Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Me, Myself and The Universe

In my last post I attempted to briefly discuss how the universe began, an event I personally find very hard to picture.
This often seems to be the case with science, specifically for astrophysics I have found.
How do you picture the beginning of the universe?
How do you fully understand just how far a light year is?

In this post I will go over two particular abstract concepts that I have, and still do, have trouble imagining.

The first is dimensions.
I’m not referring to alternate dimensions, I am only referring to the every day dimensions in which we live.
Most people will be aware of 2D and 3D, these are probably the easiest to get our heads around, we live in a 3D world and we draw in 2D. Or do we?

The first three dimensions are spatial dimensions, which can be visualised without any abstract thought.
The first dimension can be seen as a line.
The second dimension, a square.
The third, a cube.

The above image can be extended even further into the fourth dimension, time.

But what is the fifth dimension?
Are there even any dimensions past what we consciously live in?

This concept is explored brilliantly and entertainingly in Edwin A Abbott’s Flatland.
A short novel about a square living in a two dimensional world that is visited by a cube, bringing news of a third dimension. This notion is at first poo-pooed by the square, but upon entering visiting other dimensions he quickly understands that there is more to what he knows.

The second is string theory, and I admit I am far from an expert, or even competent, in this area.
The essential underlying principle is that all matter and all energy is made up of strings.
Everything is strings.
And different things are strings vibrating at different frequencies or interacting with other strings in different ways.
If this doesn’t phase you or challenge you in anyway then please get into physics research, we need you.

My personal problem, although I know that I should think it is silly, is that if I wave my hand in front of me, what am I doing to all the strings?
It’s easy when they’re particles, I just bat them aside, but I cannot got a the notion of my hand passing through a string that is fixed at either end.
Perhaps they are not fixed, but then I struggle to picture them vibrating.

String theory is being used as an attempt to unify physics.
At the moment we have some very good rules for what governs the really big (Planets, Orbits, us etc) and some really good rules for what governs really small things (atoms, light, singularities) but much to our detriment we are unable to put these two sets of rules together.
This is preventing us from understanding what exactly happened at the start of the universe amongst many other things.

The importance of what I have discussed is that sometimes science can be pretty confronting and difficult to wrap your head around.
We must do what we can to educate those around us in as simple a way as we can, it is due to the misinformed and poorly educated that we are still making no progress regarding climate change.
It is due to those that cannot handle the confronting science that we have anti-vaccine groups rising up blaming Big  Pharma for all the worlds problems.

We must understand that just because something may make sense to us, it isn’t necessarily going to for everyone else.

I recommend reading Edwin A Abbott’s Flatland, not only as an insight to different dimensions, but on how people confront new information that opposes their views, as a social commentary on our world even today (thought it was first published in 1884) and lastly as a truly interesting and fun read.


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This entry was posted on May 30, 2016 by in Uncategorized.

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