Reading Fr. Edwin Abbot’s “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” earlier this month led me to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which led me to Michael Arbeiter’s writing on the concept of the fourth and fifth dimensions. I’m excerpting his explanation of just the fourth dimension:
Time, essentially. Picture yourself at this very moment. Now, imagine yourself five minutes ago — or five days, or five years, or (if you want to really blow your own mind) five centuries. To grasp a world observed from the Fourth Dimension (as ours is from the Third), picture each of these variations of yourself as physically connected along the line of time. Though it’s tougher to picture, the jump from D3 to D4 exists in the same fashion that the previous jumps (D1 to D2 and D2 to D3) do.
Think of it as such: If you view the abstract concept of a line from another angle, you’ll see a plane — a revelation that the unfeasibly thin collection of points you once saw was only one facet of the physical object you had been observing: a measure of its length.
Do this again when you shift from looking at a plane to looking at a standard object or person. The plane was a motionless vantage point of said thing, a representation of one side of it (that containing its first two dimensions) without perspective of its depth. Turning physically to look beyond this single face brings you to Dimension 3.
Perform that same song and dance once more and you’re in Dimension 4, no longer looking at an object from the single face of its three special dimensions. Just as you saw a line, retroactively, as one face of a plane, and a plane as one face of an object, any object as we know it is really just one face of a timeline. If you were to stand outside of time and shift rapidly across a given line, you’d see all the conceivable iterations of that object — its past, present, and future incarnations, like a flipbook. Imagine those singular frames strung together endlessly (meaning, for us in both directions. Picturing an object as such gives you a view from the Fourth Dimension.
We say that God is being itself, the basis for all contingent existence. God, then, would both transcend every dimension, as much as he would be the basis for each. We contingent, finite creatures are “actors on a stage” whose limits we strain to reach and understand through scientific inquiry.
Someday, maybe, our contingency may be better understood if we can somehow reach beyond our three-dimensionality—beyond time, which is to speak of the sort of transcendence that we believe characterizes God. But it also seems that if were to achieve that, we would no longer be human in the sense we are now. We would have to die, in fact, because one of the characteristics of human beings is their finite, three dimensional nature. Christian theology holds that perfected and resurrected man retains the body, but the true implications of relationship with God are unknowable beyond that.
Christopher Nolan’s hopeful film depicts a scenario were we might transcend our humanity without losing it.