Flatland and Fractland: A story

While this is based on Flatland: A romance in many directions, i suspect there is some influence from Spencer-Brown’s Laws of Form. This needs some work, but if you know Flatlands, this might be fun.


 What i saw in a dream

Borrowing a viewing glass from PIE (either this PIE or this PI) I saw that in one town the inhabitants had the Fetish of the Individual – and from turning the focus knob I could see that each person in the town was surrounded by a large transparent cylinder that separated them from their environment. The cylinders helped me focus on either the individual inside it or the environment outside it, but there seemed to be some distortion created by the cylinders, a distortion I could not put into words. That is, I could not name this distortion until after I turned my attention to the other town I could see from the hilltop; the town of Fractal Society.

(at the end, both towns can be seen using either spy glass)

I picked up the viewing glass Mandelbrot (citation) had lent me, and  almost put it down before using it. While Pie’s looking glass had a solitary control for “focus” Mandelbrot’s had at least five “focus controls” and it was not clear what they did. But fortunately one of them had “try me first” written on it. So I put the town in my sights, looked through the lens, and turned the “zoom” control.

At first it was difficult to make out what I was looking at. It looked like a person but the person was made up of multicolored, shifting shapes (press the “quick explanation button” and those shapes became little people – sort of homunculi). I focused on one of those shapes and zoomed in (like a Google map) and saw that this shape was made up of another collection of multicolored, shifting shapes. It was fascinating to see, but I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. I zoomed in again on one of those shapes, and it was made up of a similar collection of shapes. I zoomed in a few times and eventually the lens went out of focus, so I zoomed out until I had the person back in focus. The person who was made up of this collection of shifting patterns. I zoomed out slowly, and was amazed to see that at a certain magnification it appeared that the person was part of a larger thing that was made up of shifting patterns. I zoomed in and out and realized that the person I was looking at was one of the patterns in this larger thing. I zoomed out a little more and realized this larger thing was one of the patterns that made up a still larger thing. I forgot to mention that while all these zoom out things were made up of multicolored shifting patterns, they tended to be more reddish than any other color. And that same reddish hue had been predominant when I had been zooming in.

I sat down and rested my eyes and mind for a bit, eating a bit of falafel sandwich I had brought with me. I wasn’t sure what it was I was looking at in this second town. There had been people – all of who were made up of these shifting multicolored patterns. The set of patterns each person was made up of were similar to the patterns of those around them, but not exactly the same. When I zoomed it on one person they were also made up of a collection of patterns – and if I zoomed in on one pattern (and I wasn’t sure what those sub-patterns were) I saw each of them were made up of another collection of patterns, all of which were made up for afddsf patterns. And the same happened when I zoomed out..

“Holons,” I thought (or the owl on my shoulder said). Each thing I was looking at was a system, and each of those systems was made up of smaller systems – and – each system was part of a larger system. Each of those shifting patterns was a holon and it was a little new for me to think of holons as shifting, for I had always thought of them as static systems. For instance, as a professor I am part of the MSW program – and I tended to think of this as a static thing. But as I think of it more carefully, I realize that the faculty is shifting in any number of ways. New faculty members are joining while current members are leaving. How we interact with each other changes over time, our understanding of each other shifts. And as a faculty we are part of a larger system – in our case the Georgia higher Ed – and that is also shifting…..

So each of those shifting patterns was a holon, but they looked different than my normal, static view of holons.

I got up from my lunch and looked back at the first town. The people were all there, with their almost transparent separators around them. I think I mentioned how those separators distorted the view slightly, and part of that distortion was … I don’t want to get into the colors and shifting….

Then I went back to the second town, and played with the zoom knob some more. Then I decided to try another knob which someone had conveniently labeled “try me second.” I focused on a person (I guess they were bird-watching, since they hadn’t moved the whole time I’d been watching them) and turned the “try me second” knob. The person stayed in focus, but the shifting patterns changed. Before twisting the knob each pattern had a certain shape with distinct boundaries, but inside it the colors shifted and bled into each other. Twisting this second knob different patterns emerged….. Same thing zooming in and out.

I looked at the controls for this second looking glass (as I mentioned this was no ordinary looking glass) and there was a push-button on the end of one handle, like a button you might see on a joystick for some computer game. I pushed it, and out of some speakers I could not see came “Warning, this is the label button. It will assign a name to the objects in focus at the time of pressing. This label is just a name, a designation. It should not be confused with the actual object itself.”

“This is impressive,” I thought, as I zoomed in on that person who had conveniently been standing still the whole time I’d been watching. I pushed the button and heard “James T. Kirk, explorer who goes where no man has gone before.” That was neat, but confirmed the warning that the names were just going to be names, not the real thing.

I zoomed in on one of the shifting patterns and hit the button again.

“Physical body.” That seemed a better fit than “James T. Kirk.”

I zoomed in again.

“Circulatory system”


“femoral artery.”

This was really neat. It was definitely a holon kind of thing. I zoomed back out to the person, focused on a different shifting pattern, zoomed and hit the button.

“Cognitive systems.”

Woo-hoo! I zoomed and hit the button again.

“Self-schemas and major belief systems.”


“Political schemas.” I noticed this was a reddish hue.


“Schemas related to national issues.” This was more reddish than the larger one had been. I zoomed out a level, focused on a different pattern, zoomed in and hit the button.

“Schemas related to local issues.”  This was a mixture of red and blue, and I started wonder just who had made this thing.

At which point i woke up.

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