How 'A Wrinkle in Time's Fifth Dimension Is Explained With Superstring Theory

Author Madeline L'Engle was onto something most scientists denied back in 1962.

When Dr. Alex Murry (a bearded Chris Pine) tries to explain a new theory of dimensional physics that would undo hundreds of years of accepted science in A Wrinkle in Time and allow for interstellar travel, he’s laughed out of the room, but the Ava DuVernay-directed film (released last February and based on the 1962 novel) actually makes some scientific sense.

As Dr. Murry’s gifted young daughter Meg (Storm Reid) explains in a scene from the trailer (watch it above) that was ultimately cut from the film, traveling through the fifth dimension theoretically makes it possible to defy the established laws of physics.

“We use the usual four dimensions,” she says. “Three spatial ones,” like width and height, as well as time, “the fourth dimension.” But what if there was a fifth dimension, “a dimension outside of the rules most people know [of] time and space?” And what if you could fold that space, like a wrinkle?

In A Wrinkle in Time, that wrinkle is a “tesseract” — basically a wormhole — that allows instantaneous travel, be it ten feet or 91 billion light-years.

When author Madeline L’Engle first published her book, A Wrinkle in Time in 1962, this “fifth dimension” theory existed mostly in the realm of science-fiction. Like virtual reality or video telephones. But in 2018, they sell smartphones and VR toys at Best Buy. So, was L’Engle onto something? Are wrinkles in time real?

A Wrinkle in Time
Disney's 'A Wrinkle in Time' (2018).

The answer is still no. But breakthroughs in physics since the release of L’Engle’s novel have allowed scientists to agree that there are probably more than four dimensions.

“Scientists today posit that the number of dimensions in this universe may very well stretch past four,” wrote Inverse’s Sarah Sloat back in July 2017 when Disney released the trailer. “L’Engle gets this much right, but she takes some artistic license when discussing tesseracts.”

Some string theorists believe that there are actually 10 dimensions. In superstring theory, the fifth dimension is “slightly different from our own,” making it possible to measure the differences between different realities, while the sixth dimension exists as a plane of all “possible worlds” arising from a shared condition like the Big Bang.

It’s going to be a while until we as a species learn even more about the spacetime dimensions that surround us. It took five and a half decades since the release of A Wrinkle of Time for physicists to change their minds from “LOL, no” to “Yeah, probably.” Who knows what we’ll discover in the next 50 years.

This December, Inverse is counting down the 20 best science moments in science fiction this year. This has been #18.

Media via Disney