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2. Of the Climate and Houses in Flatland

Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)

Section 2.  Of the Climate and Houses in Flatland

As with you, so also with us, there are four points of the compass

North, South, East, and West.

There being no sun nor other heavenly bodies, it is impossible for us

to determine the North in the usual way; but we have a method of

our own.  By a Law of Nature with us, there is a constant attraction

to the South; and, although in temperate climates this is very slight

-- so that even a Woman in reasonable health can journey

several furlongs northward without much difficulty --

yet the hampering effect of the southward attraction is

quite sufficient to serve as a compass in most parts of our earth.

Moreover, the rain (which falls at stated intervals) coming always

from the North, is an additional assistance; and in the towns we have

the guidance of the houses, which of course have their side-walls

running for the most part North and South, so that the roofs

may keep off the rain from the North.  In the country, where there are

no houses, the trunks of the trees serve as some sort of guide.

Altogether, we have not so much difficulty as might be expected

in determining our bearings.

Yet in our more temperate regions, in which the southward attraction

is hardly felt, walking sometimes in a perfectly desolate plain

where there have been no houses nor trees to guide me, I have been

occasionally compelled to remain stationary for hours together,

waiting till the rain came before continuing my journey.  On the weak

and aged, and especially on delicate Females, the force of attraction

tells much more heavily than on the robust of the Male Sex,

so that it is a point of breeding, if you meet a Lady in the street,

always to give her the North side of the way -- by no means

an easy thing to do always at short notice when you are in rude health

and in a climate where it is difficult to tell your North

from your South.

Windows there are none in our houses:  for the light comes to us alike

in our homes and out of them, by day and by night, equally at

all times and in all places, whence we know not.  It was in old days,

with our learned men, an interesting and oft-investigated question,

"What is the origin of light?" and the solution of it

has been repeatedly attempted, with no other result than to crowd

our lunatic asylums with the would-be solvers.  Hence,

after fruitless attempts to suppress such investigations indirectly

by making them liable to a heavy tax, the Legislature,

in comparatively recent times, absolutely prohibited them.

I -- alas, I alone in Flatland -- know now only too well

the true solution of this mysterious problem; but my knowledge

cannot be made intelligible to a single one of my countrymen;

and I am mocked at -- I, the sole possessor of the truths of Space

and of the theory of the introduction of Light from the world

of three Dimensions -- as if I were the maddest of the mad!

But a truce to these painful digressions:  let me return

to our houses.

The most common form for the construction of a house is five-sided

or pentagonal, as in the annexed figure.  The two Northern sides RO,

OF, constitute the roof, and for the most part have no doors;

on the East is a small door for the Women; on the West a much

larger one for the Men; the South side or floor is usually doorless.

Square and triangular houses are not allowed, and for this reason.

The angles of a Square (and still more those of an equilateral

Triangle), being much more pointed than those of a Pentagon,

and the lines of inanimate objects (such as houses) being dimmer

than the lines of Men and Women, it follows that there is

no little danger lest the points of a square or triangular

house residence might do serious injury to an inconsiderate

or perhaps absent-minded traveller suddenly therefore,

running against them:  and as early as the eleventh century

of our era, triangular houses were universally forbidden by Law,

the only exceptions being fortifications, powder-magazines, barracks,

and other state buildings, which it is not desirable that

the general public should approach without circumspection.





                           /    \

                         /        \

                       /            \

                     /                \

                  R/                    \F

                   \_                   /


          Men's door                 _   Women's door

                       _             /


                       A            B

At this period, square houses were still everywhere permitted,

though discouraged by a special tax.  But, about three centuries

afterwards, the Law decided that in all towns containing a population

above ten thousand, the angle of a Pentagon was the smallest

house-angle that could be allowed consistently with the public safety.

The good sense of the community has seconded the efforts

of the Legislature; and now, even in the country,

the pentagonal construction has superseded every other.

It is only now and then in some very remote and backward

agricultural district that an antiquarian may still discover

a square house.

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This World Wide Web document is a personal research project motivated by the following claim: "Truth is the object of Knowledge of whatever kind; and when we inquire what is meant by Truth, I suppose it is right to answer that Truth means facts and their relations, which stand towards each other pretty much as subjects and predicates in logic. All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact, and this of course resolves itself into an indefinite number of particular facts, which, as being portions of a whole, have countless relations of every kind, one towards another." (The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman, 1801-1890)

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