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Foretelling the Future from the Past.....

I was reading The Time Machine by HG Wells recently and I was very much struck by this passage:

'That Space, as our mathematicians have it, is spoken of as having three dimensions, which one may call Length, Breadth, and Thickness, and is always definable by reference to three planes, each at right angles to the others. But some philosophical people have been asking why three dimensions particularly—why not another direction at right angles to the other three?—and have even tried to construct a Four-Dimension geometry. Professor Simon Newcomb was expounding this to the New York Mathematical Society only a month or so ago. You know how on a flat surface, which has only two dimensions, we can represent a figure of a three-dimensional solid, and similarly they think that by models of thee dimensions they could represent one of four—if they could master the perspective of the thing....'


What is remarkable is that he wrote all of this in 1895, ten years before Einstein published his work on special relativity.

I'm not claiming he foresaw Einstein's work. He veers off any plausible science with a device that seems to be operated by pedal power and magic levers. But it is notable nonetheless. Though not quite as notable as I first thought. Einstein's work didn't come from nowhere after all. Its achievements had been prefigured to an extent by Maxwell and Lorentz, and Poincare published comparable work in the same year as Einstein.

But an interesting reminder at the same time that Wells was a really interesting man who based much of his fiction on what then seemed plausible within the scientific community. And it shows just how well read he was within that world.



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