to this project, you might want to check out the Tenth Dimension FAQ, as it provides a road map to a lot of the discussions and different materials that have been created for this project. If you are interested in the 26 songs attached to this project, this blog shows a video for each of the songs and provides more links with lyrics and discussion. The Annotated Tenth Dimension Video provides another cornucopia of discussion topics to be connected to over at YouTube. And as always, here's a reminder that the Tenth Dimension Forum is a good place to converse with other people about these ideas.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: Playing Games in Extra Dimensions

Sunday, January 24, 2010


What would you say to this as a description of my project?

Imagining the Tenth Dimension makes use of several interpretations of quantum physics, particularly Hugh Everett's Many-Worlds Interpretation, which views the universe as branching off into an infinity of possible states of varying probability. It also draws from the Copenhagen Interpretation, which suggests that an observer or measurement is important in determining the decoherency of the probability.
I would say this description fits quite well. But the above description is actually from the wikipedia article on a Japanese anime series from a couple of years ago called Noein. Watch this two minute clip from the series:

A direct link to the above video is at

One small quibble with the wikipedia description above: the Copenhagen Interpretation says observation collapses the wavefunction, causing all other possible outcomes to disappear. I side with Everett on this one: his theory says we don't collapse the wavefunction, we merely observe it in a particular state, and the other "many worlds" continue to exist as part of the wavefunction for our universe even though we're not observing those other possibilities. Here's more from that wikipedia article on Noein:
In the anime, Haruka possesses "supreme observer" status in the multiverse, thus enabling her to determine the sole outcome of an event just by "observing" one of the possible futures of the event. These themes also underpin an existential ideology that permeates the anime.
Regular readers of this blog may remember another anime series with a similar theme which I talked about almost two years ago in an entry called Anime, Gaming and Cusps: that series was called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. In the video I made for that blog entry I played a clip from the show, watch from about the 1:50 mark if you just want to see a bit of this other anime series:

A direct link to the above video can be found at

There seems to be something about Japanese culture that makes them more inclined to embrace as their entertainment the heady extrapolations that can be drawn from modern quantum theory. I suspect this is because there is something essentially holistic about the conclusions that can be drawn, making these ideas easier to align with ancient Eastern philosophy. As I've mentioned before, though, many North American teenagers and young adults have been introduced to related concepts in the Japanese video games they have played as youngsters. In Placebos Becoming More Effective?, we discussed the scientific evidence that placebos are twice as effective as they were a few decades ago. Could the Eastern viewpoints that have been introduced to the western world over the last few decades through entertainments like Noein be part of that shift?

On a more serious scientific note, here's a paper by physicist Max Tegmark called "Many Lives in Many Worlds".
Many lives in Many worlds-Max Tegmark

Other blogs where we've talked about Max Tegmark include Polls Archive 24, Aren't There Really 11 Dimensions?, and Quantum Suicide. We're going to continue exploring these extra-dimensional ideas from a more playful perspective next time with an entry called "Playing Games in Extra Dimensions".

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Monkeys Love Metallica

A direct link to the above video is at

Photograph: Andy Fossum/Rex Features. As seen in The Guardian UK article referenced below.
Sometimes we talk about ideas that seem to contradict each other. In a number of entries, like Jumping Jesus, Evolution's Fast Lane, and The Stream, we've looked at mounting evidence that we're in a constantly accelerating meme-space, where ideas are connecting together more and more quickly, and the amount of information that each of us is asked to process on a daily basis is constantly increasing. In Placebos Becoming More Effective? we talked about an editorial the New York Times published earlier this month called "Old Fogies at 20". This article suggests that university age students are seeing a generation gap between them and their high-school aged siblings: particularly in the world of technology and the internet, trends and expectations are changing so quickly now!

It can be hard to perceive an acceleration when you're within a system where everything is accelerating, but we do catch glimpses. So on the one hand we talk about The Stream, The Singularity, Transhumanism, Artificial Intuition, Conscious Computers, and so on. On the other hand, we talk about time being an illusion and parts of each of us being connected to patterns that exist well outside of the limits of the "now" of our 4D spacetime. How do the two ideas fit together? First of all, let's look at some recent examples of these big picture patterns.

We've talked a few times about the deep underlying connections of sacred geometry and how the Golden Ratio has been considered a thing of beauty for thousands of years. Like fractals, shapes and patterns such as these occur naturally, and perhaps that's why we're so attracted to them, because they represent deeper connections to reality that are outside the limits of our observed spacetime. Here's a Science Daily article from earlier this month that extends this idea even further: it suggests that scientists have now discovered evidence of the Golden Ratio in the quantum world!

Music and sound also seem to connect us together in powerful ways that speak to a more timeless perspective. In The Big Bang and the Big O, I referred back to sections in my book where I discuss how certain sounds seem to reach us at a primal level: could the dreaded chalkboard squeal connect us to genetic memories of some ancient flying predator who swooped down from the sky making a similar sound? Here's a great TED Talks video featuring sound consultant Julian Treasure, it's called The Four Ways Sound Affects Us. It speaks very effectively to the idea that we are all connected together by the ways we react to sound. Watch this five minute video:

A direct link to the above

Julian is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses -- offices, retailers, hotels -- on how to use sound and music more effectively. This leads us to the title of this entry, Monkeys Love Metallica. Okay, I admit it, "love" is overstating the case for dramatic effect but here's a link to a New York Times article my friend Pete Chema of Ten Feet Deep sent to me a couple of weeks ago, please check it out: "Music for Monkeys".

The Guardian UK also published a related article this past September that goes into more detail about this research, here's a link to that: Scientists create music that helps monkeys chill out. Both articles are linked to a study, published this past September in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, that (to quote from The Guardian article):
...will help psychologists understand the evolutionary roots of music and its effect on the brain, the authors said.

"The emotional components of music and animal calls might be very similar, and from an evolutionary perspective, we are finding that the note patterns, dissonance and timing are important for communicating affective states in both animals and people," said Chuck Snowdon, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Now, what Dr. Snowdon is talking about here seems to easily connect to ideas we've talked about in entries like The Geometry of Music and Disorders of the Mind: music, like the the other patterns we've just looked at, connects in ways that go beyond the limits of our 4D spacetime. But at first glance, the results of Dr. Snowdon's study seem to contradict the ideas he tells us he was exploring.

In the study, 14 cotton-top tamarins were played clips of music while the researchers noted any changes in behavior. Pieces included Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, a soft piano piece from The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails, Metallica's Of Wolf and Man and Tool's The Grudge.

According to the Guardian article, the monkeys didn't exhibit any clear response to these piece of music one way or another, except for the Metallica song,which had the unexpected effect of calming them down.

Interestingly, the New York Times article claims the scientists saw a similar soothing effect on the monkeys with the Tool song, but most of the other articles I found reporting on this study appear to only single out Metallica. Frankly, I have to suspect that most reporters covering this story grabbed on to the "Monkeys Like Metallica" angle because it makes for a more memorable story. Unfortunately, singling out Metallica from Tool does create some misperceptions here, though.

The monkeys did not respond one way or another to the other pieces of music. Does this mean that farmers who play classical music to their cows to keep them calm might be kidding themselves? Shouldn't Adagio for Strings have made these monkeys sad? If animals are part of the same continuum that we are, shouldn't they respond in ways similar to we humans to the joy, the sorrow, the anger, the range of human emotions that we can hear in a powerful piece of music?

Perhaps what we're talking about is more related to this accelerating generation gap we looked at above. Are our more subtle responses to music mainly cultural, mainly a learned behavior? In the same way that a young child might now expect that all viewing screens are multi-touch displays, perhaps our varying emotional responses to the music of the last four hundred years or so is something we've been trained into through repetition?

The key here is understanding that the monkeys responded to the highly rhythmic music of Tool and Metallica, and didn't respond to the long phrases and more free tempos of the other two pieces. What is the common denominator behind the development of music? Repeating structures. The drum. Patterns that can entrain the heartbeat and breath, that make a creature feel a certain way when they move along with the music. Adagio for Strings, then, is just a too subtle for our monkey friends to hear as a communication of emotion: this a generation gap of a different magnitude but similar nonetheless.

But where this gets even more interesting is when Dr. Snowdon brought in David Teie, a cellist with the American National Symphony Orchestra, to create some pieces of music that were inspired by (but to be clear, not specifically based upon) the sounds these monkeys use to communicate to each other. Here are a couple of the pieces: first, one inspired by the sounds these animals commonly produce when things are fine.

This second piece has melodic and rhythmic connections to the calls the tamarins produce when they are anxious or alarmed:

Certainly, this music sounds odd to our ears, but the tamarins responded as you might expect: they lounged around and ate more when the first piece of music was playing, and became upset when the second piece played. Any film soundtrack composer exercises their creativity in plugging into these same underlying connections, finding ways to soothe us, or ways to upset us with the palette of sounds, the melodic shapes and the rhythmic structures they choose. Clearly, Dr. Snowdon would have to experiment with a much larger range of musical compositions that are generally agreed to communicate a variety of specific emotions to humans, and I'm certain that such experiments would help to reveal what is primal and what is learned in modern humans' reactions to music of all kinds.

So, do Monkeys Love Metallica? Definitely a gross generalization, even if it's fun to use as a headline! But can monkeys respond emotionally to some kinds of music? This scientific study points to "yes".

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Noein

Monday, January 18, 2010

Nothing is Real

Do you remember Alfred Korzybski? We've talked about him in past blogs such as The Map and the Territory and Jumping Jesus. Korzybski was responsible for creating general semantics as a new approach to thinking about the relationship between language and our perceptions of the world around us.

One of the youtube video channels I like to watch is "ProfessorAnton". It features Corey Anton, who is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University and (perhaps not so coincidentally) is on the Board of Trustees for the Institute of General Semantics. Most of Professor Anton's videos are simple in design, just him talking into the video camera about ideas, but here's one he just put up which plays with low-resolution images and occasional overlapping of sound in ways that really appealed to me. Check out "Nothing is Real":

A direct link to the above video is at

If you enjoyed the ideas presented in this video check out the rest of Professor Anton's channel. Since we could say this blog entry uses a Beatles lyric for its title, you might also see some interesting tie-ins between this and the ideas we explored in You are Me and We are All Together, I Know You, You Know Me, Scrambled Eggs and Happy Birthday Paul.

Enjoy the journey!


Next: Monkeys Love Metallica

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dark Flow

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a concept called "Flow": being in the moment, in the groove, completely centered, a very internal idea connected to the nature of consciousness and our interface with reality. This time we're going to look at a very different and much more external concept from cosmology called "Dark Flow". The illustration below is credited to NASA and comes from an article published a few months ago in New Scientist magazine, entitled "Mystery 'dark flow' extends towards edge of universe". The article, written by Marcus Chown, begins with these paragraphs:

SOMETHING big is out there beyond the visible edge of our universe. That's the conclusion of the largest analysis to date of over 1000 galaxy clusters streaming in one direction at blistering speeds. Some researchers say this so-called "dark flow" is a sign that other universes nestle next door.

Last year, Sasha Kashlinsky of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and colleagues identified an unusual pattern in the motion of around 800 galaxy clusters. They studied the clusters' motion in the "afterglow" of the big bang, as measured by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The photons of this afterglow collide with electrons in galaxy clusters as they travel across space to the Earth, and this subtly changes the afterglow's temperature.

The team combined the WMAP data with X-ray observations and found the clusters were streaming at up to 1000 kilometres per second towards one particular part of the cosmos (The Astrophysical Journal Letters, vol 686, p L49).

Many researchers argued the dark flow would not turn up in later observations, but now the team claim to have confirmed its existence. Their latest analysis reveals 1400 clusters are part of the flow, and that it continues to around 3 billion light years from Earth, a sizeable fraction of the distance to the edge of the observable universe ( This is twice as far as seen in the previous study.
What does Mr. Chown mean when he says this force is coming from "beyond the edge of the universe"? Is he talking about a concept we explored in The Statistical Universe? Here's the new video for that previous entry:

A direct link to the above video is at

In that entry we looked at a Seed magazine article by Raphael Bousso, a theoretical physicist at The University of California, Berkeley. The image he painted for us of the multiverse is that if we were to head off in a particular direction in our universe, we would eventually (after traveling for a very very very long time!) get to some other universe with different basic physical laws. This might seem to imply that we need no more than 4D spacetime, but also then presents us with a difficult to imagine process where once we got to the "edge" of our universe with its unique physical laws, we would encounter some kind of a difficult transition to another universe that has its own unique physical laws.

In You are the Point we talked about the cosmological horizon, and the idea that no more matter where you go in our universe you will ultimately observe yourself to be at the center. Doesn't Dr. Bousso seem to be opposing this viewpoint? Isn't this like claiming the world is flat and that if we travel far enough we will fall off the edge? One might get that impression. But since Dr. Bousso is a string theorist, I would say that what he's really telling us is that we would need to be moving through the extra dimensions to make such a journey to another different-initial-conditions universe, an idea that would then connect much better with my approach to visualizing the dimensions. We looked at similar concepts in The Holographic Universe, here's the video for that one again:

A direct link to the above video is at
Coincidentally, in this video we looked at another New Scientist article written by Marcus Chown, and at about the 1:14 mark we show the cover of the issue that article came from, which has the headline "You are a Hologram Projected from the Edge of the Universe". At the 5:55 mark, I show some animations demonstrating some of the ways I'm proposing it's more useful to think about what the "edge of the universe" really is. This takes us back to the spatial dimensions that our reality comes from, and the important concept that each additional dimension is at "right angles" to the previous one. "What's Around the Corner" has turned out to be one of my more popular recent blogs showing how we can work through this logic one dimension at a time, please check it out if you still have questions about the validity of my approach and see if it helps to convince you.

Magnets and Flatlanders
Here's a visualization: imagine that our 4D spacetime is like the 2D plane that is home to our old friend, the flatlander. What would happen if we moved a magnet near that plane? In the flatlander's world, he would see objects moving towards the magnet's location, but have no way to see the magnet itself. That magnet is, in a sense "beyond the edge of the flatlander's world", in that it is in the third dimension rather than the second, at and additional right angle that is beyond his perception and perhaps even his ability to conceive.

Likewise, when cosmologists are suggesting that the observed evidence of "dark flow" is evidence for "universes next door" I would say the same analogy holds: this dark flow would be evidence of gravitational attraction coming from an additional dimension, one that is "outside" of our 4D spacetime in the same way that magnet was "outside" of the flatlander's 2D world.

"Dark flow" is still somewhat controversial, and even those scientists who accept its existence as a phenomenon have a variety of opinions on what its source might be.

As you'll see if you read the whole article, one theory is that this is evidence of certain regions of our universe having quantum entanglement with other universes, and if that turns out to be the case I would refer back to a recent entry I called The Fifth Dimension is Spooky. It seems that dark flow is very similar in nature to the dark energy that accelerates our universe's expansion and the dark matter that has held our universe together: I am proposing that all would appear to be evidence of different kinds of gravitational attraction from additional dimensions. Regular readers of this blog will recognize that this is not a new concept for me, but is rather one of the central ideas from my book. Another blog entry that explores this concept of how dark energy and dark matter are evidence for the existence of extra dimensions is Dark Gravity Across the Dimensions. Here's the video for that entry again:

A direct link to the above video is at
I was surprised to recall now that this blog entry looks at yet another article written by Marcus Chown: clearly I'm a fan!

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: When we talk about dark flow, dark energy, and dark matter we're talking about something that is undetectable except for indirect evidence. Next time we'll take another tangential leap from that idea with an entry called "Nothing is Real".

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Placebos Becoming More Effective?

Since Imagining the Tenth Dimension began, I've talked a lot about the idea that there are patterns and shapes, fractal structures and waveforms, outside of our spacetime that contribute to the reality we are currently observing. Here's how I described it in Logic vs. Intuition:

"...our world is now starting to move away from scientific materialism (the idea that what we observe around us is all there is to reality, and that everything about our reality is logical and predictable if only we collect enough data). Instead, we're starting to move towards a more holistic paradigm. That's true as we see the growing acceptance that our universe is only one of many, that roughly 96% of our own universe is completely invisible and undetectable, that the way our genes are expressed and even which genes are passed on to our offspring is strongly connected to our attitude and lifestyle, and that our holographic universe comes from the fifth dimension, connected together outside of fourth-dimensional space-time in ways that boggle the mind".
I've also been marveling in the almost four years since this project started at the shifting sands of public opinion, as more and more people find ways to connect my way of visualizing reality to their own schools of thought. In recent blogs like You are the Point and An Expanding 4D Sphere, we arrived back at the conclusion that we are each at the center of a universe which is now continually accelerating its expansion, and in entries like Jumping Jesus and The Stream we've talked about how an acceleration is happening in our meme space just as much as it is in our physical space. There was a great editorial about this acceleration in The New York Times a few days ago, which includes this quote from Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project:
“People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology. College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”
When you're within a system where everything is changing and accelerating, it can be hard to tell what's really happening. The child who is immersed in today's rapid-fire world of instant communication and multi-touch screen displays will grow up seeing that as the expected norm. On the other hand, a person who gradually loses their perception of color or some part of their hearing could go for a long time before they realize that their perception has changed, because the slowly modified version of their senses becomes their expected norm. Here's the tricky part: if the way we are perceiving the world is changing, and the world is changing in the same way, would there be any way for us to tell? We might each go for a long time believing that nothing has changed at all! What we need, then, is some way to gain an objective viewpoint that is outside of our own perception.

My old friend John recently sent me a link to the following article from a few months back in Wired Magazine (thank John, I can't believe I missed this!). The name of the article is "Placebos and Getting More Effective. Drugmakers are Desperate to Know Why". This article, written by Steve Silberman, really is worth reading in its entirety, and I invite you to do so. It begins with a story about pharmaceutical giant Merck, which in 2002 was falling behind its rivals in sales, and planned to regain their status with a new antidepressant codenamed MK-869:

The drug tested brilliantly early on, with minimal side effects, and Merck touted its game-changing potential at a meeting of 300 securities analysts.

Behind the scenes, however, MK-869 was starting to unravel. True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.

MK-869 wasn't the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.

Okay, you might be thinking, maybe the reason these new drugs aren't working so well in tests is because we've hit some kind of limit in what can be done with pharmaceuticals? Here's where things get really interesting: some older drugs that were previously proven effective and used for successful treatment are also now faring less well when compared to placebos! The article continues:
Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

What do you think? Does the information that the placebo effect is now twice as strong as it was roughly twenty-five years ago not sound like a strong indication that something fundamental about our world (or our interface with the world!) is changing? I would say that as people have become more connected to each other, we are now seeing a new force come into play: more and more of us are gradually waking up to the possibilities. The hard determinists who say we each have no control over our future are being overtaken, and a child born today will assume that people have always had a substantial amount of control over their health and their future: certainly, much more than people raised in the twentieth century were taught to believe was possible. The Wired article has many more fascinating tangents, then concludes with this powerful paragraph:
Ironically, Big Pharma's attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn't care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That's potent medicine.
Indeed! In Do Animals Have Souls, I described the old way of thinking this way: "the only thing that matters is matter, and consciousness has no part in the universe we are observing". Why was that viewpoint promoted so aggressively for so many years?

Do you remember the article I published in the North American version of Urban Garden Magazine last year, called "Why the Fifth Dimension is a Dangerous Idea"?. In it, I suggested that it seemed very strange that scientists like Einstein embraced the idea that our reality is defined at the fifth dimension almost a century ago, and yet most of the general public are not familiar with this concept. Could there have been reasons why certain factions would rather we not know just how much power we all really have, and could this be connected to the knowledge that we are navigating within a fifth-dimensional probability space rather than a linear fourth-dimensional "line of time"?

Coming Soon
I'm pleased to tell you that the next issue of Urban Garden magazine will have another article I've written, this one also connects the fifth dimension to the some of the ideas we're talking about in this entry, and in other past entries such as Placebos and Nocebos and Now vs. the Future. The article will be called "Placebos and Nocebos".

Ever hear of the Global Consciousness Experiment? It was a study run by Princeton University which looked for correlations on people's ability to predict what random number would be generated, and discovered that these abilities rose slightly on days when events captured the attention of larger parts of the world population, such as September 11 2001. It also showed that this ability to predict a random number was slowly rising over the course of the study, from 1998 to 2002. More evidence that our awareness and our interface with reality is changing?

In entries like The Long Undulating Snake, What's Around the Corner and Consciousness in Frames Per Second we've looked at other ways of fitting these ideas into my approach to visualizing the dimensions that our reality springs from. There is a beautiful and complex interaction between the observer and the observed happening here, and we can see evidence of that interplay in many surprising ways. We're going to continue this discussion with an upcoming entry called Monkeys Love Metallica.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

P.S. - I should also mention that New Scientist magazine published an article a few months ago called "Placebo Effect Caught in the Act" in which it described how scientists were actually able to track how the brain responded differently to pain when a patient was told a painkiller had been administered but it was really a placebo: more evidence of the amount of power our minds have over the reality we're observing.

Next: Dark Flow

Saturday, January 9, 2010

You are the Point

A direct link to the above video is at

(This entry completes a longer thought which encompasses 7 posts. If you're interested in seeing how I unfolded this argument, please read these blogs in the following order: Life is But a Dream, Time is in the Mind, Time and Schizophrenia, Consciousness in Frames per Second, Time and Music, Flow, and You are the Point.)

In "Life is But a Dream" we discussed the surprising conclusion that not just philosophy but quantum mechanics tells us each of us is an observer at the center of our own particular version of the universe. Likewise, cosmology tells us that we are at the center of the known universe, and this lovely new video from the American Museum of Natural History takes us on a journey from the planet earth out to the huge bubble of the cosmological horizon, the bubble that we are always at the center of.

A direct link to the above video is at

As it says in the above video at the 3:36 mark, this cosmological horizon is not only a 3D space object, but a 4D spacetime object. Because space and time are so intimately connected for us, we have to keep reminding ourselves of this important fact: we look out into space and it's so easy to forget that we are looking back in time as we do so. We've talked about this idea in blogs like An Expanding 4D Sphere, What's South of the South Pole and What's Around the Corner. Taking this idea even further leads to blogs like The Biocentric Universe Part 2, which is about a scientific theory stating that without life there is no time, space, or the cosmos, an idea which some people strongly dislike because it feels like a return to the geocentric model - hasn't it been proven long ago that the universe does not revolve around the earth? And yet the above animation shows that in a real sense it is true that we are at a point right at the center of the known universe, and that an observer ten billion light years away from here would have the same experience, seeing themselves to be right at the center of their own version of the universe.

Let's work through my approach to visualizing the spatial dimensions again keeping the above ideas in mind.

"In science, a physical picture is often more important than the mathematics used to describe it."
- Michio Kaku, in his 2008 book Physics of the Impossible
Zero - a Point
We start with a point of indeterminate size. Like the point we know from geometry, this point has no size, no dimension: which means we can think of it as being infinitely large, or infinitesimally small. What does it mean if we say a point's size is not just very very small or very very large, but indeterminate? If we consider every size of this point simultaneously, all of the possible values cancel each other out, and we end up in what physicists call the "underlying symmetry state": a perfectly balanced zero, which contains within it the unobserved potential of all other states. One good word to describe this "set of all possible states" when it's considered simultaneously like this is the omniverse.

Now, let's imagine that you are that point of no size, no dimension, and think about how a point is useful for indicating a position within a system, and how our universe or any other springs from a breaking of that underlying symmetry state.

"In my beginning is my end"
- T. S. Eliot, from his poem East Coker published in 1943
One - a Line
You are a point on a one-dimensional line. Your options are very limited - you can move forward, you can move backward, there are only two directions you can travel. But here's another fact to consider: because you are a point of indeterminate size, you can imagine yourself as being an infinitely tiny point someplace on that line, or you can imagine yourself as an infinitely large point some place on that line, which means you would encompass the entire line. Since a line extends to infinity in both directions, making yourself this large would allow you to see how it doesn't really matter where you are on the line, because ultimately you can end up in the same place: the enfolded symmetry of all possible positions on that line considered simultaneously.

Now let's add some other spatial dimensions. But to keep our frame of reference, let's imagine that no matter how many other dimensions we add, this very first point on this very first one-dimensional line we've just looked at will always be the same one.

"Blue is blue and must be that, but yellow is none the worse for it"
from a poem by Michael Nesmith (attributed to his fictional character Carlisle Wheeling)
printed on the back cover of the 1968 record album

The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees

Two - a Plane
Okay, so here we are now in a two-dimensional plane. Our point on our original line continues to have its forward and backward directions, but now there are two new directions at right angles to the first set that we can use to view that line and that point from. Regardless of where we go in our 2D plane, we can still always see that 1D line as a subset of that plane. And if we now imagine our point as being infinitely large it will encompass the entire plane and end up in that very same place once again - infinity, indeterminacy, the omniverse.

Way back in 1884, Edwin A. Abbott wrote a book called "Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions". In it, he introduced the world to the concept of imaginary creatures called "flatlanders" living in a flat, two-dimensional world.

Humans and the rest of the matter in our universe are all made out of 3D atoms and molecules, so we often say that we live in a three-dimensional universe. If you were a 2D flatlander, you would have a much more limited range of motion - you could only move in four directions rather than the six that 3D people are used to, and if you were to look at a circle you would not be able to see inside it. In fact, because you would be living within this 2D plane, all that you would see as you looked around you would be lines all constrained within this flat 2D world: some of those lines would be near, some would be further away, and whatever shape was closest to you would keep you from being able to see any other shapes that were further away. The only way that you could deduce you were looking at a circle, then, would be to move around it and see it against the background of the other more distant shapes.

"No matter where you go, there you are".
- Although this phrase has been attributed to various sources,
many people know this as a line from the 1984 movie
Buckaroo Banzai.

Three - a Space
Now let's move to the dimension we're most familiar with, the third. If we go back to thinking about you as a point at that position we started from, there are now six directions you can view yourself from. You can still be infinitesimally small, but now when you expand you will become a 3D sphere that eventually grows so large that it encompasses infinity. You can think of that point as your awareness of the universe at this very specific "now", and that awareness can be as broad or as tight as you care to make it - because you are right at the center of this particular version of the universe, right at this very instant.

What we have just imagined is like a gigantic photograph of our universe at a particular instant. Because light takes a certain amount of time to get here, that photograph is different from what you see when you look through a telescope - because the light from those distant objects takes so long to get here, a telescope is like a way of looking back in time. The further away the star or the galaxy, the longer it took for the light to reach us. Thinking of you as a 3D point of infinitely large size requires us to think of something completely different - if a star is ten light years away, then the photograph we're thinking about here will show us how that star will look to us through a telescope ten years from now! This is a very important difference in what we're imagining here.

"Time may change me, but I can't trace time"
- David Bowie, from his 1971 song "Changes"
Four - a Line
Thinking of that entire snapshot of the universe as a single point, then, allows us to imagine how the fourth dimension would be a way of joining one snapshot, one "now", to another, and this is how some people come to think of the fourth dimension as being "time". There are two things wrong with that generalization - first of all, "time" is not a spatial dimension, it's just a way of describing change. At best, it's a direction, not a full dimension. And secondly, you can think of any dimension in a particular state, think of that dimension in a different state, and think of how the next dimension up would be how you change from one state to another. For a 2D flatlander, then,"time" would be one of the two possible directions in the third dimension, and it would be how our imaginary 2D creature changes from state to state.

For a 3D person, time is one of the two possible directions in the fourth spatial dimension, and the other opposing direction can be called "anti-time". If you are a point, you can be any place on that line, and you can be infinitesimally small, or you can be infinitely large, which once again would show you that ultimately this spatial dimension is just like all the others - you can imagine that eventually you can grow to encompass the same state at either end of the line, and we use words like infinity, eternity, and enfolded symmetry to discuss what you are heading towards in both directions.

"The further back one looks, the further ahead one can see"
- a decidedly fifth dimensional way of viewing reality commonly attributed to Winston Churchill
Five - a Plane
As I've always said, my proposed way of visualizing the dimensions is not the explanation for string theory, but it does have many interesting tie-ins to various schools of thought. The starting point for string theory came from Theodor Kaluza back in 1919, when he proposed that the field equations from gravity and electromagnetism are resolved when they're calculated in the fifth dimension. Einstein eventually embraced this startling new theory and gave it his full support in 1921. With additional input from Oskar Klein, the resulting Kaluza-Klein theory became the starting point for the exploration of how our reality comes from extra dimensions that rose to dominance in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Here's something to consider - if there really are ten spatial dimensions, then the fifth dimension is the halfway dividing point.

In the original tenth dimension logo we see the "zero" and the "ten" as being the two extremes of a line, and if we were to think of that line as being like a guitar string then the "five" would exactly divide that string in half, with 1,2,3, and 4 being part of a wave below, and 6,7,8 and 9 being part of a complimentary but opposing wave above. Persons familiar with my book will recognize the following diagrams. The three images below were accompanied by the following text:

a. The concept of "harmonics" might be more familiar to anyone who has played a stringed instrument. When you pluck a string on a guitar or violin, the action is not as simple as you might imagine. While it might appear to your eye that the string is simply moving back and forth to describe a gentle curve that is widest at the middle of the string, there are other vibrational patterns that are also part of the string's motion, and the proportion of those other vibrational patterns is what gives each instrument its unique timbre.
b. We can more clearly see the other competing patterns by lightly touching the string at various points along the string when we strike it, and we call these other vibration modes "harmonics" or "partials'. So, by touching the string at its half way point we cause the perceived note to jump up an octave, and a high speed photograph would show us that the string is now vibrating in a pattern that describes two equal curves rather than one, with each curve occupying half the length of the string. The point we touched in the middle of the string would now appear to not be vibrating, and we can call that point a node.
c. Now, if we touch the string at the one third point we can create a note which is an octave and fifth higher, which would be the next harmonic, and our high speed photograph would show the string now vibrating with two nodes dividing the string into three equal sections. Dividing the string at the one-quarter mark produces a note two octaves up, and so on up through a series of harmonics, all of which are part of the main vibration of the open string when we pluck it.

Looking at the second of the three images above then, helps us to imagine the symmetry we're thinking about here - when the left hand side of that waveform is going up, the right hand is going down, and so on. But let's be clear here: even when the string is vibrating freely as in the top image, all those other vibration modes are happening. A high-speed strobe light set to very specific frequencies would be able to reveal (though interference between the frequency of the strobe and the patterns of the vibrating string) the other vibration modes such as the two we're picturing here.

What does all this have to do with the fifth dimension? In entries like The Flipbook Universe, Slices of Reality,and The Holographic Universe, we keep returning to the idea that our reality is not continuous, and our experience of the fifth dimension is divided into planck-unit-sized "frames" (which is what leads some physicists to say that the fifth dimension is "curled up at the planck length"). Those planck frames are the "strobe light" that reveals how freely moving patterns that exist across the dimensions contain a node at the fifth dimension, the strongest harmonic as pictured in the middle of the above three images. Since holograms are observed through interference, when a cosmologist says "our spacetime universe is the shadow of a fifth dimensional hologram" that is what we're talking about here.

Imagining then, that anything above the fifth dimension is how we get to the other versions of our universe that don't connect to the one we're currently in, and to the other universes that have different basic physical laws, and even the patterns of information that are not part of our underlying reality, is all part of what this particular visualization should help us to hold in our minds.

And likewise, just as we did with the previous dimensions and could continue to do with each additional spatial dimension beyond this one, we can imagine how the "point" that represents us in our current state within the fifth dimension could be infinitesimally small, or infinitely large, or some place in between, and this is how I suggest our reality is really connected together in ways that seem much less mysterious when we realize that what we are observing is defined at the fifth dimension rather than the fourth. For more about all that from a variety of perspectives, please check out blog entries like The Fifth Dimension is Spooky, Creativity and the Quantum Universe, The Statistical Universe, and Now vs. the Future.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: Placebos Becoming More Effective?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Skhizein (Jérémy Clapin,2008) from Bertie on Vimeo.

This multi-award winning short film from 2008 appeals to me for obvious reasons - it's a unique exploration of dimensions, and gives a fanciful new interpretation to what it could mean to be "beside yourself". According to this blog from Short of the Week, the film's creator Jérémy Clapin says the title of this movie derives from the Greek, meaning “to split” or “to cleave” — sharing that root with schizophrenia. As a little bit of synchronicity, you might want to go back to a blog entry published here a couple of weeks ago, called Time and Schizophrenia.

Enjoy the journey,


Next: You are the Point

Monday, January 4, 2010


A direct link to the above video is at

Last entry, in Time and Music, we looked at a brief video clip of the classic Canadian rock band Lighthouse performing live in an experimental setup where different members of the band were in different cities, and the "latency" or time lag introduced by the technology of the time (1996) resulted in them hearing each other as much as 200 milliseconds out of sync with each other. The solution was that they had to somehow re-calibrate their brains, so to speak, so that their impetus to play the notes was way ahead of when they actually wanted the notes to sound. Still, as Paul Hoffert - one of the founding members of Lighthouse who participated in this experiment - remarked in that same blog entry, there are musical instruments and musical situations where musicians regularly have to adjust their playing to compensate for a certain amount of delay, or to play ahead/behind the beat to create a certain feel - musicians use phrases like "playing in the pocket" or "finding the groove" to describe the satisfying feeling of playing with other musicians when it all falls into place, and years of practice create the ability for musicians to play with a seemingly effortless flow.

"Flow" is an interesting word. In my project, I often talk about how for us time seems to flow in only one direction, but that physics places no real restriction on which direction time should happen to occur. In recent entries like The Quantum Solution to Time's Arrow and The Statistical Universe, we looked at some new scientific theories that explore what it can mean if time and causality are not limited to the entropy-driven single direction that we have traditionally believed time to occupy, and my insistence that "time" is just one of the two possible directions in the fourth spatial dimension is very much a part of all this as well.

My use of the word "flow" led a friend of mind from facebook, Jacob Wennerqvist (a talented heavy metal musician from Sweden) to ask me about the word, as he was familiar with it from a different context. Here's what I wrote back to him:

Hi Jacob,

Are you familiar with "flow" in the sense that psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi uses the term? Here's an article from wikipedia:

"In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as 'being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.'"

Let me pause in my letter to Jacob and expand upon this a bit. First of all, according to wikipedia, Mihaly's last name is pronounced "cheek-sent-me-high-ee". The diagram we're looking at here relates to his seminal work, 'Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience'. It shows how a high challenge level can combine with a high skill level to allow us to enter a state of "flow". To quote further from that same wikipedia article, he states that "people are most happy when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove." Now let's continue with what I had said to Jacob:

When I use the word "flow" in my writing, I'm usually using it to describe the mainstream science idea that time can flow in either direction. "Flow", in this sense, means that there are logical connections between what happens in one time-unit and the next, which means that some "next possible state" outcomes in the following time-unit are very likely, some unlikely, and some impossible to get to. That idea, physicists like Sean Carroll and many others have explained, makes just as much sense no matter what direction you are observing those slices of time - forward or backward, there is still a logical progression to the "flow".

I see that you are an excellent musician, watched a few of your clips. Using the term "flow" as it applies to time and music is very apt - whether you're writing a song or improvising a lead line, there are a great many choices for "what happens next" but the choices are not limitless - if they were then your music would become random white noise.

If you were to take a recording of your music and play it backwards, it would still have logical connections within it that make sense, and if you were to play a solo over top of that backwards recording there would be many options that make sense, that go with the musical "flow" of what's created by moving in time's opposite direction.

Does this help to illuminate what I'm thinking about?

Thanks for the question!
I've talked before about Sean Carroll's approach to the symmetric nature of time and the underlying timelessness of our universe in entries like Time in Either Direction, The Spacetime Tree, Scrambled Eggs, What's Before and After, and The Big Bang is an Illusion. Most recently, in How to Time Travel, I mentioned that Dr. Carroll has a new book coming out this month called From Eternity to Here: the Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, which I'm very much looking forward to reading.

In my book and this blog, one of the central themes has been the nature of time and how our participation in that process creates the dividing line between a sea of indeterminacy and the beautiful world we see around us. The concept of "flow" as a process that allows us with practice to do this better is an important one. It points to a real tension we feel in these modern times: how can I tell when I'm "in the zone" as opposed to "just zoning out"?

My song "Automatic" is about those moments when we stop analyzing what we're doing and just go with the flow. This song also mentions Julian Jaynes, whose challenging book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind proposed that the splitting apart of our minds into a conscious "narrator" and an underlying "just being in the moment" is a recent event, perhaps from only the last few thousand years. The fact that our narrator voice gets in the way and keeps us from doing some of our most difficult activities is also what we're talking about in this song: despite the fact that we've been taught to sometimes ridicule those moments as being a bad thing because it means our conscious minds were wandering, there is really something very useful about this state of mind. That will be just as true when a musician is trying to play 200 milliseconds ahead of the beat as it is for someone trying to hit a golf ball or even someone driving a car - removing distractions and just zeroing in on the flow helps us to do these activities better.

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: You are the Point

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