Lots of science-fiction movies and television shows talk about “other dimensions.” Most often, the word is used to mean a “parallel universe” or something like that. “There are aliens attacking us from another dimension!” Or, “That person looks just like you, but he has a goatee! He must be the ‘you’ from another dimension!” But that’s not really what the word dimension means. The word actually means “measure in a single line (as length, breadth, height, thickness, or circumference)”, according to Merriam-Webster Unabridged. (You need a subscription to read it — I think it was $30 very well spent.)

So, anyway, I bring this up today because of the fourth dimension. In everyday life, we think of the three dimensions of length, width, and height (or breadth or whatever).

  • A point has zero dimensions, just a dot, no extension at all.
  • A line has one dimension; it extends simply along that one dimension (left-right or up-down or whatever) forever.
  • A plane has two dimensions; it’s a flat surface that extends forever in two dimensions (left-right and up-down or whatever).
  • The regular world around us has three dimensions; it extends in all three (left-right and up-down and forward-backward).

But there is a fourth dimension, which is also utilized a lot in science-fiction. But this dimension is also quite important to everyday life anyway. The fourth dimension is time. Just like the other three dimensions, time is measured by extension, duration. Everything that is, exists in time as well as the other three, because nothing endures forever. It’s really hard to visualize time as just another dimension like the first three, but Einstein proved that mathematically, that’s exactly what it is. In fact, physicists generally refer now to the universe as spacetime, a four-dimensional realm that requires time to be considered as a dimension at right angels to all three spatial dimensions. I know, really hard to visualize. I tend to think of it (rightly or wrongly) as size. That over time, the universe is constantly and consistently growing — but it’s completely unnoticeable to us because we’re part of that universe, growing along with everything else. You could only notice it if you were somehow outside spacetime. I don’t know if this analogy a) helps at all, b) makes any sense, or c) is even accurate. So never mind.

But I’ve always loved the idea of traveling in the fourth dimension, somehow jumping to a distant future or a distant past. Certainly a lot of my interest in this comes from my 35-year relationship with Doctor Who, a television show in which the main character can travel anywhere in time or space. Of course, the truth is we are always traveling in the fourth dimension. Time marches on at the rate of 60 seconds/minute. We’re always moving “forward” in time. Or at least that’s how we experience it, due to the way our consciousnesses work.

I’ve always been intrigued by different cultural understandings of how time works. I have a small collection of clocks I’ve accrued from rummage sales and the like, and I would like to one day own a grandfather clock. (Maybe I’ll get myself one if and when I become a grandfather.)

And from a religious standpoint, eternity and eternal life are intriguing concepts in relation to time. We often think of eternal life as being synonymous with everlasting life, and therefore meaning “life in heaven after death.” But that’s not quite accurate. Eternity doesn’t mean “everlasting” — it means “outside of time.” So the eternal life that Jesus promises doesn’t actually mean “heaven”; it means a special way of living here, a way of not being caught up in time. Again, it’s hard to really visualize this; I usually describe it as “life lived in the present,” not stuck in worries about the past or the future. I’ve also wondered if it’s a lot like mindfulness.

That’s enough for today. I’ve put enough ahem time into this.


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