New Directions in Real Estate?

keats real estate imageOn NPR’s finance programme Marketplace yesterday, there was a somewhat unusual piece. It seems that conceptual artist Jonathan Keats is making some money by selling the extra dimensional rights to various properties in San Francisco! (You can see him at the Modernism Gallery there1).

Since there’s no known way to build on or otherwise occupy this new extra dimensional property (let me explain a bit further in an enormous footnote2), the prices are awfully reasonable. Here’s a transcript of a transaction that I found on their website. Reporter Nathaneal Johnson is observing a sale to punters Oscar Villalon and Mary Ladd:

MARY LADD: Here’s 12 and 50.

OSCAR VILLALON: When’s the last time anyone used exact change to buy property?


LADD: Thank you.

VILLALON: Thank you very much.

JOHNSON: Why would you want something . . . a piece of property that you can’t actually fit yourself into?

LADD: We’re buying the idea of having property. Which up until now has been nearly impossible.

VILLALON: Plus, you know, you can see most apartments around here it’s not . . . it’s not a stretch of the imagination to move into someplace you can barely fit into, you know. That’s par for the course. Ya know, you never know. If it works out, you know, great. If not . . . no, I think in the end, it will pay off for us, one way or the other. Especially since it looks like other people are buying, so that’s just going to drive up the price of our investment right now. It’s already gonna be worth more than $12.40. Look, see?. . . We could turn around sell it for 15, 20 easy.

LADD: The feeding frenzy will begin.

VILLALON: I . . . you know, I figure, you know, in 600 years, this thing will just be brilliant. You know, it’ll be like the old Dutch buying up land in Manhattan. Oh yeah.

You can listen to the whole report on the website.



  1. It’s worth noting that this Jonathan Keats is the same conceptual artist who came up with the idea of selling his braincells some years back at $10 per million neurons. [return]
  2. One simple reason for this is that we do not know if they exist or not!

    Other, more physics-based reasons would talk about the extra dimensions being compact (curled back on themselves, if you like, the simplest example being a circle) on a very small scale (e.g., the circumference of the circle is small).

    This is only in some scenarios, it must be said. You can have extra dimension scenarios in which the extra dimensions are not small at all. The physics in those dimensions is just different than ours and so we don’t easily detect them, besides them being large: In a “braneworld”-type scenario you can simply have it that the stuff we are made of is stuck in the four dimensions that we see, while the extra dimensions are just like all the others – non-compact and infinite, with gravity being the only familiar force to us that exists equally in all dimensions.

    I should mention that it is perfectly fine to have four dimensional string theories which do anything we would interpret as extra dimensions at all. It’s really annoying that nobody talks much about these in popular discussions of strings. Extra dimensions are just one way (perhaps the simplest and most naive) of accounting for the some of the internal degrees of freedom that strings bring to discussions of high energy physics – they are not necessary, however.

    Finally, it’s worth remembering that there a lot of ongoing work trying to understand how to sort through these choices – and none of them may work out. These are all tantalizing hints from string theory as to how Nature might work at the next level, but we’re a long way from the theory being in good enough shape to see what it’s really telling us, and whether what it’s telling us is right or wrong – where the latter is determined by comparison to experiments and observations. Follow some of the links below to posts with some thoughts about some of these matters, and you can read their comment threads for more (much more!) discussion of, and opinion (informed and otherwise) about, some of those and related issues. [return]

Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to New Directions in Real Estate?

  1. Anon says:

    I heard this too! And had that pleasent feeling when someone exploits an obvious idea that is only obvious in retrospect. I guess this shows how it can financially pay off if an artist understandings a bit of physics!

  2. Bee says:

    hmm. you know, I like the idea of extra dimensions, but I prefer them large, I mean *really* large, like infinite. Now I wonder if there isn’t some kind of law that limits the size of extra dimensions that he can sell. Like, you’d only get the first 3 meters perpendicular to the brane or so. I mean, I don’t know for sure how it is in the US but e.g. in Germany your property belongs to you only up to x feet underground, and also you can’t (not even theoretically) occupy the whole space above your property.

    For whatever reason this makes me think about the Mary Poppins movie, where she pulls this huge lamp our of her small bag. I’ve always thought, there must be more volume inside than the surface makes it appear. Should we try to sell extra dimensional bags?



  3. Clifford says:

    Bee, in my old D+D days, such bags were called “portable holes”, if I recall correctly. In my young mind then I always thought of them as little pockets that give access to extra dimensions. The Tardis, the travelling device of the Doctor, was another example.


  4. Clifford says:

    Ha… and of course, a few strokes in Google leads to a Wikipedia article on the Portable Hole.


  5. Carl Brannen says:

    When you put it that way, Bee, it makes me wonder about the value of any real estate available for sale here on Earth. The whole planet is only a tiny tiny fraction of even the observable universe, so how much can it be worth?

    Meanwhile, I found another author who analyzes the standard model based on the Clifford algebraic form of the fermion quantum numbers (the “fermion cube”). But he is approaching it from a Lagrangian point of view and has written a nice version of the Lagrangian. The mysterious article is on this website, with an anonymous author. I’m seeing if this will give me a natural geometric description of the gauge bosons.

  6. spyder says:

    In some ways this reminds me of the guy who, in the earlier days of SecondLife (the alternative virtual social community), figured out that he could purchase and claim all of the single pixel width 3D planes between everyone’s properties and charge each landholder a fee for transiting and access. It forced the programmers and managers to begin to make arbitrary (dictatorial) decisions not in keeping with the spirit of ruleless, open, social connecting. Would experimentally-validated theoretical constructs, regarding these extra-dimensional properties, demonstrate a similar contractual need, making those who live and/or work in the SanFran physical environments to pay for moving through the spaces and dimensions????

  7. Plato says:

    B:For whatever reason this makes me think about the Mary Poppins movie, where she pulls this huge lamp our of her small bag

    For some reason I got the picture of Lisa Randall standing under a light post? 😉

  8. Plato says:

    Clifford:Extra dimensions are just one way (perhaps the simplest and most naive)…..

    Was Einstein naive by adding the fourth dimension? Do you think this is not a lesson in itself and thus we can carry this view …..

    Clifford:….of accounting for the some of the internal degrees of freedom that strings bring to discussions of high energy physics – they are not necessary, however.

    I thought I might go with that comment to B and write this here

    The footnote 2 were very helpful reminders, as well, the extra information on the issues confronting the landscape.

    Because “we don’t see” something in reality around us, does not mean these things do not exist.

  9. Amara says:

    I’ll bet that such extra dimensions will be part of Second Life in the not-too-distant future. There’s a lot of money being exchanged in that virtual space.

    According to Second Life Stats , here are land prices in Second Life:

    Land Size (km2)

    Calendar Date Mainland Islands Total Size
    10/31/2006 83.97 134.28 218.25
    11/30/2006 84.59 170.13 254.73
    12/31/2006 87.35 206.31 293.65
    1/31/2007 102.72 258.08 360.80

    A region is 65,536 sqm
    A private island region costs either $195 per month or $295 per month depending upon when it was bought
    Mainland pricing ranges from $3 per 1000 sqm to $10 per 1000 sqm
    A km2 equals 1,000,000 sqm
    Manhattan Island is approximately 60 km2

  10. Bee says:

    Hi Clifford,

    portable holes! I love that! (My brothers were kind of into D&D and I was not so really encouraged to join them, so I missed that phase). I wish I had one. Is somebody holding a patent on that? 😉
    Have a nice weekend,


  11. Elliot says:

    portable holes reminds me of Yellow Submarine. The sea of holes….


    “is that a hole in your pocket?”

    great movie if you’ve never seen it.

  12. Supernova says:

    Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall!

  13. Manas Shaikh says:

    Isn’t it plain and simple cheating? Selling something without showing the customer what it is?

    (Funny and not funny)

  14. Plato says:

    Maybe it is like the artist who explores the “fringes of thinking” to add further thoughts on the issues? Gives a new perspective on the kind of real estate?

    I guess acquiring new real estate could also mean applying it’s implications to how we can look at entanglement?

    Yes, I understand it is important to keep it real.

  15. Tim R says:

    The cost of homes for sale is now on the decline. Buyers go out and negotiate.

  16. spyder says:

    In San Francisco, a typical single-family home now runs about $713,000. Marin County had the highest median at $850,000; Solano County had the lowest at $389,000. The median price for a Bay Area condo was $410,000. By contrast, the nationwide median price for an existing detached home is just under $190,000.

    Given these rates for 3D (or 4D) physical living residences, it sounds to me as if Keats is offering the extra-dimensions at significantly reduced prices. What a bargain….

  17. John Branch says:

    I suppose Keats maintains something like this: that traditional property laws apply only to the traditionally observable dimensions and that he can homestead or stake a claim on other dimensions. Which leads me to wonder what a lawyer in our traditionally observable dimensions would say (not to mention an extra-dimensional lawyer).

  18. Pingback: Free Wiis

  19. Robert says:

    I’m sure a judge could interpret usque ad coelum as including not only extent into the third dimension above and below the land, but into any other dimensions as well.