A Scientific Romance:
Thermodynamics and the Fourth Dimension in Charles Howard Hinton's
"The Persian King"
I want to thank Linda D. Henderson, who made this essay happen,
and Michael Wutz, for his helpful suggestions.
"Appended to the essay 'Hypercubes' in Martin Gardener's book
Mathematical Carnival, there is a curious letter from a former user
of Hinton's cubes who calls them 'completely mind-destroying'"
(Rucker, Speculations xv).
On James Hinton, the author of prose works promoting universal
altruism popular with social radicals such as Edward Carpenter and
the Havelock Ellises, see Ballard 6-12, and Ellis. "The father James
Hinton was an ear surgeon who was best known for The Mystery
of Pain, a little book which sets forth the Panglossian thesis that 'all
that which we feel as painful is really giving--something that our
fellows are better for, even though we cannot trace it.' It gives some
idea of the turn of the son Charles Hinton's mind to learn that he
wrote a piece, 'The Persian King,' in which he attempted to use
higher dimensions and infinite series to obtain a mathematically
accurate model of this idea" (Rucker, Speculations v).
Hinton includes this essay in The Fourth Dimension under the title
"A Recapitulation and Extension of the Physical Argument."
See Fletcher's "Daemonic mechanism and allegorical 'machines'":
"Constriction of meaning, when it is the limit put upon a personified
force or power, causes that personification to act somewhat
mechanistically. The perfect allegorical agent is not a man possessed
by a daemon, but a robot" (Allegory 55).
"Eighteenth-century physicists had considered energy losses
within mechanical systems to be isolated from nonmechanical
processes, and therefore they did not enunciate a theory of the
equivalence of heat and mechanical energy.
The concept of the conservation of mechanical energy was,
however, to be found in eighteenth-century treatises on mechanics; it
was familiar, in the form first enunciated by Leibniz, as the principle
of the conservation of vis viva ('living force')" (Harman 35-36).