MATHEMATICAL FICTION:

a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Scandal in the Fourth Dimension (1934)
Amelia Reynolds Long (as "A.R. Long")
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This is yet another pulp "sci-fi" story about a math professor who discovers the fourth dimension, and it barely mentions any math. However, there are two things I find interesting about it.

One is a way that it is similar to some other works of fiction: In this story a male student falls in love with and attempts to "win the hand" of his math professor's beautiful daughter. This same subplot appeared in The Tachypomp (1873), Professor Morgan's Moon (1899), and of course Proof (2000). (See also The Einstein See-Saw (1932), The Fifth-Dimension Catapult (1931) , The Geometrics of Johnny Day (1941), and The Last Starship from Earth (1968) for variations on this theme.)

Also, rather than being a either spatial or temporal in nature (as "higher dimensions" usually are in these stories), dimension here seems to instead be about whether something is or isn't visible. This is explained in the following passage:

(quoted from Scandal in the Fourth Dimension)

Visibility flows in dimensional waves," he would argue. "Take the first dimension, that of length. We can see length only with relation to width, which at once throws our object into the second dimension. Take away width, and it becomes invisible, the same as if it had no dimension. Now, let us take the second dimension, the plane. We cannot deny its visibility. The wave is rising. But now consider the third dimension, the cube. You may think you are seeing its three dimensions, but what you are really doing is combining two slightly different images or planes. The wave is declining. Notice that the dimensions have gone in two's; two invisible and two visible. And now we come to the fourth dimension. Here he would pause dramatically. "Can anyone give me a reason why this should not conform to the rule of two?"

Of course, this argument does not actually make sense. This supposed "wave pattern" that is described really follows from optics (the fact that light moves along one-dimensional trajectories) and anatomy (that our retinas are two-dimensional objects onto which the light falls) and is not the start of an infinitely repeating sequence of "visible" and "invisible". Moreover, this seems to ignore the more interesting and useful idea that an extra spacial dimension would provide a place objects could exist regardless of whether it is seen.

In any case, the novel aspect of this story is that by discovering the fourth dimension, the professor (and the student who is the only other person that understands his theory) is able to become invisible. The plot revolves around the fact that the professor made an error in his calculations which leave his legs invisible. Consequently, he looks like a floating torso (though people can still hear it when he stomps his invisible foot.) This is a predicament from which the student could save him...but the student asks a favor in return.

Thanks to Vijay Fafat for sharing this pulp fiction story with me. It was originally published in the February 1934 issue of Astounding Stories.

More information about this work can be found at amelialong.tripod.com.
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to Scandal in the Fourth Dimension
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. No-Sided Professor by Martin Gardner
  2. The Tachypomp by Edward Page Mitchell
  3. The Einstein See-Saw by Miles J. Breuer
  4. The Fifth-Dimension Catapult by Murray Leinster
  5. The Geometrics of Johnny Day by Nelson Bond
  6. Professor Morgan's Moon by Stanley Waterloo
  7. And He Built a Crooked House by Robert A. Heinlein
  8. Aleph Sub One by Margaret St. Clair
  9. The Heart on the Other Side by George Gamow
  10. The Mathematics of Magic by L. Sprague de Camp / Fletcher Pratt
Ratings for Scandal in the Fourth Dimension:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
1/5 (1 votes)
..
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)
..

Categories:
GenreHumorous, Science Fiction,
MotifAcademia, Higher/Lower Dimensions, Romance,
TopicGeometry/Topology/Trigonometry,
MediumShort Stories,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)