The Mathematics of the Witch House, Part 2 – Hyperspace

This is how many science fiction movies and T.V. programs present traveling through hyperspace (from Clara Moskowitz’s site www.space.com)

In HPL’s story “The Dreams in the Witch House”, Walter Gilman is a student of non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics and through his mathematical studies and interactions with the witch Keziah Mason in dreams, masters the ability through travel through time and space.  While HPL did not coin or use the term “hyperspace”, Gilman’s dream-induced journeys were sort of a personal travel through hyperspace.

Walter Gilman being “guided” by the witch Keziah Mason in traveling through hyperspace (from Stuart Gordon’s movie The Dreams in the Witch House)

One of the earliest references of hyperspace in science fiction was in John Campbell’s “Islands of Space” in 1931.  Lovecraft wrote “The Dreams in the Witch House” in the February of 1932.  Since the early 1930’s hyperspace has been a commonly used plot device to conveniently conduct interstellar travel  at speeds faster than the speed of light.

What was unique about HPL’s notion of traveling through time and space was that he did not utilize the conventional means such as a shiny rocket ship or time machine to move through time and space.  It was simply accomplished by knowing how to interpret the reality around you.  Such unusual or innovative perspectives on conventional sci-fi tropes have been used by HPL on other subjects, such as “what an alien would look like” or “how does one time travel.”

This is what some theoretical physics students from the University of Leicester hypothesize hyperspace would actually look like (credit: University of Leicester)

However, over the last few decades, hyperspace has become more than a convenient means of moving a science fiction story forward.  Specifically, hyperspace has become a highly discussed and seriously considered topic in theoretical physics.  Specifically, the theory of hyperspace simply states that dimensions exist beyond the commonly accepted four of space and time (Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension by Michio Kaku; 1994).

Within scientific circles, the hyperspace theory is formally called Kaluza-Klien theory and supergravity.  It has also be called superstring theory.  However, since the theory revolves around the idea of reality being composed of 10 dimensions, it is frequently and popularly is called hyperspace; the hyper- prefix signifying higher-dimension geometries (Kaku, 1994).

If you are interested in this subject I strongly recommend Michio Kaku’s book  It is very entertaining and enlightening.  It has four main themes:

1.  Describes early concepts of hyperspace, emphasizing the idea that the laws of nature become simpler and more elegant when expressed in higher dimensions.

2.  Elaborates on the idea that hyperspace theory may be able to unify all known laws of nature into one theory (Unifying Theory).

3.  Explores the idea that space may be stretched until it rips or tears – creating tunnels or wormholes.

4.  Finally, the question is addressed – if the theory is proved correct, then is their any practical application in harnessing the power of hyperspace.

It should be emphasized that this is not science fiction – this is serious theoretical physics, addressing some concepts or issues that a few generations ago would only be discussed in Astounding Stories.  To conclude, as detailed in Fritz Leiber’s essay “Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin – Lovecraft’s Contribution to Speculative Fiction” (in Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon; 1998), HPL’s story linked New England, witch cult magic with the advanced theoretical physics in a very clever way.  Next time we will discuss the concept of dimensions beyond the conventional four and how this relates to Walter Gilman’s studies.  Thank you – Fred

Illustration for The Dreams in the Witch House by Erik York (Weird Tales, Ltd.)

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