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Section 18. How I came to Spaceland, and what I saw there

Edwin A. Abbott (1838-1926)

Section 18.  How I came to Spaceland, and what I saw there

An unspeakable horror seized me.  There was a darkness;

then a dizzy, sickening sensation of sight that was not like seeing;

I saw a Line that was no Line; Space that was not Space:

I was myself, and not myself.  When I could find voice,

I shrieked aloud in agony, "Either this is madness or it is Hell."

"It is neither," calmly replied the voice of the Sphere,

"it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions:  open your eye once again

and try to look steadily."

I looked, and, behold, a new world!  There stood before me,

visibly incorporate, all that I had before inferred, conjectured,

dreamed, of perfect Circular beauty.  What seemed the centre

of the Stranger's form lay open to my view:  yet I could see no heart,

nor lungs, nor arteries, only a beautiful harmonious Something --

for which I had no words; but you, my Readers in Spaceland,

would call it the surface of the Sphere.

Prostrating myself mentally before my Guide, I cried, "How is it,

O divine ideal of consummate loveliness and wisdom that I see

thy inside, and yet cannot discern thy heart, thy lungs, thy arteries,

thy liver?"  "What you think you see, you see not," he replied;

"it is not given to you, nor to any other Being to behold

my internal parts.  I am of a different order of Beings from those

in Flatland.  Were I a Circle, you could discern my intestines,

but I am a Being, composed as I told you before, of many Circles,

the Many in the One, called in this country a Sphere.  And,

just as the outside of a Cube is a Square, so the outside of a Sphere

presents the appearance of a Circle."

Bewildered though I was by my Teacher's enigmatic utterance,

I no longer chafed against it, but worshipped him in silent adoration.

He continued, with more mildness in his voice.  "Distress not yourself

if you cannot at first understand the deeper mysteries of Spaceland.

By degrees they will dawn upon you.  Let us begin by casting back

a glance at the region whence you came.  Return with me a while

to the plains of Flatland, and I will shew you that which

you have often reasoned and thought about, but never seen

with the sense of sight -- a visible angle."  "Impossible!" I cried;

but, the Sphere leading the way, I followed as if in a dream,

till once more his voice arrested me:  "Look yonder,

and behold your own Pentagonal house, and all its inmates."

I looked below, and saw with my physical eye all that

domestic individuality which I had hitherto merely inferred

with the understanding.  And how poor and shadowy was the inferred

conjecture in comparison with the reality which I now beheld!

My four Sons calmly asleep in the North-Western rooms,

my two orphan Grandsons to the South; the Servants, the Butler,

my Daughter, all in their several apartments.  Only my

affectionate Wife, alarmed by my continued absence, had quitted

her room and was roving up and down in the Hall, anxiously awaiting

my return.  Also the Page, aroused by my cries, had left his room,

and under pretext of ascertaining whether I had fallen

somewhere in a faint, was prying into the cabinet in my study.

All this I could now SEE, not merely infer; and as we came

nearer and nearer, I could discern even the contents of my cabinet,

and the two chests of gold, and the tablets of which the Sphere

had made mention.




                               /  |My \

                            /  <> |Study \

                         /______  |  ___    \

                      /  <> My Sons\  \|The    \

                   /______/          \  Page   /  \

   N            /   <>                   \  /  My    \

   ^         /______/      THE HALL         \  Bedroom  \

   |         \  <>                           My\        /

   |          \____|                        /\Wife's   /

W--+--E        \           My Wife         / Apartment/

   |                       -------        /\ --- \ WOMEN'S DOOR

   |        MEN'S DOOR                       \My Daughter

   |                                   /\ --== \   /  The Scullion

   S               \  My Grandsons        \ -==# \/  The Footman

                    \___  ___  _   _/       \-=#|/  The Butler

                     \  <> | <> | |THE CELLAR \ /


                 ###===---                  ---===###

                 Policeman                  Policeman

Touched by my Wife's distress, I would have sprung downward

to reassure her, but I found myself incapable of motion.

"Trouble not yourself about your Wife," said my Guide:

"she will not be long left in anxiety; meantime, let us take

a survey of Flatland."

Once more I felt myself rising through space.  It was even as

the Sphere had said.  The further we receded from the object

we beheld, the larger became the field of vision.  My native city,

with the interior of every house and every creature therein,

lay open to my view in miniature.  We mounted higher, and lo,

the secrets of the earth, the depths of mines and inmost caverns

of the hills, were bared before me.

Awestruck at the sight of the mysteries of the earth,

thus unveiled before my unworthy eye, I said to my Companion,

"Behold, I am become as a God.  For the wise men in our country say

that to see all things, or as they express it, OMNIVIDENCE,

is the attribute of God alone."  There was something of scorn

in the voice of my Teacher as he made answer:  "Is it so indeed?

Then the very pick-pockets and cut-throats of my country

are to be worshipped by your wise men as being Gods:

for there is not one of them that does not see as much as you see now.

But trust me, your wise men are wrong."

I.  Then is omnividence the attribute of others besides Gods?

SPHERE.  I do not know.  But, if a pick-pocket or a cut-throat

of our country can see everything that is in your country,

surely that is no reason why the pick-pocket or cut-throat should be

accepted by you as a God.  This omnividence, as you call it --

it is not a common word in Spaceland -- does it make you more just,

more merciful, less selfish, more loving?  Not in the least.

Then how does it make you more divine?

I.  "More merciful, more loving!"  But these are the qualities

of women!  And we know that a Circle is a higher Being

than a Straight Line, in so far as knowledge and wisdom

are more to be esteemed than mere affection.

SPHERE.  It is not for me to classify human faculties according

to merit.  Yet many of the best and wisest in Spaceland think more

of the affections than of the understanding, more of your despised

Straight Lines than of your belauded Circles.  But enough of this.

Look yonder.  Do you know that building?

I looked, and afar off I saw an immense Polygonal structure, in which

I recognized the General Assembly Hall of the States of Flatland,

surrounded by dense lines of Pentagonal buildings at right angles

to each other, which I knew to be streets; and I perceived that

I was approaching the great Metropolis.

"Here we descend," said my Guide.  It was now morning,

the first hour of the first day of the two thousandth year of our era.

Acting, as was their wont, in strict accordance with precedent,

the highest Circles of the realm were meeting in solemn conclave,

as they had met on the first hour of the first day of the year 1000,

and also on the first hour of the first day of the year 0.

The minutes of the previous meetings were now read by one whom I

at once recognized as my brother, a perfectly Symmetrical Square,

and the Chief Clerk of the High Council.  It was found recorded

on each occasion that:  "Whereas the States had been troubled

by divers ill-intentioned persons pretending to have received

revelations from another World, and professing to produce

demonstrations whereby they had instigated to frenzy both themselves

and others, it had been for this cause unanimously resolved

by the Grand Council that on the first day of each millenary,

special injunctions be sent to the Prefects in the several districts

of Flatland, to make strict search for such misguided persons,

and without formality of mathematical examination, to destroy all such

as were Isosceles of any degree, to scourge and imprison

any regular Triangle, to cause any Square or Pentagon to be sent

to the district Asylum, and to arrest any one of higher rank,

sending him straightway to the Capital to be examined and judged

by the Council."

"You hear your fate," said the Sphere to me, while the Council

was passing for the third time the formal resolution.

"Death or imprisonment awaits the Apostle of the Gospel

of Three Dimensions."  "Not so," replied I, "the matter is now

so clear to me, the nature of real space so palpable, that methinks

I could make a child understand it.  Permit me but to descend

at this moment and enlighten them."  "Not yet," said my Guide,

"the time will come for that.  Meantime I must perform my mission.

Stay thou there in thy place."  Saying these words,

he leaped with great dexterity into the sea (if I may so call it)

of Flatland, right in the midst of the ring of Counsellors.  "I come,"

cried he, "to proclaim that there is a land of Three Dimensions."

I could see many of the younger Counsellors start back

in manifest horror, as the Sphere's circular section widened

before them.  But on a sign from the presiding Circle

-- who shewed not the slightest alarm or surprise -- six Isosceles

of a low type from six different quarters rushed upon the Sphere.

"We have him," they cried; "No; yes; we have him still! he's going!

he's gone!"

"My Lords," said the President to the Junior Circles of the Council,

"there is not the slightest need for surprise; the secret archives,

to which I alone have access, tell me that a similar occurrence

happened on the last two millennial commencements.  You will,

of course, say nothing of these trifles outside the Cabinet."

Raising his voice, he now summoned the guards.  "Arrest the policemen;

gag them.  You know your duty."  After he had consigned to their fate

the wretched policemen -- ill-fated and unwilling witnesses

of a State-secret which they were not to be permitted to reveal --

he again addressed the Counsellors.  "My Lords, the business

of the Council being concluded, I have only to wish you

a happy New Year."  Before departing, he expressed, at some length,

to the Clerk, my excellent but most unfortunate brother,

his sincere regret that, in accordance with precedent and for the sake

of secrecy, he must condemn him to perpetual imprisonment,

but added his satisfaction that, unless some mention were made by him

of that day's incident, his life would be spared.

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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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