From the Obscure to What?

This year’s Worldcon in Helsinki is almost upon us. Unfortunately I will not be going, but hope those that do have an enjoyable / productive time.

The next Worldcon in Europe is very likely to be Dublin in 2019 – see here. I say very likely as it’s the only bid for that year. Dublin is on my bucket list of places to see / things to do. So, if the currency exchange rates permit, I might go there. Amongst other crazy things, there is plaque I would like to see at Broom Bridge. The inscription is:

Here as he walked by
on the 16th of October 1843
Sir William Rowan Hamilton
in a flash of genius discovered
the fundamental formula for
quaternion multiplication
i² = j² = k² = ijk = −1
& cut it on a stone of this bridge.


What the heck is all that about you might say? And why is it important?

Quarterions were in many ways the forerunners of what we know as matrices and tensors today, i.e. the ability to process large sets of numbers and parameters in a systematic way. Without this, we would not have a chance of understanding quantum mechanics or be able to predict the effects of forces on materials and objects accurately and with safety.

Do quarterions have a use in the real world today? Short answer is yes. There is one very important, yet obscure use. They help make sure that trajectory, flightpath and sailing route calculations across the international date line drawn through the Pacific Ocean are correct. It makes travelling across the date line safer.

So here we have an example of at first obscure knowledge eventually leading to changing the world as we know it. And it still has important practical uses even if the subject has sunk back into obscurity and is now known and understood only by a few.

In many ways, the topics science fiction covers can follow the same arc – thought up in an obscure corner of the world (e.g. by a bridge over a canal in Dublin), published in a paper accessible to a few, played around with by a small group of people, new discoveries / extrapolations of the the subject can do are made, becomes the hot debated topic of the day, something new develops out of that topic, falls back into obscurity although the topic is still used.

At the moment there are a lot of science fiction topics being published. The question is which will rise above the rest to lead the way in pushing not only science fiction further, but also the way society works?



2 thoughts on “From the Obscure to What?

  1. Hi, Rosie! Always love to read little obscure facts like that. Too bad there aren’t more monuments to places where flashes of inspiration occurred.

    Dublin, 2019…I’d like to see Dublin myself. Who knows?

  2. Ah… I would also like to make Dublin if at all possible. Sadly Helskinki is beyond me this year – but like you, I very much hope all who are going have a fabulous time!

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