Project Flatty

Irving Cox, Jr | published May, 1956

added Jun 19, 2024
cover Image
First Date of Publication
May, 1956
Original Source
Science Fiction Stories
Original Source Type
Magazine - Pulp
Short Story
Original Language
Kasman Review
Summary: How might an alien threat evaluate humanity’s power of logic to ascertain its chances of success? Would we dismiss the manifestations of such evaluations as irrational hallucinations? Would that, in itself, become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Story Tag Line: This was the project – a drug-induced nightmare, and Rex had been the volunteer. An experiment to discover a new way of thinking, shock treatment to free the human mind from the Euclidian-Aristotelean heritage. Bannard was sorry the experiment had failed…

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  • Vijay Fafat
    Published on

    A very, very nice tale of a double-fake, of phantasmical scenes and nightmares which lead one Rex Bannard to question what is real, what is contrived imagination, and whether we are creatures shackled by our own limited mathematics. Describing the story sequentially will take away from its essence, for its impact is in reading it slowly and letting the process of revelations unfold at its pace. Let us just observe that the story finds Rex Bannard with very vague recollections of his identity or the past, battling something called “Flatties”, aliens who take over human minds without compunction. Are flatties real? Are they simply his own mental creations? And if they are, is this the mathematical project he had undertaken to expand human perceptions, to find ways of teaching children to think in terms of dimensions not visible to the senses? Or are the aliens really here to take over earth, with only Rex Bannard standing between them and the end of humanity? Here’s the first of the 2 crucial points in the story:

    “Like many brilliant thinkers, Rex Bannard had always been impatient with the slow-moving methods of science. “From our earliest infancy,” he said, “we’re shackled by an orientation which we inherit from the past. Euclidian geometry, Aristotelean logic, Roman law hobble our thinking and limit the area where we permit ourselves to be creative.”
    “The limitations of Aristotle’s either-or logic are obvious,” someone answered.
    “But Euclid ? How can an elementary and obvious theorem of geometry restrict the creative imagination ?”
    “By arbitrarily setting up value standards for both architecture and art. Even the most modernistic and nonobjective painters fill their introspective canvases with squares, and circles, and triangles. They revolt against what they define as reality but they never think of revolting against Euclidian lines. Because of Euclid, we think exclusively in terms of three dimensions.”
    This provoked a ripple of academic laughter, which might have been uproarious except for the restraints imposed by scholarship.
    “Then you’re suggesting, Bannard, that our three-dimensional mathematics is not accurate ?”
    “Nothing of the sort; it is merely limited. Why stop at three dimensions? A fourth or a fifth —”
    More restrained laughter . —far less restrained.
    “Was Einstein amusing,” Bannard demanded, “when he proposed that time was another dimension? How can we visualize what he meant while we’re still shackled to this three dimensional point of view? What we need is a totally new kind of education, so our young people can learn to think for themselves. I don’t mean an isolated college course, but a series of courses, from kindergarten through the graduate school courses designed to force us out of this absurd three dimensional thought pattern. We must learn to visualize problems from multiple points of view. We can’t do that in terms of Aristotelean logic, for Aristotle gives us no inbetween categories separating his logical extremes. In order to achieve the —well, let’s call it the learning environment which is necessary to this new kind of education, we would have to use hypnotic drugs and possibly—”
    “You’d actually drug a child’s mind, just to make him believe a lot of absurd hocus pocus about fourth dimension ?”
    “No one is now able to teach 3 fourth dimensional point of view. To make my idea work, I would reduce the field to two dimensions, a flat universe without thickness, a good math teacher could teach that. The point is, the child must learn to think from the orientation of both two and three dimensions: then, on his own, he could break our cultural shackle and learn to handle other dimensional realities.”

    Revealing the other point would be a spoiler, though it does say very tellingly:

    “The word, dear doctor, is not the thing it names ; but as long as you humans convince yourself that it is…”