Friday, April 20, 2007

Books: The Fourth Dimension


I remember spending a lot of time indoors during my summer vacations up at my grandparents' house in Houston. I was mostly alone, then - I often spent the whole day just left to my own devices. Searching through the books Grandpa had was interesting. Most of them were in Vietnamese, but one book was not - "The Fourth Dimension."

Rucker's meandering journey through the higher dimensions and the nature of reality struck a chord with me. This kind of theoretical speculation is basically completely novel to a grade-school child. The mind experiments (Zeno's paradoxes, the twin paradox, hypercubes) were a far cry from the dumbed-down logic puzzles a kid could get from daytime TV. Accompanying it all were evocative, cartoony illustrations.

There are some criticisms, of course. The book is admittedly written for a layman, and so the mathematics of the subject are left for others to explore. Many of the threads of thought are tenuously connected, and some of the best problems in the book have unsatisfying answers. This book, though, eventually led me to Flatland, which I also enjoyed.

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