The Tesseract
July 9, 2002 5:05 PM   Subscribe

The Tesseract Charles H. Hinton, eccentric, bigamist, son-in-law of George Boole (yes that Boole) coined the word Tesseract and claimed that we could all visualize the fourth dimension. He wrote several books and claimed to have created a set of cubes that, used properly, would allow anyone to visualize hyperspace. His ideas were all the rage. Salvador Dali was inspired by him. Robert Heinlein wrote a classic short story about a house built as an unfolded tesseract. Madeleine L'Engle wrote a classic children's story. With the advent of Einstein and his claim that "Time was the fourth dimension", the higher spatial dimensions were forgotten. (Until recently that is) And Hinton was forgotten. Or was he? And what happened to the cubes? Rudy Rucker, a huge fan of Hinton,fails to reprint the instructions. Rumours are that, if you build them and use them, they will drive you insane.
posted by vacapinta (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Learn, learn, learn; enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! Thanks, vacapinta. 'Cept now I wonder how I could have missed them...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:29 PM on July 9, 2002

I had forgotten about "A Wrinkle in Time", one of my favorite all-time books. Thank you for reminding me to find an old copy somewhere - wasn't there a creepy brain in a jar at some point? Or am I thinking of a different book (on a different dimension, perhaps)?
posted by yhbc at 6:57 PM on July 9, 2002

IT was the giant brain at the end of the book, the big baddie. Even Charles Wallace fell under IT's sway.
posted by lbergstr at 7:03 PM on July 9, 2002

Also meant to include, of course, Lewis Padgett's classic 'Mimsy were the Borogoves', a short story based around Carroll's Jabberwocky being instructions (comprehensible only to children) for traveling in other dimensions.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

yhbc: I dont remember the details of the story either except that I loved it as a kid.
posted by vacapinta at 7:05 PM on July 9, 2002

"A Wrinkle in Time" gave me nightmares when I was 9. I reread it last year (I was giving a copy to my niece--it was on the summer reading list for her). It didn't give me nightmares this time, but I enjoyed it all over again. Dunno of any other book I read at that age that could make me feel that way now.
posted by paddbear at 7:14 PM on July 9, 2002

i still remember being in awe of the ant crossing the string in a wrinkle in time :)

maybe rucker saved it for spaceland?

i took a class on 4D vizualization in college and we watched some cool videos. if you can spare the cash they're worth checking out. also the professor had constructed a pretty neat 'floppy' hypercube that i think was a little more sophisticated than 'figure 8' like you could fold it up and stuff :) if you write him he might be amenable to giving directions!

here's a 4D webpage i just found looking around and this might help some :) (math forum 2000!) one of the better (easier!) ways i think of thinking about it is just in terms of shading or color gradation. like then you can see how two planes can intersect in a point, or two 'spaces' in a line and stuff (two 'parallel' spaces :) like it kinda allows you to 'twist' out of the third dimension for a bit :)
posted by kliuless at 7:27 PM on July 9, 2002

IT! Of course - thanks.
posted by yhbc at 7:28 PM on July 9, 2002

Flatland turned me on to higher dimension speculation when I was about 12. I think I've given more copies of that book away than any other. I remember spending whole nights trying to visualize a vantage point from which I could see the inside of my body. I felt like Mr. A. Square desperately thinking 'upward, not northward...'
posted by umberto at 8:40 PM on July 9, 2002 [1 favorite]

that link makes my brain hurt.
posted by trioperative at 8:41 PM on July 9, 2002

And what was the Rudy Rucker book where they shrunk down past quantum size until they were the size of the entire universe somehow? Or is that all of them.....
posted by umberto at 8:42 PM on July 9, 2002

This thread makes me very happy.
posted by Optamystic at 8:49 PM on July 9, 2002

I definitely used to visualize the tesseract when I was a kid; it was a kind of revelation.
posted by anser at 8:53 PM on July 9, 2002

I feel as a "good old Brown alum" that I should give Thomas Banchoff a shout out. He's done a _ton_ of work in this field and personally motivated me in my own personal understanding of dimensionality. kliuless, I think you catch my drift, and frankly, it makes me happy.
posted by aschulak at 9:04 PM on July 9, 2002

I also recommend, if you can get your hands on it, Dewdney's Planiverse - a worthy successor to Abbott's Flatland- both entertaining and profound.
posted by vacapinta at 9:13 PM on July 9, 2002

insert: "according to Banchoff" (see the link)
posted by vacapinta at 9:20 PM on July 9, 2002

Flatland was an excellent read, but I also really enjoyed The Boy Who Reversed Himself (as well as A Wrinkle in Time, of course).

I spent my middle school math classes trying to draw 4-dimensional cubes in my notebook....

I'm with Optamystic, this thread makes me happy :)
posted by LuxFX at 9:45 PM on July 9, 2002

ABC has filmed a Wrinkle in Time mini-series; its airdate has been pushed back from February 2002 to sometime later this year (sources conflict), on the Wonderful World of Disney. Keep an eye peeled this fall.
posted by dhartung at 12:19 AM on July 10, 2002

what was the Rudy Rucker book where they shrunk down past quantum size until they were the size of the entire universe somehow?

You may be thinking of Master of Space and Time (not to be confused with The Wizard of Speed and Time). They inject gluons into their brain to become quantum gods, and one of them goes back to the beginning of time, gets bored because nothing is happening, and gives it a little push...
posted by kindall at 12:25 AM on July 10, 2002

excellent thread. something new to learn today.
posted by Frasermoo at 1:07 AM on July 10, 2002

File under the "rather odd" category: it seems that a hardcover version of Hinton's Fourth Dimension is due to be published on June 2012. Is this a time travel exercise? BTW according to Amazon "You may order it now and we will ship it to you when it arrives", as usual. There's always the paperback version of course.
Note also that Hinton's 4-D geometry is Euclidean, whereas General Relativity's spacetime geometry is semi-Euclidean (roughly speaking, the difference is that 4-D distances are not defined the same way) and thus even more difficult to "visualize".
posted by talos at 1:51 AM on July 10, 2002

I loved the Planiverse book. I remember reading it in middle school and being so intrigued that the human body - if projected into 2 dimensions is essentially a tube and it wouldn't hold up... sort of a shorthand consumerist metaphor (eating/shitting). Of course this was the same time I was obsessed with Zork on my Commodore 64 - I've since found I can play it (and finally finish it!) on my Palm.
posted by ao4047 at 7:53 AM on July 10, 2002

Nice one! I can't believe I didn't track this stuff down myself after reading Alex Garland's "The Tesseract" (better than "The Beach", I'd say). I know I spent enough time explaining the concept down the pub.
posted by MUD at 1:54 PM on July 10, 2002

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