JF Ptak Science Books Post 2258
Somewhat Zelig-like, Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907) is a sort of shadowy Oxford-educated figure who turns up in the beautiful Jorge Luis Borges' works, and who married George Boole's daughter, and who was a great and very early visualizer of geometries of higher dimensions, and who was the coiner of tesseract, and the inventor of a baseball pitching machine, and a practical joker, and a sci-fi writer, and who deserved an obituary in the New York Sun by the masterful Gellett Burgess (May 5, 1907), and who seemed to keep one step ahead of everyone and himself.
He was also the creator of crazy cubes.
There are many standard-bearers in the history of modern art who probably owe something to Hinton, who published his ideas on the fourth dimension (illustrated!) just at the time when this idea was in it trial runs in the artwork of the modern age.
And so do baseball players—or at least those at Princeton, where he introduced his machine which evidently was used there for several seasons. The pitching gun really was a cannon, the baseball loaded into the thing with an appropriate cartridge to shoot the ball at pitcherly speeds, which he described it in Harper's Weekly for March 20, 1897. (How Hinton got to Princeton is interesting and a mystery, both; he was an instructor of math in England until he was charged and convicted of bigamy in 1886, whereupon he took his first wife and four (?) sons to Japan to teach in Yokohama for a while, then yadda yadda yadda he starts teaching at Princeton in 1893.)
Hinton was into a lot of things, with a very inquisitive mind, and very smart. And so he bounced here and there in his careers, from position to position. David Toome, in his fine The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics (2010) gently and wonderfully describes Hinton (in his relations to the exterior world of work) as “buoyant” (page 29).
In any event, Hinton seems not to have patented the thing,so far as I can determine in 10 minutes of patent searches.
The cannon seems to have excited a bit of baseball scifi in itself, adding to Hinton's other pleasures.
In a longer and better article than mine, Joshua Robinson writes in the Wall Street Journal about Hinton's machine and the near-roboticized future of baseball:
“...(I)n 1896, the Los Angeles Times called it a "Frankenstein." One Washington Post columnist worried it would ring in an age of robots ruining the national pastime—this was a long time before anyone was worried about steroids.
"There would be the base-burning, high-pressure, anti-friction catcher," he wrote, "and the shortstop made of aluminium and rivets and filled with cogs, cams, valves, shafts, and belting."
Hinton's pitcher was an interesting idea, but ultimately it proved to be too cumbersome and slow to be of any sustained use. Plus, as Robinson points out, after the cartridge was fired there was a puff of smoke, which caused occasional consternatiuon and confusion for those standing in front of the canon. And ducking.
And the so-called "crazy cubes"? That moniker is my own creation. These were simply (really not so) creations by Hinton that he said would help people visualize his four dimensional world, as Rudy Rucker (see below) describes as "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..." Evidently the cubes helped many people experience a more internalized world of fantastic difference, some stating that the cubes drove some people insane. Of course they were just colored cubes, pretty in themselves--though the problem of visualization was fairly knotty.
[Source: The Fairyland of Geometry, a Cultural History of Higher Space, 1869-1909, here.]