I saw the headline of the article you and your wife wrote in the December-January
Natural History, as a chemist, one thought came to my mind: cyclohexane.
As I read the article, I realized that the connection may be germane.
learning organic chemistry, the structures initially are written as
two-dimensional. Only later are three-dimensional representations introduced.
Hence, methane (CH4) initially is presented as a Greek cross with carbon
in the middle and the four hydrogens attached to it as the directions
of the compass, with angles of 90º. Later, one learns the actual three-dimensional
structure is different. Mutual repulsion keeps the hydrogens as far
away from each other as possible, giving a tetrahedral structure.
initially, cyclohexane is written on the board or paper as a perfect
hexane. When the third dimension is introduced, we learn that the structure
is puckered, with two more-or-less stable confirmations, called the
boat and the chair.
The chair structure is somewhat more stable in cyclohexane and therefore
is the predominant one existing in nature in the pure compound. But
the substitution of other groups for some of the hydrogens may make
a difference in which structure is preferred.
it interesting that Duchamp picked these two objects, boat and chair,
to represent his thoughts on three- and four-dimensional world, while
we chemists associate them with the difference between two- and three-dimensional
representations. Is it a coincidence?