Notes from What is the Fourth Dimension by Charles Howard Hinton

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What is the Fourth Dimension?

Charles Howard Hinton

Limitations of Our

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There are two ways of passing beyond the domain of practical certainty, and of looking into the vast range of possibility. One is by asking, "What is knowledge? What constitutes experience?" If we adopt this course we are plunged into a sea of speculation. Were it not that the highest faculties of the mind find therein so ample a range, we should return to the solid ground of facts, with simply a feeling of relief at escaping from so great a confusion and contradictoriness.

The other path which leads us beyond the horizon of actual experience is that of questioning whatever seems arbitrary and irrationally limited in the domain of knowledge. Such a questioning has often been successfully applied in the search for new facts.

Thought Provoking

Properties of Matter in the Fourth Dimension

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Let us now assume that instead of lines, very thin threads were attached to the framework: they on passing through the fluid plane would give rise to very small spots. Let us call the spots atoms, and I regard them as constituting a material system in the plane. There are four conditions which must be satisfied by these spots if they are to be admitted as forming a material system such as ours. For the ultimate properties of matter (if we eliminate attractive and repulsive forces, which may be caused by the motions of the smallest particles), are—1, Permanence; 2, Impenetrability; 3, Inertia; 4, Conservation of energy.

Thought Provoking

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We can imagine these threads as weaving together to form connected shapes, each complete in itself, and these shapes as they pass through the fluid plane give rise to a series of moving points. Yet, inasmuch as the threads are supposed to form consistent shapes, the motion of the points would not be wholly random, but numbers of them would present the semblance of moving figures. Suppose, for instance, a number of threads to be so grouped as to form a cylinder for some distance, but after a while to be pulled apart by other threads with which they interlink. While the cylinder was passing through the plane, we should have in the plane a number of points in a circle. When the part where the threads deviated came to the plane, the circle would break up by the points moving away. These moving figures in the plane are but the traces of the shapes of threads as those shapes pass on. These moving figures may be conceived to have a life and a consciousness of their own.

Thought Provoking

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Or, if it be irrational to suppose them to have a consciousness when the shapes of which they are momentary traces have none, we may well suppose that the shapes of threads have consciousness, and that the moving figures share this consciousness, only that in their case it is limited to those parts of the shapes that simultaneously pass through the plane. In the plane, then, we may conceive bodies with all the properties of a material system, moving and changing, possessing consciousness. After a while it may well be that one of them becomes so disassociated that it appears no longer as a unit, and its consciousness as such may be lost. But the threads of existence of such a figure are not broken, nor is the shape which gave it origin altered in any way. It has simply passed on to a distance from the plane. Thus nothing which existed in the conscious life on the plane would cease. There would in such an existence be no cause and effect, but simply the gradual realization in a superficies of an already existent whole. There would be no progress, unless we were to suppose the threads as they pass to interweave themselves in more complex shapes.


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Can a representation, such as the preceding, be applied to the case of the existence in space with which we have to do? Is it possible to suppose that the movements and changes of material objects are the intersections with a three-dimensional space of a four-dimensional existence? Can our consciousness be supposed to deal with a spatial profile of some higher actuality?

Thought Provoking

Evidence of a Fourth Dimension

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If a fourth dimension exists there are two possible alternatives.

One is, that there being four dimensions, we have a three-dimensional existence only. The other is that we really have a four-dimensional existence, but are not conscious of it. If we are in three dimensions only, while there are really four dimensions, then we must be relatively to those beings who exist in four dimensions, as lines and planes are in relation to us. That is, we must be mere abstractions. In this case we must exist only in the mind of the being that conceives us, and our experience must be merely the thoughts of his mind—a result which has apparently been arrived at, on independent grounds, by an idealist philosopher.

The other alternative is that we have a four-dimensional existence. In this case our proportions in it must be infinitely minute, or we should be conscious of them. If such be the case, it would probably be in the ultimate particles of matter, that we should discover the fourth dimension, for in the ultimate particles the sizes in the three dimensions are very minute, and the magnitudes in all four dimensions would be comparable.


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The course of knowledge is like the flow of some mighty river, which, passing through the rich lowlands, gathers into itself the contributions from every valley. Such a river may well be joined by a mountain stream, which, passing with difficulty along the barren highlands, flings itself into the greater river down some precipitous descent, exhibiting at the moment of its union the spectacle of the utmost beauty of which the river system is capable. And such a stream is no inapt symbol of a line of mathematical thought, which, passing through difficult and abstract regions, sacrifices for the sake of its crystalline clearness the richness that comes to the more concrete studies. Such a course may end fruitlessly, for it may never join the main course of observation and experiment. But, if it gains its way to the great stream of knowledge, it affords at the moment of its union the spectacle of the greatest intellectual beauty, and adds somewhat of force and mysterious capability to the onward current.