Sue Young Histories

Charles Howard Hinton 1853 – 1907

June 09, 2008

Charles Howard Hinton 1853 – 1907 was a British mathematician and writer of science fiction works titled Scientific romances. He was interested in higher dimensions, particularly the fourth dimension, and is known for coining the word tesseract and for his work on methods of visualising the geometry of higher dimensions. He also had a strong interest in theosophy

Charles Howard Hinton was married to Mary Ellen Boole, daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole, and the granddaughter of Thomas Roupell Everest, one of the founders of homeopathy in Britain.

In an 1880 article entitled “What is the Fourth Dimension?”, Hinton suggested that points moving around in three dimensions might be imagined as successive cross-sections of a static four-dimensional arrangement of lines passing through a three-dimensional plane, an idea that anticipated the notion of world lines, and of time as a fourth dimension (although Hinton did not propose this explicitly, and the article was mainly concerned with the possibility of a fourth spatial dimension), in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Hinton later introduced a system of coloured cubes (Hinton Cubes) by the study of which, he claimed, it was possible to learn to visualise four-dimensional space…

Hinton was convicted of bigamy for marrying both Mary Ellen Boole (daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole, the founder of mathematical logic) and Maud Wheldon. He served a single day in prison sentence (or three days), then moved with Mary Ellen Boole first to Japan (1886) and later to Princeton University in 1893 as an instructor in mathematics…

In 1897, he designed a gunpowder-powered baseball pitching machine for the Princeton baseball team’s batting practice. According to one source it caused several injuries, and may have been in part responsible for Hinton’s dismissal from Princeton that year. However, the machine was versatile, capable of variable speeds with an adjustable breech size, and firing curve balls by the use of two rubber coated steel fingers at the muzzle of the pitcher.

He successfully introduced the machine to the University of Minnesota where Hinton worked as an assistant professor until 1900, when he resigned to move to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.

At the end of his life, Hinton worked as an examiner of chemical patents for the United States Patent Office. He died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 30, 1907.

Hinton was one of the many abstruse thinkers who circulated in Jorge Luis Borges’s pantheon of writers. Hinton is mentioned in Borges’s short story, “El milagro secreto” (“The secret miracle”):

The _Vindication of Eternity_ he judged to be perhaps less deficient; the first volume recounts the diverse eternities that men have devised, from the motionless [Parmenidean]( One to Hinton’s modifiable past; the second denied (with [Francis Bradley]( that all the deeds of the universe integrate a temporal series.
Hinton is mentioned several times in [Alan Moore]('s celebrated graphic novel [From Hell]( & his theories regarding the fourth dimension form the basis of the book's final chapter. His father, James Hinton appears in the 4th and 10th chapters.

Charles married Mary Ellen Boole (1856-??), daughter of George Boole (1815-1864) (a mathematician after whom Boolean logic is named) and their descendants include Carmelita Chase Hinton the nuclear physicist Joan Chase Hinton (1922-) and William Howard Hinton (1919-2004), writer of Fanshen and Shenfan, descriptions of life in a Chinese village during the Cultural Revolution.

When James Hinton’s son Charles Howard Hinton actually did abandon his wife and position as science master at Uppingham and entered into a free union with Mrs. Maud Weldon in 1884 (he was also married to Mary Ellen Boole - daughter of Mary Everest Boole and George Boole, and the granddaughter of Thomas Roupell Everest, one of the founders of homeopathy in Britain), many felt that the son’s transgressions vindicated their worst suspicions about his long-dead father.

Charles Howard Hinton wrote The Fourth Dimension, Speculations on the Fourth Dimension: Selected Writings of Charles H. Hinton, The Recognition of the Fourth Dimension; Read Before the Philosophical … , What is the Fourth Dimension?, An Episode of Flatland: Or How a Plane Folk Discovered the Third Dimension, Scientific romances, A New Era of Thought, Stella and an Unfinished Communication: Studies of the Unseen, A Language of Space, Casting Out the Self, The Education of the Imagination, Plane World.

Of interest:

Howard Everest Hinton FRS 1912 - 1977 was a British entomologist. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of insects and was inordinately fond of beetles. He published 309 scientific papers, many of which were concerned with insect morphology and taxonomy. He founded and edited the Journal of Insect Physiology. He introduced an extra stage in the metamorphosis of insects: The pharate adult which is an adult waiting to emerge from a cocoon. He was an early proponent of continental drift, based on the close relationship between non-migratory water beetles of the family elmidae in rivers in New Guinea and northern Australia. He worked extensively on insect eggs, particularly the way in which they breathe.

Howard Everest Hinton grew up in Mexico and attended the University of California, Berkeley as an undergraduate. He received his PhD from the University of Cambridge and then worked at the Natural History Museum in London. In 1949, he moved to the University of Bristol where he spent the rest of his life.

Howard Hinton married Margaret Clark, a teacher, in 1938 and they had four children, Charlotte who became a headmistress, James who became a Professor of History at the University of Warwick, Geoffrey Hinton who is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and Teresa who is a social policy researcher in Tasmania. His father, George Hinton, was a mining engineer and botanist who managed a silver mine in Mexico and collected many new botanical specimens, some of which are in Kew gardens. Howard Hinton’s nephew, also called George Hinton, has a farm in Mexico and discovered a new genus of cacti that are named after him.

Howard Hinton was a great grandson of George Boole, the founder of mathematical logic. His cousins include Joan Chase Hinton, one of the few female scientists at Los Alamos who later moved to Beijing, and William Howard Hinton who wrote “Fanshen”, a book about the Chinese revolution which he observed firsthand while working for the UN in China in 1949.

His grandfather, Charles Howard Hinton was a mathematician who worked on the concept of four-dimensional space and had to leave Victorian England when he was found guilty of bigamy.

He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society on 16 March 1961. His graduate students include Robin Baker and Geoff Parker. His papers are at Bristol University, where he worked.

The Papers and correspondence of Howard Everest Hinton, 1912-1977 are here.


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