4D Shapes

Exploring 4D Shapes: An Introduction to Polytopes and the Regular Convex 4-Polytopes

What are 4D Shapes and Polytopes?

regular convex 4-polytopes

"Four-dimensional space is not just an abstract concept, but rather an actual reality that is the natural extension of the three dimensions we are familiar with." - Ludwig Schläfli

The world of geometry takes on a new dimension when we venture beyond the 3D shapes we're accustomed to and explore 4D shapes, or polytopes. Polytopes are geometric figures with flat faces in any dimension, and they include polygons, polyhedra, and their higher-dimensional counterparts. In this blog post, we'll delve into the fascinating world of 4D shapes and introduce you to the regular convex 4-polytopes: the 5-cell, 8-cell, 16-cell, 24-cell, 120-cell, and 600-cell.

What are 4D shapes? To understand this concept, let's first discuss the process of "projecting" a higher-dimensional object into the dimension below. When we visualize a 3D object on a 2D surface, such as a drawing on paper or a computer screen, we are projecting the 3D object onto a 2D plane. This process involves distorting or flattening the object's dimensions so that it can be represented on a lower-dimensional plane while still maintaining its overall structure. 

Similarly, when we attempt to visualize 4D shapes or polychora, we need to project these higher-dimensional objects into our familiar 3D space. This process is called perspective projection, and it allows us to represent and study the properties of 4D shapes in a comprehensible way. While it's true that these representations are "just 3D," they provide valuable insights into the structure and geometry of the original 4D shapes, much like how a 2D blueprint can reveal the design of a 3D building.

An Overview of Regular Convex 4-Polytopes

Regular convex 4-polytopes are four-dimensional shapes with the following properties:

  • All their facets are congruent regular polyhedra.
  • The same number of facets meet at each vertex.
  • They are symmetrical in shape and appearance.

    Now, let's take a closer look at each of the six regular convex 4-polytopes.

    5-Cell: The Simplest 4-Polytope


    Also known as the pentachoron or 4-simplex, the 5-cell is the simplest 4-polytope, with five tetrahedral facets. It has five vertices, ten edges, and resembles a 4D pyramid. The 5-cell can be visualized as a tetrahedron that expands into the fourth dimension, with each of its vertices connected to a new vertex.

    Perspective Projection of 5-cell


    8-Cell: The 4D Cube

    8-cell tesseract

    The 8-cell, also called the tesseract or hypercube, is the 4D analog of a cube. It comprises eight cubic facets, with sixteen vertices and thirty-two edges. In a tesseract, each vertex connects to four edges, and each cube is connected to six others. The 8-cell can be visualized as a cube that expands into the fourth dimension, where each vertex connects to another vertex in the fourth dimension.

    Perspective Projection of 8-cell


    16-Cell: The 4D Octahedron

    16-cell rendering

    The 16-cell, or hexadecachoron, is the 4D counterpart of an octahedron. It consists of sixteen tetrahedral facets, with eight vertices and twenty-four edges. Like the 5-cell, the 16-cell is self-dual, meaning it shares the same vertices with its dual polytope. The 16-cell can be imagined as an octahedron that extends into the fourth dimension, with each vertex connected to a new vertex.

    Perspective Projection of 16-cell


    24-Cell: The Unique Self-Dual 4-Polytope

    24-cell rendering

    The 24-cell, or icositetrachoron, is a unique and highly symmetrical 4-polytope with 24 octahedral facets. It has 24 vertices and 96 edges. Unlike the other 4-polytopes, the 24-cell is self-dual, which means that its vertices and dual vertices coincide, giving it a unique geometric structure. The 24-cell can be visualized as a 3D rhombic dodecahedron that extends into the fourth dimension, with each vertex connected to a new vertex.

    Perspective Projection of 24-cell


    120-Cell: The 4D Dodecahedron

    120-cell rendering

    The 120-cell, or hecatonicosachoron, is the 4D analog of a dodecahedron. It consists of 120 dodecahedral facets, 600 vertices, and 1200 edges. The 120-cell can be imagined as a dodecahedron that extends into the fourth dimension, where each vertex connects to another vertex in the fourth dimension. The 120-cell is also the dual polytope of the 600-cell.

    Perspective Projection of 120-cell


    600-Cell: The 4D Icosahedron

    600-cell rendering

    The 600-cell, or hexacosichoron, is the 4D counterpart of an icosahedron. It comprises 600 tetrahedral facets, 120 vertices, and 720 edges. The 600-cell can be visualized as an icosahedron that expands into the fourth dimension, with each vertex connected to a new vertex in the fourth dimension. As the 4D icosahedron, the 600-cell exhibits impressive symmetry and is the dual polytope of the 120-cell.

    Perspective Projection of 600-cell 



    The Fascinating World of 4D Shapes

    4D Shapes

    Exploring 4D shapes and regular convex 4-polytopes opens up a new dimension in our understanding of geometry. These complex and symmetrical figures challenge our perception of space and invite us to dive deeper into the realms of mathematics and higher-dimensional geometry. Whether you're a math enthusiast, a geometry lover, or just curious about the world beyond three dimensions, the study of 4D shapes and polytopes offers a fascinating journey into the abstract and beautiful world of higher-dimensional geometry.

    "The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge." - Albert Einstein

    History and Development of 4D Geometry: Milestones and Key Contributors

    The study of 4D geometry has a rich history, with many significant milestones and contributors who have advanced our understanding of higher-dimensional spaces. In this section, we'll take a brief journey through the history of 4D geometry, highlighting some of the key moments and figures that have shaped the field.

    Early Ideas and Foundations

    The concept of higher-dimensional spaces dates back to the 19th century when mathematicians began to consider the possibility of geometries beyond the familiar three-dimensional space. Some of the earliest mentions of four-dimensional spaces can be found in the works of August Möbius, Arthur Cayley, and Bernhard Riemann. They laid the groundwork for the development of higher-dimensional geometry by introducing new ideas and mathematical tools.

    Ludwig Schläfli and the Regular Convex 4-Polytopes

    Swiss mathematician Ludwig Schläfli (1814-1895) made significant contributions to the study of 4D geometry. He is best known for his work on regular convex polytopes, including the discovery and classification of the six regular convex 4-polytopes: the 5-cell, 8-cell, 16-cell, 24-cell, 120-cell, and 600-cell. Schläfli's work provided the foundation for understanding the structure and properties of these fascinating 4D shapes and paved the way for further research in the field.

    Alicia Boole Stott: An Unsung Hero of 4D Geometry

    Alicia Boole Stott (1860-1940), a British mathematician and daughter of the famous logician George Boole, made remarkable contributions to the study of four-dimensional geometry. Despite lacking formal mathematical education, Stott independently discovered all six regular 4-polytopes through her own intuition and reasoning. She created accurate and beautiful three-dimensional cardboard models of their projections, which helped visualize their structure and symmetry.

    Stott introduced the terms "polytope" and "polyhedroid" to describe higher-dimensional analogs of polygons and polyhedra, respectively, and named the six regular 4-polytopes based on their structure and symmetry. Her collaboration with Dutch mathematician Pieter Hendrik Schoute further investigated the properties and relationships between these shapes. Stott's groundbreaking work laid the foundation for further research in higher-dimensional geometry and helped popularize the study of 4D shapes.

    Charles Hinton and the Idea of the Fourth Dimension

    British mathematician and science fiction writer Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907) was an early popularizer of the concept of the fourth dimension. He introduced the term "tesseract" for the 4D hypercube and wrote several books on the subject, including "An Episode of Flatland" and "A New Era of Thought." Hinton's writings not only delved into the mathematical aspects of higher-dimensional geometry but also explored philosophical and metaphysical implications, capturing the imagination of readers and inspiring further interest in the field.

    H.S.M. Coxeter and the Study of Higher-Dimensional Geometry

    Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter (1907-2003) was a prominent British-Canadian mathematician who made significant contributions to the study of higher-dimensional geometry. His work on the classification of regular polytopes and symmetry groups in various dimensions has had a profound impact on the field. Coxeter's books, such as "Regular Polytopes" and "Introduction to Geometry," have become classic texts in the study of polytopes and higher-dimensional geometry, making these concepts accessible to a wider audience.

    The history of 4D geometry is marked by numerous milestones and key contributors who have deepened our understanding of higher-dimensional spaces. As we continue to explore the fascinating world of 4D shapes and beyond, we build upon the foundations laid by these pioneers and unlock new insights into the complex and beautiful world of higher-dimensional geometry.

    Projection Methods: Visualizing 4D Shapes in Lower Dimensions

    To understand and visualize 4D shapes, we must project them into lower-dimensional spaces, such as 3D or 2D. There are several projection methods used to accomplish this, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this section, we will explore perspective projection, orthographic projection, and stereographic projection, discussing their effects on the visualization of 4D shapes.

    Perspective Projection

    Perspective projection is a technique that simulates the way our eyes perceive the 3D world around us. It involves projecting points from a higher-dimensional space onto a lower-dimensional plane while maintaining a sense of depth and perspective. This method is particularly useful for representing 4D shapes in 3D or 2D in a way that closely resembles how we naturally perceive objects in real life.


    • Provides a realistic representation of 4D shapes with a sense of depth and perspective.
    • Helps viewers to better understand and interpret the structure of 4D shapes.


    • Can cause distortion, making some aspects of the 4D shape difficult to discern.
    • Requires more complex calculations compared to other projection methods.

    Orthographic Projection

    Orthographic projection is a method where lines in the higher-dimensional space are projected onto the lower-dimensional plane while maintaining their perpendicularity. In other words, parallel lines in the original 4D shape remain parallel in the projected 3D or 2D representation, and the angles between lines are preserved. This method is often used in technical drawings and architectural blueprints.


    • Maintains proportions and angles, making it useful for accurate measurements and technical drawings.
    • Requires simpler calculations compared to perspective projection.


    • Lacks the sense of depth and perspective, making it harder to visualize the true structure of 4D shapes.
    • Can lead to ambiguity in the representation, as certain features may overlap or appear identical.

    Stereographic Projection

    Stereographic projection is a technique that maps points from a higher-dimensional space onto a lower-dimensional plane using a projection point that lies on the surface of a hypersphere enclosing the shape. This method is particularly effective for preserving angles and circles and is often used to project spherical objects onto a flat surface.


    • Preserves angles and circles, making it useful for studying the geometric properties of 4D shapes.
    • Can create visually appealing and continuous representations of 4D shapes.


    • Can distort distances and areas, leading to a less accurate representation of the 4D shape's size and scale.
    • Requires more complex calculations compared to orthographic projection.

    Each projection method has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to visualizing 4D shapes. Perspective projection offers a realistic representation with depth and perspective, orthographic projection maintains proportions and angles, and stereographic projection preserves angles and circles while creating visually appealing representations. The choice of projection method depends on the specific goals and requirements of the visualization, as well as the intended audience and their level of familiarity with higher-dimensional geometry.

    Thank you for taking the time to explore the fascinating world of 4D shapes with us. We hope this journey into the fourth dimension has expanded your understanding and appreciation of the complex yet beautiful relationship between mathematics and art.



    Here are some additional resources to help you further explore 4D shapes, polytopes, and the regular convex 4-polytopes:

    1. Books:
      • "The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained" by Henry P. Manning
      • "Four-Dimensional Descriptive Geometry" by R.H. Bartels and R. Boor
      • "Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension" by Rudolf Rucker
      • "Regular Polytopes" by H.S.M. Coxeter
    2. Online Resources:
      • Wolfram MathWorld: A comprehensive online encyclopedia of mathematical concepts, including detailed information on polytopes and four-dimensional geometry.
      • Plus Magazine: An online publication featuring articles on various mathematical topics, including several articles on the fourth dimension and higher-dimensional shapes.
      • Polytope Wiki: A wiki dedicated to the classification, description, and discovery of polytopes, including comprehensive information on regular and non-regular polytopes in various dimensions.
    3. Videos:
    4. Interactive Tools:
      • Stella4D: A software program that allows you to explore and manipulate polyhedra and polychora (four-dimensional polytopes) in an interactive 3D environment.
      • 4D Visualization: An online interactive tool that enables you to visualize and manipulate various 4D shapes, including the regular convex 4-polytopes.

    These resources should provide you with a solid foundation for exploring the fascinating world of 4D shapes and higher-dimensional geometry. Don't hesitate to dive deeper into the subject and share your discoveries with others who are passionate about mathematics and the beauty of higher dimensions.

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