Extra-dimensional sustainability?

Posted on March 17, 2011


Last night I went to a talk by Professor Lawrence Krauss (famous for writing, amongst other things – The Physics of Star Trek). The subject of Krauss’ talk was the question of whether there are hidden dimensions and whether there is evidence in the natural (physical world) for them – or is it just something we would really like there to be. Is there an alternate universe? or do we just want there to be one? A place that is better, fairer and more colourful? I must confess to understanding a small proportion of the talk but it put some things I’ve been working on into perspective.

1. Rod Serling (Twilight Zone) described the fifth dimension as imagination:

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man … a dimension as vast as space and as  timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

His quote finishes with “It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone”. Maybe it is also what we hope to see with a Sustainable Lens.

2. Edwin Abbot’s 1884 book Flatland – “A romance in many directions”. In the two dimensional world occupied by geometric figures who slide about, the society is based on rank according to the number of sides of a polygon (triangles, squares, hexagons, up to priestly circles; Women are straight line segments so are pointedly dangerous when coming towards you!).

The narrator – a square – dreams about visiting single dimensional Lineland. He is unable to convince the monarch – a point – of the possibility of the extra dimension. The square is then visited by a sphere – a 3D object like us, from Spaceland. The sphere is able to convince the square of the possibilities of the 3D space. Square gets excited by the possibilities of yet more dimensions but Sphere can’t, and neither does anyone else when he returns to Flatland and he is thrown into gaol for his evangelical proclamation of the Gospel of Three Dimensions. So, here’s my question. What could we learn by thinking about the Sustainable Lens as seeing extra-dimensions? What would those extra dimensions be? And how might we see them? And how do we avoid being evangelical when those around us cannot comprehend those dimensions. First, what might be the extra dimensions?

Here’s four.

Scale. Space already forms our three dimensions. Seeing across scales though is perhaps something else. How do we see the cumulative impact of hundreds or thousands of decisions?

Time. Time is already considered the 4th dimension (as spacetime rather than something to travel in a timetravel way). We need the Sustainable Lens to represent past decisions, cumulative actions, alternative futures. This needs to happen at timescales more in line with the Long Now Foundation (which news stories from today will still matter in a year; ten years; 100 years; 10,000 years?). They also need to based in the present so I can actually do things.

Systems. Rather than just the surfaces, we need to see systems that make up the objects around us. This is not just an x-ray of hidden operations, we need to expose complete life-cycle and supply-chain impacts. Bonanni’s opensource maps (previous post) hint at the complexity of this dimension.

Uncertainty. Rather than a matter of error of representation for the other dimensions, and
Taking Vitek and Jackson’s call for an ignorance based worldview I think that humility is a dimension itself.

That took longer than I had in mind, how we might see them will have to wait.