Defining Dimensions

String theory and others describe more dimensions than I can imagine, but it’s never kept me from trying.

This video started off well enough, and then my imagination couldn’t keep up.

Here’s Brian Greene explaining String Theory in 2005.

Circles Define Dimensions

Typically, the mathematical point is the “0” dimension that starts it all, then the 1-D line, the 2-D circle, the 3-D sphere. Why sphere, exactly? There’s another notion I’ve come across that’s persistent. The spiral.

the 2-D circle can also be thought of as a sine wave seen from a certain angle, as below:


So the circle doesn’t just define the equator of a sphere, but also the path of a spiral. This is the idea I want to explore a bit further. And I did, around the time that the first gravity waves were detected in 2016. Following a linear path over the waves below describes a sine spiral.


Spirals and Fractals

The word fractals is used to mean a number of things, and in this case, I mean the self-similarity over scale. That means that the fractal object has a similar structure regardless of how much you magnify it, as below:


What would a 3-D self-similar spiral structure look like? There is one example in nature, and fortunately, it has been animated for us. This is DNA supercoiling – coils within coils. It’s how a dense structure like a chromosome can contain a three-metre-long molecule.

Supercoils of Spirals

If we take this idea one step further (you know you want to), we can apply this same idea to the way we view dimensions of time. I got this from the Maya Calendar system, but we have enough elements in our own daykeeping system to make a comparison.

Start with 86,400 seconds in a day. We organize them into minutes and hours. They could be organized in any manner of ways. The factors are (27 × 33 × 52). The year has 365 days (ignore the leap year for the time being, it’s accounted for but I need to focus), which has two factors 73 and 5. A number of calendar systems divide the year into 360 days and have 5 extra. 360 also has a lot of factors as well  (23 × 32 × 5). In fact 360 x 240 = 86400.

These numbers made it possible for the seconds, minutes, hours, days, months all tie in together numerically. 12 hours of the day, and 12 months of the year. That type of idea. However, there would be even groupings of 12 seconds, 12 minutes, 12 days, 12 weeks, and so on. Our calendar has some remnants of a more engaged usage. The 12 days of Christmas were the 12 days from Christmas Eve to Feast of the Epiphany. Each day stood for a month in the coming year. If nothing else, it was a good ceremony by which to organize the year ahead.

The Maya Long Count calendar is the ultimate version of this. 20s are important numbers, so they count 18 periods of 20 days which is 360 days (a tun). This isn’t tied to the year, so there’s no extra days, just another group of 360 days and so on. They measure the larger periods by 20s, so 20 tun, is a katun. 20 katun is a baktun and so on. It’s similar to our groups of 10 – decade, century, millennium.

The Circle of Time

If we apply all of the above to our notion of time (discussed earlier) as circular, we get the image below (365 days of the year, shaded to reflect the position of the Sun):

365 Days at 45° N Latitude

Every year 365 days. Without any dates, us here on Turtle Island would notice the change in the amount of daylight, from our Winter Solstice through the Equinox to our Summer Solstice, and then back through the Equinox. Every year that cycle, since our ancestral mother gave birth to the first Homo sapiens and said, “This looks like trouble.”

If we consider this year to be a circle as we see above, and superimpose it over last year, which was also a circle like the one above, we’d get a tube of unconnected circles. However, if we think that the last day of the year December 31st is followed by January 1st. This connects the end of one year with the beginning of the next. It defines a spiral.

So we think of a number of years (10, 13, 20, 52, 60, 100, 260…) in terms of being a spiral. For each grouping (10s like decades, centuries, or 20s like katun and baktun), imagine it’s a supercoiling of that spiral.

This might be a means of defining multiple dimensions in terms of time. I took at look at the basic units of string theory:

.22×1019 GeV (the Planck energy)
5.39×10−44 s (the Planck time)
1.62×10−35 m (the Planck length)

I’m really not delving deeply into the math or physics. I read up on it from time to time but progress in my understanding is slow, yet I persist. At any rate, I envision a means by which Planck time can be reckoned across orders of magnitude to the second, and up through the rest of our measures of time. However, as is usually the case with these things, there’s no convenient round numbers to be had. Not even with generous fudging.


Again, I have this image that String Theory will discover that all matter is created not just by the vibrations of tiny Planck-length strings, but by a single string (the Uni-Verse) that supercoils to various densities which behave according to all the madness that is our understanding of subatomic particles. This is more a narrative, poetic, or mythological image, not so much a scientific one. But we have to start somewhere, and I’m always up for making a good story out of what we know.

Universal String Theory

Imagine the Universe as a single string (I prefer the Big Bounce model) coiled up to an infinite density, infinite energy, infinite mass, infinitesimal volume at the infinitesimally brief moment when it sits in perfect, silent, still balance. Then it uncoils in all its vibrating glory.

but it doesn’t make a Bang.


Which represents all of the vowel sounds humans can produce, and it ends with a yummy noise. Consonants are seen as an interruption in the flow of vowels. I like this image a lot, so it’s part of the story, as far as I’m concerned.

Then the string uncoils and recoils and condenses into things like galaxies and bauxite.

the Universe

From our friends at the Online Etymological Dictionary (I prefer it to regular dictionaries):

universe (n.) 1580s, “the whole world, cosmos, the totality of existing things,” from Old French univers (12c.), from Latin universum “all things, everybody, all people, the whole world,” noun use of neuter of adjective universus “all together, all in one, whole, entire, relating to all,” literally “turned into one,” from unus “one” (from PIE root *oi-no-“one, unique”) + versus, past participle of vertere “to turn, turn back, be turned; convert, transform, translate; be changed” (from PIE root *wer- (2) “to turn, bend”).

And the idea of turning comes from the plow cutting and turning the earth into lines to be planted. If we consider the universe to be such a line, the one line, then it’s not such a stretch to see it as the one string. A string tied tot eh idea of turning back, bending, changing.

So here we are. Taking up John Ralston Saul’s challenge to create a new mythology for Canada. How are we doing so far?





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