Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Science of Interstellar

Last month Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was released, and in this blog we looked at Interstellar and the Fifth Dimension. I've been particularly excited about this film because world-renowned physicist Kip Thorne was a consultant throughout its creation, tasked with making sure that the science represented in the show was not, in fact, pseudo-science. As Professor Thorne says in the book's introduction:

…in the end I have no qualms about defending what Chris did with the science. On the contrary, I'm enthusiastic! He turned into reality… my dream of a blockbuster movie with foundations of real science, and with real science woven throughout its fabric.

There are lots of interesting discussions in this book about the science of black holes, wormholes, relativistic time dilation, and so on. But here's the question that has attracted so many new visitors to the Imagining the Tenth Dimension project: is representing the fifth dimension as I have with my project able to be aligned with the scientific approach supported by Kip Thorne in this movie?  Here's some of his thoughts on the subject from his book:
How can space "bend down"? Inside what does it bend? It bends inside a higher-dimensional hyperspace, called "the bulk", that is not part of our universe! 
...In Interstellar, the characters often refer to five dimensions. Three are the space dimensions of our own universe or brane (east-west, north-south, up-down). The fourth is time, and the fifth is the bulk's extra space dimension.
Does the bulk really exist? Is there truly a fifth dimension, and maybe even more, that humans have never experienced? Very likely yes.
This is important! Professor Thorne is saying (as I have often said) that you can't talk about the fifth dimension without implicitly acknowledging that it is part of a multi-dimensional system. The fifth dimension can't exist in isolation, any more than it's possible in the third dimension to have an object with only a length, with no width or depth. And for those nitpickers who claim "there is no fifth dimension, there are only five dimensions", Professor Thorne is yet another expert comfortable - as I am - with using the phrases interchangeably.

(Spoiler Alert, stop reading here if you don't want to know about the climax of the movie)  

The other idea which I have talked about extensively, and which figures prominently in the plot of Interstellar, is that gravity is the only force which exerts itself across the extra dimensions. But there is one plot point that I wish had been made clearer: this movie's logic collapses into contradiction if the fifth dimension does not include the many potential probabilistic outcomes which exist for our universe, as described in Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Is Everett wrong? Is there really only one single and inevitable world line for our universe? Then free will is an illusion, and of all of Cooper's efforts in the movie to use extra-dimensional gravity to communicate with his daughter are pointless, because he has already achieved his goals before he began. But if free will and multiple outcomes do really exist, then what Cooper is looking at from his fifth dimensional vantage point is a branching set of possibilities, and his goal is to navigate towards the versions where his efforts become effective and the desired outcome is achieved.

This is the contradiction we keep coming back to: if Everett is correct, then the timeless underlying quantum fabric already includes a version of the universe where what any of us are about to do has already happened! And yet we can still make other choices and get to "other versions" where some other choice has been made.  When we get to the end of the movie, or when we get to the end of our lives, we see that only one set of choices was made, but I remain convinced that this inevitability is an illusion.

Professor Thorne describes the climactic scene in which Cooper sees his daughter in a kaleidoscopic vision of cascading rooms:
...the various bedrooms are out of time synch with each other. ...Cooper can move far faster than the flow of time in the bedroom extrusions, so he can easily travel through the tesseract complex to most any bedroom time that he wishes!

A few pages later he talks about a concept I called "the long undulating snake" in the book and animation that got this project rolling, a way of representing the space-time object (or "spime") of a person from their conception to their death. Professor Thorne shows us a diagram of a book as viewed from this same outside-of-space-time vantage point, and refers to the book as having a "world tube": same concept.

 (this image, Figure 30.2 from The Science of Interstellar, is copyright 2014 by Kip Thorne)

In the movie, Cooper uses extra-dimensional gravity to maneuver his daughter's "Many Worlds" to the version where a book mysteriously falls from the bookshelf:
...Cooper slams his fist on the book's world tube over and over again, creating a gravitational force, which travels backward in time ... the book's tube responds by moving. The tube's motion appears to Cooper as an instantaneous response to his pushes. And the motion becomes a wave traveling leftward down the tube (Figure 30.2). When the motion gets strong enough, the book falls out of the bookcase. 
If you, like me, have fond memories of the way the pieces of the puzzle fit together in one of Christopher Nolan's earliest movies, Memento, then you may have felt similarly satisfied as the mysteries presented in the first two thirds of Interstellar are gradually solved by the "reverse causality" Professor Thorne found a way to explain with modern scientific theories. For me, though, I feel it's important to remember that there must still be many other versions of the universe depicted in the movie where Cooper hadn't yet formed his plan, or wasn't able to execute his plan successfully, and so on, causing the disastrous future for our planet depicted in the movie's opening act to continue unabated.

Ultimately, the statistical unlikelihood of any of us being right here and right now must surely represent a miniscule subset of the Many Worlds universes where none of us exist. One of my favorite blog entries from a few years ago where we explored this idea was called Beer and Miracles, check it out.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Biographical note from the back cover of The Science of Interstellar:
Kip Thorne is the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus, at the California Institute of Technology, scientific advisor and executive producer of Interstellar, and the author of four books, including the best-selling Black Holes & Time Warps.

Coming up next: Interstellar and Pendulum Clocks

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Zero Theorem

Last entry we talked about psychobiologist and author David Jay Brown, who gave my approach to visualizing the dimensions a very positive mention in his recent textbook The New Science of Psychedelics. This time we're going to talk about a film released this year by Terry Gilliam, who regular readers of the blog will know I'm a huge fan of, and who I had the chance to work with when one of his stranger films, Tideland, was shot here in Saskatchewan in 2006*. Terry's new film, The Zero Theorem, is rooted in a mystery I've talked about many times with this project. Here's one of my videos about this concept: Imagining the 'Zeroth' Dimension.

In The Zero Theorem, Christoph Waltz puts in an electric performance as Qohen Leth, a worker for the mega-corporation Mancom, charged by Management with the dreaded task of proving the Zero Theorem. Here's some dialogue from the film, in which "Bob" (the precocious teenage son of Management) explains to Qohen one version of the solution to the Theorem:

You're trying to prove that the universe is all for nothing.
All matter, all energy, all life, it's just
this one-time-only big bang glitch.
The expanding universe will eventually contract into a 
super-dense black hole. Gravitational forces will be so 
strong that everything will get squeezed into a point of 
zero dimension, and "poof" the center disappears. 
No space, no time, no life, no afterlife, nothing.
Nada, zilch, zip, zero.
Stop! How would anyone believe such a horrible thing?
What's so horrible? I believe it. Nothing's perfect. 
Nothing lasts forever. It's nothing to worry about
if you really think about it.

Near the show's climax, Management appears and explains, in a fashion, why Qohen was assigned the task of proving the Zero Theorem:

Chaos encapsulated. That's all there is at the end,
just as it was at the beginning.
There it is then. You've proved the zero theorem.
Not quite. Mancom is still, as you said, crunching the data.
Why would you want to prove that all is for nothing?
I never said all is for nothing. I'm a businessman,
Mr. Leth. Nothing is for nothing.
There's money in ordering disorder. Chaos pays, Mr. Leth.
Chaos comprises a rich vein of ore that with Mancom's
muscle will be all mine to mine. The saddest aspect of
mankind's need to believe in a God, or to put it another
way, a purpose greater than this life, is that it makes
this life meaningless.

A harsh conclusion? You bet, and this takes us back to another point I mentioned last time: there is a certain mindset which teaches that anyone who believes in free will is being tricked by the chemistry of their body into believing they have control, when in reality every outcome is inevitable. Looking back at our lives, do we see any evidence of multiple outcomes, of cats that are both alive and dead? No, there is only one reality, one possible version set in motion at the beginning of the universe and continuing inexorably to the end.

The counterpoint to that idea, for me, has always been contained within the fifth dimension - the dimension at "right angles" to our 4D space-time, where the multiple outcomes of Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics have room to co-exist. As I mentioned a couple of entries ago, the fact that Christopher Nolan's new film Interstellar also embraces the idea of a fifth spatial dimension (with the approval and support of a mainstream physicist!) is very exciting. 

What's tricky, then, is trying to show that both points of view -- free will vs. the inevitable universe -- are really two ways of viewing the same outcome, the same "enfolded everything" or "ultimate ensemble" that must underlie our reality or any other. Early on in this project I mentioned the fable of the six blind men and the elephant: each touches a different part of the elephant and comes away with a very different impression. The blind men in that story, though, have no pre-conceived notion, they are only reporting their findings. The difference in what we're discussing here is that mindset is the key - if you expect to see free will, that's what you see. If you expect to see an inevitable chain of causality and nothing more, then that's the conclusion you will draw. Both are ways of describing exactly the same thing, even though the two camps are unlikely to acknowledge such a heresy.

I believe that Terry Gilliam's film does a masterful job of showing these two viewpoints, and how accepting that there is something unchanging and everlasting from which our universe or any other is derived does allow us a certain peace, regardless of which viewpoint you subscribe to. Please watch The Zero Theorem and see if you agree.

Next entry we'll do a quick review of The Science of Interstellar, the new book written by Kip Thorne, the famed physicist who acted as a technical advisor to Christopher Nolan's challenging film throughout its creation.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

*As I've mentioned before, my son Todd and I co-wrote a song that one of the on-screen characters sang in Tideland. My company, Talking Dog Studios, also was in charge of dubbing all of the daily location recordings from Dolby SR to a digital format.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The New Science of Psychedelics

What happens when a pattern becomes aware of its own existence?

Back in 1963, it was Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time that started me thinking about the dimensions that lie beyond the 3D world we see around us. Now, since 2006, Imagining the Tenth Dimension has been introducing budding thinkers to a way of imagining how our bendy/stretchy space-time could be derived from the timeless “everything” of Max Tegmark's Mathematical Universe concept, or the beautifully symmetrical zero of Gevin Giorbran's Everything Forever: Learning to See Timelessness. Last entry we looked at Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, and the participation in that project of mainstream physicist Kip Thorne, who endorses and explains the scientific underpinnings of the wormholes and time dilation depicted in that film: the "bendy/stretchy space-time" I just referred to. Nolan's film encourages us to think about a "block universe" as Minkowski described it, where different events are merely positions within a timeless 4D structure that becomes easier to imagine when we consider it from the outside vantage point of the fifth dimension.

Here's the question we are asking: what is the source, the background pattern, the underlying process, from which our observed universe emerges? Some theorists ascribe meaning to that pattern, while others call it chaos, or "just a bunch of stuff that happened" (a useful phrase from Homer Simpson). But however we think about them, those underlying patterns exist, and modern research in a wide variety of disciplines inches us ever closer to understanding their nature.

If all I am, if all you are, is a space-time pattern, a spime if you prefer, then that pattern exists within the realm Einstein liked to talk about, where the distinction between past, present, and future is an illusion. I began this entry asking this: what happens when a pattern recognizes itself?

Life Happens
Life recognizes life. Awareness is drawn to awareness. Patterns of similar nature congregate together because of their structural similarities, and order really does sometimes arise from chaos. With Imagining the Tenth Dimension, the 400+ YouTube videos, 26 songs, animations and of course the book have all provided people from around the world with a new way of thinking about how their reality is created. But it's more than that: it's because so many people see patterns within my approach which easily tie to their own observations. Case in point: psychobiologist and science writer David Jay Brown said this about my project in his recent book The New Science of Psychedelics:
Physicist Michio Kaku's book Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension and Rob Bryanton's Imagining the Tenth Dimension both seem to provide uncanny maps of the territory that one encounters after smoking salvia or DMT. Like the two-dimensional character in Edwin Abbott's book Flatland, we seem just as limited in our three-dimensional perspective.
Being mentioned in the same sentence as Kaku is remarkable indeed, particularly since I've stated from the outset of this project that I'm not a physicist and I'm not pretending to be one. Clearly, anyone who calls me a “pseudo-scientist” is ignoring that fact, and that should be the end of the discussion. David knows this, and I'm grateful to him for his vote of confidence. But let's keep this straight: I'm simply a creative thinker who has come up with an intuitive way to organize the information that becomes our observed reality, or any other. My project uses the logic of the point-line-postulate (the accepted methodology for visualizing any number of spatial dimensions) to imagine the ten spatial dimensions which, coincidentally, string theory has told us our reality is derived from. But it also turns out that my approach is very useful for analyzing lots of other kinds of information, and that's why the fan-base of Imagining the Tenth Dimension has been so widely varied: because it gives so many people a way of organizing their thinking that helps them see the patterns that lead to one outcome or another, to one universe or another.

Patterns happen
Do psychedelics provide a way of "lifting the veil", so to speak, to allow us to see the hidden connections that we all share across the extra dimensions? Since I have no personal experience with psychedelics, I'm not the best person to answer that question, but here's what I believe: researchers are finding commonalities across cultures, across widely separated geography, and across the ages, that indicate there is something more than just random misfiring of neurons embedded within aspects of the psychedelic experience, and other meditative or trance-based states of the mind. Here's how David finishes the above-quoted paragraph:
From a three-dimensional point of view it seems like there aren't any other directions to go besides backward and forward, right and left, up and down. But there is another direction that we can move into, another dimension that contains this one within it, and the way to get there is by going directly into the center of our own minds.
My approach to visualizing the dimensions helps us to see those patterns as existing within the timeless background that lies beyond the observed limits of our constantly evolving 4D space-time bubble. And David Jay Brown, who has written for Wired, Discover, and Scientific American on the subject of modern psychedelics research, and who has published a number of books exploring the interesting outer fringes of science, has given his enthusiastic support to my project. For that I am very grateful. Unfortunately, though, these zen-like concepts of "everything and nothingness" also happen to have been a popular line of questioning for mystics and the enlightened (of whatever definition you care to associate with that term) throughout the ages, a  fact that makes those intent upon an atheistic, free-will-is-an-illusion point of view likely to dismiss these discussions outright. Be that as it may, I stand firm in my belief that there are things about this approach that speak directly to the underlying truth of where our reality comes from, so I will continue to fight the good fight for these ideas.

Now that we're holding within our minds the idea of there being a version of 4D space-time where everything happens at once,  let's go back and look at one of my most popular videos: Imagining the Fourth Dimension.  
A direct link to the above video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MN4KC_zlW4g 

Enjoy the journey,


P.S. - Ultimately, finding a way to imagine what the big beautiful zero our reality comes from could be like brings with it a certain peace, as Terry Gilliam reminds us in his current film, The Zero Theorem. We'll talk about that film next.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Interstellar - the Fifth Dimension

Interstellar, the new hit film for Christopher Nolan, is re-awakening interest in a topic I've talked about many times with this project: the fifth dimension. Nolan has done a fascinating job of helping us to visualize how our 4D spacetime could really be directly interacting with an additional spatial dimension, where multiple outcomes exist as a landscape which we are navigating within. Persons familiar with my project will know that this seems directly connected to the ideas I've been portraying since I first published Imagining the Tenth Dimension in 2006.

Sometimes science fiction movies deliver crazy ideas that have no connection to real science, and we are asked as an audience to simply suspend our disbelief and enjoy the ride. Interstellar has a much more interesting pedigree though, since world-renowned physicist Kip Thorne was heavily involved with the film: Thorne is the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at Caltech, and he acted as an executive producer for Interstellar. As an author, his books include the bestselling Black Holes and Time Warps. Here's what Thorne has to say about the fifth dimension in a Mashable interview published a few days ago:
That tesseract is not inside the black hole — it’s a four-dimensional cube, with four space dimensions and time — it lives in the Fifth Dimension. One of the faces is in our universe. Cooper is scooped up in the face of that tesseract and carried into the bulk.

In the Fifth Dimension, the distance between Gargantua and Earth is quite short; about the same as the Earth and the sun … whereas in our universe it’s 10 billion light years. So [the tesseract] can take him into our universe and docks beside the bedroom.”

This is really all based on some beautiful ideas; what I talk about is a ‘complexified tesseract. It fits with our understanding of what a tesseract is … [it] fits with ‘brane worlds’ of science … [or] what I call the Fifth Dimension. There is so much science that is in there that people have puzzled about, and I don’t know any way for people to get un-puzzled other than to read the book.
Thorne is referring to his just-released book, The Science of Interstellar, where he talks about the mind-bending science of wormholes, black holes, and tesseracts and the underlying connections possible from beyond our observed 4D space-time that were used in Nolan's film. While no-one is pretending that everything portrayed in Interstellar should be interpreted as mainstream science, the internet nay-sayers who have tried to dismiss Interstellar as total bunk would be well-served to examine Professor Thorne's book.

This is not the first time the fifth dimension has been portrayed in films as our "probability space", as I like to call it. For instance, Men in Black 3, released in 2012, featured an alien who had the special ability of being able to see into the fifth dimension, seeing the different possible timelines (or "world lines" as some physicists prefer) that surrounded him. I've talked previously about Watchmen, the 2009 film featuring a character who develops the ability to see past, present, and future simultaneously,  and in my book and this blog I've paid tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, who invented an alien race with similar abilities, the "Trafalmadorians", in such novels as his 1969 classic Slaughterhouse-Five.  But with the Trafalmadorians we are definitely only thinking of the fourth dimension as an unchanging block, where the one possible outcome for our universe, set into inevitable motion by the big bang, means that free will is an illusion and there is therefore no need to bring a fifth dimension into the discussion.

A surprisingly good film that doesn't explicitly say "fifth dimension" but is obviously talking about the same "probability space" concept came out earlier this year: Edge of Tomorrow.  Here's the key: just as the first dimension can only contain a line, but that could be any line, the fourth dimension only has room for one version of space-time. In order to consider two 1D lines, you need to move to the second dimension. To see more than one version of space-time, a power attributed to the aliens in Edge of Tomorrow, those fictional creatures must logically be navigating within the fifth dimension.

In my 2011 video below, Imagining the Fifth Dimension,  I talk about the evidence I've collected for thinking of the fifth dimension as our probability space, and how that so easily connects to well-known theories such as Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics. At the end of the video I mention some very kind conversations I've had with Oxford University's Professor of Physics David Deutsch. Why do I say "very kind"? I've always made it clear that I'm not a physicist and I'm not pretending to be one: I'm simply a creative person who came up with a methodology for visualizing ten spatial dimensions, and as a hobby I've published over 400 videos about the ramifications of that concept on my youtube channel which has just surpassed the 12 million views mark (!).  I'm sure Professor Deutsch is a very busy man, and even though ultimately his response was to say he didn't accept my interpretation of the fifth dimension, I'm still very grateful that he was generous enough to respond. Imagine how exciting it is for me now to see Professor Thorne gently moving mainstream consciousness towards considering an idea which I've pursued so passionately for almost a decade.

A direct link to the above video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eN24Sv0qS1w

Curious? You might enjoy some of the other videos/blogs in this series:

Imagining the Tenth Dimension, 2012 version
Imagining the "Zeroth" Dimension
Imagining the First Dimension
Imagining the Second Dimension
Imagining the Third Dimension
Imagining the Fourth Dimension
Imagining the Fifth Dimension
Imagining the Sixth Dimension
Imagining the Seventh Dimension
Imagining the Eighth Dimension
Imagining the Ninth Dimension
Wrapping It Up in the Tenth Dimension

Next entry, I'm going to look at a recent book published by Psychobiologist and author David Jay Brown (you may have seen his articles in magazines like Wired, Discover, and Scientific American), in which he mentions my approach to visualizing the dimensions as having a direct connection to his own research. Thanks for your support, David!

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist