A link to a youtube video of Carl Sagan using Flatland as a demonstration model for describing higher dimensional space was posted last week by Fortean blog The Daily Grail. This fits snugly into the stream of twentieth century responses to Abbott’s book that exploits its pedagogical intent and Sagan’s lesson demonstrates just how effective Flatland is as a teaching tool.
TDG’s take on the video, that Sagan is engaging with anomalous phenomena, also reflects the cultural work that the fourth dimension did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by providing an explanation for purported seance phenomena or clairvoyance.
I’m giving a paper at the Utopian Spaces conference in Oxford on 18th September (abstract to follow). It combines some ideas from a paper I gave in Belfast last year with some new research into how British Theosophists engaged with Hinton’s work and what they did with the fourth dimension: the utopian elements are all Hinton’s doing but without them, I don’t think that the fourth dimension would have been as attractive to Theosophy. The plan is to go for the full powerpoint whizzbang, not least because I missed having the visual crutch at the Angles conference a few months back.
The Angles conference was inspiring and intimidating in equal measure. There were a number of fantastic papers – Tim Livsey’s reading of Poplar Town Hall and Marco Bohr on Japanese post-bubble photography are just two that come to mind immediately – and I felt that I might have been preaching to the converted with a defence of interdisciplinarity, not to mention coming across as something of a postgraduate fanboy of last year’s hot theory. A crime doubtless more serious than both of these, given the invariably amiable and forgiving crowds gathered at Birkbeck-based conferences, was not taking a glass of water to the podium: cue dry-mouthed gum-licking. You live and learn.