[HOME] MAM2000 (Essays/SciAm) [Up][Next]

A Case of Four-Dimensional Dementia

My husband has disappeared into thin air, and I think you had something to do with it!" The woman on the telephone was Cheryl, and she was clearly upset. Her husband Magi, my microcomputer amanuensis at the University of Western Ontario, had apparently vanished while viewing a computer program I had suggested he write, The program rotates a four-dimensional analogue of a cube called a hypercube and projects it on a display screen. Cheryl went on in agitation: "There's a weird pattern of lines on the monitor and his clothes are lying in a heap near the chair. He must have been wearing these strange colored glasses made out of cardboard. And look at this — his socks are still in his shoes!"

Here, it seemed to me, was an obvious case of four-dimensional dementia. Victims become convinced they have stepped out of ordinary space and entered a higher-dimensional reality invisible to others. The delusion that one has disappeared can be so powerful that others take part in it: the victim can enter a room full of people and seem invisible to all. Fortunately Magi's case has a happy ending; I shall save it for last. In the meantime I submit the hypercube program to the wider public with what I hope is a responsible warning: Readers likely to fall prey to Magi's dementia are urged not to write the program or to view its output on a display screen. Potential victims include anyone with a history of obsession about the higher dimensions or anyone who is even occasionally tempted by the prospect of unknown realities.

Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored each year by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics to recognize the importance of mathematics through written materials and an accompanying poster that highlight mathematical developments and applications in a particular area.