Charles Howard Hinton

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Charles Howard Hinton

Charles Howard Hinton (1853, UK – 30 April 1907, Washington D.C., USA) was a British mathematician and writer of science fiction works titled Scientific Romances. He was interested in higher dimensions, particularly the fourth dimension. He is known for coining the word "tesseract" and for his work on methods of visualising the geometry of higher dimensions.

Life[edit]

Hinton taught at Cheltenham College[1] while he studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained his B.A. in 1877. From 1880 to 1886, he taught at Uppingham School in Rutland, where Howard Candler, a friend of Edwin Abbott Abbott's, also taught.[2] Hinton also received his M.A. from Oxford in 1886.

In 1880 Hinton married Mary Ellen, daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole, the founder of mathematical logic.[3] In 1883 he went through a marriage ceremony with Maud Florence, by whom he had had twin children, under the assumed identity of John Weldon. He was subsequently convicted of bigamy and spent three days in prison, losing his job at Uppingham.[4] His father James Hinton was a radical advocate of polygamous relationships,[5] and according to Charles' mother James had once remarked to her: "Christ was the saviour of Men but I am the saviour of Women and I don't envy him a bit."[6] In 1887 Charles moved with Mary Ellen to Japan to work in a mission before accepting a job as headmaster of the Victoria Public School. In 1893 he sailed to the USA on the SS Tacoma to take up a post at Princeton University as an instructor in mathematics.[4]

In 1897, he designed a gunpowder-powered baseball pitching machine for the Princeton baseball team's batting practice.[4][7] The machine was versatile, capable of variable speeds with an adjustable breech size, and firing curve balls by the use of two rubber-coated steel fingers at the muzzle of the pitcher.[8] He successfully introduced the machine to the University of Minnesota, where Hinton worked as an assistant professor until 1900, when he resigned to move to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.[4]

At the end of his life, Hinton worked as an examiner of chemical patents for the United States Patent Office. He died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage on 30 April 1907.[9][10]

Fourth dimension[edit]

In an 1880 article entitled "What is the Fourth Dimension?", Hinton suggested that points moving around in three dimensions might be imagined as successive cross-sections of a static four-dimensional arrangement of lines passing through a three-dimensional plane, an idea that anticipated the notion of world lines, and of time as a fourth dimension (although Hinton did not propose this explicitly, and the article was mainly concerned with the possibility of a fourth spatial dimension), in Einstein's theory of relativity. Hinton later introduced a system of colored cubes by the study of which, he claimed, it was possible to learn to visualize four-dimensional space (Casting out the Self, 1904). Rumors subsequently arose that these cubes had driven more than one hopeful person insane.[citation needed]

Hinton created several new words to describe elements in the fourth dimension. According to OED, he first used the word tesseract in 1888 in his book A New Era of Thought. He also invented the words kata (from the Greek for "down from") and ana (from the Greek for "up toward") to describe the two opposing fourth-dimensional directions—the 4-D equivalents of left and right, forwards and backwards, and up and down.[11]

Hinton's Scientific romances, including "What is the Fourth Dimension?" and "A Plane World", were published as a series of nine pamphlets by Swan Sonnenschein & Co. during 1884–1886. In the introduction to "A Plane World", Hinton referred to Abbott's recent Flatland as having similar design but different intent. Abbott used the stories as "a setting wherein to place his satire and his lessons. But we wish in the first place to know the physical facts." Hinton's world existed along the perimeter of a circle rather than on an infinite flat plane.[12] He extended the connection to Abbott's work with An Episode on Flatland: Or How a Plain Folk Discovered the Third Dimension (1907).

Influence[edit]

Hinton was one of the many abstruse thinkers who circulated in Jorge Luis Borges's pantheon of writers. Hinton is mentioned in Borges' short stories "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", "There Are More Things" and "El milagro secreto" ("The Secret Miracle"):

Hinton influenced P. D. Ouspensky's thinking. Many of ideas Ouspensky presents in "Tertium Organum" mention Hinton's works.

Hinton's "scientific romance," the "Unlearner" is cited by John Dewey in "Art as Experience", chapter 3.

Hinton is mentioned several times in Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell; his theories regarding the fourth dimension form the basis of the book's final chapter. His father, James Hinton, appears in chapters 4 and 10.[citation needed]

He is mentioned twice in Aleister Crowley's novel Moonchild.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cheltenham College Register, 1841-1889. London: Bell. 1890. 
  2. ^ British Society for the History of Mathematics Gazeteer.
  3. ^ Batchelor, George (1994). The Life and Legacy of G. I. Taylor. Cambridge University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-521-46121-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d Bernard V. Lightman (1997). Victorian science in context. University of Chicago Press. p. 266. ISBN 0-226-48111-5. 
  5. ^ A cultural history of higher space, 1853-1907 [work in progress Mark Blacklock
  6. ^ Havelock Ellis papers, British Library.
  7. ^ Hinton, Charles, "A Mechanical Pitcher", Harper's Weekly, 20 March 1897, p. 301–302.
  8. ^ Hinton, Charles, "The Motion of a Baseball", The Yearbook of the Minneapolis Society of Engineers, May, 1908, p. 18–28.
  9. ^ "Scientist Drops Dead", Washington Post, 1 May 1907.
  10. ^ Several of these references are cited in the introduction to the book Speculations on the Fourth Dimension, edited by Rudolf Rucker.
  11. ^ Rucker, Rudy. "Spaceland Notes". 
  12. ^ Hinton, Charles H. "A Plane World". Dover Publications. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  13. ^ Borges, Jorge Luis. The Secret Miracle. In: Fictions. Penguin Books, 2000, p. 126

Books[edit]

External links[edit]