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Shifts in perspective

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You're the yellow dot on the left.

You're the yellow dot on the left.

One of the more mind-boggling concepts of physics and mathematics is the positing of "other dimensions" outside the ones we can perceive.

As any school student knows, we live in a three-dimensional world, also observing the fourth dimension of time.

I'm guessing, however, that of the 10, 11 and 26 dimensions theorised by Superstring theory, M-theory and Bosonic string theory, all but a few of you understand the science behind them and please, lemme know if you've ever visualised 26, so I can get the number of your dealer.

One of the most fashionable ideas that's done the rounds of popular science and culture is the concept of parallel dimensions or universes, where you and I and every other temporal creature exists in another, several other, or countless dimensions, living infinite different variations of the life you comprehend now to be "yours".

It sounds whacky but then how many truly consciousness-altering scientific theories did not sound whacky before their day arrived? Round earth, anyone? Atoms? Evolution? Black holes? An expanding universe? The Big Bang?

Consider, however, this song.

It's Dolly Parton's famous tune Jolene - a quite remarkable and moving rendition, by a haunting male voice, that gives the ballad another level of depth because it would seem to be about a man losing his same sex partner.

Read the comments to the video and you already have people suggesting the singer sounds like Herbert the Pervert, singers Josh Garrels, Tim Buckley and Tracey Chapman, as well as The Silence of the Lambs' Buffalo Bill and American broadcaster Garrison Keillor.

If you didn't know better, the listener could surmise or invent an entire backstory for this moody, possibly gay, country and western singer - who has just the hint of an overbite - and imagine the obstacles and prejudices he'd come up against in his career.

Take the track out of context and I could easily envision lovelorn netizens setting up tribute sites and fan clubs, perhaps even doing covers of this cover and eventually agitating for a world tour.

The wrinkle here, of course, is the recording is of Dolly Parton, merely slowed by 17 per cent. The dimension of time has been altered and we thus gain an entirely different experience of the song, the singer, the lyrics and the narrative.

The thing I can't get out of my head is this version of the song existed in parallel from the moment Parton recorded her hit, it was just outside our perception until someone listening to a 45 RPM vinyl single played it at 33 RPM, or this or that internet user decided to slow the track down by exactly 17 per cent.

We've all had experiences in three dimensions, where tricks of perspective have made objects look bigger, smaller or altered in shape or form, so it's interesting to consider how many variations of comprehension lay just outside our perception, simply because we view time as being a linear progression with 60 seconds = one minute.

I'm guessing the wonder we feel when we watch a seedling bud and grow into a flower in 15 seconds, thanks to time lapse photography, would be dwarfed if we could even glimpse what was going on in those other, hypothesised, dimensions.

Maybe it'd send us mad? Maybe it'd explain everything?

I just hope I'm around to see it happen. 

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.

54 comments

  • Fooled me.

    Commenter
    Dino not to be confused with
    Location
    Dunno
    Date and time
    August 21, 2013, 9:09PM
    • "Fool me once shame on me, fool me twice...ahhhhhh....you can't get fooled again..."

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Geelong
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 9:26AM
    • It never takes long for new-age simpletons to co-opt quantum physics more bizarre implications into their own fantasies. Not that there's anything terribly wrong with that, but a cold understanding of physics tells you the universe is impersonal, and actually doesn't care what you think about dimensions 5-26. There's alot to be said for Jungian theory, and other mystical thinkings, but please leave physics out of it unless you get yourself a good understanding of it. You'll find the mysticisim of real physicists is utterly untainted by new-age claptrap, and most of them they don't try to link their understanding with yew trees, Gaia or Stonehenge. The universe is wondrous enough, without limpet-like clutching to human experience. That's the dignity of a mysticism based on physics.

      Commenter
      Pete
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 2:55PM
    • Pete
      I suspect you meant this reply for someone else.
      However since you're here what about Heisenberg?
      And while I am on it I reckon E=mc^2 should have the 2 changed to a little 'e'.
      So there.

      Commenter
      Dino not to be confused with
      Location
      Let you know when I know
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 4:58PM
    • Thanks Pete you saved me the effort, I've been resisting the urge to respond. I particularly like the use of dignity in the conversation.

      Commenter
      GizGirl
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 6:57PM
    • @Pete: +1. I love Wolfgang Pauli's quote "Not only is it not right, it's not even wrong!"

      Too many Quantum Mystics in the world today.

      Commenter
      White Rabbit
      Date and time
      August 22, 2013, 9:22PM
    • But Pete, first you say: "a cold understanding of physics tells you the universe is impersonal."
      But then in the next breath you rabbit on about how "wondrous" it is.
      Can you really have it both ways?! Either it is all impersonal, in which case there is no such thing as wonder. Or it is indeed wondrous, in which case personality permeates it all.

      Commenter
      Mike F.
      Location
      Perth, WA.
      Date and time
      August 23, 2013, 12:49AM
  • String theory and Multiverse theory make my head spin. I watched Lawrence Krauss speak on the make up of the universe in dark matter, something and nothing and I am not sure I understood much.
    I am amazed that the mind can think such thoughts and make sense of them though.

    Commenter
    M
    Date and time
    August 21, 2013, 9:47PM
    • This has made me think about life cycles. How some things live for short periods, some things live for a long period in one state and then change shape live briefly and lay eggs and die. They must have a different perpesctive on life.
      A cicada, dragon fly, butterfly. These live in different states and then live for a short period in their adult state. Does the mayfly or any of those insects like it think about the universe and Dolly Parton. I don't know because they seem not to contribute to this blog, but some of their cousins the gnats might just be around here.
      As for parallel dimensions, does this mean there is some old guy, better looking, (alright that is not difficult) comfortable ( well ) and happy? Well I'd like to meet the lucky B*stard, punch him in the face and take his place. Its not going to happen unless you believe in Star Trek.
      Who knows he might be living with a younger version of Dolly? Then again, I don't like country and western.

      Commenter
      The Old Guy
      Location
      Marrickville
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 10:02PM
      • Hey! Star Trek has helped science and technology make considerable advances...it takes dreamers, doesn't it? Hoping you find your "Whitney" (pop singer who sang a Dolly song).

        Commenter
        all heart
        Date and time
        August 21, 2013, 11:57PM

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