Friday, January 23, 2009

Flatland by A Square (Edwin Abbot)

An endearing and illustrative parable about the how our physical existence limits ways of thought and being, which then leads to practices and beliefs that, while not arbitrary, are so influenced by such constraints that they lose generalizability and/or absolute validity. (Available here)

Plot: A square in a flat world gets a glimpse of three dimensions.
Part I: A description of Flatland, its ways and its peoples. I found this part necessary but dry and unexciting. Additionally, the pervasive subjection of women was unpleasant to read about (but also perhaps necessary, for instructive purposes).
Part II: A delightful description of encounters with other dimensions. This section is often amusing (especially the King of Lineland) and then eventually disheartening as the work reinforces the notion that those who try to enlighten will suffer.

If you can suspend your disbelief regarding how 2D objects could exist with perception and brains and eating, and are willing to slog through the first half, then I think a worthwhile tale about limitations and perspective awaits you.


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