Four years ago I started pondering the tesseract and four-dimensional space. I first learned about them back in grade school in a science fiction short story I’d read. (A large fraction of my very early science education came from SF books.)
Greg Egan touched on tesseracts in his novel Diaspora, which got me thinking about them and inspired the post Hunting Tesseracti. That led to a general exploration of multi-dimensional spaces and rotation within those spaces, but I continued to focus on trying to truly understand the tesseract.
Today we’re going to visit the 4D space inside a tesseract.
This is a Sideband to the previous post, The 4th Dimension. It’s for those who want to know more about the rotation discussed in that post, specifically with regard to axes involved with rotation versus axes about which rotation occurs.
The latter, rotation about (or around) an axis, is what we usually mean when we refer to a rotation axis. A key characteristic of such an axis is that coordinate values on that axis don’t change during rotation. Rotating about (or on or around) the Y axis means that the Y coordinate values never change.
In contrast, an axis involved with rotation changes its associated coordinate values according to the angle of rotation. The difference is starkly apparent when we look at rotation matrices.
Here on the 4th day of the 4th month, I feel I really should be writing about the 4th dimension. I did say that I would during March Mathness, and I tried to set the math foundation here and here.
But two problems: Firstly, I’m kinda burned out. Those three posts were a bit of work, diagrams & models & math (oh, my!), and then trying to explain them clearly. Secondly, obviously no one finds this interesting except me, so not much motivation for the effort involved. Which was expected (kinda the story of my life). I also said these posts were as much recording my notes as attempts to share.
But it is 4/4 (and no Twins game today), so I thought I’d try winging it anyway.
I’ve been hinting all month about rotation, and the time has finally come to dig into the topic. As mentioned, my interest began with wanting to understand what it means to rotate a tesseract — particularly what’s really going on in a common animation that I’ve seen. What’s the math there?
This interest in rotation is part of a larger interest: trying to wrap my head around the idea of a fourth physical dimension. (Time is sometimes called the fourth dimension, but not here.) To make it as easy as possible, for now I’m focusing only on tesseractae, because “squares” are an easy shape.
After chewing at this for a while (the tesseract post was late 2016), just recently new doors opened up, and I think this journey is almost over!
The maps you find in some buildings and malls have a little marker flag that says, “You are here!” The marker connects the physical reality of where you are standing at that moment with a specific point on a little flat map.
Your GPS device provides your current location in terms of longitude and latitude. Those numbers link your physical location with a specific point on any globe or map of the Earth.
But to fully represent our location, longitude and latitude are not quite enough. (We might be high overhead in a hot air balloon!) To fully represent our position, we need a little more ‘tude, but in this case that’s altitude, not attitude.
We need three (and only three) coordinates to completely represent our location in space. This post is about why.