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Project Flatty (1956)
Irving Cox Jr.

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

A very, very nice tale of a double-fake, of phantasmical scenes and nightmares which lead one Rex Bannard to question what is real, what is contrived imagination, and whether we are creatures shackled by our own limited mathematics. Describing the story sequentially will take away from its essence, for its impact is in reading it slowly and letting the process of revelations unfold at its pace. Let us just observe that the story finds Rex Bannard with very vague recollections of his identity or the past, battling something called “Flatties”, aliens who take over human minds without compunction. Are flatties real? Are they simply his own mental creations? And if they are, is this the mathematical project he had undertaken to expand human perceptions, to find ways of teaching children to think in terms of dimensions not visible to the senses? Or are the aliens really here to take over earth, with only Rex Bannard standing between them and the end of humanity?

Here’s the first of the 2 crucial points in the story:

(quoted from Project Flatty)

“Like many brilliant thinkers, Rex Bannard had always been impatient with the slow-moving methods of science. “From our earliest infancy,” he said, "we’re shackled by an orientation which we inherit from the past. Euclidian geometry, Aristotelean logic, Roman law hobble our thinking and limit the area where we permit ourselves to be creative.”

“The limitations of Aristotle’s either-or logic are obvious,” someone answered.

“But Euclid ? How can an elementary and obvious theorem of geometry restrict the creative imagination ?”

“By arbitrarily setting up value standards for both architecture and art. Even the most modernistic and nonobjective painters fill their introspective canvases with squares, and circles, and triangles. They revolt against what they define as reality but they never think of revolting against Euclidian lines. Because of Euclid, we think exclusively in terms of three dimensions.”

This provoked a ripple of academic laughter, which might have been uproarious except for the restraints imposed by scholarship.

“Then you’re suggesting, Bannard, that our three-dimensional mathematics is not accurate ?”

“Nothing of the sort; it is merely limited. Why stop at three dimensions? A fourth or a fifth —”

More restrained laughter . —far less restrained.

“Was Einstein amusing,” Bannard demanded, “when he proposed that time was another dimension? How can we visualize what he meant while we’re still shackled to this three dimensional point of view? What we need is a totally new kind of education, so our young people can learn to think for themselves. I don’t mean an isolated college course, but a series of courses, from kindergarten through the graduate school courses designed to force us out of this absurd three dimensional thought pattern. We must learn to visualize problems from multiple points of view. We can’t do that in terms of Aristotelean logic, for Aristotle gives us no inbetween categories separating his logical extremes. In order to achieve the —well, let’s call it the learning environment which is necessary to this new kind of education, we would have to use hypnotic drugs and possibly—”

“You’d actually drug a child’s mind, just to make him believe a lot of absurd hocus pocus about fourth dimension ?”

“No one is now able to teach 3 fourth dimensional point of view. To make my idea work, I would reduce the field to two dimensions, a flat universe without thickness, a good math teacher could teach that. The point is, the child must learn to think from the orientation of both two and three dimensions: then, on his own, he could break our cultural shackle and learn to handle other dimensional realities.”

Revealing the other point would be a spoiler, though it does say very tellingly:

(quoted from Project Flatty)

“The word, dear doctor, is not the thing it names ; but as long as you humans convince yourself that it is....”

This story appeared in the May 1956 issue of Science Fiction Stories , the same issue as The Non-Statistical Man.

(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Project Flatty
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Star, Bright by Mark Clifton
  2. Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Lewis Padgett (aka Henry Kuttner and Catherine L. Moore)
  3. Young Beaker by J.T. Lamberty, Jr.
  4. Plane and Fancy by P. Schuyler Miller
  5. Another New Math by Alex Kasman
  6. Tiger by the Tail by A.G. Nourse
  7. The Moebius Room by Robert Donald Locke
  8. The Ifth of Oofth by Walter Trevis
  9. Plane People by Wallace West
  10. Vanishing Point by C.C. Beck
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GenreScience Fiction,
MotifAliens, Higher/Lower Dimensions, Math Education,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)