The Planiverse

Years ago, while idly wandering around the fiction section of some bookshop, I came across a mad little novel called The Planiverse.  It was written by Alexander Dewdney, a Canadian computer scientist, and it speculated on the nature of the beings who might inhabit a two-dimensional universe.

In the novel, Dewdney and his students are working on a theoretical model of a 2-D world.  They construct it on a computer and try to figure out what might be going on as they interact with the crude  little sprites they’ve created.  And crude indeed the graphics are, as you’d expect for a book written in 1984, before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

But they get a shock when, one morning, they turn up in the lab, to find that one of the little sprites isn’t doing what it should, and they quickly realise that somehow they have made contact with creatures from a real two-dimensional world.  In this reality, when two people meet, one has to lie down and let the other walk over him, but society solves this by digging a hole and tying a rope across it so that groups of people can take turns passing.

The question is, of course, how do you tie a knot in a two-dimensional world?


It’s a fascinating idea and thought-provoking as well.  After all, most people, including myself, would have thought that the hardest thing to imagine might be a four- or five-dimensional universe, yet when we’re removed from our familiar 3-D comfort zone, we have great difficulty envisaging a simpler reality.

Vehicles can’t have wheels.  Why? Because axles don’t exist. Obvious or what?

Yes, when it’s pointed out.  Interestingly, computers are possible as long as wires don’t have to cross over each other, because this can’t happen in a two-dimensional universe.

They have wars just like us, but only the two soldiers at the front can fight each other at any one time.

Throw a rope over your head and you have a balloon.

Houses have to be underground so that people can get past.

What about food?  Well, nobody can have a digestive tract for fear of splitting in two.

Life isn’t easy in a 2-D world, but they get by.  If there are creatures living in a four- or five-dimensional universe, do they have equal difficulty comprehending us?  Who knows?

Oddly enough, the idea is no more than an extension of early undergraduate physics where everything happens in two dimensions, but yet the entire notion has a subtly subversive tinge to it.  After all, if we have difficulty comprehending a construct radically simpler than our existence, how are we supposed to grasp the truly complex? How are we to contend with the nature of the universe or of existence without inventing meaningless, undefined concepts like God to explain away with magic the things we struggle to  imagine, let alone understand?


23 thoughts on “The Planiverse

  1. Sounds similar to that novel ‘Flatland’.
    Also if there were a ‘god’, it’d probably be indefinable.
    Indefinable = doesn’t exist. That may be so.

  2. Yeah. Personally, in terms of what we do understand and can define, even understanding the science of it, doesn’t diminish the majesty.
    And it – science -just doesn’t encapsulate the essence or spirit of things. For me.

    Sorry I might be off the point there.
    ‘if we have difficulty comprehending a construct radically simpler than our existence, how are we supposed to grasp the truly complex’
    I’d say it’s all the one. Simpler/more complex.
    We’re incredibly narcissistic creatures really. It’s difficult for us to imagine too much beyond our own realm.
    What’s that Shakespeare quote though, ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of’.

  3. Shakespeare, for all his gifts as a wordsmith, was still just a guy making shit up like all the rest of us much poorer scribblers. Too often, people ascribe insights to him that he didn’t possess.

  4. Yeah. A rose by a rose and all that malarkey.
    I only read the one with the pound of flesh myself. The merchant of venice and MacBeth. And that was because I had to.
    The language is just to, ah, convoluted for me.

  5. This level of cuntish, intellectualism will have me peroccupied for “most” of my night/weekend. Well, I Say most, I get out too. I hope you’re happy.

  6. The greatest gifts Einstein left humanity was not his work, but his quotes, and all this from a mere clerical officer with aspergers syndrome.

  7. That was a joke. Of course it’s a collective affermation but you were the one who mentioned someone else. I Happen to believe in genius.Usually genius comes from people on the Autism specturim.

  8. have to agree with the Fille Bien, sounds very similar to flat land.

    I don’t think life in only two geographic dimensions would be possible. One of the main reasons is the digestive tract, as you mentioned.

    thinking about it from an “Occam’s Razor” and anthropic principle point of view, you would expect the life that you experience to be the most simple life possible to experience, and as our experiences are of a 3D (plus time, which I’m not convinced is a dimension) universe, it therefore seems likely that this is the most simple life-supporting configuration possible. spurious logic, maybe, but statistical.

    the reason we find it tricky to imagine 2D life is because it’s not possible.

    4D life would be even harder to imagine. I’ve never managed to get my head to imagine even just a hypercube!

  9. It would be worth reading the book anyway. The digestive problem is solved, and besides, it’s a slim volume. See what I did there?

    Great fun. Buy it.

  10. Me know,and the Earl of Oxford,now, has been discounted.I just think if one looks at how banal Einstien’s life was some if not most of this must be true.

  11. The most wonderful thing about human interaction is the way you can throw something out there and get something completely different back.


  12. Last Tuseday at about 3am I had to take a piss. When I got back into bed I turned on 5 live cause i coulun’t get back to sleep. Anyho there was this very nice gentleman talking about black holes, quantum physics and what have you, normally the stuff that bores the shoes and pants straight off me. He confifmed that there is a therory – that shot me bolt upright in the bed and had Rod Sharp in shock – that notinng CAN come from nothing.BE CHAMPIONS!

  13. Here’s the problem. First you have to define what you mean by “nothing”

    The great thing about scientific thinking is that you have to say up front what your assumptions are, and you have to acknowledge that they’ll probably turn out to be wrong.

    That’s why science is so humble compared to religious belief, which can’t ever imagine that it might be mistaken.

  14. Just to confirm I’m not talking about the big bang theory. A multitude of inexplicable occurrencess happened after that.

  15. Excellent. Now, to get back on topic, do you have any views on creatures who inhabit a particular order of dimensions being able to imagine a race existing in a smaller number? I only mention it because that’s what the post is about and we could be discussing the other irrelevant shit forever.

  16. Ya I read post, it left me weeping with uncertainty. I also was really taken aback by the integrity of genuine scientists. Forget the Religous who we really need to go after are Psychologists and Sociologists.I still liked that man on the radio, “he had a voice”.It’s late, i’m too whacked too look it up but something resonated with what he said, i’ll look it up tomorrow.

  17. I understand the post, to answer your question, no sir I do not, not this late a night. Didn’t see your post at 11.45. Was talking to folk.

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