The four-dimensional algebra of hyperbolic quaternions incorporates some of the features of the older and larger algebra of biquaternions. They both contain subalgebras isomorphic to the split-complex number plane. Furthermore, just as the quaternion algebra H can be viewed as a union of complex planes, so the hyperbolic quaternion algebra is a union of split-complex number planes sharing the same real line.
It was Alexander Macfarlane who promoted this concept in the 1890s as his Algebra of Physics, first through the in 1891, then through his 1894 book of five Papers in Space Analysis, and in a series of lectures at Lehigh University in 1900.
Using the distributive property, these relations can be used to multiply any two hyperbolic quaternions.
arises as the negative of the real part of the hyperbolic quaternion product pq*, and is used in Minkowski space.
Since the direction r in space is arbitrary, this hyperbolic quaternion multiplication can express any Lorentz boost using the parameter a called rapidity. However, the hyperbolic quaternion algebra is deficient for representing the full Lorentz group (see biquaternion instead).
Writing in 1967 about the dialogue on vector methods in the 1890s, a historian commentedThe introduction of another system of vector analysis, even a sort of compromise system such as Macfarlane's, could scarcely be well received by the advocates of the already existing systems and moreover probably acted to broaden the question beyond the comprehension of the as-yet uninitiated reader.
The 1890s felt the influence of the posthumous publications of W. K. Clifford and the continuous groups of Sophus Lie. An example of a one-parameter group is the hyperbolic versor with the hyperbolic angle parameter. This parameter is part of the polar decomposition of a split-complex number. But it is a startling aspect of finite mathematics that makes the hyperbolic quaternion ring different:
So the appearance of Macfarlane's hyperbolic quaternions had some motivation, but the disagreeable non-associativity precipitated a reaction. Cargill Gilston Knott was moved to offer the following:
This theorem needed statement to justify resistance to the call of the physicists and the Electrician. The quasigroup stimulated a considerable stir in the 1890s: the journal Nature was especially conducive to an exhibit of what was known by giving two digests of Knott's work as well as those of several other vector theorists. Michael J. Crowe devotes chapter six of his book A History of Vector Analysis to the various published views, and notes the hyperbolic quaternion:Macfarlane constructed a new system of vector analysis more in harmony with Gibbs–Heaviside system than with the quaternion system. ...he...defined a full product of two vectors which was comparable to the full quaternion product except that the scalar part was positive, not negative as in the older system.
The hyperbolic quaternions, as the Algebra of Physics, undercut the claim that ordinary quaternions made on physics. As for mathematics, the hyperbolic quaternion is another hypercomplex number, as such structures were called at the time. By the 1890s Richard Dedekind had introduced the ring concept into commutative algebra, and the vector space concept was being abstracted by Giuseppe Peano. In 1899 Alfred North Whitehead promoted Universal algebra, advocating for inclusivity. The concepts of quasigroup and algebra over a field are examples of mathematical structures describing hyperbolic quaternions.
The Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh published "Hyperbolic Quaternions" in 1900, a paper in which Macfarlane regains associativity for multiplication by reverting to complexified quaternions. While there he used some expressions later made famous by Wolfgang Pauli: where Macfarlane wrote
The opening sentence of the paper is "It is well known that quaternions are intimately connected with spherical trigonometry and in fact they reduce the subject to a branch of algebra." This statement may be verified by reference to the contemporary work Vector Analysis which works with a reduced quaternion system based on dot product and cross product. In Macfarlane's paper there is an effort to produce "trigonometry on the surface of the equilateral hyperboloids" through the algebra of hyperbolic quaternions, now re-identified in an associative ring of eight real dimensions. The effort is reinforced by a plate of nine figures on page 181. They illustrate the descriptive power of his "space analysis" method. For example, figure 7 is the common Minkowski diagram used today in special relativity to discuss change of velocity of a frame of reference and relativity of simultaneity.