Brain Pickings

Vi Hart’s Playful Mathematics: Flatland on a Möbius Strip

What Victorian novellas have to do with higher mathematics, optical illusions and illustration.

Vi Hart has a rare gift: making math cool. She distills mathematical concepts in clever, engaging, relentlessly creative ways using visual metaphors like balloons, doodling, beadwork and food to illustrate anything from Platonic solids to hyperbolic planes to binary trees.

In this fantastic 7-minute video, two months in the making, Hart takes the iconic 1884 satirical novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, which applies Victorian knowledge of higher mathematics to a witty story about a fictional two-dimensional world and a humble square who tries to wrap his mind around a third dimension, and adapts it to a Möbius strip, a non-orientable looped surface that only has one side and one boundary component, with lovely hand-drawn illustration.

(For the definitive resource on the fascinating Möbius strip, do check out The Möbius Strip: Dr. August Möbius’s Marvelous Band in Mathematics, Games, Literature, Art, Technology, and Cosmology.)

Hart’s work reminds me of Robin Moore’s string math portraits from the 1980s and Kevin Van Aelst’s edible science, a living testament to the power of playfulness as a gateway to learning.

Published January 20, 2011




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