I’m now over a year into my research, and having covered what, for a humanities researcher, is hopefully the hardest stretch, the geometrical origins of the concept of higher-dimensioned space, it seems like an opportune time to start putting some of my own research online (although probably not the maths stuff until I’ve redrafted it many more times and had real mathematicians read it over). I’m beginning to re-engage with more comfortable territory – the perennially popular Flatland and the work of the more obscure, but no less cultish, Charles Howard Hinton, the remarkable figure whose writing first drew me into this field – so there may be interest from beyond my immediate family (and to be honest, that often flags, and who can rightly blame them for that?).
I suppose some initial comments on the working title would be useful. ‘The Fairyland of Geometry’ is a phrase owing to the American mathematician Simon Newcomb (see how easily the patterns of Victorian prose take hold?) Newcomb first used it in 1897 in an address to the American Mathematical Society, but evidently liked it so much he used it again for a popular article on higher space in Harper’s Magazine five years later. I like it, too, because it covers the necessary ground between pure maths and fantastic fiction, pausing for heavy breath in the mystical graveyard of the occult.
And I guess, since Newcomb uses the term hyperspace, I should explain why I use higher space. It’s partly a transatlantic thing, but also for reasons of consistency: higher space was Hinton’s preferred coinage; hyperspace was first used by G.B. Halsted in the American Journal of Mathematics in 1878 (although he was using the term pro-space not long before); Bertrand Russell’s An essay on the foundations of geometry (1897) preferred the term meta-space; and an occultist account of fourth dimensional clairvoyance from 1893 delighted in the title Throughth. Evidently higher space is prepositionally challenging: this is something I’ll certainly be returning to at greater length, so suffice to say I lean towards higher space not least for its relative clarity.
And finally the dates: not as arbitrary as they may at first seem. This is Hinton’s lifespan, and not only is it impossible to imagine a study like this without Hinton, it’s also a handy period container for most of what I want to do: to trace the transformations of the concepts of higher space from their origins in analytic geometry to their various manifestations in esoteric/occult texts, science fiction and popular culture, working up to and into the more thoroughly researched area of Modernism’s fourth dimensions and pulling short a good few years before Einstein muddies the water with relativity, damn his crazy eyes. And hair.