Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

FlatlandThere are so many aspects of this book, it’s difficult not to find something inspiring in it.

The first half takes the reader through this amazing bi-dimensional land where the very laws of the Universe are different. The guide is a square who takes his time in describing the climate and physics of the world, the people and their perception of this world and the society that has formed in such distinct conditions.

The challenge for the reader is to comprehend the abstraction of a world that can fit on a piece of paper, but can neither rise above it nor sink below it. It is a book I wish I would have read as a child, right after my first geometry lessons.

Edwin Abbott AbbottThe journey in Flatland is also a journey in time as the book takes us more than 100 years in the past, in the time of Edwin Abbott Abbott (1838 – 1926). Strangely, the book was first published in 1884,  exactly 100 years before I was born.

In Flatland (as in the 19th century Europe) the segregation of social classes is very strict and ascension is very difficult. Most people are condemned to die in the same state in which they were born and the only ones that you can hope for are the future generations. Even so, the education required to better one self is very hard to come by for most men, while women can not even dream of such aspirations.

Flatland houseThe second part of the book is a quest for knowledge and a powerful argument against ignorance. Just as we can easily perceive the entirety of Flatland, the narrator of the book has a vision of Lineland, a world that is made of a single line and its inhabitants are line segments that can only see and move in two directions.

Lineland

The people of Lineland cannot comprehend the space from where the square is coming  and they can’t even see the square for what it is, but only as a dot. The square cannot comprehend the three-dimensional space which his visitor, the sphere, is coming from. So how can we comprehend a four-dimensional space, where the fourth dimension is not time, but space in which one can move? How can we imagine an entity the exists simultaneously in several three-dimensional spaces and interacts with all of them at once? How can one prove and convince us that our Universe actually has not three but eleven dimensions (M-theory and string theory)?

What the book does not include are: rocket launchers and explosions, rich middle-aged ladies having amorous adventures, gangsta’ kids from the hood or shiny vampires that create hysteria among teenage girls and their moms.

So I definitely recommend it to everyone who does not consider the fore-mentioned themes “an excellent reading”. It does have sex, though, and in Lineland (where two people cannot go around one another and have the same two neighbors for their entire life) it is especially interesting.

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