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Voboril: Seven missing dimensions

Subtlety and humility are not characteristics of this age. Turned up to 11 at all times, we could probably use a collective spinal tap to diagnose the ills that so clearly plague us. We blast out flattering pictures of ourselves and otherwise self-aggrandize in a way that has become disturbingly normal.

But our efforts are futile and our existence is meaningless. We can’t even figure out what happened to the other seven dimensions that our most brilliant scientists are smart enough to tell us exist, but not yet smart enough to tell us where to find them.

I vaguely understand the basic concept of spacetime and its four dimensions. We have an X, Y, and Z axis and then the fourth variable of time. Cool, I can grasp that, despite having the spatial reasoning capabilities of a postcard.



But I am way behind the times. The vanguard of quantum physics is far beyond the limits of my comprehension; the subatomic entities with which I thought I was acquainted are both more numerous and more astounding than I could ever conceive.

Particles are passé, these days it is not only all ball bearings, but strings upon strings. The simple proton, neutron, electron diagram that I recall from science class is to contemporary physics as the whalebone corset is to modern fashion. Our previous explanation for the minute workings of matter had a critical flaw: It did not explain the way that the quantum world actually worked. With massive hadron colliders and advances in technology complementary thereto, we have now seen much deeper into the complexity.

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In lieu of little dots, it seems that matter is now a bunch of squiggles. By postulating the existence of these strings, we can get our theories to line up with things that we experience; you know, little things like gravity. I’m way out of my depth here, but that does seem pretty important.

It gets so much better. These squiggly strings that formed the basis for string theory have sprouted other little mini strings to form what are awesomely called superstrings. I think we can all agree that high school science would have been much more popular if we knew that there were subatomic superheroes floating around everywhere.

There is one tiny problem. While superstring theory solves the two biggest flaws in the previous string theory model, it also predicts the existence of eleven dimensions. Eleven! Where even to begin. We are pretty sure that they are out there, but we can’t see them and we can only guess where they might be. Theories abound, of course. Indeed, there are multiple, competing superstring theories that each have their own pros and cons, now referred to collectively as M-Theory, a sort of Avengers of scientific explanation.

M-Theory is the current apotheosis of quantum modeling, but its proponents have explicitly admitted that it is not the final answer, just the best that they have figured out so far. Scientists may have their flaws, just like everyone, but I am impressed with the humble nature of the profession. These folks, despite being so much smarter than all of us, submit that they do not know everything, that they have gotten it pretty close, but there are uncertainties and ambiguities and subtleties. This should not be noteworthy, but in today’s world, a nod to fallibility is rare.

Of course, since this is 2021, science itself has been excoriated specifically because it is acknowledging that its understanding is not perfect. Still, as a statistical matter, science is close enough to a right answer to make important decisions based thereon.

In a world where we have misplaced seven entire dimensions, it seems ludicrous to demand a 100 percent, money-back guarantee on something as critical and yet imperfect as epidemiology. Criticism and castigation are no match for cogitation; it is science that will save us, if only we can refrain from fearing, or worse, rejecting that which we cannot understand.

It is OK to have limited knowledge; it is decidedly not acceptable to claim expertise when you are clueless.


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