Monday, July 7, 2008

"to stir up a race of rebels who shall refuse to be confined to limited Dimensionality..."

That is the hope of the unfortunate hero of Flatland's brighter moments. 

Flatland, by Edwin Abbot is the tale of a two dimensional square who, despite his best efforts, cannot convince his two dimensional society about the existence of "upward not northward" and is imprisoned for his assertions of the third dimension's existence.

His adventures into this third dimension with his able guide the sphere (not Carl Sagan's apple!!) provided him the knowledge and understanding of just how limited Flatland was, but there was no convincing any other Flatlander of such a thing.

Edwin Abbot, in this story, exposes the danger of limiting ourselves to attempting to understand only those things for which empirical evidence is easy to acquire. The poor square was unable to convince any of his fellow two dimensional creatures to even attempt to imagine what he was describing, or to consider the possibility that, despite their inability to see for themselves, that what he said was true!

But its easy for us to see that the square was right, after all, because we live in the third dimension.  So to thumb our noses at their prejudice for two dimensions is hypocritical, because human beings as a society do the same thing all the time.  Its difficult not to!  We have a bias and affinity for those things which are evident to us, and a suspicion and skepticism about those things that are not.

Suspicion and skepticism are good things, they keep us from believing all manner of ridiculous things that just aren't so, but just as imagination must be tempered with skepticism, so skepticism must be tempered with imagination.  One cannot work without the other.  Alone, each of those attributes will lead you away from the truth rather than toward it.  They will lead you to be confined to "limited dimensionality".  And that, is what I  hope to help you avoid.

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