Dimension

Dimension of a mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one (1D) because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it – for example, the point at 5 on a number line.

The dimension is an intrinsic property of an object, in the sense that it is independent of the dimension of the space in which the object is or can be embedded.

For example, a curve, such as a circle, is of dimension one, because the position of a point on a curve is determined by its signed distance along the curve to a fixed point on the curve. This is independent from the fact that a curve cannot be embedded in a Euclidean space of dimension lower than two, unless it is a line.

A surface such as a plane or the surface of a cylinder or sphere has a dimension of two (2D) because two coordinates are needed to specify a point on it – for example, both a latitude and longitude are required to locate a point on the surface of a sphere. The inside of a cube, a cylinder or a sphere is three-dimensional (3D) because three coordinates are needed to locate a point within these spaces.

A tesseract is an example of a four-dimensional object. Whereas outside mathematics the use of the term “dimension” is as in: “A tesseract has four dimensions”, mathematicians usually express this as: “The tesseract has dimension 4”, or: “The dimension of the tesseract is 4” or: 4D.

The concept of dimension is not restricted to physical objects. High-dimensional spaces frequently occur in mathematics and the sciences. They may be parameter spaces or configuration spaces such as in Lagrangian or Hamiltonian mechanics; these are abstract spaces, independent of the physical space we live in.

In physics, three dimensions of space and one of time is the accepted norm. However, there are theories that attempt to unify the four fundamental forces by introducing extra dimensions/hyperspace.

Most notably, superstring theory requires 10 spacetime dimensions, and originates from a more fundamental 11-dimensional theory tentatively called M-theory which subsumes five previously distinct superstring theories. Supergravity theory also promotes 11D spacetime = 7D hyperspace + 4 common dimensions.

To date, no direct experimental or observational evidence is available to support the existence of these extra dimensions. If hyperspace exists, it must be hidden from us by some physical mechanism.

One well-studied possibility is that the extra dimensions may be “curled up” at such tiny scales as to be effectively invisible to current experiments. Limits on the size and other properties of extra dimensions are set by particle experiments such as those at the Large Hadron Collider.

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