Sunday, June 26, 2011

the unknown: 'adventure beckons!'

One of the last novels I taught this year was Life of Pi. Early on in the narrative, Pi explains his notion that freedom is mistakenly correlated with happiness.
"I have heard nearly as much nonsense about zoos as I have about God and religion. Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are 'happy' because they are 'free.' These people usually have a large, handsome predator in mind, a lion or a cheetah (the life of a gnu or an aardvark is rarely exalted). They imagine this wild animal roaming about the savannah on digestive walks after eating a prey that accepted its lot piously, or going for calisthenic runs to stay slim after overindulging. They imagine this animal overseeing its offspring proudly and tenderly, the whole family watching the setting of the sun from the limbs of trees with sighs of pleasure. The life of the wild animal is simple, noble and meaningful, they imagine. Then it is captured by wicked men and thrown into tiny jails. Its 'happiness' is dashed. It yearns mightily for 'freedom' and does all it can to escape. Being denied its 'freedom' for too long, the animal becomes a shadow of itself, its spirit broken. So some people imagine.
This is not the way it is.
Animals in the wild lead lives of compulsion and necessity within an unforgiving social hierarchy in an environment where the supply of fear is high and the supply of food low and where territory must constantly be defended and parasites forever endured. What is the meaning of freedom in such a context? Animals in the wild are, in practice, free neither in space nor in time, nor in their personal relations. In theory -- that is, as a simple physical possibility -- an animal could pick up and go, flaunting all the social conventions and boundaries proper to its species. But such an event is less likely to happen than for a member of our own species, say a shopkeeper with all the usual ties -- to family, to friends, to society, to drop everything and walk away from his life with only the spare change in his pockets and the clothes on his frame. If a man, boldest and most intelligent of creatures, won't wander from place to place, a stranger to all, beholden to none, why would an animal, which is by temperament far more conservative?

... But I don't insist. I don't mean to defend zoos. Close them all down if you want (and let us hope that what wildlife remains can survive in what is left of the natural world). I know zoos are no longer in people's good graces. Religion faces the same problem. Certain illusions about freedom plague them both." (Yann Martel, Life of Pi, 15-19)
In a class discussion, my students and I pondered the connection. Are the happiest people the most free? Or do boundaries play a role in happiness? One of my students brought up the concept of the unknown. We fear the unknown, she suggested, unless it is the illusion of the unknown... an unknown that seems exciting and distant, but actually exists within our particular existing boundaries. Our discussion was philosophic and lively. And it sparked my thinking and continues to do so. Most of us came to the conclusion that happiness involves some sort of boundaries. There is some connection between happiness and safety and knowing what to expect. There is also the need to be able to reach beyond boundaries... to challenge oneself to attain new levels of achievement or understanding... but still, this is related to boundaries. Does this suggest, in opposition, that there is some correlation between the unknown and fear?

My mother recently came across the final independent project I did as a senior in high school. Last night, I spent some time re-familiarizing myself with what I had written. It is always interesting to me to try to re-enter a self from the past. There is some sort of insurmountable distance between the you of now and the you of any particular past moment. There are certain moments in my life where I hardly relate to the me that I was. I bring all this up because this, too, is a sort of unknown. The unknown self that one once was. The strange feeling of disconnection from that which you have grown out of. Personally, this is uncomfortable. Perhaps even a bit scary.

But back to the project. This was a self from the past that I could connect to... because the project I had chosen was such an expression of something fundamentally "me." I had written four biographies of different family members. Family has always been deeply important to me. What I love about what I had done was that I didn't try to cover each person's entire life, but picked an event or thread that wove through their life and focused on that. Nonetheless, in my introduction to the project, I wrote the following:
"When my cousin Sarah was learning to talk, she called my grandmother 'gamma' because she had trouble pronouncing the separate syllables. No one was surprised as most children struggle with sounds and syllables at first, but we all had to laugh when she called my grandfather 'gamma' also.
We laughed at her mistake, but we were not worried about it. She was only a couple years old and, like most children, did not really understand who her grandparents were, or that they were different from one another.
My family used to visit my father's parents at their house in ---- a couple times a year. My memories of ---- are all fairly mundane: waking up to the smell of bacon and eggs frying; hiking up Mt. ---- with my parents and brothers; playing 'wiggles' with my cousins; sitting on my cousin ----'s lap, quietly eating peanuts while we waited for the grown-ups to finish talking so we could eat dinner. While I remember ---- fondly, it's interesting to find that the scenes I initially recall have nothing to do with my grandparents as people. I think that children have trouble grasping the concept of grandparents. I always feared my grandparents slightly, because they seemed to know everything about me, and I really didn't know anything about them."
What is it, then, about the unknown that frightens? In this case, it seems it was some sort of imbalance. Their knowledge of me and the impossibility of my equal knowledge of them. Knowledge here is power... though I do not intend to suggest they wanted to assert any power over me. Rather, it was my feeling of impotency that was scary. In some weird way, this is similar to sensing that a company "knows" a lot about you -- by tracking your purchasing habits or monitoring your online activities. It is the fear of being seen and not being able to see. Foucault's panopticon.

Perhaps it is critical to distinguish unknowns. Throughout my life, I have absolutely hated the feeling of fear. I just despise being afraid of something. It makes me feel weak. Thus, what I have tried to do is attack exactly those things that scare me the most. I took flying lessons. I traveled all over the world by myself. I went to foreign countries where I barely knew the language. I worked in a remote, practically unexplored part of Alaska. I took jobs that seemed above my head and beyond my capacities. Each time, what I have discovered is that it is merely the unknown that frightens. Once I jump into the thing itself, I am fine. And coming out of these experiences on the other side, I have become more of myself... I have learned about the world, gained new perspectives, achieved new levels of responsibility, accomplished things I wasn't sure I could accomplish... but then those things led me to even higher levels of seeking and discovering... and fulfillment.

But, in a sense, these are 'bounded unknowns.' What I mean is that the exact details of them are unknown, but the general notion is known... and they remain within some sort of world of which I am already aware. What about the unknowns that cannot be known?

I remember having discussions with my brother in high school about space beyond the existence of bounded space.... or what the universe was before it began... or how to deal with the problem of relative knowledge and morality... These are questions or impasses we could never truly penetrate... or resolve. It excited me to no end to discuss these sorts of things. But, I also recall each of us coming to a point after long durations of conversation, when we couldn't deal with the question anymore. The overwhelming nature of its unknowability had conquered us... and we didn't want to face it anymore. Discussed to the point of exhaustion, what was left was only what we did not -- could not -- know... and peering into that black abyss, we felt the fear returning.

If you look up 'unknown' in the thesaurus, you come up with the following (amongst others): mysterious, new, foreign, exotic, undiscovered, unnamed, unexplored, unsung, untold.... concealed, dark, desolate, fallen, vanquished, void. For me, there is a fundamental difference between the words before and after the ellipsis. The former group identifies the unknown as an exciting new leap of self... something that is foreign to oneself, but not threatening... something that may open new worlds, new stories, new discoveries. This kind of unknown is exciting, thrilling, albeit a little scary.

The latter group deems the unknown as something impenetrable... and perhaps something that one would not want to know even if one could. Sometimes I feel a sadness that is almost overwhelming and cosmic. It seems I feel the weight of all the pain that everyone in the world has ever felt. In all honesty, I do not want to know where this feeling emanates from. I do not want to know this unknown any more than I know it physically and emotionally already. If I did, it just might undo me. It just might be too destructive.

There is the unknown that is full of possibility... and there is the unknown that is full of impossibility. There is the unknown which opens freedom. And there is the unknown that could imprison. There is the unknown that is an adventure. And there is the unknown that is far too risky to attempt. Not all knowing is the same. Not all unknowing is either.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

when it ends, it pours

Yesterday was the last official day of work at our high school... and it was my last day as a teacher there as my future plans are taking a new turn. It was a significant ending. And endings open the flood of other endings like a storm surge.

Last week, I was grading a batch of final exams from one of my favorite classes. There had been a palpable energy, a genuine camaraderie, a profound connection of sorts between all of us in that class. They were my 'E-block family.' I sat reading the responses and I could picture each student in my head as I graded. I heard their voices. I saw their smiles and enthusiasm and their pure love of ideas. With each exam the feeling built until after a mere three of four I became overwhelmed. "I'm sorry, this is seriously insane... but this is too much for me," I told my boyfriend before excusing myself into the bedroom where I curled up on my bed and began to cry. I cried alone for a while, existing in the solitude of my own loss, before returning to the other room and my boyfriend's waiting open arms. He held me and reassured me... which helped, of course... but I couldn't shake the pain -- the deep pain of the soul that becomes physical -- that I might never see some of these students again.

What was my loss? Was it the loss of the connection? Was it the loss of the moments we could create only in that room with those people during this particular year? Was it the loss of what they saw in me? Was it the loss of laughter shared in a place that feels so safe that you can bare your soul?

There are so many cliches about endings. Every ending is a new beginning. When one door closes, another door opens. For me, endings have never been integrally connected to new beginnings. For me, they are separate entities. And "ending" is the wrong word... because I hold onto all past experiences. They never leave me. I never "end" them. I don't close their doors and enter new ones. Rather, I move down one long hallway, voices always echoing behind me... footsteps traced and still visible if I turn around... the scent of memory lingering and sometimes reawakened unexpectedly by some new encounter. What ends is never lost or forgotten. Not for me.

Authors deal with this subject all the time. Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one long meditation on how to deal with endings -- in this case, the marriage of large-scale trauma to personal loss. The pain of the overwhelmingly huge event hovers... holds above in the sky at a distance... becomes its own dark atmosphere... still isolates us from each other... and then sometimes can connect us. The threads of personal loss that isolate. The endings that come suddenly or even with anticipation and then make us more afraid then we ever were before.
"Three hours later, when I climbed into the hole, brushed away the dirt, and opened the lid, the renter opened the suitcases. They were filled with papers. I asked him what they were. He wrote, 'I lost a son.' 'You did?' He showed me his left palm. 'How did he die?' 'I lost him before he died.' 'How?' 'I went away.' 'Why?' He wrote, 'I was afraid.' 'Afraid of what?' 'Afraid of losing him.' 'Were you afraid of him dying?' 'I was afraid of him living.' 'Why?' He wrote, 'Life is scarier than death.'" (Extremely Loud, 322)
What happens when the end hurts so much we cannot take it anymore? We must keep living. And living can be scary. Sometimes we protect ourselves so much that numbness becomes our state of being.
"I spent my life learning to feel less.
Every day I felt less.
Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness." (EL, 180)
It ends and everything becomes "closer and louder." Your boots get heavier. Every moment depends upon the ones before it and, vice versa, "[e]very moment before this one depends on this one." (EL, 232) We remake and shape our past into our present just as much as it shapes us the first time. And we want to tell them what we never said. And we want to say what we never knew how to say. And we want to say so much, so much more than if the moment never closed. The moment closes and the words fill our mouths and minds and hearts... and they are wordless words because we cannot find the way to articulate them... and so our bodies fill with the weight of letters and vowels and consonants and sounds that don't make any sense. And the weight makes our boots heavier still.
"There won't be enough pages in this book for me to tell you what I need to tell you, I could write smaller, I could slice the pages down their edges to make two pages, I could write over my writing, but then what?" (EL, 276)

"The room was filled with conversations we weren't having." (278)

"... I sat on the bed and thought, I thought about you. What kind of food did you like, what was your favorite song, who was the first girl you kissed, and where, and how, I'm running out of room, I want an infinitely long blank book and forever, I don't know how much time passed, it didn't matter, I'd lost all of my reasons to keep track... I wanted to build walls around him, I wanted to separate inside from outside, I wanted to give him an infinitely long blank book and the rest of time... I wanted to touch him, to tell him that even if everyone left everyone, I would never leave him, he talked and talked, his words fell through him, trying to find the floor of his sadness." (280)
And how does Oskar deal with his own ending, with the extremely loud and incredibly close loss of his father? With the inexplicability of endings? He takes advantage of the conditional tense, that verb formation of the always possible...
"Dad would've gone backward through the turnstile...
He would've gotten up again at the end of the night before the worst day...
He would've walked backward to my room...
We would've looked at the stars on my ceiling, which would've pulled back their light from our eyes.
I'd have said 'Nothing' backward.
He'd have said 'Yeah, buddy?' backward.
I'd have said 'Dad?' backward, which would have sounded the same as 'Dad' forward.
He would have told me the story of the Sixth Borough, from the voice in the can at the end to the beginning, from 'I love you' to 'Once upon a time...'
We would have been safe." (EL, 326)
He also manipulates images... reverses the pictures of a man falling so that he returns upwards back through the window into his office. Images of the impossible. Images of return from endings. So, he combines the possible with the impossible. He takes all that makes sense and all that doesn't and wraps it up together and remembers to say "I love you" to the ones he loves in the here and now.

Sometimes an ending is a reworking. Sometimes an ending is accepting that there are no clues to lead us back to the beginning. There are no words to speak the closure that you desire to feel. Or fear to feel. Other times an ending is an about-face... a return to peer at the unknown, misunderstood self in the mirror... with the weight of guilt keeping the door to that past painfully open... as in James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room:
"The body in the mirror forces me to turn and face it. And I look at my body, which is under sentence of death. It is lean, hard, and cold, the incarnation of a mystery. And I do not know what moves in this body, what this body is searching. It is trapped in my mirror as it is trapped in time and it hurries toward revelation.

...The morning weights on my shoulders with the dreadful weight of hope and I take the blue envelope which Jacques has sent me and tear it slowly into many pieces, watching them dance in the wind, watching the wind carry them away. Yet, as I turn and begin walking toward the waiting people, the wind blows some of them back on me." (GR, 168-169)
Even a gentle breeze can pull the veil of the past back over our eyes, can envelop us in what is "over." The hope -- that optimistic movement into the future -- can itself become a weight. We are always dealing with endings and loss. The question is how to incorporate them successfully into your present and future. And how not to end the ones that will wrack us with guilt, will tear at our heartstrings, will echo down every hallway we ever choose becoming the aching walls of an imprisoned life... where every room we enter becomes the one from which we could never escape:
"This is the room I have never been in.
This is the room I could never breathe in." (Sylvia Plath, "Wintering")

"What ceremony of words can patch the havoc?" (Plath, "Conversation Among the Ruins")
I leave my students, but I do not leave them. I cannot quit them. I hope they do not forget all of the words. I will remember theirs. I will be forever deeply moved by them. They are part of the bones of my life now, part of the me that is blood and sinew and beating heart... part of the me that moves into the future, carrying them always with me. The ending is but an ending only in the sense of what we now cannot create anew, but it is not an ending of meaning. With time, their meaning and value to me will only become greater. Just as love. That most beautiful of eternally everyday beginnings. And yes, without endings we "would be safe." Yes, we will never be safe. But safe is not the territory of loss. Nor is it the place of new beginnings... or of love. Safe is staying still. Everything else is about movement.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

iambic pentameter a.k.a. ...

I love my students and appreciate how hard it is to be introduced to something completely new. What we know seems so obvious and we forget how hard it was to learn and remember it in the first place. Nonetheless, some of them have done a good job (inadvertently) of amusing me on their final exams. I put the following question on a "Fill in the Blanks" section on their exam:

"A Shakespearean sonnet has 14 lines and uses the structure of 3 quatrains and a couplet. Each line has a metrical rhythm called _______________________ which describes which syllables are emphasized. Some say it sounds like a heartbeat."

Here are some of the responses I have received:

1. piemeter distress
3. iambonic pentameter (ohhhh, so close!)
4. pantemic diameter
5. rhyme scheme
6. iamic pantameter
7. a beat
8. amtamic pandameter
9. pentemic biometer
10. sonnet
11. samatic pentonamer

Again, I love my students. Mistakes are okay. Learning is a process.

Monday, June 6, 2011

dimensions part II...

#18: The number of dimensions we can perceive is the number of dimensions from 1st to 3rd. 1st being defined with length but no width... by which we can infer that the "zero-th" dimension is just a point in space with neither width nor length. Based on the first dimension, we can create a second dimension... giving a length an added width. When coming to our third dimensional world, we already have a length and height or an x and a y coordinate for every given object. We need to add a z for depth because of things. This 3rd dimensional world we in is one where those of us cannot perceive what a fourth dimensional object or fifth dimensional object is even like.

#19: There are five dimensions: the first is a line - 1D. The second is something like a drawing. It's flat, but takes up space on the flat surface - 2D. The third is what most things are... what movie-makers are constantly trying to create - 3D. It's a tangible object, something that you can hold. 4D is something that movie-makers have also said that their movies replicate, though they are wrong. The fourth dimension is time. What movie-makers are saying is 4D is really just 3D. They want to make it sound cooler. The fifth dimension is a tesseract which, according to Madeleine L'Engle is "a wrinkle in time" which is where her famous book got its name. Basically, you squeeze time and space to create a tesseract which, from what I can remember, can take one to alien places and times. Beyond the fifth dimension, some say that there are even more dimensions, although they become so complicated no one really gets it. To us, only the first three dimensions really exist. We can see them so easily. A line is a line is a line -- we know what that is. We see 2D things all the time: in artwork, blueprints, movies, and video games. Likewise, 3D is a natural part of life. All objects are three dimensional. It's nothing new to us. However, time is a concept, an idea. It's not something you can see or touch. Rather it's something you contemplate. We know that time is passing. We count it, we remember times when things were different from when we didn't exist. But it's not like a line or a drawing or an object. Time could be said to not exist at all. You cannot say that a person doesn't exist. It's different with time. It's intangible. A tesseract may or may not exist. We don't know. At this point, we definitely could not perform one, so for now, humans are unable to go beyond three-dimensional.

#20: In math, there are four dimensions. In each new dimension, things go in a new direction. Something with zero dimension is just a point. A point is an infinitely small place in space. Something with one dimension is a line. A line is made up with an infinite amount of infinitely small points. You can measure how long a line segment is, but you can't measure it any other way -- it only has one dimension. Something with two dimensions has both length and width. A shape that you can draw on a piece of paper has two dimensions. You can measure its length and width, but not its height. A plane has infinite length and width. Something with three dimensions has width, length, and height... such as a cube. You can measure these three dimensions. Space is a concept of something with infinite width, length, and height, and it supposedly contains all of the points in existence. The final known dimension is an abstract idea -- time. You cannot measure it with a ruler, but with something that keeps track of time. Something with four dimensions changes as time continues. This brings up the question of "what is time?" Does time exist? Can we go back in time? We, as human beings, cannot help but to ponder these questions that may not ever be answered.

#21: There are only three dimensions: length, width, and height. Dimensions exist only as we see them and not in an emotional way. Emotions exist within the same dimensions as we do. Height is how far something extends upward when placed on the ground. Length and width are size of something measured in two perpendicular lines to their longest point. All objects have three dimensions except images that only have two. Ideas exist as three-dimensional chunks of code in your brain. There are, and always will be, three dimensions.

#22: There are many dimensions, as many as you would like, and they can be anything and contain everything you want. For example, there would be a dimension for hockey in my many dimensions, and there would be a dimension where I could own any car I want and I would have garages just filled with cars. Although there would be dimensions for school, because there have to be dimensions for everything that plays a major role in your life. This brings reality into the dimension world and reminds us of the constants in the words.

Dimensions = what you want + what you need / constants of life

#23: I believe that there are four dimensions. All people and objects are 3-d things that are able to move or be used in some way. Most 2-d items are viewed. For example, reading words from a page is a 2-dimensional act. I do not know what has been proven, but I believe there could be a 4th dimension. As time continues, in the future, I believe there will be numerous amounts of dimensional things. The first dimension is a point, the second is a line, the third is objects or volume, and the fourth is time.

#24: There are two dimensions. One is 2D, like watching a movie. The other is 3D which is everyday life, like ourselves. There may be other dimensions we have not discovered. Heaven and hell may have totally different dimensions.

#25: That we know of, there are only three dimensions. An example of a one-dimensional figure is a straight line. An example of a 2-dimensional figure is a picture on paper. Lastly, an example of a 3-dimensional figure is a human. We know of only 3 dimensional figures, but it could be that there are even more dimensions. Maybe a 4-dimensional figure is somewhere in this universe or in another dimension. Maybe even a 10-dimensional figure. We really just don't know how many dimensions there are.

#26: The physical book itself is obviously 3-dimensional and the text is 2-dimensional. The characters could be 3-dimensional in the sense that they could be real people if they weren't fake and made-up. The author did grow up in the same time period; maybe he knew people like the people in the book. But I don't really know what is meant by dimensions.

#27: Okay, so there would be the dimensions literally according to scientific interpretation. I think dimensions can also be used as a metaphor for exploring layers of meaning in things. It's like if you take the literal interpretation of a story you understand the surface of it. However, if you notice patterns or suggestions or meanings you are penetrating into the dimension of meaning the author creates. I would say you usually have to go down layer by layer of understanding to get to the deepest or truest meaning. This means that you have to understand the different top layers of the story to put it all together.

[Above diagram: 1st dimension: literal meaning: "The car won the battle;" square surface; 2nd dimension: "Cat worked hard. Cat was brave;" layers of cube; 3rd dimension: "To win a victory takes bravery and hard work;" cube; 4th dimension: "Cube becomes idea in head;" Apply the understanding of the meaning to use in your own life or to help you understand something else.]

5th dimension: If you can evaluate the author's messages in the book, and use your own experiences to critique them, i.e. you already know enough about what they are trying to say enough to agree/disagree.

#28: Realistically, there are three dimensions in how literal an object can be seen. However, when you think about how one can perceive something, the dimensions can be defined differently. You can see something/someone as unimportant and not pay attention to it, in which case your reception would be one-dimensional. If you see something or someone as how it appears to be, and observe its outer characteristics (if regarding a person, then their outward identity and appearance), then your perception is two-dimensional. If you see the subject as more than just its outer appearance and actually search for deeper meaning within it or understand who it truly is (internal identity), you have a three-dimensional perception of it. Obtaining a three-dimensional perception is very difficult and would involve a great deal of observation of the subject until it is very familiar to you. In dealing with a person, you would need to know background information about him and his inner feelings to truly understand him.

The fourth dimension of time can be achieved after knowing that objects or person for a really long time and coming to a deeper level of understanding of and connection with it. Only then can you perceive this thing four-dimensionally.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

perspectives on dimension

We live in 3-dimensions... with the added dimension of time making it four... or so it seems. Apparently, this answer is not as simple as it appears. We all can easily comprehend three dimensions. In geometry and art classes, we learned to draw cubes that replicated our experience of space on the flat plane of a paper.

Renaissance artists such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Donatello drew upon the optical analyses of Alhazen in order to represent a more genuine spatial (and visual) experience in paintings. Guiding the way towards a more realistic painting style, these artists also recognized the way that such spatial organization can drive the narrative of a painting. Using perspective can force the viewer's eye towards a particular part of an image. One of the most famous examples is da Vinci's The Last Supper wherein every element of the painting guides the viewer's focus towards Christ's head at the center of the composition... emphasizing his metaphorical, in addition to, his physical centrality.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper (1495-98)
Da Vinci also once said, "Perspective is the rein and rudder of painting." But back to our humanly experienced dimensions. We laymen may be satisfied living in three, even four, dimensions. However, physicists have a serious problem with only four. The problem begins with the forces that control our lives -- gravitational forces, electromagnetic forces, the weak force (radioactivity), and the strong force (prevents protons in center of atom from separating). Ok, so these forces all exist. So, what's the problem?

Well, the problem is that four dimensions are not enough to encapsulate how all these forces work together to create our reality. In his article on extra dimensions, Karl Kruszelnicki explains what happened next in order to try to resolve this dilemma:
...way back in the 1920s, Theodor Kaluza and Oskar Klein came up with the first theory that looked like it could combine the Gravity and Electromagnetic Forces. But their promising little theory assumed that the Universe had an extra dimension -- giving a total of five dimensions.

Now there's a third reason why we need a few extra dimensions. Our curiosity has been sparked because of strange results from recent experiments in accelerators where high-energy particles smash into each other. Thanks to these experiments, we have way too many sub-atomic particles. By the 1930s, the physicists had come up with a nice simple model of the atom. It looked a bit like our solar system where the planets orbit the Sun -- it had a central core with protons and neutrons, with a bunch of electrons whirling around it. This atom had only three sub-atomic particles -- the protons, the neutrons, and the electrons.

But since the 1930s, things have got way too messy. Today, we have found a few hundred sub-atomic particles. And they don't fit into a neat little system -- they're all over the place. But if you add in another seven extra space dimensions (all at right angles to each other), this mangled mess of particles gets a little neater.

Now our regular three space dimensions reach all the way to the edge of the Universe. But when the mathematicians looked at these extra dimensions, they found that some of them are 100 billion billion times smaller than the core of an atom. Even though they are space dimensions, they are as different from our regular space dimensions as is our time dimension.

With our current Physics, we have no way to get into these dimensions. In fact, it's probably a lot safer that way. Imagine if your regular walk to the corner shop was littered with extra dimensions and wormholes to Heaven Knows Where! You'd probably need more than a bus fare to get home.
Imagine indeed. And that is exactly what I asked my students one day for a journal write. "How many dimensions are there? Describe and explain them." I invited creativity and mind-expanding responses. And here is some of what I received from my 9th graders:

#1: There are two: ours -- the one we know as earth, life and society

     The other -- the exact opposite of what we know now as life.

     Everything is opposite. People's personalities; we write from right to left; life starts with death and old age and ends with youth. There are exceptions, though. People talk forward and walk forward because otherwise it would just be silly. The world is a mirror image of the opposite but what happens in it is reversed.

The only way to exit and enter them is when your opposite reaches the same age as you. For example, if you were to live to the age of 90, the only time you could cross over would be on your 45th birthday. [Student then included a little diagram.]

The only trouble is that within this year is the only time when you can switch back and forth with the help of a wormhole so BE CAREFUL! Don't stay longer than a year in the dimension you don't wish to stay in for the rest of your life, or the other half of your life. Wormholes never stay in the same spot. They are always moving! So if you wish to leave a dimension, look long and hard.

#2: In my opinion, there are 5 mathematical dimensions: length, width, height, depth, imagined dimension -- like when you think of something, there's something more to it than just the other four dimensions.

Although by definition, there are also non-mathematical dimension in which I believe... worldly dimensions:

Asgard: world of gods and heroes
Neflheim - world of ice and shadows
Hel - world of the dead
World of Fire
World of Water
World of lesser gods
World of Giants
World of the Elven people
World of Aether/Ether
Land of Control/Land of Dispersal (of Elements)
Land of Dreams
Land of Imagination
OtherLand/Negative Lands

#3: I believe there are two dimensions: one is a happy unrealistic dimension and another is a depression, bad work, no dreams dimension.

#4: There are 4 dimensions. The first dimension is a flat object: for instance a piece of paper. The second dimension in my eyes is just regular things, for example a water bottle. The third dimension is the dimension of things like a cube. I may be wrong but I think there are four dimensions. The fourth dimension is unknown. I believe that there are an unlimited amount of dimensions because we don't know what exists beyond Earth and where we have traveled in space. Then there is the question of the after-life. If there is a life in the afterworld, maybe that is its own dimension. This is something I have never really thought about or learned about. If you relate dimensions to the novel, Of Mice and Men, there are two emotional dimensions. One is where they are dreaming about future lives. The other is the true reality of their hard lives.

#5: In the world, there are four dimensions. With each dimension, things become closer to actual life and living things. The first dimension is flat, nothing, not real. It is just a picture on a piece of paper. The second dimension is still flat, but made to resemble something which is not. The third dimension has actual height and shape, but no life. In the third dimension, things are very simple; you can touch them at times, but there is still no life. We are in the fourth dimension. We are real living, moving, breathing things. We can reach out and touch something. We can feel the spray of water at the ocean's edge. The fourth dimension is real life and it is what we live and move in.

#6: Creatively, in terms of inception, there are so many dimensions. To me, a dimension is a way you look at something, like a point of view. So we have our own dimension -- our perceived reality and what we think of what we see. There are other dimensions besides our own, like another person's reality based on what they have learned, past experiences, and what they believe. Everyone has his own dimension, his own way of looking at the world and making sense of what he's seeing. Then there is actual reality, what is really happening which no one person can determine on his own. Reality is the truest, non-deluded dimension, though no one can see it. All people are biased with reality, even if they don't know it. It would take a group of people with different values and beliefs to try to find what is really happening, because a mixture of perceived reality might make the real reality. Everyone has his own dimension, a perceived reality, but there is one dimension that we are all a part of, even if no one can actually understand the actual reality.

#7: There are an infinite number of dimensions -- since we can only comprehend three, everyone assumes that time is the fourth. However, this is untrue. The first dimension is a line which only has length, not width. Then comes a geometric plane which has length and width but no depth. The third dimension is where we get depth, and the fourth is difficult to explain. [diagram follows] Basically, each dimension adds a sort of 'bridge' between two of the same dimension which is what causes that extra layer. Since we live in a world without a fourth dimension, it's difficult to imagine this sort of 'bridge,' but I like to think of it as playing a game of chess and turning over the chessboard to find a separate game of chess being played on the other side. Or like the front door of your house leading to someone else's living room instead of outside. Going by this theory, by 'attaching' the two fourth dimensions, you would get the fifth dimension, and so on. Therefore, you could go on infinitely discovering more and more dimensions until you either run out of paper, life, or sanity. [Another diagram... captioned with "The fifth dimension: Don't get me started on the sixth.]

#8: Realistic: I feel that there are four dimensions, like in math (point, line, shape (cube), time.)

Creative: I feel that there are dimensions to everything. A story has dimension. A story has an obvious plot-line; then there are characters' emotions, and then there is a deeper meaning to the plot that carries an idea, a concept, or parallels a real event (or a made-up one.) That especially happens in creative writing because the author has space to change and add and remove parts, people, or ideas. In non-fiction writing, it is much more difficult to do so because the author has to stick to facts.

I feel like humans have dimensions as well. The most basic being their appearance, then the physical emotions they portray, then their 'external' emotion (the emotion or tone they give off), and then even more complex is the emotion they feel inside that only a few outsiders know of, and the even more complex dimension of humans is the emotion that we don't know what it is caused by... the type of emotion and feeling that builds up for no reason or when we "get/feel/" a vibe from someone else, when we feel uncomfortable for no apparent reason. Lastly, the most complex is the emotion in humans that is so deep down in us, underneath all our other layers, hidden from ourselves, so that we don't even know if it exists.

#9: 1. dot
     2. a line, has length, no height
     3. our dimension: height, length, depth
     4. time
     5. Narnia
     6. Star Wars
     7. Fight Club
     8. Jurassic Park
     9. Halo universe
    10. The Matrix

[5-10 are parenthesized with a comment: "seems legit"]

#10: I think there are 9 dimensions: nothing, length, width, depth, linear on a timeline, different possibilities on that timeline, different timelines, backwards toward within those possibilities in those timelines, difference universes, multiples

#11: There are many dimensions that we can use. Some dimensions are width, height, volume, length, area, perimeter, circumference, etc. Dimensions are hard to describe but they are important too in that they help humans live and play a huge role in how much humans and technology have developed. Without dimensions, life would be much harder for the living things on Earth and we probably wouldn't be as developed as we are without these dimensions.

#12: There are many different concepts about dimensions and their existence. Some people, in a mathematical sense, believe that the three dimensions are x, y, and z. Other people believe there are four dimensions that are represented by a point, line, cube, and time. In a literary sense, time and space are the two main dimensions, though some people branch off into other areas like the mind. My point is that a dimension can be something that measures length or something that represents space. It all depends on what you want to believe. Dimensions aren't something proven; you can't create the 4th dimension in math and you can't physically prove time or space. They aren't facts, just concepts that we believe in. Dimensions are almost like a trick of the mind. We exist in space; we live in space, but other than that it is just present in our lives. Space needs us like we need it to survive. In order to be space, something or someone must exist in it and bring it to reality. It is like this with all the dimensions, even the mathematical concepts. The so-called '4th dimension' is a common idea. However, we've never seen it and no term of it can exist on Earth. Dimensions are playing with our minds. If we wanted to we could just say everything significant is a dimension. It is all up to us and our imagination. Dimensions are objects we cannot prove; they are something that we can create and destroy in our minds; however, most of all dimensions are something that impact us. They may be a trick of the mind but we can only exist if they do. Dimensions are a part of our lives and we can't change that concept, just alter it till we feel satisfied.

#13: I could really take this in any direction and choose any answer. However, I'm going to totally choose something that probably won't make any sense. I'm going to say that there is only one dimension. That dimension is size. Size includes everything in its category. It has width, length, height, surface area, perimeter, area... and so on.

#14: Dimensions are never-ending. There are countless things that could be in a dimension. The way I think of dimensions is that they are basically universes that are similar to ours, but certain things in the dimension we live in are different or there are more things or less in a different one. Dimensions are very complicated: something like gravity is in ours and not in numerous others.

#15: Dimension is a relative term. It could be something far off in outer space, like an ultra-dimension, or something used commonly by many mathematicians. I think in the math world, there are 4 dimensions. The first describes a line that can extend infinitely in its 2 directions. The second is a plane. It has an infinite area which is made up of its length and width. The third dimension consists of length, height, and width. It is something solid and tangible. The so-called 4th dimension consists of time. Time governs over life, causing us to wake up the time we do, sleep the time we do, and die. In the 4th dimension, time changes things. It transforms a cube into something else. On the other hand, dimension can be referred to something that exists as we do, maybe even in the same space, but is not known to us because our dimension does not correspond with theirs.

#16: There are 4 dimensions and they describe where you or something else is. The first is length, the second is width, and the third is height. That's why 3D movies are called 3D because you can see length, width, and height. But two people can be in the same spot, but just not at the same time...which is why the 4th dimension is time. If you have a description of all of these put together, you know exactly where something is.

#17: For us, in our world, there are three dimensions that are described by the x, y, and z axes in space. Everything in space can be described by one or more ordered triples (x, y, z) which determine its location. A "dimension" is how many times a point is replicated and all of the corresponding points are connected like so.

However, since we have never encountered the fourth (or more) dimensions, we say that is does not exist because we cannot perceive or imagine how the figure would behave.

Flatland is a book that illustrates this point, because it involves a two-dimensional square living on a plane with other polygons and is visited by a sphere from the 3-D world who pulls him out of the plane and shows him what the next dimension is, and when the square is disbelieving, he is shown a point in its own world, unable to recognize the existence of anyone else since the world has no dimensions, and a line with people on it that cannot imagine the plane world that the square lives in. When the square tells his people about the third dimension, he is considered insane and is locked away for life. This shows how we have been conditioned to be unable to imagine a 4-D world, and even reject the idea because it does not make sense to us. However, if we look at figures in other (fewer) dimensions, we think it would be logical to explain the third, second, or first dimension to them, but in reality, it would be like someone trying to explain the 4-D world to us -- since we really do not know its properties and how it behaves, it would be futile.

It would be possible for there to be infinite dimensions, each looking down on those with fewer, and believing that they are so narrow-minded not to be able to see the simpleness... if their dimension was n, the n + 1th dimension's geometry... but, in reality, they are also being just as narrow-minded for not realizing the n + 2th dimension. It is easy to understand the world with fewer dimensions than yours, but it is difficult to understand, or even verify the existence of a dimension past yours.

Kids are fantastic thinkers and their imaginations are boundless. Would that we all think as creatively. There will be a part II with more of these entries to come tomorrow... a double the dimension, double the pleasure tomorrow's and tomorrow's tomorrow's theme. :)