From the Dutch magazine ‘Kunst en Wetenschap’ (‘Art and Science’)
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.
This article can also be found in http://baltimorepostexaminer.com/edgar-allan-poe-albert-einstein-greatest-thinker-time/2013/12/28
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.
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.
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
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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)
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.
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.
- A. Einstein.
The second letter from Einstein to Gimbel reads as follows (English translation):
7 January 1934.
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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- 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]
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.
[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.
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!
Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections Library
University of Virginia
July 24 – 26, 2013
The Poe Museum
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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Edgar Allan Poe and cryptography
Are there hidden messages in ‘Eureka’?
By René van Slooten
(The Netherlands; April 2013)
Edgar Allan Poe had a fascination for cryptography. And he was certainly not the only one, because in his time cryptography played an important role in society. There was no internet or telephone, and plain letters could be dangerous and incriminating if they were found and read by others (‘The Purloined Letter’!), so many people used cryptography or ‘secret writing’ to convey messages to others. They also used announcements in newspapers, for a cipher in the newspaper advertisements is an ideal way of communication between secret lovers who want to make an appointment, or between businessmen or politicians who want to make secret deals: the message, the sender and the receiver(s) remain unknown, except to themselves.
Cryptography in Poe’s work
Secrets and mysteries always appealed to Poe, and his interest in cryptography was probably further enhanced during his years in the US army, where cryptography and ciphers are part of military routine. So it is no surprise that he used that knowledge and inclination when he became a writer and a magazine editor. His most famous accomplishment is the story ‘The Gold Bug’ (1843), in which the plot revolves around a cipher that contains information about a buried treasure. Even modern universities still use this story as instruction material for their classes on cryptography.
As a magazine editor, Poe also used cryptography. He asked his readers to submit ciphers which he would then publish as challenge to other readers and to himself. The solution would be given in the next issue of the magazine, and Poe claimed to have solved most of the submitted ciphers. One that he could not solve was finally solved in 2000 (!) by the Canadian software expert Gil Broza (see www.maa.org/mathland/mathtrek_11_13_00 ).
In 1841 Poe published several articles on cryptography, under the title ‘A Few Words on Secret Writing’. Poe’s favorite system of cryptography was the use of a ‘key-phrase’. This is a sentence of 26 letters, which match the letters of the normal alphabet. Poe gave the Latin sentence ‘Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re’ (‘Gentle in manner, firm in deed’) as an example, which gives the following scheme for substitution:
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
s u a v i t e r i n m o d o f o r t i t e r i n r e
In this scheme, ‘Edgar Allan Poe‘ becomes ‘ivest sooso ofi’.
A key-phrase may also contain 25 or 24 letters or even less, depending on the agreement between sender and receiver about the alphabet that they use. For instance, the v and the u can be made interchangeable, and the w can be replaced with vv or uu. In his articles on secret writing, Poe also gives an example of such a key-phrase of only 24 letters ‘Le gouvernement provisoire’. However, his is a poor example, because this sentence contains only 13 different letters that have to represent the full alphabet, while also the multiple ones (e, o, I, n, r and v) will give extra trouble, unless he sender and receiver have an agreement on how to solve such practical problems.
Poe’s articles were about cryptography in its most recognizable form, namely an incomprehensible string of letters or symbols that is clearly a cipher. But there is a more advanced form of cryptography in which the secret message is hidden inside an apparently clear and meaningful ‘cover’ text (or digital file, nowadays). This system is called ‘steganography’, and it depends on an agreement between sender and receiver on how to insert and extract the hidden message. For instance, ‘take the first letter of each sentence’, like in an acrostic, or any other of an unlimited number of conceivable schemes. The problem is that the ‘cover’ text has to be written ‘around’ the predetermined positions of the letters in the secret message. Such a very strict scheme can be a considerable problem for the sender. Nevertheless, Poe knew how to use such clever and difficult schemes, for instance in the following poem that he wrote for a friend, the female poet Sarah Anna Lewis (take the first letter of the first line, followed by the second letter of the second line, etc):
“Seldom we find,” says Solomon Don Dunce
“Half an idea in the profoundest sonnet.
Through all the flimsy things we see at once
As easily as through a Naples bonnet-
Trash of all trash! – how can a lady don it?
Yet heavier far than your Petrarchan stuff-
Owl-downy nonsense that the faintest puff
Twirls into trunk-paper the while you con it.”
And, veritably, Sol is right enough.
The general truckermanites are arrant
Bubbles – ephemeral and so transparent -
But this is, now – you may depend upon it-
Stable, opaque, immortal – all by dint
Of the dear names that lie concealed within ‘t.
Steganography in Poe’s stories
Poe was fascinated by cryptography; he wrote articles about it, he challenged his readers with it, he used it in one famous story and in a few poems. So it seems quite plausible that he also used it in his stories to record his innermost feelings and his thoughts and ideas that he did not dare to make public. And Poe certainly must have had ideas and thoughts that even went beyond the revolutionary ideas that he did dare to publish. A clear example is ‘Eureka’, whose ideas he knew for sure would bring him bitter criticism and enemies.
But the possibility of hidden messages in Poe’s work has never been investigated or even suggested. However, once one understands the possibility of hidden messages, one can also see that some of Poe’s stories and essays contain clear references to cryptography and secrets that have to be deciphered. Like in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the ‘Eureka’ text on this website, I which Poe first mentions Champollion (who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs), and then boasts that he himself has stolen the golden secret of the Egyptians.
And with the knowledge of hidden messages, it also becomes understandable and plausible why some stories contain subtle hints about hidden, ‘double’ or ‘deeper’ meanings, like the suggestion that ‘Eureka’ should be read like a poem after Poe’s death. And, quite often, such intriguing stories are preceded by a motto or introduction that has a suggestive sentence of 24, 25 or 26 letters that might be the key-phrase that has to be used in deciphering the secret message. This is the case with ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’; ‘The Assignation’; ‘The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade’; ‘The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall’; ‘How to write a Blackwood article’ and ‘The Business Man’. Most probably there are more hints to be found upon a closer examination of other stories as well. In the case of ‘Eureka’ there are a few other indications for hidden messages. In the first place the often bad style and sometimes weird construction of paragraphs and sentences. And in the second place the fact that Poe left notes for many typographical corrections in a second edition, but these notes show that he did not change a sentence of even a word of the original text, although ‘Eureka’ is his second longest work (only the novel ‘Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ is a bit longer). Obviously Poe had to protect something, and it will be clear that, if ‘Eureka’ contains steganography, like in the above poem for Anna Sarah Lewis, such an intricate scheme will collapse immediately if changes in content are made.
It is my opinion that a serious search for such hidden treasures or ‘golden bugs’ in Poe’s works will be of the greatest importance for a better understanding of Poe, his work and his era. However, crypto-analysis is a very complex science, so I hope that this challenge will be taken up by people who know how to search for secret codes, and how to crack them as well!
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René van Slooten was interviewed by the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, and talked about cryptographic codes in Poe’s writings. Whether it is true or not, van Slooten asks enthusiasts on Poe and/or cryptography to help searching for encrypted messages.
De Volkskrant, 23 March 2013[i]
Column by literary editor Arjan Peters.
You may call me a Poe expert, says René van Slooten (1944) by telephone. He is a retired chemical engineer, and ten years ago he translated Edgar Allan Poe’s prose-poem Eureka (1848). We mostly know Poe from his many horror stories, and as the alcoholic who would become no more than forty years old. However, in that prose-poem Poe proclaimed ideas that would be associated much later with the Big Bang Theory and Einstein.
And there is even more to discover with Poe, in Van Slooten’s opinion. In June he will speak about Poe at the Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia. “Invited by Harry Lee Poe, a distant cousin of Poe. And what is funny: Poe himself studied at the University of Virginia. But he was also sent away, because of gambling debts and dipsomania”.
René van Slooten wants to make a summons, which I heartily support: are there any students who want to assist in breaking secret codes in Poe’s stories? “Because such codes are there, and if I am right it will be breaking news”. Edgar Allan Poe has written essays about cryptography. And there are two Valentine poems that he wrote for two female poets, in which he did hide their names in the first letter of the first line, followed by the second letter of line two, etc. And Poe also wrote about the so called key-phrase. Van Slooten: “A key phrase is a sentence of 26 letters that replace the normal alphabet. And it is remarkable that some of Poe’s famous stories have a motto that contains a sentence of 26 letters. Take, as example, ‘The Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade’. The motto is ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. Very suggestive!
However, Van Slooten is no crypto-analyst and he is looking for assistance. Several universities have classes in cryptography in the departments for applied mathematics and computer sciences. Could there be a lecturer or student with a love for Poe?
Van Slooten has worked on Poe for thirty years. “His image of wanderer and writer of horror stories does not do him justice. His stories are constructed in an ingenious way and sometimes he had prophetic visions. His story ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ was inspired by the severe financial and banking crisis of 1837: Poe describes how a prosperous and hedonistic elite has corrupted the country and then destroys itself. I do not have to explain what is actual in that!”.
Of course, Van Slooten knows that Poe is called ‘hoaxie-Poe’ by his biographer Daniel Hoffman in the biography Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Because Poe liked to wrong-foot his readers. Which may mean that there are no secret messages in Poe’s work, and that all searches will be in vain. Van Slooten, cheerfully, “Yes, that is possible”. Does that not scare him? “Not at all. Do you know that Poe challenged the readers of a magazine to submit coded messages? He could crack them all”. (Although Poe experts are still discussing Poe’s claim).
So I heartily hope that a clever crypto-lover will report to Van Slooten and that they will have news later this year. I respect such searches, also because I would not know where to start. And maybe we should not try to crack these codes, because certain mysteries deserve to remain intact?
[i] ‘De Volkskrant’ is the Netherlands largest quality newspaper (comparable to the ‘New York Times’ in the USA).
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