5.05.2010

A Multi-Dimensional Romance

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Grote

It was entirely fitting that I should read Edwin A. Abbott's "Flatland" while cruising from Phoenix to Charlotte at a cool 20,000 feet. Every now and then I'd peek through my double-paned window down onto the snowy caps of the Rockies or the twinkling eyes of delta cities. For all this book's brevity (160 pages with Signet Classics) I found the experience wonderfully entertaining and extremely thought-provoking.

I am greatly interested in the writings from the Victorian era which in many respects was a tumultuous time for England as well as a formative example for American values. Abbott was a contemporary of MacDonald and Carroll, a pastor and a scientist who found it his life mission to reconcile science to religion. "Flatland" stands alone among a plethora of treatises and sermons as a singular work of fancy that works its intended purpose from several different angles.

The first triumph of the work is to create a believable world of only two dimensions. As absurd as it may seem, Abbott's Flatland is credible not only scientifically as an exploration in optics and dimensions, but as a work of fancy like "Gulliver's Travels" that we can come to understand and relate with to an extent. Along the way, Abbott caricatures the pride and vices of his own era by underlining the current role of women, the class system, social conventions, and government manipulation.

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Malevich
Once this fantasy is set up we are off on our adventures. The narrator, a Mr. A. Square, dreams he has traveled to Lineland, the world of only one dimension. He is then visited by a visitor from Spaceland who challenges him to consider the existence of a real dimension beyond his scope of vision and understanding. When he is taken up into Spaceland his mathematical mind begins to consider the limitless possibilities of nature: if a Circle of Circles is a Sphere, then could there not be a Sphere of Spheres in a fourth dimension, and so on?
The concept is staggering. In our hasty acceptance of Flatland we laugh at their arrogance and self-assurance. Yet to take the analogy in kind we in turn become the arrogant and self-assured. We quite possibly may be the ones who are watched by beings of the fourth dimensions. Our state could indeed be quite laughable. In writing so, Abbott has set out to show us a mathematical proof for the existence of the Supernatural.
It's enjoyable and mind-bending. See if you're convinced.

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