“The Victorian Fascination with the Fourth Dimension”
1. Abrash, Merritt. “Knowing the Unknowable: What Some Science Fiction Almost
Does”. Extrapolation (University of Texas at Brownsville); June 2004, Vol. 45 Issue 2, p123
Abrash categorizes scientific understanding into the “comprehended unknown” and the “uncomprehended unknown”. He uses a jigsaw puzzle to illustrate the two concepts. The former is described as a single missing puzzle piece, a specific question that can be explored using other relevant discoveries. The latter is described as the search for a puzzle piece amongst a whole section of the puzzle that is yet to be put together. Abrash commends thinkers like H.G. Wells that work with the “uncomprehended unknown”. He cites “The Time Machine” as well as Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” as working with the “UNU”. These works explore time travel, and genetic mutation and cloning, respectively. At the time of these novels’ creation, the science to firmly back up the above innovations did not exist, yet Abrash argues Wells and Shelly masterfully made the “UNU” appear to be part of the “COU”. Abrash further argues that the powerful ability to explore and realistically portray “fundamental unknowns in the material universe” is something science cannot do, but science fiction can.
2. Bork, Alfred M. “The Fourth Dimension in Nineteenth-Century Physics”. Isis. Vol. 55, No. 3 (Sep., 1964), pages 326 – 338.
Bork compiles a history of Nineteenth Century Physics regarding time, the fourth dimension. He shares the work of a surprising number of physicists who explored the idea of a fourth dimension before Hermann Minkowski’s pivotal papers on space-time. These thinkers were isolated and produced works that were incomplete and not as logically sound as Minkowski’s. The fourth dimension’s existence in a speculative wing of physics gave inspiration to works like “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells. In the second half of the nineteenth century there was a belief that all the major physical laws of the universe had been discovered already and that all that was left was to expound on these ideas. At the same time Bork identified an anxiety amongst these thinkers regarding a missing piece to the puzzle.
3. Gibbons , Tom H. “Cubism and ‘The Fourth Dimension’ in the Context of the Late Nineteenth-Century and Early Twentieth-Century Revival of Occult Idealism”. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Vol. 44, (1981), pp. 130-147. Published by: The Warburg Institute
Gibbons documents the beliefs of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century mathematicians, physicists, and theologians in regards to the fourth dimension. Zollner, a physicist, believes that fourth dimensional sight is possible through transcendence. In this clairvoyant state the viewer perceives the world without allusion, seeing solid objects as they truly are: transparent. C.H. Hinton, a Platonic Idealist, believes that the fourth dimension can be permanently realized through intensive mental training in its spatial reality. The physicist Leadbeater coined the term ‘astral plane’ to describe the fourth dimension and he believes that sight from this plane would render even the most mundane objects unrecognizable. Cubism was a style of painting in which the artist attempted to render a fourth dimension. This art often had a very spiritual feel to it perceived by many Cubist painters as being far superior and far truer than other artistic styles.
4. Henderson, Andrea. “Math for Math’s Sake: Non-Euclidean Geometry, Aestheticism, and Flatland”. PMLA, Volume 124, Number 2 (March 2009),
pp. 455–471 (17)
Henderson argues that ‘Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions’ is representative of a necessary change in the nature of science. Abbot, she argues, attempts to dethrone Euclidian geometry and all that it represents. He advocates for a science that includes concepts that are not objectively experienced, but are instead imagined. Victorian science begins to follow a more artistic process, at the same time that Victorian art concerns itself with science. Henderson suggests that the loss of absolute truth gives way to beauty.
5. Jann , Rosemary. Abbott’s “Flatland”: Scientific Imagination and “Natural
Christianity”. Victorian Studies.Vol. 28, No. 3 (Spring, 1985), pp. 473-490. Published by: Indiana University Press
Jann argues that “Flatland” should be read as an allegory whose main focus is to portray the confines of Victorian thought regarding science and religion. Jann analyzes Abbott’s religious writing in conjunction with Flatland in order to understand his beliefs. Abbott’s religion of “Natural Christianity” sees the world as consisting of a series of illusions that can only be broken with imaginative leaps of faith. Abbott views faith and scientific theory similarly in that they should not require proof, but instead require that they “work”. In “Flatland” the inhabitants fail to conceive of three, four, or n dimensions. They only accept what can be materially understood. It is through experiencing the third dimension that the protagonist, the square, can believe in the possibility of infinite dimensions. The square uses the natural world as a means of understanding the spiritual, which Jann describes as the basis of Abbott’s religious beliefs.
6. Philmus, Robert M. “Revisions of the Future: The Time Machine.” The Journal of
General Education 28.1(1976): 23 – 30. Print.
Philmus states that the voyage in the fourth dimension of time is a voyage of consciousness. Well’s Philmus argues rebels against the unimaginative nature of society and against social and political dogma, through the creation of an imagined reality in the future. Well’s argues for the freeing of man’s minds, and the ability for the mind to travel. In “The Tim Machine” Well’s protagonist travels into the future, and experiences the unexpected extinction of the human race. Well’s is not afraid to present a world that is in stark opposition to accepted tenants of society.
7. Philmus, Robert M. “The Time Machine: Or, The Fourth Dimension as Prophecy”.
PMLA. Vol. 84, No. 3 (May, 1969), pages 530 – 535.
Philmus reads “The Time Machine “as prophecy that can be drawn as a logical conclusion of the progression of the Victorian political, social, and economic structures. Philmus quotes Wells who states that the widely- held belief of the time was “that evolution was a pro-human force making things better and better for man-kind.” In contrast, The future Wells prophesizes in “The Time Machine” is the devolution of the human race leading to its extinction. The cause of this devolution is “human self-satisfaction”. Philmus believes the fourth dimension in the novel isn’t simply time as it might appear upon first reading. Instead, he argues, time is a metaphor for imagination, a place in which thoughts dwell and prophecies can be played out.
8. Smith, Johnathan, Lawrence Berkove, and Gerald Baker. “A Grammar of Dissent:
“Flatland,” Newman, and the Theology of Probability.”Victorian Studies 39.2 (1996): 129-150. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. .
Smith, Baker and Berkove analyze Abbots religious writing in order to better understand ‘Flatland’. Abbot who believed in Natrual Christianity was theologically in stark contrast with Newman. Abbott denounces the importance of miracles in Christianity which Newman believes heavily in. Abbott believes that religion needs to hold up to the test of reason. He believes that religion starts with imagination that must be followed by a reasoned examination of generated ideas, and an elimination of any falsities. Keeping these views in mind Smith, Baker and Berkove believe that the novels ending is meant to provide a cautionary tale to any thinkers that blindly believe. The square does not approach religion with reason, therefore he is viewed by fellow flatlanders as crazy and is sentenced to life imprisonment.