The human imagination has been inspired for centuries by the possibility of a higher dimension. The ownership of this dimension was in the dubious hands of "charlatans, mystics, and science fiction writers", to quote a recent article by Michio Kaku, the noted theoretical physicist and best-selling author. Actually, since Heaven can be considered a higher dimension, ownership should be extended to most religious people and many spiritual traditions. But Kaku wasn't writing to denigrate the concept of a reality beyond the five senses. Instead, he declares that the much-prized Theory of Everything, the holy grail of physics, may not be found without adding a fourth dimension to the three we all navigate in.
This is more than an abstract question. The fourth dimension that Kaku describes isn't time, although time is popularly called the fourth dimension. Rather, physics needs a fourth or fifth or more spatial dimensions (hyperspace) to make mathematical sense of the universe. For fifty or sixty years this goal has proved impossible to reach. The problem is that the four basic forces in nature -- gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong forces -- are so different from one another that only looking to a higher dimension of "vibration" could hold the key to unifying them.
What most fascinates me isn't this scientific pursuit but its implications for everyday life. Kaku holds that the fourth dimension is inconceivable to the human brain, and he points to evolution as the reason why. Our survival depended on operating skillfully in three dimensions, which allowed our ancestors to judge how to locate and kill game and how to elude prey. An extra dimension wasn't necessary until mathematics and the frustration of physicists made it so.
This is the point at which ownership of higher dimensions becomes controversial. As the realm of God or the gods, of higher states of consciousness, of miracles and other so-called supernatural events, a higher dimension was absolutely necessary in the past. Kaku holds that there was never any scientific proof for that kind of higher dimension, which is arguable. But let's accept his point. The new ownership of higher dimensions sweeps away all such claims about spirituality. And yet there are surprising resemblances between the two conceptions.
Both consider higher dimensions inconceivable and yet necessary for the existence of the universe.
Both attribute powers to the fourth dimension that cannot be duplicated in three dimensions.
Both look on the fourth dimension as a hidden, invisible field that permeates every part of the three-dimensional world.
That science and spirituality should have even this much in common is fairly astonishing. The problem, however, is that reality has no ownership. It's simply real. So what could a higher dimension be that satisfies both claims? To answer this, let me refer to an extended example Kaku offers, derived from a cult novel beloved of scientists titled Flat Land, by Edwin A. Abbott. The fictional inhabitants of Flat Land, known as Flatlanders, live in two dimensions, or to simplify it, their domain is like a piece of paper with no concept of up or down. As beings of three dimensions, we can look down on the piece of paper and see everything on it, while Flatlanders must travel from one point to the next to discover what's happening at a distance. So to them, we are omniscient. We can reach down into their land, but they can't see us coming, so we are invisible until we make our presence felt. We can crumple and manipulate a piece of paper any way we want, which makes us omnipotent, and so on.
In other words, our godlike powers are actually the product of limited perception on the part of Flatlanders. Their brains are not set up to perceive what we take to be natural -- the third dimension -- and we would smile to be thought of as gods. Seeming supernatural is one implication of a higher dimension, including the fourth one that our brains can't perceive. To operate from the fourth dimension seems omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent as related to our world. I'd like to suggest that this isn't a fiction or a limitation of perception -- it's how reality works.
To speak of God, as a spiritual person does, or of vibrations and fields, as a physicist does, amounts to the same order of explanation. There is no relationship between our world and dimensions that are inconceivable. Therefore, no theory or model can describe higher dimensions. Kaku and other physicists are reluctant to concede this point, because they think they possess a tool that can penetrate the inconceivable: mathematics. However, there is no proof that this is true, because many aspects of theoretical physics are beyond experimentation, data collection, and every other extension of the mind, including pet theories about super strings, multiple universes, and the time period at the very beginning of creation, known as the Planck epoch.
We might pity Flatlanders because they can't peer into three dimensions, but we shouldn't. When they imbue us with omniscience and omnipotence, they are right from the viewpoint of two dimensions. And when spiritual traditions imbue God with the same qualities, there's a good chance -- a rational chance -- that something correct is being said. Not that there is a superhuman patriarch sitting above the clouds, but rather the higher dimension may be the field where mind originates. With mind comes intelligence, awareness, creativity, insight, and infinite possibilities. More pointedly, mind brings mathematics. This means that math can't rescue the Theory of Everything, as if it stands apart and can look down upon the universe the way we look down on Flat Land. Math emerges from the mind field along with everything else.
Anyone fascinated by this argument should read Kaku's articulate article, "Hyperspace -- A Scientific Odyssey," online at his website; it's geared to the non-scientist reader. What he calls hyperspace can't be equated with Heaven. For one thing, hyperspace applies only to the physical universe, while Heaven crosses over into our inner world. But if the fourth dimension permeates everything we call creation, there may be no difference between hyperspace and Heaven except for whether it contains mind or not. That's a burning question, which I firmly believe will be settled in favor of mind over matter. Let's wait and see.
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org