Friday, October 24, 2008

Dr. Mel's 4D Glasses

A direct link to the above video is at

(In case you have trouble reading the text, the comic says "At the premiere of the new 3-D movie, Dr. Mel accidentally puts on his 4-D glasses", and Dr. Mel says "Oh great! Now I know how the movie ends!")
The above comic was forwarded to me by my buddy John, from a link on photobucket: You can subscribe to this comic strip, Tim Rickard's "Brewster Rockit: Space Guy" at this link: Thanks for thinking of me, John!

One year ago, editor Tom Huston of EnlightenNext magazine (which, until recently, was known as What is Enlightenment? magazine) conducted a telephone interview with me intended for the magazine's WIE Unbound website. Unfortunately, that interview has never been released, as the WIE Unbound team feel that the discussion Tom and I got into would be too difficult to follow for persons not already familiar with my animation or my book. This is a shame, because I thought Tom did a great job of leading the interview along and pulling things back if he felt I was going too fast for persons unfamiliar with the concepts. But now, I'm thrilled to be able to tell you that the publishers of that magazine, as of just a couple of days ago, have kindly consented to release the raw recordings of that interview for me to be able to publish it here. Our plan is to have this 45-minute interview available in this blog entry, and as a downloadable mp3 for people wanting to play it on their iPods and audio players... if everything went according to plan you should be able to do that from the links below.

You can listen to this file right now using the above embedded player. The mp3 for this interview is available for download from under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial Share-Alike license - click here to download the file.

One of the first questions Tom asked me was about a topic I had not thought about for years: the Trafalmadorians, a fictional race from Kurt Vonnegut's writing, featured prominently in his wonderful novel "Slaughterhouse-Five". Tom wondered how the unique point of view of this alien race could be related to my way of visualizing the dimensions. Like Dr. Mel in the above cartoon, these fanciful creatures were, according to Vonnegut's tale, able to see time the way we see 3D space - with the past and future stretching out like a mountain range into the distance. It's interesting to think of that idea in the context of Dr. Mel's special "4D glasses" from the above comic - all elements of the movie Dr. Mel is about to watch are locked in and predetermined, so the ending that would be approaching within the next couple of hours would be clearly defined, with no possible ambiguity, and would therefore be easily seen by Dr. Mel's special 4D spectacles.

Likewise, in entries like Hypercubes and Plato's Cave, we've talked about visualizing four dimensional shapes. Dr. Mel's glasses would have no problem showing the additional spatial dimension of a hypercube (a four-dimensional cube, with its additional spatial dimension being at an additional "right angle" to the length, width, and depth of the third dimension), because, just like a movie's pre-determined ending, a hypercube's shape would be locked in and unchanging when viewed from the fourth dimension. Also, in my entry "The Past is an Illusion" I talked about a fun little flash game called "Z-Rox" which allows you to guess shapes from the lower dimensions, and the idea that this game can only be played because the shapes you're looking at don't change until you guess correctly.

Thinking about walking around with these 4D specs on in real life, though, would be another matter entirely: since real life is not a movie or a hypercube, there are many possible futures and pasts, so the 4D shapes would be fluid and constantly changing. With this project, I've been insisting that the probability space of those possible branches is really in the fifth dimension, and the fact that Einstein also embraced the idea that our reality is defined at the fifth dimension seems to be a confirmation which, mysteriously, few people ever talk about (except me! :D ).

Is there one "most likely outcome" that could happen one minute from now? Then that would be part of what you see with Dr. Mel's 4D glasses, or with the perspective of the Trafalmadorians. If some new random event or deliberate choice right "now" changed what was most likely to happen one minute into the future, then that would become part of the new landscape seen from this constantly evolving 4D perspective.

Which leads us back to Feynman's "sum over histories" approach to quantum mechanics (also known as the "path integral formulation", interestingly enough), and the Deutsch team's proof that our quantum and macro realities are both part of the same continuum. From the 4D perspective, we could look at the path from the beginning to the end for our universe and say that there is one path that is more likely than all the others to take place, simply by averaging all the possible paths together. Now, would that be the path actually taken? When you think about it, that's really highly unlikely. That, after all, is the nature of taking averages - there will naturally be parts of the data which fall well outside the norm, but all of those large deviations will cancel out in the biggest picture of all. And in order to the see the "ray" of all possible pasts and futures that could be taken by a subatomic particle, or a human being, or by the universe as a whole, Dr. Mel would have to put away his 4D specs and pull out the 5D ones!

For more about the ideas of the most likely paths for our universe and how that relates to the universe we are actually observing, you might want to check out "Unlikely Events and Timelessness" or "Randomness and the Missing 96%". Next blog, we're going to talk a little more about the difference between the fourth and fifth dimensions with a fun entry entitled "Predicting the Future (Here Come the Aliens)".

To close, here's one of my songs about trying to visualize the biggest picture of all, where Everything is Forever and Everything Fits Together: what if you were to somehow change your perspective so that you could see the universe simultaneously, right from its beginning to its end? The song is called "Big Bang to Entropy".

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey,


Next: Predicting the Future (Here Come the Aliens)


embryodb said...

I imagine you would be able to see, but it would be very difficult to cope with "4-d" or "5-d" glasses.

With that in mind, here's some optical illusion art:

Rob Bryanton said...

Thanks for the link, John!

Here's a link to the one of those images that appear to move, and according to one recently released study this effect is caused by the brain's "future-predicting" functions:

In fact, I think I'll edit this image into the blog entry now.

Rob Bryanton said...

Hmm, scratch that idea, I'm going to put it in my next blog entry instead.

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist