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Math Science

The Man Who Invented the 26th Dimension 259

StartsWithABang (3485481) writes Based on all the experiments we've ever been able to perform, we're quite certain that our Universe, from the largest scales down to the microscopic, obeys the physical laws of three spatial dimensions (and one time dimension): a four-dimensional spacetime. But that's not the only possibility mathematically. People had experimented with bringing a fifth dimension in to unify General Relativity with Electromagnetism in the past, but that was regarded as a dead-end. Then in the 1970s, an unknown theoretical physicist working on the string model of the strong interactions discovered that by going into the 26th dimension, some incredibly interesting physics emerged, and String Theory was born.
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The Man Who Invented the 26th Dimension

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  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:12PM (#47607165) Homepage Journal

    Here at discount dimension warehouse you can get 27 dimensions for the price of 26. We honor all competitors empirically undemonstrated theory coupons. More dimensions for your money.

  • by Joe Gillian ( 3683399 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:14PM (#47607175)

    Not to detract from his contributions to science, but the photo of him in the Medium article makes him look like some sort of Parakeet Wizard. How he stayed sane with 40 parakeets in his house is something I will never understand.

    • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:20PM (#47607223) Homepage Journal

      I'm severely concerned for you if you've ever met any physics PhDs who didn't give off that vibe.

      • I work with one, but technically they aren't in academia anymore. Perhaps he didn't give off enough of that vibe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      How he stayed sane with 40 parakeets in his house is something I will never understand.

      LOL, based on how nobody has ever been able to explain WTF String Theory actually claims to tell us or how you'd verify it ... I'm not sure of his 'sanity'. ;-)

      String Theory has always been a little dodgy, and there seems to be about 20 different versions of it, most of which seems to not to make sense, even to many physicists.

      • by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:37PM (#47607333)
        There are less of them now than there were a few years ago, the LHC saw to that. The data they gathered on the Higgs Boson ruled out numerous theories, though there are still a lot more to go.
        • Yes, some publications even asked "Is this the end of String Theory?" which of course meant it wasn't.

          I mean, it did take some serious blows. But it isn't quite gone yet.

          On the other hand, since I have still seen no suggestions of practical ways to test for its existence (only its non-existence), I still have a bit of trouble with the "Theory" part. Last I heard it was only a hypothesis.
      • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:14PM (#47608045) Journal

        String theory became extremely dodgy for a while there - in fact, it went totally off the rails IMO. There were physics journal articles with long philosophical rants and no equations. When the "get random nonsense published" prank war hit physics, it's no surprise it was a string theory journal that fell for it.

        This is what happens to any science without new data coming in. When the Superconducting Supercollider was cancelled, particle physics began getting a little nutty, and by the time you had mid-career physicists with who had only published works never to be challenged by experiment, well, it's an object lesson in how not to do science.

        But the LHC was the needed fix. Theory and experiment are now re-coupled, and I hear that sanity is returning aggressively. Meanwhile the other end of physics, cosmology, has the most accurate data ever to work with, thanks to the CMBR probes, and has been making huge strides for a decade now (cosmology with significant digits, who'd have thought?).

    • It only looks crazy in 2 dimensions. In 26 it is perfectly reasonable

      • It only looks crazy in 2 dimensions. In 26 it is perfectly reasonable

        My Linear Algebra prof used to say that about his office ... in 3-space, his office was an incomprehensible mess.

    • How he stayed sane

      What makes you think he did?

    • by Guppy06 ( 410832 )

      like some sort of Parakeet Wizard

      At least he seems able to keep bird crap off his face, unlike some other wizards.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I went to Rutgers for physics and engineering, worked in physics department for a number of years, and my desk was in a lab across the hall from his office; I can say without hesitation that he was not playing with a full deck.

      That said, he was a brilliant man and one of my favorite professors. His classes were always interesting.

      And damn did he love those birds.

    • You're making a false assumption.
  • by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:19PM (#47607211)

    Why not postulate an infinite number of dimensions?

    • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:33PM (#47607313) Homepage Journal

      Because that's not necessary to explain a particular empirical observation?

      • Because that's not necessary to explain a particular empirical observation?

        Out of interest, which observations to those 26 dimensions explain?

        • Well, let's go to RTFA land and see:

          Theorists had tried to no avail to design a Pomeron closed string theory that was unitary in the ordinary four dimensions of spacetime. Instead the theory yielded monstrosities called tachyons that defied the law of cause and effect. A tachyon is a particle or field that travels faster than light and hences moves backward in time. While some researchers such as Gregory Benford have speculated about their properties, they have never been an accepted part of realistic physical theories. Most physicists believe that the only viable way to have a physical theory with tachyons is if they decouple from the theory, meaning they do not impact the observable phenomena—things like cross-sections and scattering amplitudes—that arise from it. (In addition to scholarly papers about tachyons, Benford also wrote a short story called the “Tachyonic Anti-telephone” about causality violations through backwards-in-time communication.)

          So that's the unexplained phenomenon and:

          In a moment of revelation, Lovelace suddenly realized that the solution to the problem was staring him in the face. Suppose one relaxed the assumption that strings lived in a four-dimensional world. He cranked up the dimensions of their surroundings higher and higher, and found that at precisely D = 26 the tachyonic problem vanished and unitarity was restored. He could scarcely believe such an odd result.

          That's the resolution that requires 26 dimensions. My linalg-fu is weak, so I'm actually not checking the math myself. Happy?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            The GP was talking about "emperical phenomenon".

            So that's the unexplained phenomenon and:

            Those aren't emperical phenomenon. They're not phenomenon at all. It's just a mathematical artefact from an incorrect theory.

            That's the resolution that requires 26 dimensions. My linalg-fu is weak, so I'm actually not checking the math myself. Happy?

            Not really, no.

            Currently there are no actual phenomenon (i.e. real things) which string theory yet explains.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:28PM (#47607275) Homepage
    Frankly, the concept of a 2nd time dimension makes a lot more sense to me AND is a lot more interesting.

    Not only does a 2nd time dimension allow for actual time travel (in a one dimensional universe you can't change the order of anything - you need a 2nd space dimension to hop over or around someone in front of you - so a second time dimension allows for time travel).

    But also it make it a lot easier to understand why we do not SEE the 5th or higher dimension, let alone confirm it with scientific instruments.

    I can look up/down, North/South, and East/West, but I can not look past/future. So it makes sense that I also can not look t2+/t2-.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      What I'd really like is an extra space dimension so I can jump around traffic jams. An extra time dimension would good too so that it doesn't take me very long to do it.

      • What I'd really like is an extra space dimension so I can jump around traffic jams

        Buy a helicopter. They come with an extra space dimension at no extra cost.

    • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @01:16PM (#47607629) Homepage

      I can look up/down, North/South, and East/West, but I can not look past/future. So it makes sense that I also can not look t2+/t2-.

      You can't do anything except for analyze the signals of photons presently impinging on your retina. You have no direct means of experiencing the space ahead of and behind you any more than you do the time directly ahead of and behind you. But assuming those photons travelled in straight lines in space and time and have spectra which depend on the object they last interacted with, you can make some good inferences about what objects were there a short time ago. Just as you can make the inference that those objects may have also been there at an earlier time, or may continue to be there longer than that.

      It's only because the speed of light is so fast that we act like we are making direct spatial observations. Slow it down enough and you might not say your eyes were very good for finding the position of things at all -- just for telling you what they were like in the past.

  • Unknown? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rfengr ( 910026 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:29PM (#47607279)
    How could be unknown if "A study in 2009 ranked him as the 14th most influential physicist in the world for the period 1967-1973.", or was he unknown at the time, which is common for anyone before popular ideas? Unknown in the general public is anyone but Einstein.
    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Yeah, I thought the editing failure was typical. "Relatively unknown", "obscure", or even "all-but-forgotten" would have been a better choice. But to hyperlink to the guy's wiki bio from the word unknown? That's just lame.

    • This latter statement is gradually becoming moot, thanks to the efforts of another Japanese person with a tv personality.

      Now, speaking as someone who has spent 65 of my almost 80 years, dealing in electronics, I have yet to detect an error or distortion of what you can see on your tv screen (the last 54 years in broadcast engineering) that was not completely and absolutely explained when analyzed, by General Relativity, including time dilation in an electron beam caused by the combination of its mode of amp

      • String theory does hundreds of testable predictions in QM and relativity and aims to predict 'stuff' that are grey area in both QM and relativity.
        Where does the brain dead idea come from that thousands of physicists on the planet work on a theory that makes no testable predictions?
        Maxwell formulas/predictions, radioactive decay, space time warping close to gravity wells etc. ARE EXACTLY THE SAME IN STRING THEORY! Hence scientists find it interesting!

  • Claud W. Lovelace (Score:5, Informative)

    by darkwing_bmf ( 178021 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:39PM (#47607347)

    is his name. Not sure why the summary left it out.

  • I thought there had to be more than 3 macro-scale space dimensions to allow the whole 'finite but unbounded' thing. You know, so you can't sail off the edge of space?
    • Finite but unbounded is not reality, only a conjecture designed to eliminate infinite length in any direction. People don't like either the concept of the universe being a bubble in a void or curving around on itself. The truth of the situation is we haven't a clue as yet.
  • by mmell ( 832646 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @12:49PM (#47607411)
    Just sayin'.
  • Gotta be over 9000

  • So the inventor of multi dimensions, founder of string theory is unknown?

    Perhaps you wanted to make a sentence like " at that time unknown scientist ... "?

    After all people with the surname Lovelace are very well known in the geek community. Hm, have to check if they are actually related.

  • Statements like that make me cringe. News at 11: Not everything mathematically possible is physically possible, it's the other way around.
    • Even worse: he proposes that our universe is only 3 spatial dimensions, when it's well-accepted that this is a consequence of inflation. Originally, we had ten dimensions in balance; but the force between them gave out, and six of these contracted while three expanded. The three expanding dimensions make up our growing bubble of space--the universe--while the six shrinking are not major forces in our universe, but possibly have an impact on the quantum level (see: quantum foam).

      Thus we have three-dim

      • Thus we have three-dimensional space-time,

        If you're nominating time as a dimension, space-time would be four dimensions. Three dimensions would be just space.

  • Was his name Buckaroo Banzai?

  • No one "invented" 26-dimensional spaces. Might as write a headline about the man who invented the number 26. Weird that the article is pretty decent.
  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:06PM (#47608007)

    Unscientific [xkcd.com]

  • by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:19PM (#47608081) Journal
    String theory was devised as a mathematical model that seems to describe a workable universe which may, or may NOT be our universe. Problem is that we know that the Standard Model cannot be the complete picture but so far we have no experimental data to use as a starting point to figure out what lies behind it. When we finally do get a hint of new physics some of the new math being invented by String Theorists is going to be very useful weather or not String Theory itself correctly describes our universe.
  • by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Tuesday August 05, 2014 @02:44PM (#47608233)

    "All problems in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection" - David Wheeler

    "All problems in physics can be solved by another dimension" - Some jackass

    Is 26 dimensions better or worse than 26 levels of indirection?

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.