After the fighting in the Victoria Peak house, Bourne talks to a few government people; they trade information, insights, and heated remarks about the events which brought them there. At one point he mentions thinking "geometrically" but doesn't explain:

"It is if he didn't expect him to walk out of that circle alive," replied Havilland, glancing at the undersecretary of State. "It's Edward's theory, and one to which I subscribe, that when the final contract was carried out, or when it was deemed that he knew too much and was therefore a liability, the impostor was to be killed collecting a payment—believing, of course, that he was being given another assignment. Everything untraceable, the slate clean. The events at Kai-tak no doubt sealed his death warrant."
"He wasn't smart enough to see it," said Jason Bourne. "He couldn't think geometrically."
"I beg your pardon?" asked the ambassador.
"Nothing," answered Webb, again staring at the diplomat. "So everything you told me was part truth, part lie. Hong Kong could blow apart, but not for the reasons you gave me."
The Bourne Supremacy, Chapter 33

I rather don't understand what he means by that either. This seems to be a pretty popular quote: plenty of those trite fancy-font-quote-against-pretty-background images online, and it earned a Goodreads listing. There's probably some deeper meaning - or just plain meaning - that I'm missing here.

Where I've looked so far.

The first instance* of "think geometrically" (Chapter 29, when protagonist-Bourne notes that antagonist-Bourne didn't realize the looped rope couldn't choke) seems to be referring to the actual geometry of ropes. The only other instance I can remember, shortly after, is:

"You don't have the talent," said Jason Bourne. "You're lacking. You can't think geometrically."
"What does that mean?"
"Ponder it."
The Bourne Supremacy, Chapter 29

I don't understand this usage of the term either, so an answer which also explained it would be a bonus. However I am more concerned with the Chapter 33 instance.

I found this review for a book entitled Thinking Geometrically: Re-Visioning Space for a Multimodal World which seems like it should help. It mentions the movies and novels and how the title of that book was inspired by the phrase. However, despite passages that look useful, I can't wrap my head around what they're saying the phrase means. For example this looks like word salad:

Waisanen describes thinking geometrically as "the ability to deal imaginatively with the multiple, that is, numerous and simultaneous, dimensions of complex and variable objects and relations in a structured, yet dynamic and interactive fashion" (pp. 8-9). Thinking geometrically is therefore established at the onset as a faculty of the imagination-a capacity to both apprehend and act (or respond) through seeing relationships or, as he would suggest, "projections."

So, what does it mean to "think geometrically"? I would appreciate answers that use simpler language than the book review quoted here, and which apply the phrase's meaning to explain the conversation/situation from my Chapter 33 quote.

* as far as I can remember; the search function of my ebook is borked.

1 Answer 1


Based on context, it seems that Bourne uses the phrase "think geometrically" to be able to consider all of aspects of a situation rather than the immediate ones. For Chapter 33, he's commenting on how the impostor had already decided that he was due for another mission based on his current success, and therefore he was not expecting a betrayal. This would fit with the description given from the book, of dealing with all aspects of the problem at once rather than on the immediate problem.

As for the etymology of the term, geometry is sometimes described as (emphasis mine)

the branch of mathematics concerned with the shape of individual objects, spatial relationships among various objects, and the properties of surrounding space.

That last bit is what best explains Bourne's use of the term, that the entire space is considered for any given problem. It's been a while since I read the Bourne books, but this does seem to manifest the fights in the movies where there's an emphasis on using the environment and improvised weapons, considering the entire space of the fight rather than just the immediate opponent. For Chapter 33, it's extended to outside the immediate job, that an agent should not only be considering their current mission, but anticipating the next steps of the organization that hires them, and preparing for that.

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