Perspectives on Truth

John Miller (
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 11:33:20 -0900

In light of some recent posts pointing toward a means for authenticating
legitimate beliefs (which stricks me as being a bit elitist), I'd like to
quote something from a post-Civil War author, Edwin A. Abbott.

He wrote "Flatland," a difficult-to-read but delightful parody about
dogmatic and closed minds that could see only evidences of one particular

The story entails a man living in Flatland, i.e., a world of only two
dimensions. For one brief day he experienced elevation into the world of
three dimensions and the exhilaration that accompanied that broader
perspective. Back in Flatland, he resolved to become an evangelist of the
new dimension, starting with his own family, but to no avail. He ended up
persecuted, condemned, and imprisoned for heresy.

I'm quoting a paraphrase of the end the preface to the story, in the words
of the man's counselor and agent:

* * *

My friend now desires to disavow the Circular or aristocratic tendencies
with which some critics have naturally charged him. By their intellectual
power, a few Circles have for many generations maintained a supremacy over
immense multitudes of their countrymen, and my friend acknowledges this.
However, he believes the facts of Flatland declare that revolutions connot
always be suppressed by force, and that Nature, in sentencing the Circles
to eventual infertility, has condemned them to ultimate failure. "Herein,"
he says, "I see a fulfillment of the great law of all worlds, that while
the wisdom of Man thinks it is working one thing, the wisdom of Nature
constrains to work another and produces a different and far better result.

For the rest, he begs his readers not to suppose that every minute detail
in the daily life of Flatland necessarily must correspond to some other
detail in Spaceland. Yet he hopes that on the whole his work may prove
provocative to those Spacelanders with inquisitive but humble minds. Such
minds contemplate issues of the highest importance but which lie beyond
human experience, and in doing so they decline to say, "This can never be,"
or on the other hand, "It must be precisely thus, and we know all about it."

* * *

We've made a lot of technological progress since the 1880s, but not much in
sustainable world-views. "A touch of Nature makes all worlds akin."

Keep smiling,