I've been reading an explanation about transition states in Smith's Organic Synthesis:
A transition state is an energy maximum along the reaction coordinate. However, a chemical reaction where the reactant contains N atoms actually involves movement over an energy surface with 3N-6 dimensions, and a transition state is actually an energy minimum in each of the remaining (3N-7) dimensions. Liken a chemical reaction to a drive across a mountain range. The “goal” is to go from one valley to another, just as the goal of a chemical reaction is to go from one minimum on the energy surface (the reactants) to another minimum (the product). The road moves about a two-dimensional surface whereas the energy surface for a chemical reaction may involve dozens or even hundreds of dimensions. There is no need to climb to the top of a mountain (a maximum in both dimensions) to go from one valley to another. Rather, is sufficient to go through a pass between mountains (a maximum in one dimension but a minimum in the other). Similarly, it is only necessary to pass through an energy maximum in one coordinate (the reaction coordinate) for a chemical reaction. Because a transition state is an energy maximum (albeit only in one of many dimensions) it cannot function to “trap” a molecule, let alone collect a population of “trapped” molecules. This means that a transition state cannot even be observed experimentally let alone isolated or characterized. Quite simply, a transition state does not exist in the sense that a molecule exists.
This multidimensional explanation completely confounds me. Could someone explain this in a more understandable language? What is this surface with 3N-6 dimensions? How did the author use it to conclude that TS can't be observed experimentally?