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Is 3+1 spacetime as privileged as is claimed?

+ 10 like - 0 dislike
132 views

I've often heard the argument that having 3 spatial dimensions is very special. Such arguments are invariably based on certain assumptions that do not appear to be justifiable at all, at least to me. There is a summary of arguments on Wikipedia.

For example, a common argument for why >3 dimensions is too many is that the gravitational law cannot result in stable orbital motion. A common argument for <3 dimensions being too few is that one cannot have a gastrointestinal tract, or more generally, a hole that doesn't split an organism into two.

Am I being overly skeptical in thinking that while the force of gravity may not be able to hold objects in stable orbits, there most certainly exist sets of physical laws in higher dimensions which result in formation of stable structures at all scales? It may be utterly different to our universe, but who said a 4D universe must be the same as ours with one extra dimension?

Similarly, isn't it very easy to conceive of a 2D universe in which organisms can feed despite not having any holes, or not falling apart despite having them? For example, being held together by attractive forces, or allowing certain fundamental objects of a universe to interpenetrate, and thus enter a region of the body in which they become utilized. Or, conceive of a universe so incomprehensibly different to ours that feeding is unnecessary, and self-aware structures form through completely different processes.

While I realise that this is sort of a metaphysical question, is 3+1 dimensions really widely acknowledged to be particularly privileged by respected physicists?

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user romkyns
asked May 31, 2011 in Theoretical Physics by romkyns (50 points) [ no revision ]
retagged Apr 19, 2014 by dimension10
Well, it seems like the main point of your question is whether it's possible for stable bound structures to form in higher-dimensional spaces, which is a perfectly fine (and not at all metaphysical) question.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user David Z
If one wants to ask whether 3+1 is privileged, one should also consider the possibility of more than 1 temporal dimensions. :-)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Willie Wong
Nature likes to minimize things, its a universal feature. Imagine living in a 3343432411111111110122-dimensional universe, that would require an explanation, not 3+1.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Hobo
You may replace 'likes to' by 'tends to'. And 3+1 is very special in beeing very small, so she is very privileged.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Hobo

5 Answers

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

No. While there are some arguments for why 3 spatial dimensions are a good place to live in, the answer to the question why our universe has 3 large spatial dimensions is presently not known.

Karch & Randall wrote a paper on the issue some years back: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/hep-th/0506053 They consider some higher dimensional space filled with objects of different dimensions that have some interactions among each other and argue that 3 dimensional ones are among those most likely to dominate. It's an argument though that is not widely accepted due to the assumptions they have to make for this to work.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user WIMP
answered Jun 3, 2011 by WIMP (150 points) [ no revision ]
+ 4 like - 0 dislike

Science fiction writer (but also published physicist) Greg Egan has put quite a bit of work into investigated a universe with 4+0 dimensions: http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/ORTHOGONAL/ORTHOGONAL.html Some of it is quite ingenious, eg. assuming a compact universe guarantees that the (modified) wave equation doesn't have exponentially growing solutions and time appears, without the -1 in the spacetime metric, as the local gradient of entropy.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dan Piponi
answered Aug 29, 2011 by Dan Piponi (100 points) [ no revision ]
but how does he prevent a moving object from rotating so that it is going backwards in time? There is no way to prevent this without disconnecting the rotation group.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ron Maimon
He's a bit quiet on this topic: google.com/… I'm expecting this topic to be touched in the sequel :-)

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dan Piponi
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I would like to share my view on this issue.

I think some answers with the word "anthropic" need not to be dismissed, but could be interpreted them in a deeper sense.

Anthropic should not be something derogatory, "just humans", as if we were not part of universe, instead perhaps it could be treated as concepts like "inertial frame of reference" are treated. A measure, a way to measure, a point of view, a frame of reference.

An imagination exercise:

Suppose one day a networking software is self aware.

Then is make some self replicas, and they ask themselves :

"Why we are on layer 7 of the OSI model?"

"Does it have something special?"

One of them would say "Because we can't live in lower layers then if the universe would be lower layered we wouldn't be asking things like this"

Another might say : "To live in layer 7, previous layer must exist to allow us, but, think on layer 0, our conversation are ultimately travelling through a cable for example, then we are at the same time, layer 0, layer 1, ... layer 7, the universe is not layer 7!!, its one or all layer at same time, depending "who" is measuring it, we can see it till layer 7, but the top we see doesn't mean it's the whole that exist, perhaps there are higher layers than 7, and lower than 0, that are forbidden to us, and can't be known at all"

I think 3D+1 is the top that our natural senses are aware of, with technology we could know or suspect other dimensions, as far we know, "conscious beings" can't rise in lower dimensions, but that perhaps is a prejudice, because whatever we call 3D+1 perhaps can be parsed in just 1D! (similar as in the above story), so we should review our statements, of course beings could exist in higher dimensions too (if they do not exist already, they would).

A single matrix in a paper although is within a 3D+1 it could contain higher dimensions, of course a matrix in a paper is not conscious, but nobody knows if a computer program will be aware of itself someday, that day, it will "live" and even "measure" a higher dimension, and again as the matrix in the paper, we would know that it coexist in a lower dimension too.

It's a very interesting topic, I've asked about this before, you could read the answer to that question too

what are dimensions?

Regards

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user HDE
answered Sep 9, 2011 by HDE (30 points) [ no revision ]
Not sure if an adequate answer, but at least a very innovative one!

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user arivero
I find the analogy between spatial dimensions and layers of abstraction in protocols to be... questionable, if not wholly inapplicable.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Timwi
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

If you look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Static_forces_and_virtual-particle_exchange#Inverse_square_law you'll see a line of reasoning that doesn't seem to depend on the number of spacelike dimensions, yet still arrives at an inverse square law. I realize this isn't exactly a rigorous QED calculation (for which I feel far too stupid) but it makes me reconsider my former belief in non-privilege. If d = 3 is the only case that allows both radiation and conservation of energy, then that's just... wow.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Bernd Jendrissek
answered Jul 23, 2011 by Bernd Jendrissek (10 points) [ no revision ]
I think that the uncertainty principle is a pretty strong assumption to start with if you're trying to justify three spatial dimensions.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Eric
The argument on Wikipedia is totally wrong. It is assuming that the particle absorption is independent of the geometry, and it is assuming that to get from point A to point B a virtual particle needs to travel at the speed of light. Unfortunately, these two idiotic mistakes cancel out each other in three dimensions.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ron Maimon
+ 1 like - 0 dislike

It is the minimum dimension required for the Weyl Tensor $C_{abcd}$to exist in the decomposition of the (completely covariant) Riemann Curvature Tensor $R_{abcd}$. That is kind of privileged. Or else, there would be no gravity in a vacuum (and thus, no long distance gravity, and no orbits, no free-fall)! And if it were any more, the gravity would weaken too quick (the inverse square law would become the inverse cube law, etc.)

answered Jun 16, 2013 by dimension10 (1,950 points) [ revision history ]
You seem to be implying that General Relativity is particularly necessary for life to exist? Long distance gravity and stable orbits can trivially arise without GR; furthermore, long distance gravity and stable orbits don't sound like something that is absolutely required in the first place.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user romkyns
@Romkyns: Nope, I didn't say that. General Relativity explains gravity, Newtonian clearly does not EXPLAIN it, but it only describes it. It is just that Newtonian Gravity cannot explain why there is no long-distance gravity in lower than 4 spacetime dimensions.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dimensio1n0
You should clarify "too quick"--- it is difficult to know how quick is too quick. The orbits wouldn't work. But perhaps you could have 4+1d life, with another thing, not planets. Who knows.

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Ron Maimon
@RonMaimon: By too quick, I meant quicker than 3+1 or 2+1 dimensions, .

This post imported from StackExchange Physics at 2014-03-07 14:30 (UCT), posted by SE-user Dimensio1n0

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