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

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

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