I've just finished reading Flatland, a book by Edwin A. Abott. It's a great book, but who am I to review a book written in 1884 that has been reviewed to death I suppose. The thing is that I hadn't heard about the book or even the story, and having read it, I think it ought be more well known for its brilliance. If you're a mathematician or a computer science, it's an absolute must, even if you're interested in sociology it's one of those books that's worth reading.
In 1884, this was a book way ahead of its time, describing a flat land where all people or shapes are just two dimensional. He describes their limited view and life, which is exciting for them nevertheless. It mirrors our own world in many ways, and the class system we have, only explained more explicitly. Shapes with six sides are superior to those with five and so on. You cannot acquire an extra side, or an extra standing in society, only your children do, unless you're a working man, which means you'll never prosper. That limited view, being described depicts our world that can seem meaningless if only described. It only has value when lived or experienced.
There's more allegory there and the whole book is just like a big review of society. It's amazing that not much has changed since then, all our prejudices and all our discriminations and disbelief. Besides the mathematical brilliance and the social brilliance, there's also a philosophical depth to it. The protagonist, a square, stumbles on the existence of a third dimension. It's not something he can perceive but only something he can deduce and have faith in. This reflects a bit of our faith in only what we see, which may not always be valid because there is a certain sort of reasoning, or analogy, or something else we never notice that points us to the existence of something beyond our imagination and senses.
The third dimension is not something the square can comprehend and with reason alone he fails to see that it exists. Only a visit to that third dimension convinces him. He also visits a one dimensional world that cannot comprehend his two dimensions. He then decides there must be a fourth dimension and for that matter a fifth and sixth.
The idea of many dimensions is present amongst physicists who are working on String Theory. In 1884, that theory of many dimensions seems to have been in existence and it's amazing how hard it is we still find it to believe there's some dimension we don't know anything about. I think the book simplifies this point of view if one is struggling with it.
How often have we refuted things on the sole basis that we cannot see it? It seems all too numerous. Often we say that things don't exist just because we haven't experienced it, but it seems that this is slightly narrow minded, since we can definitely not see that much.
The book is a very short read but certainly, in my humble opinion, an underrated classic. I'm not so sure it's underrated really but I know that I hadn't come across it except by chance, and I'm glad I did.
Looking forward to seeing Flatland the movie.
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