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Choose Your Own Flatland

April 19, 2017

I've recently thought about why I decided to study philosophy, law, science, and eventually come to love the art of investigations and building a case. For me, there were a handful books that seem to have played an enormous role in my developing intellectual curiosity and wanting to solve puzzles about specific cases and the world at large. 

 

1) Encyclopedia Brown

 

First published in 1963, Donald J. Sobol wrote dozens of books centered on the Sherlock-Holmes-like boy detective, Leroy Brown, and his keen ability to solve the pressing mysteries of an adolescent's time. I simply fell in love with these books. I would go to sleep thinking about how Encyclopedia Brown solved the mystery of the missing money in the library book (hint: the money borrower couldn't have returned the money by placing it between pages 13 and 14 in the book in the library because odd numbered pages are always on the right side of a book, and therefore page 14 is physically the same as page 13 (just on the opposite side)). I wasn't smart enough to understand Sherlock Holmes at this stage in my life, but I wanted to be just like Encyclopedia Brown and knew I would one day work to uncover truth. 

 

2) Choose Your Own Adventure Series

 

You are getting settled next to the fire, about to fall asleep in the cave you discovered, when you hear a strange noise outside. If you want to leave the fire and investigate what is causing the noise, turn to page 42. If you want to stay and sleep, hoping a good night's rest will give you the energy to complete the mission, turn to page 112. 

 

The entire series from Choose Your Own Adventure was a game-changer for me. Not so much because of the stories themselves, but because it helped me think about cause-and-effect and I found joy in not following a liner path, but creating my own. I loved that the books asked me to think along with the characters and took me own an adventure guided (to a certain extent) by my own free will. I learned about consequences to poor decisions while reveling in the excitement of successfully navigating a challenging scenario. 

 

3) Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

 

When I entered the 10th grade, I couldn't have predicted just how important Geometry would become in my life. I was privileged to have studied under some intellectual giants while in school and university, but perhaps no one has had a greater impact on my quest for truth than a remarkable teacher named Dan Funsch. Principal Funsch taught my geometry class in a way that made me want to succeed and do well because he made the subject so accessible and I was enamored with the logic and systems of proofs we could use to show that because one thing is true in the world, this other thing must also be true. Geometry kickstarted what was, until that point, a mere in curiosity in math, but geometry's physical shapes, lines, and angles seem to bring it all to life and I learned that I was indeed a visual learner and I learned that concepts of proof and deduction would continue to dominate so much my nascent thought. 

 

The centerpiece of my 10th-grade Geometry class came in the form of the required reading of a satirical novella. I knew nothing of Edward Abbott Abbot and the fact that the book was written in the 18th century, but the dialogue and purpose of the book's protagonist became, arguably, the most influential piece of literature I have encountered. 

 

The book is set in a two dimensional world, and the protagonist is a square. His world-view is challenged when he is "visited by a three-dimensional sphere named A Sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he sees Spaceland (a tridimensional world) for himself. This Sphere 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. 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), including A Square's brother, B." (Wikipedia).

 

The dialogue between the three-dimensional interlocutor and the square is centered on the sphere trying to convince the Square of Sphere's three-dimensional reality. Of the many persuasive attempts, I was most intrigued by the Sphere's demonstration whereby the Sphere passes through the two-dimensional plane of the Square's world, appearing as a circle growing in size, then reducing in size as it passes all the way through. The Square is changes his paradigm and what he knows to be true about the world and his curiosity is forever ignited to look for new dimensions to life. 

 

This exhibition of argumentation showed me just how powerful it is to effectively and articulately persuade using the right logic and combination of facts. I suppose the book registered even more deeply because it explored a reality where a person could know things that others didn't, and while there are serious social and political consequences for being and thinking differently, knowing the truth is irreplaceable. 

 

 

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