Clicking on banner ads keeps JWR alive
Jewish World Review March 13, 2003 / 9 Adar II 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Science asks us to imagine a world in 11 dimensions | The human brain is a marvelous computer.

My own brain, for instance, often can distinguish the ring of the phone on my bedside table from the ring of my alarm clock next to it. The result is that when a phone call awakens me, I answer the alarm clock no more than 34 percent of the time.

My brain also tells me so accurately which of my two children and four stepchildren are in my presence that I call each of them by the wrong name only 26 percent of the time.

Despite its admirable precision, however, my brain often has trouble imagining what modern science is up to. Take, for instance, the concept of dimensions. I do pretty well with the four-dimensional universe - height, depth, thickness and time, even if I'm too tall, too deep, too thick and too slow to please some people.

But now that I'm accustomed to thinking in terms of four dimensions, science wants me to stretch that out to maybe 11. How can that be? If that question is directed at me, I will offer only a blank stare in response. I know only that physicists -- especially those attached to something called String Theory -- propose that reality is not limited to the four dimensions that make some sense to my put-upon brain.

I have read Brian Greene's explanation of some of this in his book "The Elegant Universe,", and I am perfectly willing to abandon four dimensions in favor of at least seven more. But I would be a poor advocate for the change in a court of law. I could say little more than, "Uh, because."

And yet, despite early opposition, scientists from hither and yon seem to be rallying around the notion that the universe contains more than four dimensions. Just recently, for instance, a panel of experts addressed the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and suggested that before long everyone will understand that a four-dimension world just doesn't cut it.

For a long time, physicists have been guided by what they call the "Standard Model" of the universe. It's full of tiny, tinier and tiniest particles - and forces - that somehow make up reality. But the more experiments these scientists do, the more they suspect the Standard Model may be incomplete.

"We have things in the data that leave our mouths hanging," says Maria Spiropulu, a University of Chicago scientist who works at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Well, she didn't say that to me. She said it in a three-dimensional University of Chicago press release.

I love it when scientists are puzzled and humbled. Science, after all, has become one of our most respected modern religions, and religion should bring people to their knees.

It's one reason I'm so attracted to the possibility that the four-dimension crowd may be wrong. But I'm equally attracted to the chance that the extra-dimension people may not have it quite right, either.

My joy at humbled science is one reason I'm reading Stephen Wolfram's huge new book, "A New Kind of Science" . Wolfram, a mathematical prodigy, developed popular computer software that essentially automates math. He made enough money and got enough grants to be able to study the foundations of science for about 20 years.

As a result, he kept smacking the palm of his hand on his forehead and saying, "Well, dang. The old science just doesn't work very well."

At the foundation of his work is the idea that amazing complexity can result from simple beginnings. Why that is such a startling idea is beyond me, as it should be beyond others who have reared children. But apparently most scientists until Wolfram thought you had to have complex beginnings and complex rules to yield complexity.

No, no. If you start with simplicity and let things run their course for long enough, Wolfram says, you sometimes get breathtaking intricacy. Think of the growth of the federal government. Think of how the simple idea of marriage has transmogrified itself into a highly choreographed deal that now costs more than our parents paid for houses.

I'd tell you more, but I have to answer my alarm clock in another dimension.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

02/27/03: War has long come naturally to humankind
02/22/03: Trying to decipher the vexing French
02/11/03: A worthy crusade for individual worth
01/30/03: Indelible ache of Sept. 11
01/24/03: An issue of great gravity moves forward
01/17/03: Peculiar about being eccentric
01/10/03: Gambling infects with false hope
12/31/02: Quotable and notable in 2002
12/24/02: The faltering war on terrorism
12/11/02: Sky's the limit --- sort of
11/05/02: Thoughtful about uploading
10/29/02: We naively ignore the inevitability of death
10/24/02: Patriotism exceeds nationalism
09/18/02: Misuse of religion is timeless
08/21/02: Where church and state are one How long can Saudi Arabia's puritanical version of Islam survive?
08/13/02: LETTER FROM CAIRO: Meet the Egyptian writer who provided foundation for radical form of Islam
08/08/02: Letter from Riyadh: Moderate Muslims must reassert control over Islam
07/31/02: Journey of discovery starts at Ground Zero
06/07/02: Life rebukes death's power
05/31/02: Reasonable doubts about executions
05/10/02: Business savvy for graduates
05/02/02: Exporting our exclusivity
04/25/02: Life's stories carry messages about values
04/19/02: Our life force's search for fellow life forces
03/27/02: Can corporations behave ethically?
03/19/02: Space Family Robinsons
02/21/02: Lock, stocks and bonds
02/14/02: In space, the dark matters
02/07/02: Train doctors to have caring hands and hearts
01/31/02: A different feel to my life and to my country?
01/24/02: How green is my universe?
01/17/02: The end is near, eventually
01/08/02: Important lessons arrive out of the past
12/19/01: Lost in the cloning debate
12/10/01: It's all in the name: Unraveling the mystery of Osama's whereabouts
11/19/01: Flying with damaged trust
11/02/01: Recent, recognized research is a hard nut to crack
10/31/01: Many paradoxes in life
10/25/01: Newly found planets show the cosmos is still strange
10/19/01: Just getting caught up
10/17/01: It was a time for tea and sympathy
10/08/01: What makes an authentic patriot?
10/04/01: It's OK to twist and shout
09/17/01: One precious life among many
09/13/01: Remember who we are
09/11/01: Sometimes all children need is shelter from the storm
09/05/01: Couldn't run or throw, but a hero just the same
08/28/01: Lesson for the scientific faithful: Some theories come with strings attached
08/27/01: When waste in space is a waste of space
08/21/01: In complex world, we lack tools to carve out understanding
08/09/01: Visited while asleep by gang of magical mischief makers
08/03/01: Recognizing the limits of one's capacity
07/27/01: We are more than the sum of our work days
07/12/01: Some stars, like some people, never shine
07/11/01: Our deeply embedded need for order
07/03/01: Not-so-famous tour explores not-so-rich neighborhoods
06/28/01: Driven to tell the truth about golf and government
06/25/01: When poetry becomes destructive
06/21/01: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a word from deep space
06/14/01: Theory of revolution explains why some things get lost
06/11/01: Shamanic gewgaws
06/06/01: Charity begins at homes with lemonade stands
05/30/01: When are wars worth dying in?
05/23/01: Cruising along that bumpy highway
05/09/01: If you're in the write mood, wish the U.S. happy birthday
05/07/01: Killing McVeigh will wound us all
05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?


Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved