John Buchan | published May, 1911

added May 31, 2024
cover Image
First Date of Publication
May, 1911
Original Source
Blackwood's Magazine
Original Source Type
Magazine - Old
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Summary: The ruminations of a mathematician about the nature of space, of an unseen reality governed by – and accessible through – mathematical laws, ultimately leading to his demise – or an ascension to this ethereal realm…

Story Tag Line: “How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet do not know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in their brain or a nerve which responds to the invisible world? How if all Space be full of these landmarks, not material in our sense, but quite real? A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up of corridors and alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus.”

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  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    This mystical story, as recounted by a lawyer, is about a brilliant mathematician (“an erratic genius who had written some articles in Mind on that dreary subject, the mathematical conception of infinity… [his] tastes were on the borderlands of sciences, where mathematics fades into metaphysics and physics merges in the abstrusest kind of mathematics.”) who wonders why animals have a “homing instinct”, why they are able to have an uncanny sense of direction. He theorizes about mathematical laws that govern absolutely empty space, a sort of fourth dimension that has involutions, is “not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences, intelligible and real, though not with our common reality”. A primal brain is able to comprehend these differences far better than a civilized mind. He ends up gaining a very deep insight into the nature of this plane governed by mathematical forms and figures, finally sensing “Presences” therein which terrify him. In the end, the mathematician falls off a cliff while climbing a mountain blindly, with a hint that only his body has perished, his mind may have merged with his new “Space”.

    While the author does not mention this, I think he is very likely describing the Platonic world of forms. Throughout the story are sprinkled sentences which point toward this interpretation:

    “He argued that the mind can live in a world of realities without any sensuous stimulus to connect them with the world of our ordinary life”

    “He laboured to get me to understand the notion of his mathematical forms”

    “when I objected that Left and Right varied with each object, and only existed in connection with some definite material thing, he said that that was exactly what he meant. It was an example of the mobility of the Spacial [sic] forms”

    “It was a world of pure reason, where human personality had no place.”