Wednesday, January 28, 2009

(Just in - Petrol prices to dip by Rs.5. Yay!!!) Anyway...

Imagine intelligent beings like ourselves living on a TV screen, like in Pac-Man. They would be 2 dimensional creatures living in a 2D world. People would be little dots or circles on the screen. Nothing in that world would have a height. If a "ghost" got trapped inside a circle, there'd be no way it could escape, because there is no height, and he can't "jump" over the wall. Prisons in this world would just be closed circles or rectangles.

Imagine a strip of 2D land, like a flat cricket pitch. The only way to get from one end of the pitch to the other would be to walk the entire length of the pitch which would be, say, 22 yards long.

Now a 3-Dimensional being like you is watching these 2-D beings walk along the length of the pitch. You just "pick up the pitch, roll it once and stick one end of it to the other and put the Pac-Man ghost back on it. This is a very simple cylindrical strip, which would have to be described by a system of radial algebraic equations so complex that the Pac-Man ghosts would never be able to figure it out. They would still continue to walk the 22 yard length from one end of the strip to the other, unaware that on their regular journey they are actually twisting and turning in a dimension completely unknown to them! But since they don't understand the concepts of thickness or rotation, they would only see a flat, unimaginative stretch of cricket pitch as they walk.

But a really smart 2D being standing at one end would realise that the other end of the cricket pitch is not 22 yards away, but right below where he is standing! In fact, he is standing right where he wants to go, 22 yards away! He is "superimposed" upon his destination in a strange dimension! If he had the ability to move in the "strange" third dimension, he could just dig a hole in the pitch right where he is standing, and cross over. The other 2D beings would just see him mysteriously apparate, 22 yards away. He could cross thousands of miles in the blink of an eye! People would be amazed at what he did, but wouldn't be able to figure out what exactly it is or how he is doing it! He would open their minds to endless possibilities! Some would dismiss him as a dangerous anomaly and would warn the others against him.

Every once in a while something comes along which is so bewilderingly different from whatever we are used to that it challenges our very idea about the limits of possibility and stretches our minds in dimensions that we never knew existed. These need not be great, revolutionary ideas or actions. Sometimes, simple, ridiculously insignificant things like discovering a hole in the floor can turn your world upside down. This for me is the ultimate evidence of higher intelligence and the inadequacy of our own imagination.

Innocuous incidents strewn across the pages of history, like little sparkling diamonds in a brickyard.

24th November, 1859 - Charles Darwin publishes "On the origin of species". The world-changing Theory of Natural Selection was not an idea honed, polished and developed over time. It was probably a stroke of genius, a lightning bolt of inspiration that illuminated all of creation for a brief instant before it vanished, leaving the world in darkness again; and Darwin spent the rest of his life painting for the world a picture that the lightning bolt of inspiration revealed to him in that moment of clarity. The most significant achievement of Darwin's theory was that it exposed the limitations of being human by revealing that human supremacy on the planet was either a matter of opinion or a mere evolutionary accident. Imagine the surprise and shock such a "preposterous" idea would have caused in the mid 19th century!

1st June, 1967 - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Though composed predominantly of nursery level rhymes and wild noises, it impacted culture and music like no other album before or after it. Everything before that was inconsequential. Everything since has been the aftermath. I mean, in our collective recorded existence of about 10000 years, never before had such a tremendous explosion of colour and sounds been seen on such a large scale, causing such mass hysteria. Never before had rowdy been seen as cool. And it all seemed so effortless!

3rd June, 1984 - Monte Carlo. A young Brazilian called Ayrton Senna, in his first ever Formula 1 street race, in an uncompetitive Toleman car, cuts through the pack overtaking 4 world champions. In torrential rain, he waltzed around the cramped streets of Monaco, running circles around vastly superior cars as if they were going backwards. As an exercise in stripping a task down to its barest minimum essentials, those 31 laps around a soaking wet Monaco racetrack fall in the far outer reaches of what the human intellect can achieve.

These incidents were so benign that they are so easy to miss. Yet they are portkeys to a parallel Universe. Can you recognise a higher dimension if you are sitting right on it?