A New Perspective


In 1880 Charles Hinton (inventor of the baseball gun) turned his attention to the fourth dimension, that unseen world whose behavior seems so baffling to ordinary thinkers.

In his 1888 book A New Era of Thought, he announced a unique way to think about it, a set of 81 colored cubes that correspond to the 81 parts of a 3 × 3 × 3 × 3 hypercube. By creating a set of wooden cubes, painting them according to Hinton’s instructions, and working through the prescribed exercises, the reader could learn to visualize the fourth dimension as intuitively as the third:

The square, in moving in the unknown direction, traces out a succession of squares, the assemblage of which makes the cube in layers. So also the cube, moving in the unknown direction, will at any point of its motion, still be a cube; and the assemblage of cubes thus placed constitutes the tessaract in layers. We suppose the cube to change its colour directly it begins to move. Its colour between 1 and 2 we can easily determine by finding what colours its different parts assume, as they move in the unknown direction.

Hinton’s method drew few adherents, but he was sure that it worked — he had proved it for himself. “The particular problem,” he wrote, “at which I have worked for more than ten years, has been completely solved. It is possible for the mind to acquire a conception of higher space as adequate as that of our three-dimensional space, and to use it in the same manner.”

He moved on to other things, but he’s left us one permanent calling card — Hinton coined the word tesseract.