Flat Stanley Across the 11th Dimension

Full Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff from the Science Lab from howstuffworks.com.

Allison Loudermilk: Hey, guys, and welcome to the podcast. This is Allison Loudermilk, the science editor at howstuffworks.com.

Robert Lamb: And this is Robert Lamb, science writer at howstuffworks.com. And there are three microphones in the recording room here, and normally we only occupy two. But we actually have a third person in the studio with us. Allison, would you like to introduce him?

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, sitting to my left is a special gentleman who agreed to join us. His name is Stanley.

Robert Lamb: Flat Stanley.

Allison Loudermilk: Perhaps you are all acquainted with Flat Stanley. Maybe you've taken him on some travels of yours. There's a big movement with Flat Stanley and getting him to see the world.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's actually a literacy thing. So if you have kids or there's kids somewhere in your family, there's a good chance Flat Stanley has paid a visit to your home, perhaps in an envelope.

Allison Loudermilk: Now, do you remember reading about Flat Stanley as a kid? You said you hadn't read the books.

Robert Lamb: I had not. I had never heard of Flat Stanley until suddenly my mom, who's a kindergarten teacher, started talking about Flat Stanley. And then my niece and nephew suddenly have Flat Stanley coming to our house to hang out! Apparently it's a big deal now. It's based on a book by Jeff Brown. And then this guy Dale Hubert, who's a grade three teacher in London, started this whole take Flat Stanley on adventures with you thing! And it's a huge deal.

Allison Loudermilk: I love the books. I remember reading them as a kid and he does some cool things that being flat allow him to do. For example, I think in one of the adventures he has, he is able to go down into a sewer grate and pick up some shiny ring that somebody dropped. And he did all sorts of other stuff like squeeze between doors because of his nice flatness, and probably under window jams and stuff like that. But I do remember he did go into the sewer grate, I believe.

Robert Lamb: Whoa.

Allison Loudermilk: It was cool. Maybe not - he gets a little dirty, but -

Robert Lamb: Kids probably shouldn't send him down the sewer too often on these -

Allison Loudermilk: But you know they are.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, but that's -

Allison Loudermilk: Kids love to go into sewers.

Robert Lamb: I guess it makes for a cool story, that's the thing. Because then they write about it in their journal. Here's what Flat Stanley did today, and then they turn that in to their teacher.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So today we're going to take Flat Stanley on a journey across the dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, we live in a 3D world and he lives in a 2D world.

Allison Loudermilk: We thought we'd use Stanley to illustrate the concepts of the dimensions as we know them, and some dimensions that string theorists propose out there.

Robert Lamb: Okay. Well, let's back it up then. Let's get down to the very basic one-dimensional world.

Allison Loudermilk: So picture Flat Stanley for a second in your head.

Robert Lamb: And Flat Stanley, if you've never seen him before and you're not looking him up on a computer right now - he's this guy on a sheet of paper and you cut him out. He's a little cartoon guy.

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, in this picture he has his tie on with polka dots and a white button down shirt with some slacks. Do you like that I just called them slacks? I feel like my mom, saying slacks. And he's just a regular looking dude. He's middle-aged, maybe 30s. So Flat Stanley as we have him is 2D.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, so we need to get him down to 1D.

Allison Loudermilk: We do. How are we going to do that?

Robert Lamb: Well, basically, right now he has no depth. He just has length and width. So we need to break that down to just length.

Allison Loudermilk: Let's shrink him down to a particle.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, basically he would just be one single point. And the universe that he would live in would be a single line. So the universe is a line, and Stanley is a point on that line.

Allison Loudermilk: And he's moving. He can only move backward or forward.

Robert Lamb: Right. Say that this line is 10 inches long, you only need one number to tell me exactly where Stanley is at any given moment. Five inches, there's Stanley. There's no other number needed.

Allison Loudermilk: It's pretty boring.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, if Stanley were hanging out on that line with another particle being, he would be like, "Hey, dude. Where do you want to meet for lunch?" And they're like, "Let's meet at six." And that's all you would need because there's no other dimension but that.

Allison Loudermilk: So let's take Stanley to his current shape, which is 2D.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, 2D world, you're looking at length and width. The example I love to use with this one -

Allison Loudermilk: Is Battleship.

Robert Lamb: - is Battleship. Because Battleship is a game where, to pinpoint any position and therefore injure the person's battleship and submarines -

Allison Loudermilk: You sink them. You sunk my battleship.

Robert Lamb: Sink them, not injure them. They're not organic, but that would be kind of cool. I guess they'd have to be like whales and stuff.

Allison Loudermilk: You sunk my whale? That just doesn't have the right ring.

Robert Lamb: No, the whale guys would be very upset about that one. On Battleship, if you want to hit a point, you just need those two numbers.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. A set of coordinates.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's like E5. You line up E, you line up 5 and you connect those two lines.

Allison Loudermilk: And bango, you have the location of that object in a 2D world.

Robert Lamb: It's like on a city map. If you were going to meet somebody for

lunch and you're like, "Hey, Dude. Where do you want to meet for lunch?" They might say, "At the corner of First and" -

Allison Loudermilk: Peachtree and Piedmont, for example.

Robert Lamb: There you go.

Allison Loudermilk: Which Peachtree? We'll get into that.

Robert Lamb: Well, that's a whole other issue. Atlanta planning messes with our ability to use a proper metaphor here. But it's like the corner of two streets. Two coordinates - in a 2D world, you only need two numbers to pinpoint exactly where you are at any given time.

Allison Loudermilk: So that's two dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Exactly.

Allison Loudermilk: I think you guys are all with us. We're certainly still there. So let's take it to 3D. Let's move on up.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, a 3D world. That's where we are now. So you have -

Allison Loudermilk: Flat Stanley all of a sudden - maybe we need to give Flat Stanley a little girth. Maybe he's not flat anymore. Maybe he becomes Fat Stanley, or Rotund Stanley?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. For Flat Stanley to really be a 3D being, he would need all three dimensions.

Allison Loudermilk: He needs a little girth, some muscle mass, some protrusions, and some appendages and stand-up hair.

Robert Lamb: Exactly. Yeah, now we're dealing with length, width, and depth.

Allison Loudermilk: Right.

Robert Lamb: And depth you can also swap out for altitude. Let's go back to battleship. There's a submarine in battleship.

Allison Loudermilk: Yep.

Robert Lamb: But in the game, the submarine is always on the surface because you only have those two coordinates. In reality, a submarine goes to varying depths.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So there's actually an advanced version of Battleship in which the game platform rises and falls and you have to do it like that. Have you ever heard of that?

Robert Lamb: No, I didn't know that.

Allison Loudermilk: I'm totally lying.

Robert Lamb: Oh, wow. You got me. So at any rate, to sink a real submarine you would need -

Allison Loudermilk: Its latitude and longitude, right?

Robert Lamb: Yeah, three coordinates - latitude, longitude, and depth. So it would be E5 plus however deep it was in the ocean. Likewise, if you're meeting somebody for lunch and building happens to be ten stories tall, you'd be like meet me at the corner Peachtree and Piedmont. The restaurant is on the 5th floor. So at any given point in our world, three numbers will tell you where exactly you can be found.

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, the three spatial dimensions all work nicely for helping you find your lunch date. Definitely. Of course, we're talking about lunch, right? So we have t

o set some sort of time.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, if you show up for lunch at 3:00 in the afternoon and you're like, "Dude, where are you?" And then you say, "We were going to have lunch at noon, at lunchtime, and you're late." This is where we end up with the -

Allison Loudermilk: This is more like a T.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, of course we're not going to line up if you're showing up at different times. And that's where time enters the equation here. Sometimes time is referred to as the fourth dimension, but physicists who are really dealing with the idea of multiple dimensions often refer to it like this. We have three spatial dimensions and one dimension of time. So in that, you need four numbers to successfully pull off a lunch date. You need to know latitude, longitude, altitude, and when that is taking place.

Allison Loudermilk: Okay, I think everybody's got that so far. So let's get a little crazy.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, so let's talk about the possibility of a fourth spatial dimension. And at this point Flat Stanley's just blanking out.

Allison Loudermilk: Flat Stanley's taking a nap after lunch.

Robert Lamb: Because if you think it's complicated for us to talk about four dimensions, this dude's only two.

Allison Loudermilk: So let's take him with us for the ride. So we've given him girth in our 3D world. Now he knows what times is, so he's not going to be late for a lunch date. Now let's take him into our fourth spatial dimension, and let's talk about how that originated.

Robert Lamb: Okay. Now, again, this is something our brains can't really perceive.

Allison Loudermilk: But there's some good analogies that we can draw.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, we can draw analogies and we can discuss why we think about it. But don't feel bad if you cannot picture the fourth dimension. Because that's your brain. 1919, we had a mathematician by the name of Theodor Kaluza. He theorized that a fourth spatial dimension might link general relativity and electromagnetic theory. That didn't actually work out, but still he gave this a lot of thought. Where would that fourth spatial dimension go? Theoretical physicist Oskar Klein worked on the theory a little more -

Allison Loudermilk: Did a little revision and a little tinkering.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And he proposed that the fourth spatial dimension was merely curled up while the other three spatial dimensions are extended.

Allison Loudermilk: And at this point, let me interrupt. I was watching The Elegant Universe recently just to get a little backing. And it really is an awesome program that Brian Greene does from Columbia University. It explains some good stuff on string theory and dimensions. And he's suggesting that there's a helpful way to think about dimensions. And we think about unfurled and stretched out dimensions, like length, height, altitude. And then tiny tape measure dimensions curled up - so there's furled and unfurled!

Robert Lamb: Have you ever seen a cartoon where they take what looks like a black hole - a 2D thing - and they slap it on the wall and suddenly they can reach inside. Or in Dungeons & Dragons, you could get a little pouch that had limitless capacity. You could reach your whole arm into this tiny pouch.

Allison Loudermilk: That's cool.

Robert Lamb: It's the idea that the space is there, but it's folded. Tape dispenser dimensions!

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So we're talking about this fourth spatial dimension as being curled up and located at every point in space.

Robert Lamb: So it's like every point in space has this extra layer that's completely fol

ded up inside it.

Allison Loudermilk: Okay, let's give a visual to this. Let's think about a telephone pole or a cable across the street. And you're looking at it far away, so you can only perceive its length rising up into the sky. But then you walk a little closer, curious about this cable and you can perceive its dimension because all of a sudden you can tell it's circular. So you can move Flat Stanley along the cable if you so desire. Or you can move Flat Stanley now around the cable. So if you carry that image with you to the fourth dimension, think about that point in space and then every point in space as having a circular dimension that you can traverse.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, to go back to the building. We're meeting our lunch date, right? We need the longitude, latitude, and then we need to know what floor it's on. Just dealing with spatial here - don't worry about time. Now imagine you get to the third floor of that building for the lunch date and then you look around you're like, "Whoa, there are multiple businesses in this level. Which door do I go to?" The closer you get, there's another level of complexity. And so the fourth dimension is rolled up inside this other one. It's another place that something can hide away in.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. That's the thing about science, physics, and particularly string theory. The deeper you look, the more complexity is going to arise. It's mindboggling to be -

Robert Lamb: It is very mindboggling. So don't feel bad if your head's spinning a little bit here.

Allison Loudermilk: Okay, so let's take it down to that point in space. We have the little circle at that point - so that's our fourth curled up spatial dimension. Well, now we're going to take that little circle and make it a little crazier shape. We're going to form it into a six-dimensional shape called a kolaby yow [13:28.1] shape.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, and this is a crazy looking -

Allison Loudermilk: It really is.

Robert Lamb: It looks like a nautilus shell or something, and kind of like an Escher painting - all sorts of curving.

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, you also used the analogy of a Star Trek holiday ornament in your article, which was really funny.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it looks very space age and awesome. So imagine that each point in space has curled up inside it a six-dimensional object, then you can begin to see. So you get to that level of the building where you're hoping to find a restaurant and you find eight restaurants.

Allison Loudermilk: And we should mention that this need for all the dimensions was somewhat born out of string theory and called for out of string theory, although before string theory got it's groove on back in the second half of the 20th century, they were the ones who really called for all those extra dimensions and really needed them.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, they weren't just saying, "Hey, how many dimensions could we possibly come up with? Does six sound good, guys?" No, they needed a universe with this many dimensions for the math to work.

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, essentially. And then if you go on to 10 dimensions, why not 11 dimensions. Surely you've heard that, "Hey, it's not 10 dimensions, its 11 dimensions, guys?" Robert Nelson, what were you thinking. Sure, in theory there is in fact -

Robert Lamb: Yeah, that's 11 dimensions. And the M stands for mother?

Allison Loudermilk: The M stands for all sorts of stuff. You can take it for mother or you can also take it from membrane. And if we go with membrane, then that's referring to - at the heart of string theory are of course strings. And strings are these tiny one-dimensional strings. If you think about an atom being the smallest thing you can imagine - if an atom is the size of a solar system, to borrow an analogy from The Elegant Universe - a string would be as large as a tree. So these are very tiny vibrating strings that are at the core of all matter, and they vibrate. And these one-dimensional string's vibrations are what gives matter its unique properties - its charge, its being.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, basically they are continuing to build an entire model of the universe that flows out of this idea of tiny strings.

Allison Loudermilk: So the problem with string theory is that it's crazy complicated - but there are rival string theories going on. There are as many as five string theories, one of which proposed 26 different dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Oh, now that's just ridiculous.

Allison Loudermilk: So if you think we're getting crazy talking about 10 or 11 dimensions, just put out there 26 dimensions.

Robert Lamb: They're so high maintenance. What's it like to date one of these guys or gals?

Allison Loudermilk: So the idea of M theory was to unite all these rival string theories under M theory and the 11th dimension. So it's crazy. We can do a separate podcast on the 11th dimension, if you guys are so interested, although it may require a little prep on our part.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I can't even imagine the Stanley we'd have to bring in for that. Though it's worth pointing out that F theory, which stands for either Father or Flat Stanley - no, it just stands for father. It's another string theory spinoff that involves 12. And they're thinking there will be more. When will it stop?

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So the more research you do into dimensions, the more it does seem as though when will the number of dimensions stop? 11 seems like a good number, but here again we have F theory. Who knows?

Robert Lamb: It's ultimately how many dimensions they need to make the theory work.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So there you have it. We have your three spatial dimensions that you guys know and love. Plus the six spatial dimensions that are all curled up in those crazy kolaby yow shapes that are at every point in space - plus time. So we bring to you ten dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. There you go.

Allison Loudermilk: Flat Stanley, did you enjoy yourself?

Robert Lamb: Oh, man. He looks glazed over.

Allison Loudermilk: I think he has a half smile, and his arms are outstretched. It seems like he wants to hug us after that podcast on dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Sometimes string theory makes you feel like you need a hug for sure.

Allison Loudermilk: So do you have any listener mail?

Robert Lamb: I do. I have a cool listener mail I just got today. This comes from Daniel. And he writes, "Hello, Allison and Robert. This is an ancient Zen story. 'Allow me to help you and you'll surely drown,' said the monkey to the fish placing it safely up a tree." So then he asks, "Is it altruism if you try to help a fish without understanding the nature of the fish and end up killing the fish instead?" In the story, the monkeys like, "Whoa that fish is going to drown. Let me put it in that tree and now it'll be fine." Anyway, he says, "Something to ponder. Daniel."

Allison Loudermilk: Right. So Daniel is referencing our podcast on altruism in the animal kingdom and altruism in bacteria and that whole discovery. I like that story.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, it's worth thinking about. Altruism is where you're coming form. And oftentimes the best intentions wind up with horrible consequences.

Allison Loudermilk: What a bright note to end on.

Robert Lamb: Well, that wasn't Daniel's intention. It was more Zen contemplation and now, "Wow, we sure do mess things up sometimes as a species."

Allison Loudermilk: So, if you guys want to share a Zen story with us or your thoughts on altruism or dimensions that we covered today, do send us an email. We'd love to hear from you.

Robert Lamb: Or stuff about Flat Stanley - especially if Flat Stanley.

Allison Loudermilk: Yeah, I would love to see some Flat Stanley pictures.

Robert Lamb: Well, especially if all relates to science that would be pretty rad. Or if relates to one of our topics, I would love to see -

Allison Loudermilk: I wonder if someone's taken Flat Stanley to the LHC? I bet he's been there.

Robert Lamb: Probably so. It would be pretty easy for him to infiltrate just about anywhere. You could just mail him places that actual flesh and blood humans could never get to.

Allison Loudermilk: Right. He has amazing access. Flat Stanley is a super spy.

Robert Lamb: You can get him to heads of state, to celebrities. This guy has ins.

Allison Loudermilk: So like we said, if you want to share Flat Stanley's adventures or talk about science in general, send us an email - sciencestuff@howstuffworks.com. Or check out Facebook.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, we're on Facebook as Stuff from the Science Lab. And you can find us on Twitter where we are @LabStuff. And we try and keep that updated pretty regularly with all sorts of cool stuff.

Allison Loudermilk: All right, guys. Thanks for listening.

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