T’was a week-end that I was looking forward to. Which meant I looked forward to sleeping in. The son, however, has an internal alarm that seems to work contrary to social expectations.
Anyway, the point is, the son came up bright and shining. I lifted my tub from the covers and moaned from under the covers at his exuberant greeting. Hmmm….Hmmm…..AAAyyynnsnjsjfhsjfh!
He bustled into the room carrying a suspicious looking questionnaire. Just as I thought, the blasted thing turned out to be a Physics quiz that started with the question:
“What holds the quarks together in the nucleus of an atom?”
Luckily I knew the answer to that one (gluons), but it went downhill from there.
By the time we had arrived at the last question, my weak force was battling with the gravitational forces holding me down on the bed, and I sprang out in one gravity defying leap showing a strong force I did not think I was capable of, and hustled the little fellow and the husband out on a hike. If I was going to survive any more Physics quizzes on quarks, I needed to get my spark.
The discussion on his favorite topics led us to the fascinating topics of dimensionality, and I told him about a particularly fetching piece on Flatland geometry in the book, How The Universe Got Its Spots – By Janna Levin.
Flatland is a fascinating piece of work written by Edwin Abbott Abbott in 1884. He imagines a two-dimensional world in which all occupants are lines, flat shapes or circles, and also examines a social construct with this premise. (People with more number of sides occupy a higher social position, with priests being circles. In Victorian times, women had no ways and means to careers, and therefore were represented as lines in that universe.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wv0vxVRGMY (Carl Sagan explains flatland)
That day on the hike, we went up and down the hills in the beautiful three dimensional world we live in, discussing what it would be like in Flatland.
In our everyday lives, rarely do we stop to think of flatland fantasies, and when we do, it is all the more magical. I mean how would a sunset look in Flatland? What would a sunset look like if we were in 4 dimensional worlds? Is our entire existence just us passing through this 3 dimensional world?
The gluon quiz master was, in the meanwhile, practicing his martial arts as he spurred himself through the hills, chipping in here and there, while listening fascinated to the Flatland theories. “Umm…Wonder whether that happened to Ant-man when he went into the quantum world.”
Wandering along by the waterside, watching the wind rippling the waters, and rustling the leaves in the trees nearby, it was beautiful indeed to occupy oneself with thoughts of how a wind would be in Flatland: maybe it would be like an earthquake to 3-dimensional creatures such as us. Maybe our cosmic upheavals are the breezes of the 4th and 5th dimensions. Who knows?
“Imagine, if you were an orange, trying to pass through the two-dimensional world.”
You could only see a dot as it touches the surface, and then a circle as it passes through flatland, a circle that gets bigger and bigger, and then recedes in size. Smaller and smaller till it becomes a point again and then disappears altogether.
Just as an orange cannot ‘get up’ from the 2-d world, we cannot flit in and out of our 3-d worlds. But imagine if we could. If we could give ourselves the gift of perspective (that is another perspective –nature and our vast cosmos give us a fair sense of perspective already, if only we care to look and reflect of course)
I am sure scientists who are spending their entire careers contemplating questions such as these are far more qualified to answer, but the very act of thinking seems to be a marvelously magical act. We admired our fellow creatures on our 3-dimensional walk in the hills: The geese, pelicans, seagulls and hawks.
Does a laugh in Flatland cause ripples? Do our laughs cause the butterflies to flit?
“Here is a joke for you”, I said on the topic of laughs in inter-dimensional space. “What do you call a seagull that flies over a bay?”
“A Bagel – get it?” (a colleague’s joke!)
The joke was met with moans and laughs alike.
By that same extension, are all our lives just us passing through this 3-dimensional world? Where does Kung Fu Panda meet interdimensional Physics and the Tao of Being?
I shrugged my 3-d shoulders. How quickly the contemplation of the physical world morphs into the philosophy of being? How easily our thoughts can become magical?