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Posted by on Aug 31, 2012 in Friday Fiction Facts, Science | 4 comments

Friday Fiction Facts: Ladies & Gents, The 4th Dimension!

Welcome to Friday Fiction Facts: sciency things that fiction writers need to know.

A Schlegel Image depicting a 3D shadow of a 4D object  (Image: Robert Webb’s Stella software)

It’s been a crazy busy week here, but I wanted to post a quick Friday Fiction Facts. Some of you are experienced sci-fi authors so I’m sure you already know the ins and outs of other dimensions. But for those of you who may be just introducing the idea into your Young Adult adventure or fantasy novel, here’s a quick primer on the 4th dimension.

The key points are this:

To explain how the 4th dimension “looks” to us, it is necessary to explain how the 3rd dimension appears to people who live in 2 dimensions — that is, to Flatlanders.*

Something from a “higher” dimension will always appear to pop in and out of a lower dimension.

Something from a higher dimension will always be distorted to viewers from a lower dimension, much like a shadow of 3-dimensional box  is a “distorted” 2D version of an actual box.

A 4D cube (or hypercube)  is called a Tesseract. We can’t see that but we know what its shadow looks like in 3 dimensions. See image above.

Here are 2 videos which will help illustrate the 4th dimension. First, the inimitable Carl Sagan —

And now something a little lighter, but just as explanatory —


*For a wonderful example of how a story would play out when a being tries to move beyond his dimensional constraints, read Edwin Abbot’s 1882 classic  Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Don’t be fooled by the 80 pages. This book takes some extreme multidimensional thinking.

More on Flatland at Wikipedia.


  1. Time is such a wonderful concept. We are all falling through it, and in doing so the atoms of our body are distorted until they can no longer support us. Already I can feel this will not end well.

    We live forever on the event horizon. Now the challenge of any YA writer is to develop a plot while still sticking to the physics.

    Understanding the physics is the easy part. Developing a believable plot: now there’s the tough part.

  2. Kim, have you ever heard of Donald Coxeter? He was a mathematician who studied classical geometry in the 20th Century and discovered a lot of methods that allowed geometry to be applied to more algebraical forms of math.

    One of his biggest contributions to mathematical theory was a book called “Regular Polytopes”, which had an index in the back containing information about how various geometrical shapes would look in increasingly higher dimensions.

    Best of all, he did all this while teaching at U of T – he taught there for around 60 years!

    A woman named Siobhan Roberts wrote a lovely biography about him called “King of Infinite Space” – it’s one of my favourite books.

  3. Christina, no, I hadn’t ever heard of Coxeter. Just looked him up and learned he was a “geometer” — a word I didn’t even know existed. His life and studies look fascinating. Will definitely search out his biography. (Sadly, no copies at Whitby Library) Thanks for the lead. -K~

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