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This article is about the novella. For other uses, see Flatland (disambiguation).
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Flatland cover.jpg
The cover to Flatland, 6th Edition.
Author Edwin A. Abbott
Original title Flatland
Illustrator Edwin A. Abbott
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novella
Publisher Seely & Co.
Publication date 1884
Pages viii, 100 pp

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is an 1884 satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott. Writing pseudonymously as "a square",[1] Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to offer pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. However, the novella's more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions; in a foreword to one of the many publications of the novella, noted science writer Isaac Asimov described Flatland as "The best introduction one can find into the manner of perceiving dimensions."[2] As such, the novella is still popular amongst mathematics, physics, and computer science students.

Several films have been made from the story, including a feature film in 2007 called Flatland. Other efforts have been short or experimental films, including one narrated by Dudley Moore and a short film with Martin Sheen titled Flatland: The Movie.

* 1 Plot
* 2 Social elements
* 3 Editions in print
* 4 Related works
o 4.1 Literature
o 4.2 Feature films
o 4.3 Short films
o 4.4 TV
o 4.5 Games
* 5 Other uses
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
o 9.1 Online and downloadable versions of the text

[edit] Plot
Illustration of a simple house in Flatland.

The story is about a two-dimensional world referred to as Flatland which is occupied by geometric figures, line-segments (females) and regular polygons with various numbers of sides. The narrator is a humble Square, a member of the social caste of gentlemen and professionals in a society of geometric figures, who guides us through some of the implications of life in two dimensions. The square has a dream about a visit to a one-dimensional world (Lineland) which is inhabited by "lustrous points." He attempts to convince the realm's ignorant monarch of a second dimension but finds that it is essentially impossible to make him see outside of his eternally straight line.

The narrator is then visited by a three-dimensional sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he sees Spaceland for himself. This sphere, who remains nameless, visits Flatland at the turn of each millennium to introduce a new apostle to the idea of a third dimension in the hopes of eventually educating the population of Flatland of the existence of Spaceland. From the safety of Spaceland, they are able to observe the leaders of Flatland secretly acknowledging the existence of the sphere and prescribing the silencing of anyone found preaching the truth of Spaceland and the third dimension. After this proclamation is made, many witnesses are massacred or imprisoned (according to caste).

After the Square's mind is opened to new dimensions, he tries to convince the Sphere of the theoretical possibility of the existence of a fourth (and fifth, and sixth ...) spatial dimension. Offended by this presumption and incapable of comprehending other dimensions, the Sphere returns his student to Flatland in disgrace.

He then has a dream in which the Sphere visits him again, this time to introduce him to Pointland. The point (sole inhabitant, monarch, and universe in one) perceives any attempt at communicating with him as simply being a thought originating in his own mind (cf. Solipsism):

'You see,' said my Teacher, 'how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understand them at all, he accepts them as his own – for he cannot conceive of any other except himself – and plumes himself upon the variety of Its Thought as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction.'[3]
— the Sphere

The Square recognizes the connection between the ignorance of the monarchs of Pointland and Lineland with his own (and the Sphere's) previous ignorance of the existence of other, higher dimensions.

Once returned to Flatland, the Square finds it difficult to convince anyone of Spaceland's existence, especially after official decrees are announced – anyone preaching the lies of three dimensions will be imprisoned (or executed, depending on caste). Eventually the Square himself is imprisoned for just this reason.
[edit] Social elements

Men are portrayed as polygons whose social class is directly proportional to the number of sides they have; therefore, triangles, having only three sides, are at the bottom of the social ladder and are considered generally unintelligent, while the Priests are composed of multi-sided polygons whose shapes approximate a circle, which is considered to be the "perfect" shape. On the other hand, females consist only of lines and are required by law to sway back and forth and sound a "peace-cry" as they walk, because when a line is coming towards an observer in a 2-D world, their body appears merely as a point. The Square talks of accounts where men have been killed (both by accident and on purpose) by being stabbed by women. This explains the need for separate doors for women and men in buildings. Also, colors in Flatland were banned when lower classes painted themselves, eventually leading the lower classes to revolt.

In the world of Flatland, classes are distinguished using the "Art of Hearing", the "Art of Feeling" and the "Art of Sight Recognition". Classes can be distinguished by the sound of one's voice, but the lower classes have more developed vocal organs, enabling them to feign the voice of a polygon or even a circle. Feeling, practised by the lower classes and women, determines the configuration of a person by feeling one of their angles. The "Art of Sight Recognition", practised by the upper classes, is aided by "Fog", which allows an observer to determine the depth of an object. With this, polygons with sharp angles relative to the observer will fade out more rapidly than polygons with more gradual angles. The population of Flatland can "evolve" through the Law of Nature, which states: "a male child shall have one more side than his father, so that each generation shall rise (as a rule) one step in the scale of development and nobility. Thus the son of a Square is a Pentagon; the son of a Pentagon, a Hexagon; and so on."

This rule is not the case when dealing with isosceles triangles (Soldiers and Workmen), for their evolution occurs through eventually achieving the status of an equilateral triangle, removing them from serfdom. The smallest angle of an isosceles triangle gains thirty arcminutes (half a degree) each generation. Additionally, the rule does not seem to apply to many-sided polygons; the sons of several hundred-sided polygons will often develop fifty or more sides more than their parents.

The isosceles triangles with the smallest angle are the soldier class (if they weren't criminals), while the triangles closer to being regular are menial laborers. An equilateral Triangle is a member of the craftsman class. Squares and Pentagons are the "gentlemen" class, as doctors, lawyers, and other professions. Hexagons are the lowest rank of nobility, all the way up to (near) circles, who make up the priest class. The higher order polygons have much less of a chance of producing sons, preventing Flatland from being overcrowded with noblemen.

Regular polygons were considered in isolation until chapter 7 of the book when the issue of irregularity, or physical deformity, became considered. In a two dimensional world a regular polygon can be identified by a single angle and/or vertex. In order to maintain social cohesion, irregularity is to be abhorred, with moral irregularity and criminality cited, "by some" (in the book), as inevitable additional deformities, a sentiment concurred by the author, a square. If the error of deviation is above a stated amount, the irregular polygon faces euthanasia; if below, he becomes the lowest rank of civil servant. In this study of what was to later to become known as eugenics, an irregular polygon should not be destroyed at birth, but rather allowed to develop in order to see if its irregularity could be “cured” or reduced to within society's level of tolerance. If the deformity could not be corrected then the irregular should be “painlessly and mercifully consumed.”[4]

In the book, the three-dimensional Sphere has the ability to stand inches away from a Flatlander and observe them without being seen, to remove Flatland objects from closed containers and to teleport them via the third dimension without traversing the space in between, and is capable of seeing and touching the inside and outside of everything in the two-dimensional universe. At one instance, the Sphere gently pokes the narrator's intestines and launches him into three dimensions as proof of his powers.
[edit] Editions in print

* Flatland (5th edition, 1963), 1983 reprint with foreword by Isaac Asimov, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-463573-2
o bound together back-to-back with Dionys Burger's Sphereland (1994), HarperCollins, ISBN 0-06-273276-5
* The Annotated Flatland (2002), coauthor Ian Stewart, Perseus Publishing, ISBN 0-73820541-9
* Signet Classics edition (2005), ISBN 0-451-52976-6
* Oxford University Press (2006), ISBN 0-19-280598-3
* Dover Publications thrift edition (2007), ISBN 0-486-27263-X
* CreateSpace edition (2008), ISBN 1-440-41778-4

[edit] Related works
This "In popular culture" section may contain minor or trivial references. Please reorganize this content to explain the subject's impact on popular culture rather than simply listing appearances, and remove trivial references. (August 2010)
[edit] Literature

Numerous imitations or sequels to Flatland have been written, including:

* An Episode on Flatland: Or How a Plain Folk Discovered the Third Dimension by Charles Howard Hinton (1907)
* Sphereland by Dionys Burger (1965)
* Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension by Rudolf v. B. Rucker (1977)
* The Planiverse by A. K. Dewdney (1984)
* Flatterland by Ian Stewart (2001)
* Spaceland by Rudy Rucker (2002)

Short stories inspired by Flatland include:

* The Incredible Umbrella by Marvin Kaye (1980) includes a chapter set in Flatland
* Message Found in a Copy of "Flatland" by Rudy Rucker (1983)
* Tangents by Greg Bear
* The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics by Norton Juster (1963)
* Voluntary Committal by Joe Hill (2005)

[edit] Feature films

* Flatland (2007), a 98-minute animated independent feature film version directed by Ladd Ehlinger Jr.[5] Updates satire from Victorian England to the modern-day United States (e.g. with a "president" instead of a "king", advanced technology in Spaceland, etc.).[6]

[edit] Short films

* Flatland (1965), an animated film directed by Eric Martin and narrated by Dudley Moore, Roddy Maude-Roxby, and Alexandra Berlin.
* Flatland (1982), a short film directed by mathematician Michele Emmer.
* Flatland: The Movie (2007) by Dano Johnson & Jeffrey Travis,[7] a 30-minute animated educational film with the voices of Martin Sheen, Kristen Bell, Michael York, and Tony Hale
* An animated sequence in the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? shows a human interacting with a Flatlander.

[edit] TV

* In an episode of Cosmos, Carl Sagan discusses Flatland as an analogy to explain other dimensions other than our three physical dimensions.
* "Behold, Eck!", an episode of the original The Outer Limits series, is freely inspired from Flatland; it features a friendly, endearing alien creature named Eck, coming from a two-dimensional reality, trapped into our own three dimensions after a miscalculation during the crossing of a time portal.
* In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper and Rajesh Koothrappali discuss imagining "Flatland" when they need a change of scenery.

[edit] Games

* "The Flatland Role Playing Game" by Marcus Rowland (1998), revised and expanded as "The Original Flatland Role Playing Game" (2006).
* The video game Miegakure is based on the concept of a 4th dimension as described in the book.

[edit] Other uses

* Christian teacher Rob Bell borrowed the "flatland" concept in his Everything is Spiritual tour.
* Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist, gave a brief overview of Flatland in her book Warped Passages.
* Jasper Fforde asserts in his Thursday Next novel The Well of Lost Plots that the writing of Flatland used up the "last [pure] original idea".
* Physicist Murray Gell-Mann's book The Quark and the Jaguar uses the story of Flatland to illustrate how natural laws dictate the complexity of systems that may inhabit the universe.
* In the novel Snow Crash, Flatland is the remnant of the old Internet, which contrasts sharply with the photo-realistic 3-D environment of the Metaverse.

[edit] See also

* Blind men and an elephant
* Dimension
* Space
* Sphere-world
* Animal Farm
* Triangle

[edit] Notes

1. ^ Abbott, Edwin A. (1884). Flatland: A romance in Many dimensions. Dover thrift Edition (1992 unabridged). New York, p. ii.
2. ^ Abbott, Edwin A. (1884) Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. CyberRead. science fiction ebook. (pay version). Retrieved 13 July 2009.
3. ^ Abbott, Edwin A. (1884) Flatland 5th edition (PDF). 62 pages. no illustrations. p 57
4. ^ Abbott, Edwin A. Flatland: A romance in Many Dimensions. (1992, Page 25). Dover thrift Eddition (unabridged). New York.
5. ^ "Flatland the Film". http://www.flatlandthefilm.com. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
6. ^ "Flatland the Film". http://www.flatlandthefilm.com/. Retrieved 2008-04-04.
7. ^ "Flatland: The Movie". http://www.flatlandthemovie.com. Retrieved 2007-01-14.

[edit] References

* Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pp. 1. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.

[edit] External links
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Flatland
[edit] Online and downloadable versions of the text

* Flatland, text, no illustrations at Project Gutenberg
* Flatland at Project Gutenberg (with ASCII illustrations)
* Flatland, a digitized copy of the first edition from the Internet Archive.
* Flatland, Second Edition, Revised with original illustrations (HTML format, one page)
* Flatland, Fifth Edition, Revised, with original illustrations (HTML format, one chapter per page, also downloadable as ZIP archive)
* Flatland audio book (mp3 format from Librivox)
* Flatland on Open Library at the Internet Archive

v • d • e
Articles Related to Flatland
Main article

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Flatterland • Sphereland

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