The World is Flat

If you’ve been wondering why the universe is restricted to only three dimensions, then I have news for you.  It’s not.  I’ve just finished reading a book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott, originally published in 1880.  It’s a story set in a world of two-dimensional people who find it completely impossible to imagine a third dimension.

The first half of the book is incredibly boring.  It details at length the two-dimensional world and its population of geometric shapes.  But the second half of the book will blow your mind.  The main character, a square, encounters a being he cannot comprehend: a circle that, in his limited field of vision, appears to change his size.  In other words, he meets a sphere.

What follows is an almost messianic revelation: there is a third dimension.  Reading this story of a square struggling to understand a world beyond his everyday existence and then struggling to explain to his fellow polygonal shapes what he’s learned, I am forced to wonder what it would be like to meet a four-dimensional being and how pathetic would I look to him struggling to understand something that is, to him, so simple.

If only the author could have gotten to the point a bit sooner, I wouldn’t have spent the first half of this book being so bored.  However, it is important to set the stage, to make the two-dimensional point of view as clear as possible, before getting into the real story of our multidimensional universe.  Also, since the book is so short (in printed form it’s less than 100 pages) you can get through that part fairly quickly.  Best of all, the ebook version is free on Amazon.

This book is an example of what great science fiction can do.  I sat through some lectures on multidimensional physics once hoping to learn something useful for my writing, but there was way too much complex math and I came away disappointed.  This book makes its points clearly.  You don’t have to know any math except how to count.  It works because the science is presented as a story, something anyone can understand.

4 thoughts on “The World is Flat

    1. This is fantastic. This is similar to the scene where the sphere first appears to the protagonist square, minus the old fashioned language and typical 19th Century attitude towards women (one of the real weak points of the book). Thanks for sharing this!


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