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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Physical Dimensions


In mathematics and physics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify each point within it.Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it. A surface such as a plane or the surface of a cylinder or sphere has a dimension of two because two coordinates are needed to specify a point on it (for example, to locate a point on the surface of a sphere you need both its latitude and its longitude). The inside of a cube, a cylinder or a sphere is three-dimensional because three co-ordinates are needed to locate a point within these spaces.
In physical terms, dimension refers to the constituent structure of all space (cf. volume) and its position in time (perceived as a scalar dimension along the t-axis), as well as the spatial constitution of objects within —structures that have correlations with both particle and field conceptions, interact according to relative properties of mass, and which are fundamentally mathematical in description. These or other axes may be referenced to uniquely identify a point or structure in its attitude and relationship to other objects and events. Physical theories that incorporate time, such as general relativity, are said to work in 4-dimensional "spacetime", (defined as a Minkowski space). Modern theories tend to be "higher-dimensional" including quantum field and string theories. The state-space of quantum mechanics is an infinite-dimensional function space.
The concept of dimension is not restricted to physical objects. High-dimensional spaces occur in mathematics and the sciences for many reasons, frequently as configuration spaces such as in Lagrangian or Hamiltonian mechanics; these are abstract spaces, independent of the physical space we live in.

Spatial dimensions

Classical physics theories describe three physical dimensions: from a particular point in space, the basic directions in which we can move are up/down, left/right, and forward/backward. Movement in any other direction can be expressed in terms of just these three. Moving down is the same as moving up a negative distance. Moving diagonally upward and forward is just as the name of the direction implies; i.e., moving in a linear combination of up and forward. In its simplest form: a line describes one dimension, a plane describes two dimensions, and a cube describes three dimensions. (See Space and Cartesian coordinate system.)

Number of dimensionsExample co-ordinate systems
Coord NumberLine.svg
Number line
Coord Angle.svg
Coord XY.svg
Cartesian (2-dimensional)
Coord Circular.svg
Coord LatLong.svg
Latitude and longitude
Coord XYZ.svg
Cartesian (3-dimensional)
Cylindrical Coordinates.svg
Spherical Coordinates (Colatitude, Longitude).svg



A temporal dimension is a dimension of time. Time is often referred to as the "fourth dimension" for this reason, but that is not to imply that it is a spatial dimension. A temporal dimension is one way to measure physical change. It is perceived differently from the three spatial dimensions in that there is only one of it, and that we cannot move freely in time but subjectively move in one direction.
The equations used in physics to model reality do not treat time in the same way that humans commonly perceive it. The equations of classical mechanics are symmetric with respect to time, and equations of quantum mechanics are typically symmetric if both time and other quantities (such as charge and parity) are reversed. In these models, the perception of time flowing in one direction is an artifact of the laws of thermodynamics (we perceive time as flowing in the direction of increasing entropy).
The best-known treatment of time as a dimension is Poincaré and Einstein's special relativity (and extended to general relativity), which treats perceived space and time as components of a four-dimensional manifold, known as spacetime, and in the special, flat case as Minkowski space.


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