Theology and the New Physics [2] | Dimensions

flatland_house_diagramWhile quantum theory does nothing towards a proof of God, it does highlight the problem of the extent of our ability to know our own world perfectly. There will always be uncertainty, and this is a humbling thought for scientists and theologians.

Another interesting aspect of the new physics is the problem of multidimensionality. Theorists are currently working with a model that demands a universe with 11 dimensions… a full 8 more than we can reasonably cope with in our now narrow 3D one. Or perhaps 9 more than most of us deal with from behind our screens.

The difficulty of imagining these great dimensions is beautifully explored by Edwin Abbott Abbott in his book ‘Flatland.’ In it he describes a world which is entirely two dimensional – and thus completely flat. The protagonist – ‘Square’ – is visited in Flatland by a sphere… but Square simply cannot understand what a sphere might be until he visits Spaceland.

We can imagine Square’s problem: picture a black sphere passing through a completely flat piece of plain paper. All the paper ‘sees’ is a growing circle of black, which then shrinks again. And there is nothing that someone in Flatland can do to prove that what just happened was 3D.

This is the fundamental problem of our physical universe. There is no experiment that we can do to test whether an observed experiment carries with it another dimension. We can create 3D representations of 4D space, just as we can draw pictures on paper that appear to have 3D perspective… but these representations do not ‘work’ in reality. They can never give the full picture.

We might say then that it is ridiculous for science to demand a ‘proof’ of God’s existence, or of people of faith to try to offer one. There is nothing Square can do to convince his fellow Flatlanders that a sphere exists. It becomes a matter of faith. But that a sphere saw fit to try to engage Flatland is interesting in itself, and is the subject of the next post.


2 responses to “Theology and the New Physics [2] | Dimensions”

  1. I’m wondering, did Rob Bell’s “Everything Is Spiritual” prompt you to write this at all? He touches on some of the same ideas in that dvd–especially the part about Flatland

  2. Actually, it didn’t – though I did see it ages ago, so perhaps worked on me subliminally. I’ve heard he has powers like that 😉

    I came across Flatland a few years ago, through a colleague in our Mathematics dept. It’s a fascinating read. And the BBC doc ‘Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives’ was informative too.