Friday, September 13, 2013

Excerpt from H.G. Wells' "The Chronic Argonauts"

H.G. Wells wrote more books about time travel than "The Time Machine." It appears Mr. Wells thought about the subject a lot. He also wrote a short story which pre-dates "The Time Machine" by seven years. "The Chronic Argonauts" seems to be Wells struggling with concepts of dimensionality. The language is somewhat dense, but Wells does suggest that our concept of three dimensions was somewhat limited. He describes the fourth dimension in this tale. The concept of time as the fourth dimension was mathematically examined in the 18th C. but is a more recent development in popular culture. It wasn't exactly common knowledge in the 19th C. until Mr. Wells gave us the low-down.

Download an ebook copy (EPUB, MOBI, PRDF) of "The Chronic Argonauts" by clicking this line. Other classic time travel stories are available in the same directory.


Dr. Nebogipfel paused, looked in sudden doubt at the clergyman's perplexed face. "You think that sounds mad," he said, "to travel through time?"

"It certainly jars with accepted opinions," said the clergyman, allowing the faintest suggestion of controversy to appear in his intonation, and speaking apparently to the Chronic Argo. Even a clergyman of the Church of England you see can have a suspicion of illusions at times.

"It certainly does jar with accepted opinions," agreed the philosopher cordially. "It does more than that — it defies accepted opinions to mortal combat. Opinions of all sorts, Mr. Cook — Scientific Theories, Laws, Articles of Belief, or, to come to elements, Logical Premises, Ideas, or whatever you like to call them — all are, from the infinite nature of things, so many diagrammatic caricatures of the ineffable — caricatures altogether to be avoided save where they are necessary in the shaping of results — as chalk outlines are necessary to the painter and plans and sections to the engineer. Men, from the exigencies of their being, find this hard to believe."

The Rev. Elijah Ulysses Cook nodded his head with the quiet smile of one whose opponent has unwittingly given a point.

"It is as easy to come to regard ideas as complete reproductions of entities as it is to roll off a log. Hence it is that almost all civilised men believe in the reality of the Greek geometrical conceptions."

"Oh! pardon me, sir," interrupted Cook. "Most men know that a geometrical point has no existence in matter, and the same with a geometrical line. I think you underrate … "

"Yes, yes, those things are recognised," said Nebogipfel calmly; "but now … a cube. Does that exist in the material universe?"


"An instantaneous cube?"

"I don't know what you intend by that expression."

"Without any other sort of extension; a body having length, breadth, and thickness, exists?"

"What other sort of extension can there be?" asked Cook, with raised eyebrows.

"Has it never occurred to you that no form can exist in the material universe that has no extension in time?… Has it never glimmered upon your consciousness that nothing stood between men and a geometry of four dimensions — length, breadth, thickness, and duration — but the inertia of opinion, the impulse from the Levantine philosophers of the bronze age?"

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