Blog-a-Day #10 -- "What's Worse Than a Worm in Your Apple?"

Wormholes have a basis in cosmological theory. I don’t have the foggiest idea how to explain the theory, mainly because I can’t do the math, let alone explain it. All I understand is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to open a wormhole, which is basically a hole from one point in space-time to another. We’re talking something like the entire energy output of our sun for a hundred million years. All of that energy will get you a wormhole about the size of a grapefruit. That’s not very helpful for a science fiction story.

So, if the standard theory doesn’t work for us, let’s make some new ones. There was a time when that much energy was quite available for the taking. In the first few minutes after the Big Bang, the energy density of the nascent universe was high enough to open wormholes. The vast majority would have snapped shut again as the universe inflated and cooled. But, quantum theory says there is a non-zero probability that some would have stabilized and stretched out as the universe expanded. They could be out there right now. And, if something could happen, that’s good enough for me to use it in a story.

Still, unless we’re lucky enough to be astronomically close to one end of a wormhole, finding one and travelling to it could be as big a problem as going to nearby stars. Plus, who knows where the other end is? It could be in another galaxy or even the other side of the universe. It’s not a very efficient means of interstellar transport.

What we really want is to be able to create a wormhole, when we want it, to where we want it to go. To avoid the pesky power problem, let’s think of another way. Enter string theories. String theories are mathematical constructs intended to explain why there are so many “fundamental” particles, commonly called the “subatomic zoo”. String theory, superstring/supersymmetry theory, and most recently M-Theory all try to explain the denizens of the subatomic zoo by positing that the real fundamental widgets in the universe are one-dimensional strings that vibrate in extra dimensions beyond the four we’re familiar with. The latest theory, M-Theory, says there are eleven dimensions, ten spatial and one of time. Wait, eleven dimensions? Where the heck are the seven we don’t see? Get this, they’re “curled up” so tightly that we can’t detect them.

OK, science has progressively gotten smaller over the last couple of centuries. Molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, and neutrons, quarks, were all discovered in last century-and-a-half. So, sure, maybe there are these seven tiny little dimensions that are too small for us to detect in any way. Or, maybe there are little tiny demons whittling quarks as fast as they can. Which one is more likely if neither are observable? Enough philosophy. How can we use these tiny dimensions to go places?

I’ve followed the development of string theories for many years. I’ve always found the explanation of how these dimensions are curled up to be unsatisfactory. Every explanation says these dimensions don’t go anywhere, but dimensions aren’t physical things that stop. X, y, and z go on forever, or at least across the whole universe. Why would a, b, c, d, e, f, and g be any different. Thinking in more than three dimensions is hard, so let’s drop one.

Take a sheet of paper. Each side of the sheet is a two-dimensional surface. You can make a Mobius strip out of it by giving it a half-twist and taping the two ends together. Now you’ve got a single one-dimensional surface since you can go from anywhere on the sheet to anywhere else on the sheet without leaving the sheet. Let’s say you want to go from point A to point B which you can get to by going in a straight line half-way around the strip. Those two points are about as far apart as you can get in our little two-dimensional universe. It’s the longest journey you can take in a straight line.

Of course, the sheet of paper isn’t two-dimensional. It is in fact three-dimensional, but that third dimension, the thickness of the paper, is “hidden” from the folks living on its surface. Does this sound familiar? A tiny dimension that goes off in a direction we can’t see? In our experiment, that third dimension could be similar to the seven other dimensions theorized by M-Theory. So, you could take the long trip half-way across the Mobius universe, or with a strong enough push, you could punch a hole in the paper and step through to point B.

We know that we can punch a hole through the paper, and where that hole should be because we see the Mobius strip in our three dimensions. How can we see our three-dimensional universe in four or more dimension? That’s where science stops and fiction begins.

Rob Johnson

May 25, 2020


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