I have often heard about the “fourth dimension,” but never thought much about it. Recently, however, we (my wife, Joice, and I) have been taking one of the Great Courses called “The joy of thinking: the beauty and power of classical mathematical ideas.” Neither of us are very “mathematical,” but the lectures are brilliantly presented by Professors Michael Starbird and Edward B. Burger. Lectures eleven and twelve were on the fourth dimension when we introduced to the concept of the fourth dimension through analogy.
Dimension is defined by “degrees of special freedom” as we move about in the world. We are familiar with three dimensions, but the fourth requires that we somehow move out of the three dimensional world in which we are locked. For a four dimensional space we were told to imagine a one dimensional space or line that is stacked and build upon that concept. According to Professor Burger, “a four-dimensional creature would be able to see our internal organs simultaneously with our external world.” Sounds a bit far-fetched and creepy, doesn’t it? But imagining the fourth dimension can move us through space and time like movies or flipbooks do. (There is in fact a movie called “The Fourth Dimension.”
We can observe and imagine one, two and three-dimensional objects and their movement in space because, using objects, we can see that we double the number of vertices and edges as we move from one to another. We have to get to a fourth dimension in the same manner. One of the images used to represent this fourth dimension is a three-dimensional crucifix in the shape of cubes that we unfold, revealing the center cube—its fourth dimension.
Time, which we encounter every day, may be considered the fourth dimension, although we need space and time to understand any dimension. If I say that I will see you at four o’clock, there is nothing that I can lay my hands on or see. There is a time dimension and it not only involves the motions of the sun and earth, but it also (in this case) requires me to imagine a period of the day that is in the fourth dimension.
Space operates the same way: if I tell you to save me a seat, it is not the chair object that I want you to lay hold of. I want you to imagine me sitting in the space “held” by the chair, which is also in the fourth dimension.
Turning now to the “senses,” we are told that we have five basic ones: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. We have parts of the body that are associated with each: fingers, eyes, ears, the nose and the mouth.
But some scientists (and quacks) propose other senses: the sixth sense is when we have some kind of an “extrasensory perception.” We may “sense” that someone is thinking or talking about us; or that someone that we can’t readily see, is in the room with us. The problem is that we have no particular bodily organ to associate the sense with—it is a mental feeling.
We can also think of our vestibular sense, which affects our movement and balance or our proprioception, which is our general body awareness sense. The balance sense gives us information about where we are located in space and our general body awareness sense assures us that we can detect muscle tension, such as pain or stiffness. The vestibular and proprioception senses operate through our mental awareness to make sense of what is happening, not on particular parts of the body. The whole “nervous system” comes into play. These two senses are more like a fourth dimension.
Now consider the spiritual realm. Everything in the spiritual realm is in the fourth dimension. It is not that we as individuals are not three-dimensional, it is just that having faith requires a fourth dimension because we cannot see faith (nor the Holy Spirit, or God).
First a little story: many years ago when we lived in a fairly remote village in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, I had a super-eight camera and took lots of footage. On one occasion I decided to have a little “fun” and spliced a lot of film and ran it backwards for the people. The airplane landed backwards, the harvested sweet potato went back into the ground, and so on. But it wasn’t funny to the men who responded, saying “How did you know?” “How did I know what? I replied. “How did you know what the spirit world was like? Everything is backward there.” I had tapped into the fourth-dimension, a world of imaginary actions in space and time that were reversed.
What if the “spiritual world” is something like that? Something that we can only imagine and in a superficial and backward manner. God allows us to see the dove come down to Jesus after John baptizes him, but we are told that it is the Holy Spirit. We eat bread and drink wine and we are told that it is Christ’s body and blood. We read that when Christ returns we will be “gathered up” along with believers who have died, and it will be with “the Lord in the air.”
Peter, James and John are taken up on a high mountain by Jesus. A “change” comes over Jesus and he is suddenly talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter seems to recognize them immediately—perhaps by virtue of their conversation—and wants a three dimensional hut built for them. There is a cloud and a voice, they fall to the ground and when they get up in fear, only Jesus is left with them. There is a fourth dimension all around them.
I find that it is easier and more accurate to interpret much of the Scripture in the fourth dimension: especially the dreams and visions that I read about. I believe that what happens is real—although also symbolic, (as in Revelation) but that it occurs in the fourth dimension.