Visualizing a fifth dimension is beyond the capabilities of many of even the brightest and best educated. Thinking about the concept of a fifth dimension, however, can be an intriguing and enlightening experience. This is true precisely because the nature of that fifth dimension is not yet clearly understood.
The Traditional Dimensions
For centuries, scientists envisioned our universe as three-dimensional. These first three, traditional dimensions are easy for a layperson to visualize. One dimension is a straight line. Two dimensions create a flat surface (such as a picture, or a television screen). When a third dimension is added, you get depth, such as the objects in our world.
The Fourth Dimension
In the modern era, scientists such as Einstein and Menkowitzcy have established that our universe has a fourth dimension. That dimension is time. This dimension is more difficult for many people to visualize. It can perhaps best be thought of by visualizing your favorite chair, sitting stationary throughout the course of the day. At various points in time, the space above your chair will be occupied by only air, by one person or another, or by various parcels. Thus, the fourth dimension of time determines what will be present in that small portion of three-dimensional reality.
Defining the Fifth Dimension
In recent years, many have hypothesized that additional dimensions exist, which humans have not yet learned to perceive. There is as of yet, however, no agreed upon definition for this fifth dimension, as scientists do not yet fully understand it. It has been called by many names, including space-time, the space-time continuum, space-time distortion degree, and even parallel universes. Einstein himself, when he first posited a fifth dimension, tried to help others visualize it by analogizing the four-dimensional universe to a sheet of rubber, which can be stretched or squeezed, curled or flattened, by the unknown force of this fifth dimension. Others have conceptualized the fifth dimension by likening our four-dimensional universe as a kind of membrane, or “brane,” surrounded by other realities, into which particles or forces can move under the right conditions.
Finding the Fifth Dimension
Scientists hope that when they are at last able to identify and view the fifth dimension, it will answer some of the riddles of the physical universe as we now understand it. These riddles include the question of why gravity is a lighter force than other fundamental natural forces. Scientists are now exploring different means of proving and probing the fifth dimension in the hopes of solving these riddles. One means being tried is the measurement of the force of gravity on an incredibly small area (a millimeter or less), looking for anomalies. In a related area, technology is now coming online through the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory which may allow scientists to detect gravity waves for the first time, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein as evidence of the fifth dimension, but not yet observed. Scientists also hope that when the latest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, comes online, they will be able to detect particles moving in extra dimensions. Finally, scientists hope that a new probe, the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope, will allow them to detect miniature black holes by observing gamma ray bursts, which would also provide evidence of a fifth dimension.
Spirituality and the Fifth Dimension
Along with those of scientists, the imaginations of philosophers and theologians have been captured by the possibility of a fifth dimension. The very idea of an undefined, unexplainable force acting on the physical world speaks to those who believe in a higher power. As do faiths, interpretations vary, with some individuals suggesting that the fifth dimension is God himself, and others referring to the fifth dimension as simply the layer of creation, a place where our physical world can touch the eternal. From Christianity to mysticism, religious thinkers and writers have debated the proper definition of the fifth dimension, as well.