Saturday, May 10, 2008

Anime, Gaming, and Cusps

A direct link to the above video can be found at

I've been told that some of the concepts from Imagining the Tenth Dimension are reminiscent of what you can learn from Japanese anime or videogames. Since I'm a guy in my fifties, I kind of missed all that, other than second-hand inference through watching my kids play games like Legend of Zelda back in the day, but I have now watched modern anime like the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (a clip from the show starts this blog) and been fascinated to see the connections: "Melancholy" is about a teenage girl who, as it turn out, is the prime quantum observer for our world, and she is becoming disinterested in what she is observing. What happens to the rest of us in that situation? It's fun to imagine such fantastic extrapolations from the basics of quantum theory.

Reading the entry from wikipedia about Vector Prime (Transformers) is also startling for someone like me who learned to think about these ideas from the freewheeling explorations of theoretical physicists like Kaku and Greene, and not from watching cartoons:

Born from the living material of the very multiverse itself, Vector Prime was appointed the guardian of space and time by Primus, and is uniquely attuned to its flow. Within his clockwork frame hum the subtle mathematics that govern all that is, from the spin of galaxies to the movement of sub-atomic particles...
Vector Prime’s perceptions are not limited to one linear pathway in time – thanks to a temporal mechanics analyzer, he is able to observe all possible pasts, presents and futures within his sensor range, giving him the opportunity to select optimum courses of action.
Still, saying that the concepts I use in Imagining the Tenth Dimension are familiar from Japanese pop culture is not saying that these concepts are wrong, or fictional - rather, I'm saying that thinking about reality as coming from a timeless multiverse and indeterminacy has strong connections to belief systems much older than what we know from Western civilization, and this is a point that I've been making from the start of this project. There are things about this way of imagining that connect to zen buddhism, kaballah, African and Aboriginal mythologies, and on and on it goes. If we're trying to find the place where physics meets philosophy, then it shouldn't be surprising that these additional connections keep springing up.

But while we're talking about games, there is also something very "first person 3D shooter" about what we're imagining here: as you work through one of those games, there will be paths that open up before you, and choosing one path could allow you to continue, while another path will do you in. Imagining a tree of branching choices would be something the game designers took into consideration: in other words, if there were only one way to get through to the end it would be a fourth-dimensional game (since Time is a Direction in the fourth spatial dimension), but if there were multiple paths to the end then the game could be considered to be fifth-dimensional. Whether we're talking about a life, or a universe, or a video game, those important branching moments might be called "cusps": this is an idea I explored in my blog entry "Visualizations".

We should keep in mind, too, that cusps don't have to refer to simple left/right yes/no types of decisions. A cusp moment could have a great many possible outcomes, some inconsequential, some momentous, and many of shades between the extremes, and the idea of a "bush-like branching structure" of possible outcomes is very relevant here (regular readers of this blog will recognize that I often use this 'bush-like branching structure' phrase to refer to the proof published last fall by a team of scientists at Oxford under the direction of physicist David Deutsch, indicating that the wavefunction of possible outcomes at both the quantum and the macro level from any particular moment in spacetime are mathematically equivalent).

In "Flatlanders On a Line", I talked about the set of all branching choices for a person's life or for the universe being like a labyrinth, and that if one of us in the fifth dimension could be handed a large balloon that lifted us above the walls of choice, chance, and circumstance that we had been traveling through and limited by, we would be in the sixth dimension: it would be like being handed a "map to the game". Just like Edwin Abbott's Flatlander who was lifted above his 2D plane to be able to see his world from the third dimension, from our sixth-dimensional vantage point we would be able to see all of the other possibilities that exist within state space for our universe but which are currently unavailable from our position within the fifth dimension.

90-Degree Angles
Let's be clear though: saying that a fifth dimensional probability space can be thought of as being like a 2D maze that we could find shortcuts through from the next dimension up is still very much a simplification, a way to help us visualize something that is not easily visualized. When we're in a 2D maze there are only four directions we can travel, each at right angles to the next. Imagining a fifth-dimensional labyrinth requires us to imagine that at every point in the labyrinth there are ten directions we could possibly travel, and each of those ten directions is at right angles to the next.

Now that is a mind-blowing image of roiling chaos and cusps to try to hold in your head! That's why, as we discussed in entries like Hypercubes and Plato's Cave, sometimes it's more productive to visualize the shadows of the extra dimensions rather than to wrestle with trying to imagine the unimaginable.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

Next: Collective Intelligence, Cognitive Surplus, Chaos

A direct link to the above video is at

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