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Explosive Poe

 

From René van Slooten’s pen, another article published in The Baltimore Post Examiner on Oct 18, this time discussing the brief yet intense experience Poe had in the Army, and how it left traces in his work.

Edgar Allan Poe: the artillerist-poet and his explosive legacy.

 

The young Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) had a remarkable military career of almost four years, which had a lasting effect on his later literary work. Many Poe biographers speculated about his time in the US Army, but the first who really solved the riddle of Poe’s military life, was Major William F. Hecker (1968-2006), a US Army artillery officer who also had a masters degree in English. Continue Reading »

As an assistant professor of English at West Point from 2000 to 2003, Major Hecker had the opportunity to check Poe’s military records, which revealed surprising facts. He presented his findings to an international audience of Poe scholars, at the Second International Edgar Allan Poe Conference (Baltimore, October 2002), where I presented a paper about Poe’s cosmology ‘Eureka’. In my younger days I served as an artillerist in the Royal Netherlands Army, so I was happy to talk with Maj. Hecker about the military background that we shared with Poe.

Later Maj. Hecker used his groundbreaking research for the book ‘Private Perry and Mister Poe. The West Point Poems’; a facsimile edition of the poems that Poe wrote during his time as a cadet at West Point.[i] This book was published in 2005, but tragically William Hecker was killed in the service of his country in Iraq in January 2006, so he could never fully enjoy the appreciation for his surprising and original contribution to Poe research. His death was not only a tragedy for his family, but also a severe loss for the international community of Poe scholars, which lost one of its most innovative members. This essay about Poe is therefore also a tribute to the late William F. Hecker, a field artillery major in the US Army’s 4th Infantry Division.

 

After Edgar Allan Poe abandoned his studies at the University of Virginia  –at 17 he was clearly too young to stand on his own feet- he did not want to go back to his stern foster father John Allan. So on May 26, 1827 he took the drastic step to enlist in the US Army under the assumed name Edgar A. Perry. He was assigned to the coastal artillery at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston (the location for his later tale The Gold Bug’). His excellent upbringing and education apparently distinguished him from the average enlisted man, because within two months he was given the responsible function of company clerk, planning and managing the daily activities of his battery. This relieved him of unpleasant duties and it brought him into contact with the commanding officers. These were so pleased with Poe’s accurate work, that within a year he was selected to be trained as an ‘artificer’. That was the most demanding, precise and dangerous job that the army had to offer: calculating, assembling and timing the fuses, bombs and grenades that the artillery used for different purposes. It required very accurate practical skills, as well as knowledge of applied mathematics, chemistry and physics. This work brought the young Poe into even closer contact  with the senior officers, who on January 1, 1829, when he was not yet 20 years old, promoted him to Sergeant Major. This was the highest enlisted rank in the army, with a doubling in pay and a free daily ration of rum or whiskey. Poe did in less than two years what other enlisted men hoped to achieve in 20 or 30 years, and often did not achieve at all. He also received letters of recommendation for West Point from four of his superior officers, which made him one of the very exceptional soldiers who leave the enlisted ranks to become cadets at West Point. In fact, during a period of at least five years on either side of his own admittance to West Point, Poe was the only one who managed to do so.

 

After the long and formal admittance procedure, Poe entered West Point in June 1830. However, at that time his relation with his foster father John Allan had completely deteriorated, after his beloved foster mother Frances Allan Keeling died in February 1829. The wealthy John Allan had soon found a second wife, and Poe, who was not formally adopted, understood that he would never inherit a penny. So after some time at West Point he concluded that an officer’s life with its social obligations but low income, was no longer possible for him: ‘The Army does not suit a poor man’ as he later wrote. And, although an excellent student, he deliberately choose the path to a dishonourable discharge by not attending classes, missing roll calls and not showing up for duties. So, finally, in February 1831, he was officially discharged from West Point, but he left there in tears, according to one witness. It should be noted that the formal charges against him did not mention abuse of alcohol. Poe was allergic to alcohol and he was not a regular or heavy drinker, as has often been suggested.

 

However, Poe’s military training and experiences, especially those as an artificer, followed him his whole life and became a standard for his literary work. Major Hecker describes it as follows: ‘The result is the explosive verse and short prose that continues to resonate almost two centuries later. […] Truly, Poe’s time as a military artificer turned him into our great artillerist-poet, carefully constructing poetic bombs and launching them at his audience in hopes that they would detonate, thereby transporting his readers into a “Holy Land” of beauty, hope and love’. And for the audience this should be a dramatic and life changing experience, as Poe intended it to be. His poetic bombs were destined to explode in the minds of his audience and transform and elevate their feelings, emotions and opinions: it was creative destruction on a spiritual level.

But creative destruction needs tales and poems that are not only original, but also dark and apocalyptic, like a bomb that annihilates itself to fulfil its destiny. And it is evident that Poe wrote such apocalyptic literature that was meant to transform the mind of the reader. Like ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ and ‘The Back Cat’, two allegories in which he warned his audience how the slavery issue would eventually turn the beautiful American dream into a nightmare that would destroy the fabric of society. (See http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-fall-house-tale-announced-american-apocalypse/2014/09/16 )

But destructive creationism can also become a beautiful thing, as he showed in his final masterpiece ‘Eureka. An essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe’. Poe gave his audience a universe that continually destroys and renews itself in an endless succession of violent collapses and brilliant explosions. It was the perfect and revolutionary dream of a former US Army artificer; a dream that indeed strongly resonates, 170 years later, in the science and philosophy of today. (See http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-philosophically-and-scientifically-ahead-of-his-time/2012/09/16 )

[i]

Private Perry and Mister Poe’

The West Point Poems 1831.

Facsimile Edition (165 pages).

Edited and Introduced by William F. Hecker.

Foreword ‘Marching with Poe’ by Daniel Hoffman (Poe biographer and Poet Laureate)

Afterword ‘Poe’s Nom de Guerre’ by Gerard A. McGowan (Associate Professor of

English at West Point)

Louisiana State University Press (June 2005)

ISBN-10: 0807130540

ISBN-13: 978-0807130544

After a while without any new posts, we have an interesting article from  Theodore Walker Jr. In his brief though incisive piece, he argues that, in Eureka, Poe’s success in anticipating future developments in Science is largely due to the ability of the natural philosophers of yore, and Poe’s,  to see poetry in nature. As Natural Philosophy turned into Science, the focus changed to empiricism, rationalism and cold data, and, the way I see it, only now intuition is making its way back to the scene. Mr. Walker is also a theologian, and therefore he emphasizes the role of God in Poe’s cosmological views. Continue Reading »

5 December 2015

Edgar Allan Poe’s Cosmology and Natural Theology:

A Constructive Postmodern Appreciation

 

Theodore Walker Jr.

 

 

As graphic artists know, the frame can influence perception of the framed work, sometimes decisively. Edgar Allan Poe’s little book Eureka [also titled Eureka: An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe; and Eureka: A Prose Poem, and from the first edition’s book spine—Eureka or the Universe] (1848) is conveniently framed by fifteen of Poe’s science fiction essays (chronologically, thirteen published before Eureka, and two afterwards) in The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe (1976) collected and edited with an Introduction and Commentary by Harold Beaver. And, as indicated in Beaver’s introduction, Poe’s pioneering contributions to science fiction are celebrated.

 

When we are rigorously attentive to the content of Eureka, and wholly inattentive to its frame (science fiction), we find that in Eureka Poe was seriously attempting to advance ‘truth’ about the universe. Thus, in addition to being “a prose poem” (Poe’s formal frame) framed with Poe’s science fiction (Beaver’s content frame), Eureka is astronomy and cosmology, plus natural theology, not science fiction.

 

For the purpose of appreciating Poe’s cosmology, we can be helped by studying an unframed printing such as Eureka / Edgar Allan Poe (2004 [1848]) edited with an Introduction, Notes, and Textual Variants by Stuart Levine and Susan F. Levine. In this printing of Eureka, Poe’s paragraphs are consecutively numbered, from 1 to 266. Plus, there is an Appendix featuring eighteen numbered paragraphs of Poe’s Postscript to a Letter about the Lecture ‘Eureka,’ Notes to Eureka and Poe’s Postscript, a seven-page Bibliography, and a fifteen-page Index.

 

*Hereafter, Poe’s 1848 text will be referenced by Levine and Levine 2004 paragraph numbers.

 

As an essay in cosmology, Poe’s Eureka is remarkable. Despite occasional errors and inconsistencies, in some important respects, Poe was well ahead of his time. For example, Lord Kelvin’s quantitatively correct solution to Olbers’s Paradox in 1901 was preceded by Poe’s qualitatively correct solution in 1848. Cosmologist Edward Harrison says:

 

Lord Kelvin in 1901 tested an ‘old and celebrated hypothesis’ that if we could see far enough into space the whole sky would be occupied with stellar disks all of perhaps the same brightness as the Sun. Kelvin was the first to solve quantitatively and correctly the riddle of a dark night sky, a riddle that had been previously solved qualitatively by Edgar Allan Poe, and is now known as Olbers’ paradox.

(Edward Harrison 1986: 417)

 

Poe was fifty-three years ahead of Kelvin. Furthermore, seventy-nine years before Georges Edouard Lemaître proposed that we live in a homogeneous universe of constant mass and increasing radius (1927), a universe that started from one “primeval atom” (English translation 1950); Poe had already proposed that the equable distribution of matter radiated throughout the universe started from one “primordial particle” (1848).

 

Lemaître’s 1927 conception (of a homogeneous universe of constant mass and increasing radius) explains the red-shifted light from extragalactic nebulae first observed in 1913 by Vestro Melvin Slipher, and more fully observed by Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason in 1929.

 

Poe’s 1848 conception (of matter equally radiated in all directions) explains the observed distribution of the stars. The stars are spherically distributed in a way consistent with light radiated equally in all directions from one central point, and “in direct proportion with the squares of the distances” from that point (Poe 1848 [2004: paragraphs 85).

 

Poe was first to propose universal radiation from one originating “absolute Unity” (“multiplicity out of unity”), from the ultimate absolutely unique “Oneness,” the “one particle,” the one “primordial Particle,” the universal singularity from which all “originally created” matter was “radiated spherically—in all directions” (1848 [2004: paragraphs 45-50]). Moreover, Poe proposed that universal “radiation”/expansion is followed by gravity powered universal “concentralization”/contraction, and then by new expansions and contractions in “limitless succession” (Ibid: paragraph 187). Thus Poe “anticipated the expansion, collapse, and possible oscillation of the universe,” says Edward Harrison in Cosmology: The Science of the Universe (2005 [1981]: 510). Similarly, in “Eureka, the Lyceum, and Cosmic Science” (2013) Robert J. Scholnick appreciates Poe’s cosmological anticipations.

 

In Poe’s day (1848), his conception—of universal radiation from oneness followed by universal contraction—was often regarded as sheer fiction. Such regard is not surprising. Poe’s proposal came eighty-one years before the Hubble-Humason observations (1929), and ninety-eight years before George Gamow’s fully modern theory of the expanding universe (1946). Physicist and historian of science Helge Kragh argues that Lemaître’s primeval atom is “a condensed material pre-universe,” not a singularity (1996: 54; also 1993: 373). Thus, Kragh “marks the beginning” of fully “modern big bang theory” (1993: 377) with the publication of George Gamow’s “Expanding Universe and the Origin of Elements” (1946). And according to scientific consultant for Levine and Levine—Bruce Twarog, Poe’s cosmology is “loosely … equivalent to the ‘Big Bang’ theory,” and his “notion of the ‘reciprocity’ of matter and energy” is “roughly akin to the modern understanding of the relationship represented by Einstein’s e = mc2,” and one could plausibly claim Poe intuited “something roughly like a black hole” while coming “close to anticipating astrophysical speculation that the universe is ultimately going to coalesce because it lacks sufficient energy to escape its own gravity” (Levine and Levine 2004: xxi). Hence, Poe was nearly a century ahead of fully modern big bang theory, and more than a century ahead of subsequent big crunch and oscillating universe speculations.

 

In our day (2015f), universal radiation from oneness [singularity] possibly followed by universal contraction—has come to be taken seriously, not as fiction. Nevertheless, many scientists continue to regard Poe’s cosmology (a poetic blend of a posteriori observation, a priori logic, and imaginative-speculative intuition) as not scientific.

 

For example, Helge Kragh describes Poe’s cosmology as a “remarkable example” of “cosmogonic speculations” that “predate the scientifically argued idea” (1996: 39). Obviously, Poe was not a natural scientist in the contemporary sense sharply distinguished from a natural philosopher.

 

The modern natural scientist is said to be distinguished (from the early modern natural philosopher) by failure to appreciate poetry in nature, and by a corresponding failure to appreciate poetic presentations of natural scientific ideas. This late modern separation of science from poetry was marked in the year 1833 when poet and natural philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge lamented that his colleagues in the British Association for the Advancement of Science were not true natural philosophers. Unlike true natural philosophers, they failed to appreciate the poetry actualized in nature. See Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science (1981) by Trevor Harvey Levere. In responding to Coleridge’s lament, William Whewell coined the term “scientist” (analogous to “artist”). See the prologue—“Inventing the Scientist”—in The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends [William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones] Who Transformed Science and Changed the World (2011) by Laura J. Snyder.

 

“When Poe called Eureka a poem,” write Levine and Levine, “he was placing it in a very long tradition of writings that were poetic and were at the same time attempts to grasp the nature of things” (2004: xii). Thus, Poe was doing natural science and poetry in the tradition of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other true natural philosophers, such as naturalist-cosmologist Alexander von Humbolt, to whom Poe dedicated Eureka (Scholnick October 2011). And, as was the case for Coleridge, and for Humbolt; for Poe, natural philosophy includes natural theology.

 

Late modern scientists seldom speak affirmatively of God. By contrast, Poe attributed universal radiation to the Divine Will. The universe, says Poe, swells “into existence” and subsides “into nothingness” (expands and contracts) “at every throb of the Heart Divine” (1848 [2004: paragraph 255). Hence, Poe rejected late modern disregard for poetry, art, natural philosophy, and natural theology.

 

Poe confronted disregard for his methods head-on. Concerning the role of imagination and intuition in science, Poe argued that “true Science” “makes its most important advances—as all History will show—by seemingly intuitive leaps” (1848 [2004: paragraph 14]). Poe argued at length against the conviction “that the Aristotelian and Baconian roads” are “the sole possible avenues to knowledge” (Ibid), and against “repression of imagination” (Ibid: paragraph 15), especially in cosmology where one must generalize.

 

Similarly, Alfred North Whitehead, in Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1978 [1927-28 Gifford Lectures]), explains the “collapse of the method of rigid empiricism” when seeking general truths (p. 4-5). He says:

 

It [collapse of rigid empiricism] occurs whenever we seek the larger generalities. In natural science this rigid method is the Baconian method of induction, a method which, if consistently pursued, would have left science where it found it. What Bacon omitted was the play of a free imagination, controlled by the requirements of coherence and logic. The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.

(Whitehead 1978 [1927-28]: 4-5)

 

In addition to affirming “imaginative generalization,” Whitehead combines natural scientific cosmology with natural theology and poetry, thereby describing God as “the poet of the world” (1978 [197-28]: 346). In appreciating poetry in nature, in appreciating natural theology, and in other important respects (such as rejecting dualism and materialism), Whiteheadian natural philosophy and science is radically different from late modern science. This “radically different” philosophy of nature is called “postmodern” and “constructive postmodern” in Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy (2007) by David Ray Griffin. Constructive postmodern thought—of the radically different type indicated by Whitehead—enables us to better appreciate that Eureka is natural scientific cosmology, poetry, and natural theology.

 

 

For more about constructive postmodern appreciation of poetry, art, and natural theology in astronomy and cosmology (including Poe’s cosmology), see The Big Bang and God: An Astro-Theology – wherein an astronomer and a theologian offer a study of interdisciplinary convergences with natural theology both in the scientific researches of Sir Fred Hoyle and in the philosophical researches of Charles Hartshorne and Alfred North Whitehead, thereby illustrating a constructive postmodern trend (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) by Theodore Walker Jr. and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

—–

 

Works Cited

 

Beaver, Harold, editor. (1976). The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, collected and edited with an Introduction and Commentary by Harold Beaver. New York: Penguin Books.

 

Griffin, David Ray. (2007). Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy: An Argument for its Contemporary Relevance. Albany: State University of New York Press.

 

Harrison, Edward. (1981). Cosmology: The Science of the Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005 reprint.

 

Harrison, Edward. (31 July 1986). “Kelvin on an Old, Celebrated Hypothesis” in Nature, a commentary, vol. 322, pages 417-18 [doi:10.1038/322417a0].

 

Humboldt [Baron Friedrich Heinrich], Alexander von. (1866 [1845]). Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe, in four volumes, translated by Elise C. Otté. New York: Harper.

 

Kopley, Richard and Jana Argersinger, editors. (2013). Poe Writing / Writing Poe. New York: AMS Press.

 

Kragh, Helge. (1993). “Big Bang Cosmology” in Cosmology: Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives. , edited by Norriss S. Hetherington. New York: Routledge, 2008 digital printing.

 

Kragh, Helge. (1996). Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

Lemaître, Georges Edouard. (1927). “Un Univers homogène de masse constant et de rayon croissant rendant compte de la vitesse radiale des nébuleuses extragalactiques” [A homogeneous universe of constant mass and increasing radius accounting for the radial velocity of extragalactic nebulae]. Annales de la Société Scientifique de Bruxelles, A47, pp. 49-59.

 

Lemaître, Georges Edouard. (1950). The Primeval Atom: An Essay on Cosmogony, translation by Betty H. and Serge A. Korff, preface by Ferdinand Gonseth, foreword by Henry Norris Russell. New York: D. Van Nostrand.

 

Levere, Trevor Harvey. (1981). Poetry Realized in Nature: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Early Nineteenth-Century Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Levine, Stuart and Susan F. Levine, editors. (2004 [1848]). Eureka / Edgar Allan Poe. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

 

Scholnick, Robert J. (October 2011). “Change and Transformation: Voyaging with Poe and Alexander von Humboldt; Douglas Anderson. Pictures of Ascent in the Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe; Laura Dassow Walls. The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America” in the journal Poe Studies, volume 44, issue 1, pages 89-96 [online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6095.2011.00038.x].

 

Scholnick, Robert J. (2013). “Eureka, the Lyceum, and Cosmic Science” in Poe Writing/Writing Poe. New York: AMS Press, 2013, edited by Richard Kopley and Jana Argersinger.

 

Snyder, Laura J. (2011). The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World. New York: Crown.

 

Whitehead, Alfred North. (1927-28). Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (Gifford Lectures), 1978 Corrected Edition, edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press.

 

 Our co-sponsor René van Slooten just penned another article about Edgar Poe’s influence over so many areas of  Literature and Thought. This new piece is published in the American website MysteriousWritings.com (http://mysteriouswritings.com/the-still-mysterious-writings-of-edgar-allan-poe/), and can be found as well both in the Baltimore Post Examiner and the Los Angeles Post Examiner. Enjoy!

Continue Reading »

  The Still Mysterious Writings of Edgar Allan Poe            

By René van Slooten (The Netherlands)

The American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is the most influential writer in modern literature. Since 1860 his works are read and studied all over the world, and they were and still are an inspiration for countless other poets and writers. The international ‘Poe Studies Association’ has a few hundred members at universities on all continents; there is even an ‘Edgar Allan Poe Society of Japan’!

And yet, despite all the studies and research, there is still a lot of mystery and many enigmas that surround Poe as a person as well as his work.

Mysterious Poe

The greatest mystery, according to many, is Poe’s death on October 7, 1849 in Baltimore. There are at least 40 theories and explanations about how and why Poe died, but none of these theories is conclusive and the mystery will probably never be solved. There is even one intriguing theory which speculates that Poe staged his own death with the help of a doctor who was his friend, in order to escape from his creditors. And that he started a new life in the Deep South, where no-one knew him, and where he became a mentor and ghost writer for Mark Twain. As far as Poe’s death is concerned, almost anything goes. But that is certainly not true for most of his tales and essays, some of which have been misunderstood for a very long time, and some of which may even contain secret messages.

The mysteries in Poe’s poems and tales are of different characters and intentions, but they can be grouped as downright cryptography, as allegories or parodies with a hidden meaning, or, lastly, as prophetic writings.

Cryptography

Poe was fascinated by cryptography and he wrote much about it. As a journalist and editor he even challenged his readers with cryptographic puzzles. One of these was solved only 15 years ago by the Canadian computer expert Gil Broza (see, for instance, http://cryptocrap.blogspot.nl/2011/11/edgar-allen-poe-cipher.html).

In his tale ‘The Gold Bug’ Poe used a cipher about a hidden treasure, in which case he used simple letter substituton as the key, the solution of which is given in the tale. But Poe also mastered more complex forms of cryptography, like the use of a ‘key sentence’ of 26 letters that replace the normal alphabet. This leads to the suggestion that Poe has hidden secret messages in at least six of his most famous tales, for these tales have an opening sentence or motto of 26 letters that could very well be key sentences. Hiding a secret message in an apparently normal and meaningful text, is a special kind of cryptography that is known as ‘steganography’. Needless to say, that the first one who breaks the ‘Poe Code’ will become world famous!

But Poe’s most ingenious use of cryptography is in the Valentine poems that he wrote for two friends, Sarah Anna Lewis and Frances Sargent Osgood. Their names are hidden in the first letter of the first line of the poem, followed by the second letter of the second line, etc. This means that these two poems of 14 and 20 lines, have a predetermined letter in a predetermined place in every line. A very clever cipher that can only be done by a magician with words, like Poe!

(See also: http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-and-cryptography-are-there-hidden-messages-in-eureka/2013/04/27)

Allegories and parodies

Many of Poe’s tales were inspired by what he saw and experienced in the society in which he lived. But usually it was disguised as a parabel, as an allegory or as a parody. So also here we have a kind of cryptography, but of a higher order. Poe’s tales are ‘layered’, which means that they can be read and interpreted in diferent ways; as is the case with all great literature. It was known, for instance, that Poe’s only real novel ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ contains many autobiographical elements, but a recent publication shows that it was also inspired by the Declaration of Independence which gives it a deeper political meaning (see http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-and-isolationism-his-mysterious-years-in-new-york/2015/05/05).

Two famous tales that are also closely linked at a deeper political level are ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839) and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ (1841), because both tales were inspired by the financial-economic crisis that developed in the USA after 1837 (known in economic history as ‘The Great Panic of 1837’). The ‘Red Death’ deals with with the crippling debt crisis in American society, where many people and families lost their money and properties, and it condems the irresponsible and selfish behaviour of the political and financial élite during that crisis.

Poe’s most famous tale ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839) is even more revealing about his political opinions. There have been many interpretations of this tale about Roderick Usher and his twin sister Madeline, who live in a gloomy and condemned house, where they each suffer from an incurable disease, eventually destroying themselves and the house in which their family had lived for generations. However, there are good reasons to assume that this tale is an allegory about the USA itself (the House) and the growing political and economic schism between the northern states (Roderick Usher) and the southern states (Madeline Usher). This interpretation shows that Poe considered the north-south conflict as hopeless, and that he foresaw that slavery (Madeline’s chronic illness) would become the trigger for a disastrous conflict that would terminate the USA as he knew it. Roderick’s more acute illness is another metaphor for the Great Panic of 1837 and the ensuing economic crisis. It is significant that this interpretation also gives a revealing meaning to the third person in the tale, the powerless, exited and unintelligible physician in the House, who is always ignored in other interpretations. It is a metaphor for Martin van Buren, the President of the USA when Poe wrote the tale. Van Buren indeed failed to address the slavery issue and also his economic policy was not effective against the depression. That the physician in the tale is unintelligible, is Poe’s ironic reference to the fact that Van Buren often preferred to speak Dutch, because he was born and raised in a Dutch speaking community in Pennsylvania (

http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-fall-house-tale-announced-american-apocalypse/2014/06/04).

 

So here we have another example that even Poe’s two best known tales are not the straighforward horror stories that they appear to be at first sight, but cloaked allegories or parodies of the alarming developments that he observed in the American society.

Poe’s Prophesies

Poe was an  extremely perceptive and empathic man, so he could see and understand things that were still hidden for his contemporaries. But he also realized that such observations will not be understood by others, so he choose the literary form of an allegory or metaphor to express his views, probably hoping that the real meaning would be understood sometime. So ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is not only a horror story about a twin brother and a sister, but it is also a prophesy about the ante bellum USA, because it accurately predicts the sequence of events that lead to the Civil War, more than 20 years later. Because the northern states started with severe economic measure (Roderick declaring his sister dead and burying her alive), after which the southern states responded with a military attack (Madeline rises from the grave to kill her brother and destroy their common and ancestral home).

But Poe’s most mysterious and fascinating prophecy is the cosmogony ‘Eureka’ that he published in 1848, the year before his mysterious death. Only 500 copies were printed, but Poe considered it as his best work and the key stone of his oeuvre, after which he had nothing more to write. And, indeed, this ‘Eureka’ is one of the the most intriguing and prophetic scientific and philosophical treatises in world literature. It proves that Poe was a century and more ahead of his time, which explains why his contemporaries could not understand ‘Eureka’ and even ridiculed it. But he fact is that ‘Eureka’ contains more than 20 major philosophical and scientific ideas and concepts that are common knowledge today, but that were absolutely unheard of in Poe’s days. It includes the theory of the Big Bang and the expanding universe, and also ideas about a chaotic and ‘cyclic’ universe, multiple universes, evolution of species, relativity and the velocity of light, the unity of time and space, and much, much more. (See www.poe-eureka.com)

In the USA this ‘Eureka’ was soon forgotten, and it was not reprinted untill more than a century after Poe’s death. But in Europe things went differently, because of Poe’s incredible popularity there, after his work was discovered by French writers and poets like Baudelaire, Mallarmé and Verlaine. They translated his work into French, which was the common language of the European cultural élite, so already soon after his death Poe became popular all over Europe. Also ‘Eureka’ was translated by Baudelaire and published in 1859 in a widely read international cultural magazine, so it got a flying start in Europe when it was already forgotten in the USA. It was seen as a visionary piece by a genius, of which the true meaning would become clear sooner or later. In 1871 it was even officially forbidden in Russia, because of Poe’s revolutionary ideas, although his other work had become popular and very influential there. Nevertheless Poe’s ideas about a completely different universe were firmly implanted in the European minds. And their time came after WWI, when the sciences of nature were completely revised, due to Einstein’s theory of relativity and the development of quantum physics. At least two scientists were inspired by ‘Eureka‘: Alexander Friedmann (1884-1925), the Russian scientist who in 1922 published the mathematics for the dynamic universe, and Georges Lamaître (1888-1966), the Belgian scientist who in 1927 published the theory of the ‘Big Bang’. Most probably also the famous American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) knew ‘Eureka’, because he was a fanatic collector and reader of books on astronomy. It is interesting to note here that Poe, Friedmann, Lemaître and Hubble had similar military backgrounds and training: all four were experts in ballistics and explosives!

Nevertheless, in order to do justice to the real history of science, the Hubble Space Telescope should have been named the Edgar Allan Poe Space Telescope! Will NASA ever recognize Poe’s enormous contribution to space science, by naming a major space project, satellite or interstellar vehicle after him?

………………………………………………………………………………………..

Two New Articles

As an indirect result of the Fourth International Conference on Edgar Allan Poe held on last February in New York City, two articles, authored by this website’s editors René van Slooten and Regina Pimentel,  were published in the Baltimore Post Examiner. The links are as follows:

http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/dreamers-offer-book-truths-edgar-allan-poes-lifelong-quest-livable-world/2015/04/02

http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poes-way-of-thinking-science-with-eureka/2015/04/08

 

Eureka in Spanish

The Spanish translation of Eureka, by Julio Cortázar, the great Argentinian writer, is now available here:

 

Eureka – Spanish translation – Cortázar

We found an interesting article in the Russian newspaper Pravda (link here:   http://english.pravda.ru/news/russia/19-11-2002/14706-0/).It was published in 19 November 2002, and is worth mentioning here.The original publication, authored by Eugene Matusevich, was placed in the website http://www.membrana.ru (the Russian text can be found at  http://www.membrana.ru/particle/1679 ).

From the Dutch magazine ‘Kunst en Wetenschap’ (‘Art and Science’)

(www.kunstenwetenschap.nl)

Volume 22 nr. 4 – Winter 2013/2014 – page 28

Column: A Pronounced Opinion

Title: An Extraordinary Independent Mind

 

Written and translated by René van Slooten

 

In 1848 the American writer Edgar Allan Poe published a cosmogony ‘Eureka. An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe’. It was his answer to philosophical questions that had haunted him for a long time, because he disagreed with the determined, ‘mechanistic’ world-view that had arisen from the celestial mechanics of Newton. Poe detested this so-called ‘clockwork universe’, which he saw as a prison that leaves no physical and spiritual freedom whatsoever. His clearest description of this horrible ‘condition humaine’ is the story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. However, this radical rejection of the scientific opinion of his time, meant that Poe had to invent an entirely new universe in which gravity is not the fundamental and all-dominant force of nature from Newton’s laws, but which nevertheless explained all known phenomena. Continue Reading »

It is astounding how this basic idea – gravity cannot be a fundamental force of nature –  challenged and inspired Poe to construct a surprisingly modern cosmogony. ‘Eureka’ contains more than twenty ideas and concepts that were revolutionary in 1848, but that are now part of everyday science, like a ‘Big Bang’, an expanding universe, the unity of space and time, the velocity of light as the speed limit for electro-magnetic phenomena, the equivalence of matter and energy, and black holes as the final phase of stars and milky ways. It is also remarkable that in ‘Eureka’ Poe dared to write about the principles of evolution, in which he attributed an important role to geologic and cosmic catastrophes.

In the USA ‘Eureka’ received harsh criticism, it was hardly sold and it never got the attention that it deserves. However, in Europe things went differently. In 1859 the poet Charles Baudelaire published a French translation of ‘Eureka’ in the ‘Revue International’ that was read all over Europe. And because in Europe Poe was considered a brilliant and prophetic poet and writer, also ‘Eureka’ was taken seriously as a visionary piece. So seriously, in fact, that in 1871 it was officially forbidden in Russia!

But due to Poe’s popularity and profound influence in Europe during the period 1860-1930, it is not strange that his ideas inspired others to develop a new ideas about the universe, like the Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann (1888-1925) who in 1922 proposed the ‘dynamic’ universe, and the Belgian physicist Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) who in 1927 developed the theory of the ‘Big Bang’.

The ‘Free Library of Philadelphia’ and the ‘University of Pennsylvania’ own four letters that prove that also Albert Einstein read ‘Eureka’ twice. In 1933, when he had just moved to the USA and his English was still weak, he mainly read the first part that contains Poe’s philosophical vision on science and logic. In two letters, written in German to the American Poe collector Richard Gimbel (Philadelphia), Einstein called this first part “eine sehr schöne Leistung eines ungewöhnlich selbständigen Geistes”  (‘a very beautiful achievement of an extraordinary independent mind’). He also called Poe ‘a master’, ‘a wonderful man’ and ‘a creative son of America’.

In 1940 Einstein read ‘Eureka’ completely and thoroughly, at the request of the Poe-biographer Arthur Quinn (University of Pennsylvania). The two letters from Einstein to Quinn are written in English, but they show a radical change in opinion. Einstein suddenly and strongly denied having read ‘Eureka’ before and his critique was slashing. He even went as far as calling Poe ‘a pathological personality’. His last letter to Quinn expressed only deep feelings of aversion and hostility towards Poe and ‘Eureka’. What ever possessed Einstein to do that?

There cannot be any doubt that in 1940 Einstein also discovered the brilliant scientific ideas of Poe, which must have come as an intense shock. Because these were not only ideas that anticipated his own theories about the velocity of light, space-time and matter-energy, but also ideas that he had opposed strongly for many years, like the dynamic universe and the ‘Big Bang’. Reading ‘Eureka’ probably also unpleasantly reminded Einstein of his clashes with Friedmann and Lemaître, to whom he had to give in eventually. But worst of all was that Einstein must have understood that Poe had developed a revolutionary theory of ‘non-fundamental’ gravity, that falsified the general theory of relativity, in which gravity is a fundamental property of space-time.

In 1940 Einstein could have decided to investigate Poe’s gravity idea further and develop the associated mathematics, which would have made a revolutionary contribution to science. But unfortunately he choose to bring down and reject Poe and ‘Eureka’ in a hideous way; perhaps understandable from a personal viewpoint but nevertheless deeply regrettable. It also meant that Poe never got the recognition that he so richly deserves: to be one of the greatest thinkers of all time.

 

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This article can also be found in http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-albert-einstein-greatest-thinker-time/2013/12/28

Chasing the black holes of the ocean

According to researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Miami, some of the largest ocean eddies on Earth are mathematically equivalent to the mysterious black holes of space. These eddies are so tightly shielded by circular water paths that nothing caught up in them escapes.

Angelika Jacobs

Continue Reading »

 

Mathematically speaking, ocean eddies are counterparts to the black holes in space. (Illustration: G. Haller / ETH Zurich) (large view)

The mild winters experienced in Northern Europe are thanks to the Gulf Stream, which makes up part of those ocean currents spanning the globe that impact on the climate. However, our climate is also influenced by huge eddies of over 150 kilometres in diameter that rotate and drift across the ocean. Their number is reportedly on the rise in the Southern Ocean, increasing the northward transport of warm and salty water. Intriguingly, this could moderate the negative impact of melting sea ice in a warming climate.

However, scientists have been unable to quantify this impact so far, because the exact boundaries of these swirling water bodies have remained undetectable. George Haller, Professor of Nonlinear Dynamics at ETH Zurich, and Francisco Beron-Vera, Research Professor of Oceanography at the University of Miami, have now come up with a solution to this problem. In a paper just published in the Journal of Fluid Mechanics, they develop a new mathematical technique to find water-transporting eddies with coherent boundaries.

The challenge in finding such eddies is to pinpoint coherent water islands in a turbulent ocean. The rotating and drifting fluid motion appears chaotic to the observer both inside and outside an eddy. Haller and Beron-Vera were able to restore order in this chaos by isolating coherent water islands from a sequence of satellite observations. To their surprise, such coherent eddies turned out to be mathematically equivalent to black holes.

No escape from the vortex

Black holes are objects in space with a mass so great that they attract everything that comes within a certain distance of them. Nothing that comes too close can escape, not even light. But at a critical distance, a light beam no longer spirals into the black hole. Rather, it dramatically bends and comes back to its original position, forming a circular orbit. A barrier surface formed by closed light orbits is called a photon sphere in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Haller and Beron-Vera discovered similar closed barriers around select ocean eddies. In these barriers, fluid particles move around in closed loops – similar to the path of light in a photon sphere. And as in a black hole, nothing can escape from the inside of these loops, not even water.

It is precisely these barriers that help to identify coherent ocean eddies in the vast amount of observational data available. According to Haller, the very fact that such coherent water orbits exist amidst complex ocean currents is surprising.

Eddies as water taxis

Because black-hole-type ocean eddies are stable, they function in the same way as a transportation vehicle – not only for micro-organisms such as plankton or foreign bodies like plastic waste or oil, but also for water with a heat and salt content that can differ from the surrounding water. Haller and Beron-Vera have verified this observation for the Agulhas Rings, a group of ocean eddies that emerge regularly in the Southern Ocean off the southern tip of Africa and transport warm, salty water northwest. The researchers identified seven Agulhas Rings of the black-hole type, which transported the same body of water without leaking for almost a year.

Haller points out that similar coherent vortices exist in other complex flows outside of the ocean. In this sense, many whirlwinds are likely to be similar to black holes as well. Even the Great Red Spot – a stationary storm – on the planet Jupiter could just be the most spectacular example of a black-hole type vortex . ”Mathematicians have been trying to understand such peculiarly coherent vortices in turbulent flows for a very long time“, explains Haller.

Notably, the first person to describe ocean eddies as coherent water islands may well have been the American writer, Edgar Allan Poe. In his story «A Descent into the Maelstrom», he envisioned a stable belt of foam around a maelstrom. This served as inspiration for Haller and Beron-Vera, who went on to find these belts – the oceanic equivalent to photon spheres – using sophisticated mathematical formulas. Their results are expected to help in resolving a number of oceanic puzzles, ranging from climate-related questions to the spread of environmental pollution patterns.

Eddy in the Gulf of Mexico

Just after the publication of Haller’s and Beron-Vera’s results, Josefina Olascoaga, also a Professor of Oceanography in Miami, tested their new mathematical method. She unexpectedly found a large, black-hole type eddy in the Gulf of Mexico. (VIDEO) Olascoaga now uses her finding to assess the coherent transport of contamination from a possible future oil spill.

Further reading

Haller G, Beron-Vera F: Coherent Lagrangian Vortices: The Black Holes of Turbulence. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, vol. 731 (2013) R4: doi:10.1017/jfm.2013.391

 

 

From July 24 to 26, the Positively Poe Conference took place in Charlotesville, Virginia, at the Virginia University, sponsored by The Poe Museum (Richmond, Vva.) and organized by Hal Poe and Alexandra Urakova. At this conference, René van Slooten have presented a remarkable lecture on Eureka – in one of the panels of the event. 

 

 

Some Facts in the Case of ‘Eureka’.

And why they upset Albert Einstein so much.

 

By René van Slooten

(Independent Poe scholar, The Netherlands)

Continue Reading »

This text is a written version of my presentation at the international ‘Positively Poe’ conference, held from 22-26 June 2013 at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA.

Introduction

 

Ladies and gentlemen.

Dear Poe Friends.

For those of you who did not hear my ‘Eureka’ lectures at the Poe conferences in Baltimore (2002) and Philadelphia (2009), I must introduce myself, because I am not the average literary Poe scholar. I am a chemical engineer, but more important is that my father was a mathematician and a scientist at the Philips Physics Laboratory, with a profound interest in astronomy.[i] He often did experiments at home where I helped him, and we observed the skies at night, so I grew up with stories about the history of mathematics and the sciences of nature, and the great names therein. Since then the history of science always remained a favorite subject to me.

So I was well prepared when an old edition of ‘Eureka’ (London 1899, edited by John Ingram) came into my hands in 1982. I had never heard of it, although I thought that I knew Poe’s work, but I know now that these were only the stories that everyone knows, which are maybe 10-15% of Poe’s work.

But when I started to read ‘Eureka’ I fell from one amazement into the next, because I read many scientific ideas and concepts that did not exist in 1848 when Poe published this masterwork. How was that possible? This question lead to a quest of which the end is still nowhere in sight.

The first part of this lecture is about the influence of ‘Eureka’ on science and philosophy. The second part concerns the four letters Albert Einstein wrote about it, because in my opinion these letters throw an astonishing new light, not only on Poe and the history of science, but also on the immediate scientific future.

The history and contents of ‘Eureka’

For those who have not read it yet: ‘Eureka’ is a cosmogony; a complete description of our universe, of its birth and its history, and of everything in it, material and spiritual. A remarkable thing is that ‘Eureka’ is usually ignored by literary scholars, but that during the past 20-30 years it is gaining ever more respect among scientists who (re)discover it.

It is important to know that the history of ‘Eureka’ was and is very different in the USA and in Europe. In the USA it was neglected and almost forgotten for more than a century after Poe’s death, but in Europe it was widely read and intensely discussed after Charles Baudelaire published a French translation in 1859.

This publication was made in several installments in a popular Swiss international cultural and literary magazine, the ‘Revue Internationale’. Due to this wide and popular introduction of ‘Eureka’ in Europe, it became much better known there than in the USA. And because Poe had no enemies in Europe and was admired, and even worshipped by many, as a visionary and prophetic writer and poet, also ‘Eureka’ was taken very seriously. As a result it was much studied and discussed in Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I will not discuss and explain again the many revolutionary scientific and spiritual ideas that Poe proposed in ‘Eureka’. That has been done before, also by others,[ii] but to give an idea, I will mention a few of the most revealing examples:

  • A theory about a ‘Big Bang’ and a dynamic, ‘cyclic’ universe.
  • A ‘multiverse’; the existence of other universes next to ours.
  • The mathematical ‘equality’ of matter and energy.
  • Time-space continuity.
  • Black holes as the dramatic final stage of stars and even galaxies.
  • The ‘butterfly effect’ as foundation for a chaotic and unpredictable universe.
  •  The velocity of light as the speed limit for electromagnetic phenomena, including a rudimentary concept of relativity.
  • The solution of the ‘Olbers paradox’. (Why is the night sky dark, if there is an unlimited number of stars?)
  • Evolution of species.

It is clear that such ideas were contrary to all scientific and religious beliefs and convictions of the 19th century, so it is not surprising that ‘Eureka’ was regarded as a dangerous and objectionable piece by Poe’s American contemporaries. Incidentally this also happened outside of the USA, and in 1871 ‘Eureka’ was even officially forbidden in Russia, although Poe’s other works were very popular and influential there!

I want to make a special remark here on Poe’s ideas about evolution of species, even of the human one, because the two paragraphs in ‘Eureka’ where evolution is mentioned are often overlooked.[iii] More research is needed here, but I think that Poe became convinced of evolution when he studied sea shells and edited ‘The Conchologist’s First Book’ (in 1839). And indeed: there is no better place to see evolution in action than in fossil deposits of sea shells! This study must also have given Poe the brilliant idea that evolution of species is the result of two independent forces. First there is a gradual ‘vital’ development of life into ever more heterogeneous and complex structures. However, this autonomous process is periodically interrupted and set on entirely new courses by cosmic and/or geologic catastrophes (an idea that Poe used in the story ‘The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion’, where life on earth is terminated by a near-collision with a comet). It is remarkable that also ‘The Conchologist’s First Book’, probably Poe’s purest scientific work, is ignored by literary Poe scholars, while the famous American evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould called it ‘Poe’s greatest hit’!

However, the fact remains that Poe wrote about evolution and extinction of species, years before Charles Darwin dared to publish ‘On the Origin of Species’ in 1859. And since Charles Darwin was primarily a marine biologist, one must wonder if he read ‘The Conchologist’s First Book’ and was perhaps inspired by it!?

The influence of ‘Eureka’ in science

As I have argued in my papers for the Poe conferences in Baltimore (2002) and Philadelphia (2009), Poe had an enormous influence in Europe. Not only in literature, but also in other fields, as in music (Debussy), in philosophy (Nietzsche, Bergson, Valéry) and in science.

In the scientific field, I mentioned the physicists Alexander Friedmann (Russia, 1888-1925) and Georges Lemaître (Belgium, 1894-1966), who independently of each other developed the scientific and mathematical concepts of the dynamic universe (Friedmann, in 1922) and the ‘Big Bang’ (Lemaitre, in 1927). Both used basic ideas from ‘Eureka’, and Poe was even a favorite author of Friedmann, but one must consider the fact that Poe’s ideas were so widely known that they had become ‘memes’, ready to be picked up when their time had come. And the ‘Roaring Twenties’, after the ravages of the Great War and the Spanish Flu pandemic, when the world was desperate for a new heaven and a new earth, and the old ‘certainties’ of science were thrown overboard by the advent of quantum physics and the theory of relativity, certainly was such a time.

Also the American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) has recently come to my attention, the scientist who in 1929 proved that the theories of Friedmann and Lemaitre were right, and that the universe is indeed expanding, by measuring the ‘red shift’ of the light of distant galaxies. Hubble was a fanatic collector of original books on astronomy and cosmology, thereby advised and helped by his wife Grace who had studied American literature. So we may safely assume that Edwin and Grace Hubble had an original copy of ‘Eureka’ (which were not difficult to find then). Moreover, Hubble was a trustee of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, which has an original ‘Eureka’ since 1916, so he had easy and free access to copy[iv].

In my paper for the Philadelphia conference (2009) I noted that Poe, Friedmann and Lemaitre had similar military backgrounds: all three were experts in explosives and ballistics. So they were trained in the creation and observation of highly dynamic processes, and the idea of an exploding universe was not strange to them. And, to my surprise, I discovered that Edwin Hubble was even one of the world’s greatest experts in explosives and ballistics! During World War I he served with the US Army in France and during World War II he was director of the ballistics research laboratory of the US Army Air Force. In 1946, in an interview, he remarked: ‘There is a curious affinity between ballistics and astronomy!’ How true!

A matter of utmost gravity

Poe’s motivation to design an entirely new universe came from his philosophical rejection of the scientific universe that had arisen from Newton’s celestial mechanics. This so-called ‘clockwork universe’ is totally determined and leaves no room for the human free will. The clearest description of such a ‘closed’ mathematical-mechanical prison is ‘The Pit and he Pendulum’, but there are more Poe-stories in which clocks and/or pendulums are symbols or instruments of physical and spiritual death and destruction (‘The Masque of the Red Death’; ‘A Predicament’; ‘Hop Frog’; ‘The Devil in the Belfry’; ‘Descent into the Maelstrom’).

However, to Poe, this meant that in a ‘new’ universe the force of gravity could not be the fundamental and all-determining force that it is in Newton’s celestial mechanics. So Poe reduces gravity to a secondary and temporary effect that emerges from a really fundamental force, the ‘sympathy’ that acts between fundamental particles (or atoms in Poe’s time).[v] Since this ‘sympathy’ acts instantaneous throughout the universe, so does the gravity effect. This diverging gravity hypothesis of Poe is the real big idea behind ‘Eureka’, and it has a few remarkable consequences.

Many of Poe’s prophetic scientific ideas are the logical results of this gravity hypothesis, so one can say that this hypothesis has amazing predictive powers. In fact, I considered Poe’s gravity hypothesis as so successful, that already in 1986 I held it to be superior. This means, among other things, that ‘gravity events’ (like a collision between two stars or a supernova explosion) are transmitted through space with infinite speed, and that the ‘gravity waves’ that such events are supposed to generate do not exist, at least not in the form in which they are predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. In many of my publications  since 1986[vi], I have pointed out that major international scientific experiments to detect such ‘gravity waves’, like the European GEO 600 and the American LIGO and VIRGO, would either show nothing, or they would tell us something about the present condition of our universe. And therefore such results will be meaningless, because they are incomparable with all other means of observation by (radio)telescopes, which tell us about the universe of millions or even billions of years ago, because that information comes to us with ‘only’ the velocity of light.

And so far these scientific ‘gravity wave’ experiments have shown no results at all…    

The Albert Einstein letters on ‘Eureka

During the Poe conference in Philadelphia, I heard that two letters by Albert Einstein about ‘Eureka’ were sold in 2002 for $ 10.000. A further search showed that Einstein read ‘Eureka’ twice, in 1933 and in 1940, and that he actually wrote four letters about it.

In 1933, the Poe-collector Richard Gimbel asked Albert Einstein to read and evaluate ‘Eureka’. Einstein had just fled from Germany to the USA and his English was not good, so he answered Gimbel in German. His first letter to Gimbel is as follows (English translation):[vii]

 

13 December 1933.

Dear Sir,

I will gladly read the story by the master and tell you in all modesty what I think about it. I am sorry that I  cannot come to dinner, but I am happy that America does not forget its creative sons.

Sincerely,

  1. A.    Einstein.

 

The second letter from Einstein to Gimbel reads as follows (English translation):

 

7 January 1934.

Dear Sir,

I have partly studied ‘Eureka’ but I have no hope to be able to finish this study in the near future. The imaginary letter of a future thinker, at the beginning of the work, in which the two major principles of the modern philosophy of science are critically reviewed, is in my opinion a very beautiful achievement of an unusually independent mind. The attempt of a complete cosmogony, which makes up the remaining part of the work, is a shining example that even such a free mind remains bound to its era, no matter how free it may feel itself of the prejudices of that time.

For an appreciation of the artistic value of this work, I cannot find the courage in the coming time, in spite of the attraction that comes from his wonderful man.

Most sincerely,

  1. A.    Einstein.

 

These two letters show a positive attitude from Einstein towards Poe. But he did not read ‘Eureka’ entirely, probably because of lack of time and his still insufficient knowledge of English.[viii] However, his admiration for the first part, the ‘letter from the future’,[ix] is quite remarkable, because that is the part where many readers stop taking Poe seriously because he ridicules several of the greatest scientific minds in human history.

In June 1940, also the Poe-biographer Arthur Quinn asked Einstein to read and evaluate ‘Eureka’.  This time Einstein was on vacation at Saranac Lake (NY) and he could read and write English well.[x]

His first letter to Quinn was as follows:[xi]

 

June 29, 1940.

My dear Dr. Quinn,

I have read the essay of Poe you mentioned in your letter of June 22 some years ago. I do not have the works of the poet at hand here and cannot remember clearly the contents of the essay. My impression was that the article must be valued more from the artistic than from the scientific standpoint. If you would like a more precise answer I would suggest to send me a copy of ‘EUREKA’.

Sincerely Yours,

  1. A.    Einstein.

 

Apparently Arthur Quinn sent Einstein the requested copy, and a few weeks later Einstein gave the following verdict:

 

August 6th, 1940.

My dear Dr. Quinn,

Apparently I was mistaken in my belief that I had read before Poe’s essay ‘Eureka’. Therefore, it was quite new to me. I must confess that on the whole it was a bad disappointment.

The beginning is very witty and remarkable insofar as Poe clearly recognizes that true science is only possible through a combination of systematic experimentation and logical construction. The exemplification of Kepler’s work is lucid – though not sufficient consideration is given to Tycho Brahe’s observational basis. The discussion of the finity-infinity problem is rather weak, even taking into consideration the fact that non-eucledian geometry was not generally accessible to non-mathematicians in those days. It is astonishing f.i. that the simplest example of actual infinity – the system of whole numbers – is not mentioned.

When Poe comes to his own constructions he loses every sense of that critical mood prevailing in the beginning pages and the whole presentation shows a striking resemblance to the scientific crank-letters I receive every day. I cannot help having the impression of a pathological personality being overwhelmed by an idée fixe depriving him of the possibility of critical corrections.

Sincerely yours,

  1. A.    Einstein.

 

This complete turnaround of Einstein is amazing. Poe, the master, the creative son of America, that unusually independent mind, that wonderful man, is suddenly a pathological personality?[xii] Why this sudden denial of Poe and ‘Eureka’?

Upon closer reading of the fourth letter, it is clear that Einstein’s remarks are either untrue or beside the point. In my opinion here is only one logical explanation for Einstein’s weird behavior: he was deeply shocked when he realized that Poe had developed ideas that were similar to his own, but already in 1848. Einstein must also have noticed Poe’s superior theory of gravitation, which was a direct threat to his own cherished General Theory of Relativity. And he must have understood that Poe and ‘Eureka’ had inspired Friedmann and Lemaître, with whom he had serious differences of opinion when they published their theories on the dynamic and exploding universe.[xiii] The young Einstein was a firm believer in a ‘static’ and unchangeable universe, so he could not accept the consequences of his own theory of relativity, which indicated that the universe is not static. In order to correct this, he inserted a ‘cosmological constant’ in his General Theory of Relativity; an act that he later regretted as ‘the biggest blunder in my life’.

Einstein was probably the first who fully understood what Poe had done, and he decided that it could better be buried and forgotten forever; understandable from a personal view, but unforgivable from a scientific standpoint. Einstein’s fourth letter about ‘Eureka’ was another big blunder, and, like the first one, it was directly related to Poe’s work.

A new view on gravity

In 2010 the eminent Dutch theoretical physicist Erik Verlinde (University of Amsterdam) published an article ‘On the Origin of Gravity and the laws of Newton’[xiv]. In this article Verlinde asserted that gravity is not a fundamental force of nature, but a phenomenon that ‘emerges’ from other forces at a fundamental level. This idea (including elegant and surprisingly simple mathematics) hit the scientific world like a bombshell, and many magazines and newspapers paid attention to it.[xv] In this article Verlinde also stated that Einstein’s geometrical formulation of space-time must be given up in order to understand gravity at a deeper level. That same year Verlinde received the Spinoza Award, the Netherlands highest award for excellence in science, primarily for his earlier work, but also for his ‘revolutionary’ new idea on gravity (‘An idea that will alter our understanding of the universe’ as the motivation said).

I informed Erik Verlinde, the University of Amsterdam and the Spinoza Committee about the fact that Poe published an identical idea 162 years earlier. An idea, moreover, about which I had published a few dozen articles in Dutch newspapers and magazines since 1986.

After laborious discussions Verlinde admitted:

It is remarkable how far [Poe] dared to deviate from the mechanistic approach of Newton, and yet find a logical explanation for the phenomenon of gravity, at least as an idea. The mathematical elaboration is lacking, but Poe’s insight is close to the present opinion of me and other colleagues”.[xvi]

Conclusion

Modern theoretical (astro)physics has apparently reached a point where Poe arrived already in 1848. However, it is a supreme paradox that modern science is also based on ideas from ‘Eureka’ for which Poe never got the credits, while the scientists who used his ideas did not fathom or accept Poe’s ultimate truth that gravity is NOT a fundamental force of nature. This makes matters unnecessarily complicated, and in my opinion it is the main reason why it is impossible to unite the two pillars of modern science, quantum physics and the General Theory of Relativity. Simply because they are separated by a common belief in fundamental gravity.

 

Ladies and gentlemen.

Dear Poe Friends.

I rest my case for the time being, but I am sure that we have not reached the end of ‘Eureka’. More will follow soon.

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[i] Dr.Ir. Jacob van Slooten (1905-1965) was a pioneer in the field of radio and television technology, and an expert in applied mathematics. He held over 40 international patents. He also wrote articles on science and philosophy and two monographs about Immanuel Kant and Martin Heidegger. He learned me that scientific theories and models are always approximations, and that it is a principal error to hold them to be ‘true’. Each and every scientific model or theory will sooner or later be replaced by an improved  or new understanding. Also this frank attitude towards science made him such an original scientist.

[ii] See the articles by Juan Lartigue, Alberto Cappi and me on the website www.poe-eureka.com.

[iii] See paragraphs 159 and 160 in the ‘Eureka’ text on the website www.poe-eureka.com

[iv] I asked the Huntington Library if Hubble ever borrowed or requested their ‘Eureka’ for study, but for reasons of privacy they may not give such information, even if the person in question died 60 years ago.

[v] The way in which Poe handles this delicate matter is worthy of a study in itself. He knew too well that Newton’s celestial mechanics and the fundamental character of gravity were unassailable and indisputable, and yet he had to make a fundamental change without losing his own credibility. After long and carefully formulated arguments, the definite word comes finally in paragraph 236, towards the end of ‘Eureka’.

[vi] The number of my publications and radio interviews in the Netherlands since 1986, amounts to about 50. In most cases I have mentioned Poe’s gravity hypothesis and possible scientific consequences thereof.

[vii] Copies of the two letters from Einstein to Richard Gimbel are in the Gimbel collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

[viii] 1933 had been an eventful and busy year for Einstein because he emigrated from Germany to the USA after Adolf Hitler came to power.

[ix] See paragraphs 11 till 25 of the ‘Eureka’ text on the www.poe-eureka.com website.

[x] Nevertheless it was an emotional and busy time for Einstein. The news from Europe was very bad: Adolf Hitler was victorious on all fronts, and the Battle for Britain was going to its climax. Einstein, the pacifist, was also under much pressure from his friends to support the development of nuclear weapons, and his famous letter to President Roosevelt about the Manhattan Project was written only a few weeks earlier.

[xi] The two letters from Einstein to Arthur Quinn are in the Quinn collection at the library of the University of Pennsylvania.

[xii] Sigmund Freud used the term ‘pathological’ for Poe, in his foreword for the psycho-analytical biography of Poe that was published (in French) in 1933 by his friend and disciple princess Marie Bonaparte. This revolting ‘Freudian-sexual’ interpretation of Poe, his life and his works, was translated into German in 1934 and into English in 1949. It generated much attention and discussion, and it severely damaged Poe’s image and reputation, certainly in Europe. Einstein, a good friend of Freud, must have known this book and Freud’s opinion of Poe. If anything, this ‘biography’, written by a woman who suffered from serious sexual frustrations, proves how disastrously wrong and misleading psycho-analyses can be.

[xiii] Friedman published his article on the dynamic universe in 1922. It was in fact a fundamental correction of the General Theory of Relativity, which infuriated Einstein so much that he tried to get it retracted.

And when Lemaître explained his ideas to Einstein in 1929, Einstein remarked ‘Your mathematics is good, but your physics is abominable’. It was only in 1933 that Einstein openly admitted that Lemaître was right and that he had been wrong with his belief in a ‘static’ universe.

[xiv] See ‘Journal of High Energy Physics’ 04(2011)029 for the full text.

[xv] See for instance ‘A Scientist takes on Gravity’ by Dennis Overbye in the ‘New York Times’; July 13, 2010.

[xvi] E-mail from Erik Verlinde to me, 21 November 2012.

On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, conferences on Eureka will be hold, at the Positively Poe Conference.

Please access http://www.poemuseum.org/blog/final-schedule-for-positively-poe-conference,  for additional information on the event.

Hal Poe will be at Session Four – Poetry, Science, and Eureka,  on the Panel Chair, and René van Slooten will present “The Facts in the Case of Eureka”.

We hope all Eureka enthusiasts can be there!

 Positively Poe

Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections Library

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

July 24 – 26, 2013

 

 Sponsored by

The Poe Museum

Richmond, Virginia

 

Organized by

Alexandra Urakova

Gorky Institute, Moscow

Harry Lee Poe

Poe Museum, Richmond

   

 

About the Conference Continue Reading »

Over the last few years we have seen several notable additions to the number of film and television adaptations of Poe and his works. They are notable for having large enough budgets to have no excuse for doing such a bad job of treating Poe. In this dreary cultural context, the idea for this conference grew. We wondered what would happen if scholars were invited to reflect on the positive aspects of Poe and his work.

Poe’s reputation as a tortured, tragic figure, melancholic poet and the “master of the macabre” has fueled his popularity for over a century and a half, while debunking stereotypes and myths associated with that reputation has always been an essential part of Poe criticism. Going beyond the debunking of the popular caricature, we would like to discover the “positive” side of Poe’s life and work. Just as his life had its ups and downs, his writing, too, reflects a wide range of experience, not exclusively the dark and dismal.

We have been gratified by the response to this little boutique gathering set at Poe’s university at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains he so loved. In planning this conference, we considered the setting to be of major importance, and we hope the conferees can find the time to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s university and the mountains around it.

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