Life Could Exist in a Two Dimensional Universe, Scientist Argues

The cult classic novel Flatland, published in 1884, imagines a two-dimensional world populated by flat shapes. But could such a universe—with the additional dimension of time—be capable of hosting life?

Now, a scientist from the University of California, James Scargill, has attempted to answer just that question in a study published on the pre-print server Surprisingly, his findings suggest that life in such a universe may indeed be feasible.

Our universe is made up of three spatial dimensions—width, depth and height—as well as the additional dimension of time. Thus scientists describe it using the moniker "3+1".

Researchers have long debated whether life would be possible in universes with more dimensions of space or time. But the answer to these questions tends to be no. This is because our universe is said to adhere to what's known as the "anthropic principle."

This is essentially the idea that because we exist in our universe, then it must contain the perfect conditions for life to survive. If the laws of nature and the values of certain constants—such as the mass of an electron or the strength of gravity—were even slightly different, than the universe would be totally unsuitable for the development of life, or indeed, the planets and stars themselves. But does this principle apply to universes with fewer dimensions than our own?

"There are anthropic reasons to suspect that life in more than three spatial dimensions is not possible, and if the same could be said of fewer than three, then one would have an anthropic argument for why we experience precisely three large spatial dimensions," Scargill wrote in the study.

The physicist suggests that there are two main arguments indicating that life in a two-dimensional universe would not be possible. The first is that gravity would not be able to function in such a universe. The second is that the restriction to a single plane means a 2-D universe would be "too simple" for life to exist.

However, Scargill shows in his paper through mathematical calculations that, in theory, a much simpler form of gravity may be possible in a 2+1 universe, and that such a universe could contain the requisite complexity for life to exist.

The physicist came to the latter conclusion after examining two-dimensional neural networks—computer systems modelled on biological brain networks. However, despite the results, Scargill stresses that his work does not amount to proof that life could exist in a two-dimensional universe, MIT Technology Review reported.

Milky Way
Stars and the Milky Way are seen in the night sky over Lebanon late on August 12, 2018 in the mountain area of Tannourine, north of Beirut. JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images