JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Not only is this a very early article approaching the subject of space-time, appearing in Nature in 1885 (volume 31, issue 804, page 481), but it is also the most probable source for H.G. Wells' earliest inspirational source for thinking that would result in such classics as The Time Machine. (See here for an earlier post in this blog for a review of Well's book in Nature.) I bumped into it recently on a graze through the endlessly interesting early-ish volumes of this great journal.
And there were certainly many who came before Wells on the subject of the fourth dimension (though not many on the subject of time as the fourth dimension): R.C. Archibald wrote on d'Alembert's (1754) use of time as a fourth dimension (in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society for May 1914); Cayley's "Analytical Geometry of n-Dimensions (Cambridge Mathematical Journal, 1843); Grassmann's Die Lineale aus Dehnungslehre (1844); Riemann's 1854 effort on curved space (translated in 1873 for Nature by W. Kingdom Clifford); Beltrami's introduction of the pseudosphere in 1868; J.J. Sylvester (again in Nature for 30 December 1869); Hermann von Helmholtz and his curvature for three-dimensional spaces, and others. Also, according to Linda Dalrymple Henderson in her The Fourth Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modern Art (Princeton, 1983) in Appendix B there were only a few other efforts before this Nature article. (Some of these include Halsted, "The New Ideas about Space", in Popular Science Monthly, July 1877; Hinton's "What is the Fourth Dimension?", Dublin University Magazine, 1880; Lane "Transcendental Geometry" Popular Science Monthly, August 1882; and Fullerton, "On Space of Four Dimensions" the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, April 1894.)
Four-Dimensional Space, by Anonymous.
From: Nature, volume 31, issue 804, page 481.
Possibly the question, What is the fourth dimension? may admit of an indefinite number of answers. I prefer, therefore, in proposing to consider Time as a fourth dimension of our existence, to speak of it as a fourth dimension rather than the fourth dimension. Since this fourth dimension cannot be introduced into space, as commonly understood, we require a new kind of space for its existence, which we may call time-space. There is then no difficulty in conceiving the analogues in this new kind of space, of the things in ordinary space which are known as lines, areas, and solids. A straight line, by moving in any direction not in its own length, generates an area; if this area moves in any direction not in its own plane it generates a solid; but if this solid moves in any direction, it still generates a solid, and nothing more. The reason of this is that we have not supposed it to move in the fourth dimension. If the straight line moves in its own direction, it describes only a straight line; if the area moves in its own plane, it describes only an area; in each case, motion in the dimensions in which the thing exists, gives us only a thing of the same dimensions; and, in order to get a thing of higher dimensions, we must have motion in a new dimension. But, as the idea of motion is only applicable in space of three dimensions, we must replace it by another which is applicable in our fourth dimension of time. Such an idea is that of successive existence. We must, therefore, conceive that there is a new three-dimensional space for each successive instant of time; and, by picturing to ourselves the aggregate formed by the successive positions in time-space of a given solid during a given time, we shall get the idea of a four-dimensional solid, which may be called a sur-solid. It will assist us to get a clearer idea, if we consider a solid which is in a constant state of change, both of magnitude and position; and an example of a solid which satisfies this condition sufficiently well, is afforded by the body of each of us. Let any man picture to himself the aggregate of his own bodily forms from birth to the present time, and he will have a clear idea of a sur-solid in time-space. Let us now consider the sur-solid formed by the movement, or rather, the successive existence, of a cube in time-space. We are to conceive of the cube, and the whole of the three-dimensional space in which it is situated, as floating away in time-space for a given time; the cube will then have an initial and a final position, and these will be the end boundaries of the sur-solid. It will therefore have sixteen points, namely, the eight points belonging to the initial cube, and the eight belonging to the final cube. The successive positions (in time-space) of each of the eight points of the cube, will form what may be called a time-line; and adding to these the twenty-four edges of the initial and final cubes, we see that the sur-solid has thirty-two lines. The successive positions (in time-space) of each of the twelve edges of the cube, will form what may be called a time area; and, adding these to the twelve faces of the initial and final cubes, we see that the sur-solid has twenty-four areas. Lastly, the successive positions (in time-space) of each of the six faces of the cube, will form what may be called a time-solid; and, adding these to the initial and final cubes, we see that the sur-solid is bounded by eight solids. These results agree with the statements in your article. But it is not permissible to speak of the sur-solid as resting in "space," we must rather say that the section of it by any time is a cube resting (or moving) in "space."