Matt Johnson in Cosmic Variance:
Extra dimensions. Sounds preposterous at first. Well, perhaps more accurately, it sounds preposterous to most people who don’t do high-energy theory. But, really I assure you, there are many well-motivated reasons why us wacky theorists like to ponder the existence of extra dimensions.
For one, as shown long ago by Kaluza and Klein, it is possible to get Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism in four dimensions by taking 5 dimensional General Relativity and wrapping one of the spatial dimensions up in a circle too small to see. The smaller the circle is, the harder it is to move in this “other direction,” and so there is no danger in getting lost on the way home. In this way, Maxwell’s equations have an elegant geometrical origin and gravity and electricity & magnatism are combined into one force (5 dimensional gravity).
Another strong motivation comes from string theory, which is only a consistent quantum theory of gravity if there are 10 or 11 dimensions in total. Again, since we don’t see them, it is necessary to hide the existence of the extra dimensions. Inspired by the fact that it was possible to hide one extra dimension by wrapping it up in a circle, generally the extra 6 or 7 dimensions are thought to be “compactified” into a very small compact geometry like a sphere or a torus.
At this point, the five-year-old in the audience is insistently asking, “If you have all these extra dimensions, and you are telling me that they are wrapped up into this tiny ball, how did they get wrapped up in the first place? Why are the four dimensions we see so large, and the others so small?”