with Alicia Boole
Starting at eighteen, with little specially coloured cubes, that had been devised by a regular visitor to her home, Charles Howard Hinton, to visualise the four dimensional Tesseract which he had named, Alicia Boole was able to develop a phenomenal ability to visualise four dimensions. She went on, as Alicia Boole Stott, to publish papers on the subject, share her models and collaborate with other mathematicians.
In the same way that we cut through three dimensional shapes with an infinitely thin knife in order to visualize their two dimensional cross-sections, and perhaps with a lot of practice, and the right use of angles, we can work backwards from cross-sections to reproduce the solid, Alicia was able to mentally cut through four dimensional polytopes to see the three dimensional shapes that are their sections. She was able to see these polyhedra change size and for new three dimensional shapes to appear and disappear as she cut further through the four dimensional object in her mind. Alicia then drew what she saw and made nets and models to explain the 4 dimensional polytopes she visualised to other people.
Given the fact that her father was the logician Boole, of Boolean logic fame, and her mother was related to the Everests of Mount Everest, it seems likely that Alicia could have accomplished more if her father had not died when she was four years old and she was plunged into penury, and it may have helped if the education system had provided better formal education to the females of the time.
However, she certainly received a good tuition from her mother. Mary Everest Boole had studied with her husband, George Boole. When Boole died, Everest Boole moved to England and was oﬀered a job at Queen’s College in London as a librarian. Her passion however was teaching, and she liked giving advice to the students [Mich]. She had innovating ideas about education, believing for example that children should manipulate things in order to make the unconscious understanding of mathematical ideas grow [Mich]. Her belief that models should be used in order to visualize and understand geometrical objects is reﬂected in the following words:
There is another set of models, the use of which is to provide people who have left school with a means of learning the relation between three dimensions and four. [Eve1] The geometric education may begin as soon as the child’s hands can grasp objects. Let him have, among his toys, the ﬁve regular solids and a cut cone. [Eve2]
The Princess of Polytopia: Alicia Boole Stott and the 120-cell: http://goo.gl/cul3bd
Dissertation (open) on Alicia and her polytopes (from Groningen): http://goo.gl/igTCqK
And as a (closed) paper by Irene Polo-Blanco: http://goo.gl/xYQPaX
Using Cross sections: http://goo.gl/JqNE8l
Which is part of:
A fascinating guide to visualising 4D polytopes: http://goo.gl/Npmld5
Charles Howard Hinton: http://goo.gl/yS0SY2