September 12, 2007

The Tesseract

An attempt by me at an explanation

BoingBoing has a link to an excellent video that NPR has of a physicist explaining the concept of the fourth dimension, or tesseract. It is a concept which is integral to the plot of the children's book A Wrinkle in Time. The 1962 Newberry Award winner was written by Madeleine L'Engle, who died this past Thursday of natural causes in a nursing home.

NPR's Win Rosenfeld sets up the video:

Over the weekend, children's author Madeleine L'Engle died at 88. Her most noted work, A Wrinkle in Time, is a story about a girl's journey across the universe in an effort to rescue both her father and the galaxy itself from the evil "Black Thing." The book, which dealt with heady (and un-kid-friendly) concepts like religion, theoretical mathematics and evil, took years to finally find a publisher due to its perceived weirdness. Since finally going into print in 1962, Wrinkle has sold millions of copies and remains a favorite read for young teens today.

One concept L'Engle explored in the book was tessering, a method whereby people could traverse great distances in the universe by "folding" space and time. Although they don't behave in exactly the way L'Engle describes, tesseracts do exist, and serve as important and elegant examples of multidimensional space.

An actual tesseract is best described as a four dimensional cube...and is kind of confusing. So, in memory of L'Engle, we met up with Physicist David Morgan who took a little time out of his day to talk tesseracts with the BPP. Put your measley three-dimensional brains to work on this one.


Cover of the 1965 edition (from Wikipedia)

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