Nautilus

The Case for Fewer Dimensions

The adventures of the classic science-fiction novel Flatland by Edwin Abbott have sprung to life. The novel is narrated by a two-dimensional creature who calls himself “A Square,” who learns he has been embedded in a three-dimensional realm called Spaceland without knowing it. Like Mr. Square, physicists over the past century have begun to consider whether our world may be just a slice of a four- or even 10-dimensional expanse. If we could ascend into that higher domain, we would free ourselves from the straitjacket of ordinary space. We could bend our arm through an extra dimension to reach into a locked safe, or see the insides of a human body laid out before us. And we might finally apprehend the deep unity of nature.

But in recent years the dimensional saga has taken a curious twist: Space may not have more dimensions than we perceive around us, but fewer.

The dimensional constriction is wrapped around a problem with gravity, one of the four basic forces of nature. The gravitational attraction between two bodies gets stronger as the bodies get closer. That’s also true for other forces, like the electromagnetic and the weak force. But unlike those forces, gravity undergoes an additional strengthening on small scales. Its attractive force depends on the bodies’ masses or

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