This information was provided by Scott Tate.
By way of a pedigree, most of the info is taken from the TABB press kit which includes some fairly meaty scientific background material. I've tried to summarize things as best I could but, to borrow the always eloquent words of Reno Nevada, "I must confess to being utterly lame of mind about the higher mathematics. ... [K]eep in mind, reader, that it is the layman speaking, and the layman must inevitably rely upon poor metaphor... to relate that which he fathoms only slightly."
Buckaroo Banzai once described the eighth dimension as "a simultaneous plane of existence with our own," insisting that he was never actually inside that mountain in Texas, but instead moving through the space the mountain occupied. In the novel, Reno likened it to the Great Void, perhaps full of a universal consciousness in search of receptacles such as human minds. TABB's science consultant, Dr. Cary I. Sneider, explained it to be a sub-atomic realm, one we move through constantly without ever realizing. But what exactly is this strange concept?
In "the miserable annals of the Earth," we have explored the eighth dimension only a handful of times, usually with limited success. In 1938, a premature experiment pushed Emilio Lizardo partially into the eighth dimension, where he merged with the consciousness of imprisoned Lectroid demagogue John Whorfin. It's been suggested that there may have been a few other poorly understood transdimensional breaches over the years that could account for vanished ocean vessels and the like. But it wasn't until decades later when B. Banzai, utilizing the lifelong work of Prof. Hikita, successfully navigated the eighth dimension by piloting his jet car through a Texas mountainside.
These pioneering experiments demonstrate that the eighth dimension may be breached by occupying the "empty" space that is normally shared with "solid" matter. But how does it work? As B. Banzai explained to the press following his demonstration in Texas, travel through matter is possible because matter is actually comprised mostly of empty space. Subatomic particles take up only one quadrillionth of an atom's total volume -- "like a bee in the middle of St. Peter's Cathedral," Dr. Sneider notes. Sneider elaborates: "According to quantum field theory... the forces between particles are created by exchanges of other particles. The electromagnetic force is carried by the exchange of particles called 'virtual photons.' In other words, the empty space between the electrons and protons in normal matter is full of virtual protons. Furthermore, if virtual photons fail to travel all the way between electrons and the nucleus, atoms would no longer be prevented from passing through each other. Since virtual photons have no mass, they are able to travel the full distance between electrons and protons. If virtual photons had mass, they would be restricted to a very small region around the elementary particles that make up the atoms. The passage would be clear for Buckaroo Banzai and his Jet Car to pass through matter."
This is accomplished by the oscillation overthruster. The overthruster seems to be, in effect, a miniaturized particle accelerator, powering two colliding beams that mix electrons and positrons together, releasing energy as they annihilate each other in a continuous series of powerful subatomic explosions -- a "Baby Bang," as Penny Priddy called it. One by-product of this "Baby Bang" is the creation of intermediate vector bosons, which are then magnetically directed to temporarily impart mass to whatever virtual photons occupy the designated target area. Within that target, electromagnetic force is suddenly and severely reduced. The effect is extremely short-lived (on the order of seconds or less), but within that window of opportunity a fast-moving object -- Buckaroo's jet car, for example -- is able to move through the disruption, effectively passing through solid matter.
That being said, we are still left with certain questions. Where exactly does the eighth dimension exist, and why do we count it as "eighth" instead of a higher or lower number?
Human perception recognizes three physical dimensions (variously described as height, length, width, depth, or similar terms), and time is often considered to be a fourth. So where does that leave the fifth, sixth, and seventh, and why do we concern ourselves specifically with the eighth? As Dr. Sneider explains, some scientists (such as Theodore Kaluza and later Oskar Klein) have proposed the possible existence of mini-dimensions that exist on a sub-atomic level: "Dimensions are usually diagrammed as infinitesimally thin, mutually perpendicular lines. In the Kaluza-Klein theory, these lines become cylinders with a radius much less than that of an atomic nucleus. In other words, each dimension of space-time is in fact two-dimensional, a cylinder of finite radius but infinite length. There would then be a total of eight dimensions, in which the eighth dimension is the sister dimension of everyday time, but at the subnuclear level." It has since become suggested that there may in fact be many more dimensions than previously suspected, but the basic concept has not been entirely outmoded.
If we accept that our traditional concept of physical reality is intrinsically linked with a specific sub-atomic counterpart, it follows naturally that, among beings such as the Lectroids, who relate to the physical universe in more or less the same way we do, that dimension would be the natural conduit of choice for interdimensional travel. This model of space-time helps illustrate how vast distances such as those between Grover's Mill and Planet 10 might be spanned conveniently. Likewise, with its ample room and apparently timeless quality, such a dimension might also be used for storage, as the Black Lectroids seem to have done with dangerous prisoners like John Whorfin, apparently sentencing them to a limbo-like stasis (not unlike the old "Phantom Zone" concept from Silver Age Superman comics).
Penny Priddy succinctly answered the question of dimensions five through seven in the Marvel Comics adaptation: "I guess they don't matter. It's like cheesecloth, I think. Minowski space." German mathematician Hermann Minowski was one of the earliest scientists to suggest that space and time might be a single continuum rather than separate properties. "Minowski space" posits that, under certain conditions prescribed by Einstein's special theory of relativity, space-time would be flat and devoid of gravity.
Theoretical physics aside, one might also ask what the eighth dimension *literally* is -- i.e., how the special effect as seen in the movie was achieved. In keeping with the organic feel of Lectroid culture, and since the eighth dimension is actually sub-atomic in nature, Greenlite effects supervisor John Scheele hit upon the idea of utilizing images recorded through a scanning electron microscope. At that time, there was no established procedure for recording moving images through an electron microscope, but the innovative fx team managed the task by using the same sort of motion control system utilized in filming small models. I'm not sure what substance (or substances) was chosen to achieve the finished shots, but test subjects included everything from ordinary paper and rotten cheese to beetles and mice tongues -- surely making that scene one of the oddest "location shoots" in movie history.
This page was last updated on June 10th, 2016.
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