Vanden Heuvel: Movie 'A Wrinkle in Time' raises the question: Can science discover the spiritual realm?

Vanden Heuvel: Movie ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ raises the question: Can science discover the spiritual realm?

Opinion

This past weekend, millions of moviegoers saw A Wrinkle in Time and joined a group of tessering travelers as they warped through higher dimensions in pursuit of the heroine’s missing father. The film is, of course, based on the classic Newbery Award–winning children’s novel written by Madeleine L’Engle, a committed Christian who drew heavily on her personal study of modern physics as inspiration for the book.

VIDEO: NBC News discusses the science behind the movie ‘A Wrinkle in Time’


In a 1979 interview with Christianity Today, L’Engle spoke of the mystical nature of contemporary physics and how science “should help us enlarge our vision: never change it, never diminish it, but enlarge it.” This can be said most of all about the science of higher dimensions upon which A Wrinkle in Time is based.

Nearly 100 years ago, the first scientific evidence for higher dimensions emerged. Since that time, the science community has reached a broad consensus that the universe contains at least five dimensions and perhaps many more. For some, conceptualizing multiple dimensions bears resemblance to Christian thinking on a spiritual world. N. T. Wright has gone so far as to say that “Heaven is the extra dimension, the God-dimension, of all our present reality.”

But the higher dimensions described by science are not merely spiritual, they are physical. Therefore they can be explored and even measured through science. In fact, today physicists at the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, are conducting experiments that would allow them to detect and measure properties of these higher dimensions. This begs the uncomfortable question, “Can heaven be detected by a particle accelerator?”

To some, this may feel like yet one more encroachment of science into matters of faith. But I would like to offer an alternate interpretation: Could the physics of higher dimensions allow us to integrate the physical and spiritual worlds into a common framework, where they are no longer seen as separate disconnected realities but rather as a single cohesive creation? To see this vision, though, we will first need a quick primer on the physics of higher dimensions.

In 1919, the physicist Theodor Kaluza wrote a letter to Albert Einstein which contained a mathematical proof demonstrating how Einstein’s equations for gravity, when written in five dimensions, can also explain the behavior of electricity and magnetism. This was a truly shocking discovery that led Einstein himself to admit that it “would never have dawned on me.” The insight was so elegant and profound that it led to an entire branch of theoretical physics called string theory, which remains an area of active research to this day.

What exactly do we mean by five dimensions? Well, there are the three dimensions of space we are accustomed to (depth, width, and height), one dimension of time, and at least one additional dimension of space. It turns out that any time we add an extra dimension of space, our conception of what is possible expands dramatically.

Take, for example, the move from one dimension to two dimensions. In one dimension, all we have is length. The only “creatures” in such a world would be lines, and these lines could never move past one another. They are confined to sliding back and forth, bumping into one another like beads on a wire. When we add a second dimension, however, a whole new world of possibility is opened—up and down! Suddenly lines can move above or below one another, they can spin around and point in new directions, and they can even bend to take on new a form, like a circle.

This article continues at [Christianity Today] A Wrinkle in Heaven

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