Edgar Allan Poe and Science: A Cosmic Poet
by Juan Lartigue G.*
Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
(from “Sonnet to Science,” E.A.Poe)
The literary talent of Edgar Allan Poe is beyond dispute, but his activity in the scientific area (condensed in Eureka) has been sadly neglected or ignored. Only recently have some researchers undertaken the labour of re-evaluating it. This recent re-evaluation is long overdue, especially, those propositions related to Cosmology. This paper purposes extensions of those propositions, as well as additional commentary, relating, in particular, to Chemistry.
The “Black Legend”
The 150th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death last October did not earn Poe any special celebration in the scientific world either in the United States or abroad. Such neglect may be seen as a continuation of the “black legend” weaved, for various reasons, around one of the most innovative American writers of the 19th Century. In fact, his outstanding literary talent was widely recognized even by contemporaries such as Baudelaire, who named Poe his “twin soul” (Praz 492)**, but Poe’s capacity to perceive the physical nature of the cosmos was not understood in his time. What is difficult to understand is why Poe’s predictions, many of which have been confirmed by science, continue to be ignored.
The “black legend” was originated in part by his own character, at times, stormy and diffident; and also by his caustic literary criticism in the newspapers, which earned him the enmity of those vital to his own success. Unfortunately, many whom he had offended continued to smear his character after his death. As it has recently been written: “Later, that sad image was fed because the increase in the public’s morbosity increased the sales…So, Poe became one of the typical personages of his terror stories” (Munnshe,1999 58). Afterwards, Munnshe writes: “…his intervaling mental breakdowns were not related to any shady metaphysical eagerness but to a very material factor: his constant economical scarcity and the premature death of his beloved ones” (59). Lastly, he points out the negligence of the authorities to investigate some evidences of his possible murder (62).
Cortázar says in the Prologue to his translation of Poe’s prose poem into Spanish: “Eureka was written in 1847, but it is impossible to know how long it was meditated by Poe. ‘As a child,’ says Harvey Allen, ‘he had loved the stars.’” Cortázar adds: “Poe started Eureka’s writing in the sad period after the death of Virginia Clemm…The book seems to have been written quickly, as obeying an uncontrolled impulse” (Cortázar 7).
The failure of the book as a scientific work stems from several factors. First, the ambitious objective declared by Poe at the beginning: “I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical—of the Material and Spiritual Universe: – of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny” (Poe 1).
A second problem likely originates from presenting philosophical, metaphysical and astronomical concepts without Poe’s possession of an academic degree to support them, including a methodology not always rigorous, and sometimes intuitive. These factors contributed to the refusal of the scientific community, fully opposed to the concept of an evolutive Universe, during his time and later. Those disinclined to adopt such a universe included Humboldt, to whom Eureka was dedicated. Such a situation was foreseen by Poe, referring to Newton and Laplace: “They, as well as all the first class of mathematicians, were mathematicians solely: —their intellect, at least, had a firmly-pronounced mathematico-physical tone. What lay not distinctly within the domain of Physics, or of Mathematics, seemed to them either Non-entity or Shadow” (Poe 23). Likewise, Poe critiques, in an ironic message from the future, the deductive and inductive methods of reasoning and concludes that “…a perfect consistency [of reasoning] can be nothing but an absolute truth” (Poe 7).
To illustrate the importance of intuition, if it is supported by a consistent reasoning, he writes: “Yes!—these vital laws Kepler guessed—that is to say, he imagined them. Had he been asked to point out the deductive or inductive route by which he attained them, his reply may have been: ‘I know nothing about routes…I reached it through mere dint of intuition’.” The relevance of intuition in Mathematics was recognized at the beginning of the 20th century by Poincaré, though it had been often employed well before by eminent mathematicians such as Fermat, Galois and Riemann and others, including scientists such as Pascal in cosmology, Langevin in physics, and Oswald in chemistry (Hadammard 16). The importance of intuition in the research and teaching of Modern Mathematics has also been pointed out by others (Rado 10, Korner 9). The final factor contributing to the Eureka’s neglect could have been the ignorance of the public of his time regarding Cosmology. In this way, Eureka was cast into oblivion.
Cappi asks: “Why has Eureka’s Cosmology so systematically been ignored or forgotten? For example, everywhere credit is given to Democritus for his atoms, to Aristarchus for his heliocentric system, to Kant and Wright for having considered nebulae as extragalactic systems, and so on, but nowhere is it given to the modern universe of Poe, except for his solution of the [sic] Olbers’ paradox recently pointed out by Harrison. It is possible to list different reasons. Harrison has pointed out the main problem: Metaphysics. As I have shown,” Cappi continues, “a number of points in Eureka are well posed in rational terms, but Poe did not aim to a simple scientific Cosmology…the essential message of Eureka is that, to have a consistent Cosmology, we need an evolving Universe, with a beginning and an end…In Eureka, God is the cause of the origin of the Universe: ‘The Universe is a plot of God.’ God represents the original Unity, to which all our spirits will return, in a strict parallelism with the matter” (17). Such a return to Unity could be seen as an antecedent of the Omega Point theory glimpsed by Theilard de Chardin in 1916 (published only in 1956) and developed to a great extent by Tipler in 1994 (112).
It is astonishing the number of Poe’s propositions about the origin, structure and fate of the Universe which have been verified, based on the astronomical concepts of his and our own epochs. His discoveries are a testament to his mighty intuition. Before discussing some of his propositions, it would be convenient to remember the first one: “My general proposition, then, is this: — In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation” (Poe 2). Next, this study will abstract of Poe’s Big Bang and Big Crunch Cosmologies: In the beginning there was only God, Who, from Himself, created a primeval atom whom He ordered to disintegrate into an enormous but not infinite number of atoms which, in their turn, were irradiated in all directions filling up the (finite) Universe of Stars. This is different from Space that is infinite. Gravity then appears as a reaction to the force of diffusion, so provoking the agglomeration of atoms to assume the forms of the celestial bodies. At the same time appears the differentiation of atoms, with the necessary physical, chemical and vital consequences. Lastly, gravity represents a tendency to Unity in the long term. Such Unity requires the annihilation of the present Universe and the renascence of future Universes.
It would also be convenient to classify, in some way, the numerous propositions made by Poe (some of them original, others not at all). Next, let us examine several statements already discussed by other authors as well as some proposals apparently not analyzed to date.
Decoding Eureka: Propositions previously discussed
1) On the Origin of the Universe
Poe states: “We believe in a God” (Poe 11). And after: “I now assert that an intuition altogether irresistible, although inexpressible, forces me to the conclusion that what God originally created—that Matter which…” (Poe 13). This fragment refers, probably, to the commonly-accepted Biblical concept of the Creation and it means, together with the first-quoted sentence that, in spite of the misfortune that followed Poe for his entire life, he did not, at the end, lose his religious faith. However, a deeper analysis shows that Poe’s idea about God was not only consistent to the one Mrs. Allan early inculcated him, but one that Poe himself deeply elaborated as both philosophical and physical concept. Other probable links of Poe with the Catholic faith have recently been investigated (Burduck).
2) The Big Bang, the Expanding Universe and the Mind of God
Poe says: “We now proceed to the ultimate purpose for which we are to suppose the Particle created, that is to say…the constitution of the Universe from it, the Particle” (Poe 14). The coincidence of this concept with the title of Lemaitre’s book, in which the Big Bang theory was initially published (The Primeval Atom, 1931), should give any scientist cause to wonder if it is not Poe who deserves the honor of pioneering this idea. Subsequently he adds: “I am fully warranted in announcing that the law which we have been in the habit of calling Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having being irradiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it is possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, radiation and generally-equable distribution throughout the sphere, that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the radiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Irradiation” (Poe 34). Cappi analyzes many of Poe’s concepts and arrives at the conclusions that: “He tried to build a ‘theory of everything’…while, based on undeniable metaphysical premises, Eureka gives us a qualitative but reasonable Newtonian model of the Universe” (4). This model “was developed only in 1934 by Milne and Mccrea” (11).
Cappi also shows that Poe’s expanding model implies a concept similar to the one expressed by the Hubble’s law, first posed in 1929. This law was originally interpreted as implying that galaxies are receding from Earth at speeds proportional to their distances; lately, it has been assumed that the space itself is expanding (Sartori 301). Even the Theory of General Relativity, published by Einstein in 1916, considered the Universe as a static one. It was only in 1922 that Friedman, a Russian mathematician and fan of Poe (Cappi 12), derived the non-static solutions of Einstein equations, Lemaitre’s precedent for his Theory of the Big Bang as the origin of the Universe. But it was not until 1965, thanks to the measurement of the cosmic thermal background by Penzias and Wilson, that the expansive model imagined by Poe was proved (Munshe, 1998 4). It is to Poe’s credit that, in his intentions to frame (according to Cappi) a ‘theory of everything,’ he began a discussion which is today a topic of intense cosmological research (Ferguson 11, Barrow). Even more, Poe speculates about another salient subject of inquiry: “…the establishment of what we now call ‘principles’…” (Poe 32), which demonstrates Poe’s concern with the origin of the laws of the Universe. Afterwards, he routinely refers to the Thought of God, a matter found in recent relevant thinkers’ inquiries (Russell 131, Davies).
3) Poe Anticipates Relativity
The equivalence of mass and energy, demonstrated by Einstein in his Theory of Special Relativity (1905), had been suggested by Poe in 1848, though not in a mathematical language. First, he condenses into one word, electricity, the different forms of non-gravitational energy: “To electricity—so, for the present, continuing to call it—we may not be wrong in referring the various physical appearances of light, heat and magnetism…” and then continues: “Discarding now the two equivocal terms of ‘gravitation’ and ‘electricity,’ let us adopt the most definite expressions ‘Attraction’ and ‘Repulsion.’” This means that Poe decides, at this point, to refer to the energy’s effects instead of to the energy itself, and concludes: “…there being no conceivable case in which we may not employ the term ‘matter’and the terms ‘attraction’ and ‘repulsion’, taken together, as equivalent, and therefore convertible expressions in Logic” (Poe 18). If one is aware that, by that time, the term ‘matter’ was equivalent to ‘mass’, it is evident the similitude of Poe’s beliefs and the Einstein’s conclusion on the equivalence of mass and energy. As well, two other relativistic concepts, the space-time in Special Relativity and the geometrical interpretation of gravity in General Relativity (Brillouin 50), were anticipated by Poe when he wrote: “But the considerations through which, in this Essay, we have proceeded step by step, enable us clearly and immediately to perceive that Space and Duration are one” (Poe 63). And, previously: “We thus establish the Universe on a purely geometric basis” (Poe 16). Similar concepts had been originally proposed by Kepler in 1597 and by Descartes in 1664 (Parpart 10-13). Although Cappi refuses (3) any valid analogy between the concepts of General Relativity and Poe’s propositions (probably because Poe didn’t elaborate further), the aforementioned coincidence between Poe’s foresight of mass-energy equivalence and the Special Relativity corollary cannot be denied.
4) Poe Contemplates Other Universes
He wrote: “Telescopic observations, guided by the laws of perspective, enables us to understand that the perceptible Universe exists as a roughly spherical cluster of clusters irregularly disposed” (Poe 51). He continues “We know that there exists one cluster of clusters, a collection around which, on all sides, extends the immeasurable wilderness of Space, to all human perception, untenanted” (Poe 54). Next, Poe asks: “Have we any right to infer—let us say, rather, to imagine—an interminable succession of the ‘clusters of clusters’ or of ‘Universes’ more or less similar?” And he answers: “Let me declare only that… there does exist a limitless succession of Universes, more or less similar to that of which we have cognizance…If such clusters of clusters exist, however—and they do—it is abundantly clear that, having had no part in our origin, they have no portion in our laws. They neither attract to us, nor we them. Their material—their spirit is not ours—is not that which obtains in any part of our Universe. They can not not impress our senses or our souls…Each exists, apart and independently, in the bosom of its proper and particular God” (Poe 55). The physical possibility for the existence of other Universes was mathematically demonstrated in the 30’s with the Einstein-Rosen’s Bridges Model or Wormholes (http://www.intothecosmos.com/blackholes/) which have been graphically developed, lately, in the Penrose Diagrams (Kaufmann 56). Those bridges may also represent the path from a black hole to a white hole, i.e., the establishment of a spatial singularity where the matter eaten by the black hole surges as new matter in another Universe. The Penrose Diagrams show graphically the supposed Universes that would exist around ours and the theoretical possibility or impossibility of traveling to them, something that Poe had not anticipated.
5) Poe Foresees Modern Cosmologists’ Black Holes and The Big Crunch
Poe conjectures: “There is nothing to impede the aggregation of various unique masses, at various points of space: in other words, nothing to interfere with the accumulation of various masses, each absolutely One” (Poe 16). Then, that: “The smaller systems, in the vicinity of a larger one, would, inevitably, be drawn into still closer vicinity . A thousand would assemble here; a million there—perhaps here, again, even a billion…” (Poe 50). And, finally: “Of the still more awful Future, a not irrational analogy may guide us in framing an hypothesis. The equilibrium between the centripetal and centrifugal forces of each system, being necessarily destroyed upon attainment of a certain proximity to the nucleus of the cluster to which it belongs, there must occur, at once, a chaotic or seemingly chaotic precipitation, of the moons upon the planets, of the planets upon the suns, and of the suns upon the nuclei; and the general result of this precipitation must be the gathering of the myriad now-existing stars of the firmament into an almost infinitely less number of almost infinitely superior spheres…Then…will be glaring unimaginable suns. But all of this will be merely a climactic magnificence foreboding the great End” (Poe 73).
It is evident that Poe describes here the formation of a Universal Black Hole, which he considered the destiny and end of this Universe, an end that has been recently named as the Big Crunch. Laplace had predicted, in 1793, the existence of dark bodies, possessing the properties of today known as black holes, but he didn’t mention their origins nor any relationship with the final collapse (Grantz 5). Poe proposes also the existence of dark matter when he writes: “We know that there exist non-luminous suns, that is to say, suns whose existence we determine through the movement of others, but whose luminosity is not sufficient to impress us” (Poe 44). However, Poe doesn’t attribute to these remote suns the gravitational avidity of Laplace’s dark bodies. It is assumed that the dark matter, that includes dark bodies, black holes and the “strange particles” also called WIMPs (Narlikar 195), constitutes most of the matter in our Universe. The existence of black holes was verified no sooner than 1970 and it is estimated that there exist 100 million, in the Milky Way alone (Wilson 37). Although Poe doesn’t fully accept the existence of a massive dark body in the center of our Galaxy, he admits in a footnote that: “Of course, if no great central orb exists now in our cluster, such will exist hereafter. Whenever existing, it will be merely the nucleus of the consolidation” (Poe 67). Such a dark body has just been discovered in the center of the Milky Way, as a probably gigantic black hole, equivalent to 2500 million times the solar mass (Noticias de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, I, # 100).
6) Successive Universes
Just after the “great End” already mentioned, Poe continues: “Of this End the new Genesis described can be but a very partial postponement.” Near to the conclusion of Eureka, Poe asks: “…are we not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief–let us say, rather, in indulging a hope—that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate, will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine?” (Poe 75). The hypothesis of simultaneous and successive Universes had been suggested by Anaximander in the 6th Century B.C. However, the possibility of the existence of cyclical Universes appears as a physical theory only after the aforementioned solutions obtained by Friedman, specifically the one corresponding to a positive curvature of the spacial part of the space-time, which generates a closed and cyclical Universe (Sartori 316). This alternative has a higher probability to occur if the abundance of the dark matter, foreseen by Laplace and Poe, is high enough.
Many of these propositions have been discoursed by classic thinkers such as Paul Valéry and Sir Arthur Eddington who said that “Poe, besides being fairly well informed in science and mathematics, seems to have had the mind of a mathematician, and consequently was not to be put off with vague phrases” (Quinn 555). Poe’s precepts have also been analyzed in more recent publications, such as the aforementioned papers by Cappi (who analyzed many of Poe’s physical and mathematical concepts), by Munnshe (who composed a paper on main cosmological Poe’s propositions), by Beaver (who edited a collection of Poe’s works, including a chronology and thorough analysis of pre-Eureka science), and by ***Grantz (who created a web essay about Eureka, which contains many illustrations and space telescope images, as well as links to other Poe works and sites).
Decoding Eureka: “New” Propositions
7) Extra-Solar Planets
“Every shining speck in the firmament—says Poe—is, no doubt, a luminous sun, resembling our own, at least in its general features, and having in attendance upon it a greater or less number of planets, greater or less…which, nevertheless, revolve, moon-attended, about their starry centres, in obedience to the principles just detailed…” (Poe 56). This astronomic prediction about extra-solar planets had, as antecedents, the descriptions of Epicurus in the 4th Century BC and Giordano Bruno in the 16th Century AD. Unlike Aristotle, Epicurus maintained that the Universe is infinite and, therefore, it must be comprised of an infinite number of worlds. Bruno profited from Copernicus’s heliocentric theory (1530) to suggest in 1584, that “…the earth and innumerable other planets and stars are noble and animated bodies moving in an infinite space” (Nelson 635). Gravitational confirmation of extra-solar planets was performed in 1995 by Mayor and Queloz in Switzerland. They discovered a planet orbiting the star Pegasi-51. Afterwards, Marcy, Butler and other American astronomers, arrived at the discovery of 26 extra-solar planets. However, optical confirmations occurred only at the end of 1999 thanks to the labor of two groups: one, led by Marcy and Henry, saw a planet orbiting the star HD209458, distant 153 light-years from Earth; the other, the Isaac Newton Group (from Great Britain, the Netherlands and Spain), observed an extra-solar planet at a distance of 55 light-years, that has been named Millenium. The 29 new extra-solar planets discovered to date, rank from 0.4 to 11.0 times the mass of Jupiter (the biggest of the solar planets). It is particularly noticeable Poe’s phrase “a greater or less number of planets,” since 3 of them have effectively been found orbiting one star: Upsilon of Andromeda, 44 light-years from the Earth. (References and links on these topics are listed in the Works Cited under the item Noticias de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, I, # 93 and # 96).
8) The Non-Existence of the Material Ether
Poe comments about the gradual decrease in the orbit of the Enck’s comet, postulating: “All this was strictly logical, admitting the medium of ether; but this ether was assumed, most illogically, on the ground that no other mode than the one spoken of could be discovered, of accounting for the observed decrease in the orbit of the comet” (Poe 70). On analyzing the variations in the Moon and Earth’s orbits, he concludes that: “The facts thus demonstrated do away, of course, with all necessity for supposing an ether and with all apprehension of the system’s instability, on the ether’s account” (Poe 71). The fact that a poet would have dared to doubt openly the ether hypothesis, sustained by physicists as eminent as Young and Fresnel, a hypothesis supported by Maxwell even in 1865 (Magie 534), implied an amazing degree of audacity that surely contributed to the refusal of the scientific community to accept Poe’s astronomical conjecture. However, the physical proof of the non-existence of ether was obtained 40 years later than Poe’s speculations by means of an experiment based on the assumption of the ether’s existence, which suggested two very interesting expectations: i.) Light waves should travel with a definite speed (c) with respect to the static ether; then, classically, the velocity of light respect to a moving body (such as the Earth) should have a value different from (c). ii.) An absolute velocity of the Earth with respect to the ether should be deduced from measurements on light waves traveling trough the ether. The experiment to confirm these predictions was designed and performed in 1887 by A. Michelson (the first U.S. citizen to win the Nobel Prize, in 1907) and his associate E. Morley. However, the experiment did not produce the expected results, thus contributing to the following obverse conclusions: i) the velocity of the Earth, relative to the ether, is nil; ii) the velocity of light has the same value (c) in all inertial systems; iii) ether doesn’t exist (Blanchard 232, Krane 22).
Regarding the atomic model, Poe formulates some interesting propositions:
9) Chemical Affinity
Poe establishes, between atoms, differences in species, forms, sizes, and distances, proposing that: “Difference of size, for example, will at once be brought about through the tendency of one atom to a second, in preference to a third, on account of particular inequidistance” (Poe 15). This means that he suggested the chemical affinity concept to be a function of atomic characteristics. The chemical affinity concept was proposed for the first time by Barchusen in 1698 (Vitoria 32), and was also considered by Newton in 1701, as a chemical attraction phenomenon similar to the gravitational one. (Moore 167, Parpart 16). It was only in 1812 that Berzelius proposed that chemical combinations depend on electrostatic attractions, a concept subsequently included by Poe in Eureka. Research performed from 1863 to 1878 defined macroscopic factors of chemical combinations. It was not until 1917 that, with the new models of atomic bonding (Moore 518), the dependence of chemical affinity on atomic structure began to be articulated. At present, chemical affinity remains as a qualitative concept related to a very important quantitative one: free energy–that is, the driving force of a chemical reaction. Anyway, Poe’s propositions on this topic proved conceptually valid.
10) Molecular Structure
Poe says: “The amount of electricity developed on the approximation of two bodies, is proportional to the difference between the respective sums (of electricity) of the atoms of which the bodies are composed” (Poe 17). As such, this definition may be applied to the concept presently known as energy of ionization of an ionic(a) pair, that is, the difference between the ionization potential of the cation and the electronic affinity of the anion that will form an ionic molecule. This energy of ionization, added to the electrostatic energy developed when the ions approach, integrates the binding energy of the molecule, which reaches its maximum when the interatomic distance has a certain equilibrium value. (Emeleus 42). This concept was foreseen by Poe when he observed: “…we thus see the necessity for a repulsion of limited capacity–a separate something which, on withdrawal of the diffusive Volition, shall at the same time allow the approach, and forbid the junction, of the atoms; suffering them infinitely to approximate, while denying them positive contact; in a word, having the power – up to a certain epoch – of preventing their coalition, but no ability to interfere with their coalescence in any respect or degree” (Poe 16). He also states: “That the repulsive something actually exists, we see. Man neither employs, nor knows, a force sufficient to bring two atoms into contact. This is but the well-established proposition of the impenetrability of matter…The design of the repulsion…I have endeavored to show but…have religiously abstained…I feel, in a word, that here the God has interposed…” (Poe 17). In fact, it was not yet known in Poe’s time the magnitude of the mutual electrostatic repulsion of atomic nuclei nor the concepts involved in the Pauli’s Exclusion Principle(b). So, it appears that the Divine Volition was the only resort available to Poe to explain the impenetrability of matter and the impossibility for the atomic coalition. Furthermore, he repeats a previous and interesting concept: “…what I have spoken of as a repulsive influence prescribing limits to the (immediate) satisfaction of the tendency (to Unity), will be understood as that which we have been in the practice of designating now as heat, now as magnetism, now as electricity, displaying our ignorance of its awful character…” (Poe 17). Really, some of these forms of non-gravitational energy may, in some way, be considered as opposed to gravity and to matter’s agglomeration. Otherwise, they are now driven to such an extent as to overcome the impenetrability of matter, even permitting the above mentioned coalition (or fusion) of atoms to be increasingly controlled by man (IAEA 48).
11) Planetary Model of the Atom
Poe believes, “It is not that the atoms, as we see them, are divided or that they are complex in their relations—but that they are inconceivably divided and unutterably complex” (Poe 21). To express such an idea in 1848, without any experimental proof, when the theory of the indivisible atom prevailed from Democritus (400 BC) to Dalton (1807 AC) and long afterwards, reflects another audacity of Poe. It was necessary to arrive at the end of the 19th Century to begin to perceive, thanks to the works of Becquerel, Curie, Roentgen and Thomson, the atomic complexity of which Poe, somehow, was aware. As a corollary of this, Poe proposes, speaking of other solar systems: “Let us now, expanding our conceptions, look upon each of these systems as in itself an atom; which in fact it is, when we consider it as but one of the countless myriads of systems which constitute the Universe” (Poe 50). And, finally: “Recurring, then, to a previous suggestion, let us understand the systems – let us understand each star, with its attendant planets – as but a Titanic atom existing in space…” (Poe 72). This Poe’s sketch corresponds exactly to the planetary model of the atom, composed by a positive, central nucleus encircled by lighter, negative particles (electrons), a model proved by Rutherford in 1911 (Krane 154), perfected later by Bohr and Sommerfeld and universally accepted ever since.
12) A Strange Comparison
Lastly, in this chemical exploration of Poe, it must be pointed out the comparison the poet makes between the numbers of atoms and stars: “…in a wilderness of atoms so numerous that those which go to the composition of a cannon-ball, exceed, probably, in mere point of number, all the stars which go to the constitution of the Universe” (Poe 20). A simple calculation shows that, in a 10 kilograms iron-ball, there are about 1026 atoms of iron. Accordingly to a not-too-recent estimation (Dickinson 23), the so-called Local Group (which includes the Milky Way together the galaxies of Andromeda, Triangle, Cloud of Magallanes and M110), has less than 1012 stars. Therefore, it would be necessary to exist more than 1014 Groups, similar to the Local one, for the Universe to have an amount of stars equivalent to that of iron atoms in a cannon-ball. Such a situation is highly improbable due to the limited volume, age and density of the actual Universe of Stars, corresponding to the Big Bang Cosmology(c). The strangeness of Poe’s proposition resides in what follows: In order to calculate the number of atoms it is indispensable to know the Avogadro’s Number. Although Avogadro presented his Hypothesis in 1811, he didn’t include such a Number in the original paper (Knickerbocker 177). Furthermore, his work remained unknown until 1860, when Cannizzaro made it public, but the Number’s value continued to be unknown. An approximate value of the Number(d) had been estimated by 1900 (Blanchard 61), but it was exactly determined only around 1920 by Millikan. Thus, Poe could not have known the famous Number. Also, the knowledge of the population of the stars in the heavens contained in the references of Poe’s contemporaries (Nichol, Hershel and Humboldt) was also, necessarily, very limited. How, then, did Poe imagine such a proposition?.
This analysis suggests new questions, for example:
How did Poe perceive the mass-energy equivalence?
How did Poe imagine a modern concept about the fusion of atoms?
How did he guess the atom’s complexity?
To end this “cluster” of remarkable predictions of Poe, it may be opportune to include at this point two additional predictions related to Eureka itself. Poe was so convinced about the transcendence of his concepts that he wrote to a friend just before editing Eureka (Cappi 2): “What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical and Metaphysical science. I say it calmy—but I say it.” However, faced with a presentiment concerning any future rejection to his scientific work, he decided to take refuge where he felt safe: in his literary prestige. Thus, he wrote at the end of Eureka’s Preface: “What I here propound is true—therefore it cannot die—or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will ‘rise again to the Life Everlasting’. Nevertheless, it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.” (Poe 1). Significantly, Poe knew that “Poetry and Truth are One” (Poe 69).
Even if the scientific legacy belonging to Poe has not been granted to date, still, most of his critics accept his literary talent. Perhaps this and other expositions of his scientific work could serve to affirm Poe’s own thesis: that intuition, with a consistent reasoning, may also conduce to the Truth.
a) An ionic, heteropolar molecule, is composed by two ions (i.e. two atoms or two groups of atoms which have acquired opposite electric charges) in such a proportion that the molecule be electrically neutral. The atoms positively charged are called cations and the negative ones, anions. The energy required to remove an electron from an atom to obtain a cation is referred to as the ionization potential. The energy liberated when an atom captures an electron and becomes an anion is known as electron affinity. The difference between both energies is the energy of ionization of the ionic pair, i.e., the net energy involved in the generation of the ions from the free atoms. Besides, the attraction of those opposed charges implies an electrostatic potential energy, liberated as far as the ions approach to integrate a molecule; but, if they come too close, the reciprocal repulsion of their internal electron orbits (electron cores) appears (see Note b). The algebraic sum of all of these terms gets its maximum value when the ions reach an equilibrium distance. Such a maximum is defined as the binding energy, i.e., the energy required to dissociate the molecule and obtain again the neutral atoms.
b) The atomic planetary model implies the “quantization” of energy levels, i.e., the assignment of discrete energy values to every one of the orbits where the electrons are rotating around the nucleus. Additional mechanical and magnetic parameters contribute to the total energy of every one of the electrons. The Pauli’s Exclusion Principle states that, in an atom, there can not exist two electrons in the same energetic state. This limits, absolutely, the number of electrons that may co-exist on each level and limits, therefore, the overlapping of orbits when two atoms approach. In fact, it would be required an enormous amount of energy to remove the electrons from the internal orbits of one atom to make room (Krane 374) for the electrons of the “invader” atom. This effect, the core repulsion (Blatt 205), is the main reason for the impenetrability of matter. So, in chemical reactions, only external electrons participate. Otherwise, in many nuclear reactions such as that of fusion, very high energies are applied to remove all of the electrons from the atoms and to force the repelling positive nuclei to interact.
c) The widely accepted Big Bang model concerning the origin and expansion of the Universe has recently been questioned by eminent cosmologists, such as Narlikar, Hoyle and Burbidge (Narlikar 200), who propose the so-called Quasi-Steady-State Cosmology. This assumes an infinitely old and expanding Universe, where matter is continuously created from negative energy stored in a creation-field.
d) The estimated values of Avogadro’s Number, by 1900, ranged from 1023 to 1024 .
The value assigned at present is 6.023×1023 (atoms/atom.gram), (Ladd 77). This is the number of atoms contained in an amount of a substance whose mass (in grams) is numerically equal to his atomic weight. For example, if the atomic weight of iron is 55.84, it means that 55.84 grams of iron contain 6.023×1023 atoms.
Avogadro, Amadeo. “Essai d’une maniére de déterminer les masses relatives des molécules élémentaires des corps.” Journal de Physique, 1811 (reproduced in Classics of Modern Science. W.S.Knickerbocker, ed. New York: F.S.Crofts & Co.1940).
Barrow, John. Theories of Everything. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Beaver, H. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. London: Penguin Books, 1976.
Blanchard, C.H. et al. Introduction to Modern Physics. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1960.
Blatt, Frank. Modern Physics. New York: McGraw Hill Inc., 1992.
Brillouin, Leon. Relativity Reexamined. New York: Academic Press, 1970.
Burduck M.L. Usher’s Forgotten Church? (in press), ISBN-0-96-16449.
Cappi, Alberto. “Edgar Allan Poe’s Physical Cosmology.” The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 35, 177, 1994.- Reproduced as a LaTex file in Cappi’s Home Page, firstname.lastname@example.org, July 20, 1999.
Davies, Paul. The Mind of God. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Dickinson, Terence. Exploring the Night Sky. London: Camden House Pub., 1987.
Emeléus, H.J. & Anderson, J.S. Modern Aspects of Inorganic Chemistry. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1963.
Ferguson, Kitty. Stephen Hawking—Guest for a Theory of Everything. London: Bantam Books, 1991.
Grantz, David. Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka: I Have Found It. C. Nilsson, ed. http://www.poedecoder.com
Haddamard, Jacques. The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. New York: Dover Pub., 1945.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Annual Report for 1998. Vienna: July, 1999.
Kaufmann, William J. Relatividad y Cosmología, 2nd ed. Mexico: Editorial Harla, 1977.
Korner, Stephan. “On the Relevance of Post-Godelian Mathematics to Philosophy.” Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Company, 1967.
Krane, Kenneth. Modern Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1983.
Ladd, M.F.C. & Lee, W.H. Modern Physical Chemistry. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969.
Maxwell, James C. “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field”. Philosophical Transactions, 155, 459, 1865 (reproduced in A Source Book in Physics. W.F.Maguie, ed. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc., 1935).
Moore, Walter. Physical Chemistry, 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1962.
Munnshe, Jorge. “El Universo segun Edgar Allan Poe”, Noticias de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, I, # 22, July 17, 1998. email@example.com
Munnshe, Jorge. “El mito siniestro de Edgar Allan Poe.” Historia y Vida, October, 1999, pp.58-67.
Narlikar, Jayant. The Lighter Side of Gravity. Cambridge: University Press,1996.
Nelson John Charles. “Giordano Bruno” The Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 4. New York: Americana Corporation, 1961.
Noticias de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, I, # 100, January 21, 2000. firstname.lastname@example.org
Parpart, Uwe. “The Concept of Transfinite.” The Campaigner, 9, 1,2, 1976.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Eureka, (Spanish translation by Julio Cortázar), 1st ed. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1972.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Eureka—A Prose Poem. Gibson Grafx Page. http://www.pambytes.com/poe/eureka1.html
Praz, Mario. “Les Grandes Courants de l’Expression Literaire”, in Histoire du Développément Culturel et Scientifique de l’Humanité, Vol. V. Robert Lafont, ed. Paris: Editions UNESCO, 1969.
Quinn, Arthur. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1941.
Rado, Tibor. La intuición y el rigor en las matemáticas. Puerto Rico: Editorial Universitaria, 1948.
Russell, Bertrand. Religión y Ciencia. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951.
Sartori, Leo. Understanding Relativity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
Tipler, Frank. The Physics of Immortality. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.
Vitoria, Eduardo. Manual de Química Moderna, 12th ed. Barcelona: Tip. Cat. Casals, 1940.
Wilson, Jackie, ed. Black Holes. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 1996.
* Juan Lartigue G. is a full-time professor at the Nuclear Chemistry Department, Faculty of Chemistry, National University of México.
** The quotes taken from texts in Spanish and French were freely translated into English by the author.
*** The author is indebted to David Grantz for his patient correction and editing labour, as well as his wise guidance in the elaboration of this essay.
Eureka: Poe’s Victory over the Clockwork Universe
René van Slooten (The Netherlands)
(This essay is based on a paper that was presented at the Third International Edgar Allan Poe Conference; Philadelphia 8-11 October 2009)
“An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss”. (Edgar Allan Poe: The Pit and the Pendulum)
“.. the spirit of gravity, my most supreme, most powerful devil, who is said to be ‘Lord of the World’. (…) And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity – through him all things fall”. (Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus spoke Zarathustra)
“Die Welt is alles was der Fall ist”. (Ludwig Wittgenstein: ‘Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, Proposition 1’)
The above quotes make clear that Poe raised and investigated a subject that subsequently became a major theme in the philosophy of the late 19th and 20th centuries: the existential consequences of the popular scientific view of the world that was so closely related to Newton’s celestial mechanics, the ‘clockwork universe’. That particular universe is entirely mechanistic and it is ruled by laws that describe the interaction and relation between space, mass, gravity and time. These laws thus determine everything, the complete past and the entire future, and individual man is no more than a miniscule cog in the universal machine. Poe realized that such a totally predetermined and mathematically ‘closed’ universe has no place for concepts like freedom, choice, responsibility and self-determination. Apparently science had created a prison from which no escape seemed possible…
This essay is about Poe’s revolt against the clockwork universe, how he saw the horrors, and how he finally was victorious in Eureka, thereby inventing a completely new view on the origin and evolution of the universe, a view that would eventually revolutionize 20th century science.
The newtonian prison
Poe was certainly not the first to question the wisdom and infallibility of the scientific world view of his time, because a highly critical attitude towards science and enlightenment is a fundamental characteristic of Romanticism. But Poe was the first to go straight for the core: the concept of a mechanistic universe, with gravity as the most fundamental and determining force. And thus a fatal clock and the gravitational abyss became clear and present dangers in stories like The Pit and the Pendulum; The Masque of the Red Death; A Predicament; The Devil in the Belfry; The Fall of the House of Usher; A Descent into the Maelstrom; The Tell-Tale Heart; etc.
Wittgenstein’s proposition “Die Welt ist alles was der Fall ist” is usually translated as “The world is all that is the case”, but a more appropriate translation is: “The world is all that is subject to gravity”, because that correctly defines the materialistic world and the domain of the ‘positivistic’ sciences of nature. Usher’s “House” thus becomes identical to Wittgenstein’s “Welt”, because in the end the fate of both is determined by gravity.
And thus, long before Nietzsche picked up the thread in Zarathustra, the spirit of gravity became Poe’s worst enemy, an enemy which he first tried to beat by flying high above the earth with help of mechanical means, in stories like The Balloon Hoax; Hans Pfaal and Mellonta Tauta. But in Eureka Poe finally succeeded to escape from the newtonian prison by spiritual means, by ridiculing science and scientific knowledge, and by creating a new heaven and a new earth in the mind of the reader.
“Not by wrath but by laughter do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity”. (Nietzsche: Zarathustra).
Slaying the demon in Eureka
Ever since Newton’s time the spirit of gravity was omnipotent and omnipresent in western thought and science; it ruled the entire universe, which is admitted by Poe when he writes in Eureka that gravity is the strongest of forces[i]. However, after writing this seemingly undeniable conclusion about the strength of gravity, Poe pulls a brilliant hattrick when he concludes that gravity depends entirely upon the fact that matter is divided and spread all over the universe:
‘..the Law which we call Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having been radiated, at it’s origin, atomically, into a limited sphere of Space, from one individual, unconditional, irrelative and absolute Particle Proper’.
So in Poe’s universe gravity is a temporary force that exists only as long as matter is radiated into space and divided into many particles, but this force of gravity ceases to exist immediately when it has pulled all matter back into the original state of total unification, the moment when everything in the universe is concentrated in an infinitesimal small singularity, the ‘Particle Proper’ that marks the end of a past universe, but is simultaneously the beginning of a new one. At this precise moment of nothingness, gravity ceases to exist because it has no function and it cannot act when the universe is composed of only one particle with no physical dimensions. And because gravity is absent in this state of oneness, the ‘particle proper’ can explode immediately into an entirely new universe and start a new life cycle. Poe’s universe is ‘pulsating’ as it is called in modern terminology. And one can also say that, according to Poe, physics is based on the wrong assumption that gravity is a fundamental force of nature. However, in Poe’s universe that is not the case, because in that universe gravity exists and acts only as long as the other forces of nature are separated, but it disappears as soon as they are unified. So unification and gravity are mutually excluding, but together they make the universe come alive, renewing itself cycle after cycle, forever and forever.
But gravity is not only a temporary and secondary force of nature, because Poe also writes that it emerges from a deeper ‘sympathy’ that acts directly and instantaneously between all fundamental particles in the universe, regardless of their distance. This ‘sympathy’ is not only the source of gravitation, but it also causes an immediate response from each individual particle on even the smallest event or disturbance anywhere in the universe. From this cosmic and immediate sympathy between particles, Poe concludes that the universe is in fact a chaotic system, which was a complete deviation from the common opinion of his time, but which is in accordance with present-day scientific opinion. However, the idea that gravity can be a direct and immediate quantum effect, is far removed from the present scientific opinion, although every physicist will admit that gravity is still the most enigmatic and least understood of all forces of nature. We simply don’t know what gravity is, so anything is possible![ii]
It is obvious that Poe’s dynamic, continuously evolving and renewing universe differed radically from scientific and theological opinions of his day, which believed that the universe was created once only and would remain in that same state forever. This radical character is a major reason why Eureka was rejected by so many people, why it was severely criticized, and why it still suffers from the negative reputation that it acquired initially, especially in the USA.
Eureka and the birth of modern science
Poe designed a dynamic universe that is strikingly similar to the present view, the theory of the ‘Big Bang’, or, by its official name, ‘the Friedmann-Lemaître model of the Universe’. So who were Friedmann and Lemaître? And could it be that they were inspired by Poe and Eureka?
Alexander Friedmann (1888-1925) was a brilliant Russian physicist and mathematician. He studied at the University of St. Petersburg, where one of his teachers was the equally brilliant Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest (1880-1933) who later became one of the founders of quantum physics and a close friend of Albert Einstein. After his graduation, Alexander Friedmann became a meteorologist, and he joined the new Russian air force after the outbreak of World War I, where he soon turned his scientific mind with much success to the entirely new and complex field of the behavior and effect of bombs that are dropped from airplanes. Like Poe, also Friedmann became an expert in ballistics and explosives.[iii]
After the Great War the world enthusiastically embraced Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and also Friedmann became fascinated by it. But he soon realized that Einstein had stuck to the concept of a static and eternal universe, although the general theory of relativity itself suggested otherwise[iv]. So in 1922 Friedmann published an article in which he expanded Einstein’s mathematics to include a dynamic universe. Initially Einstein opposed Friedmann’s ideas fiercely, but he later admitted that he had not seen the ultimate truth in his own general theory of relativity. Paul Ehrenfest, Friedmann’s one time teacher, played a crucial role in this change of front of his friend Einstein.[v] Unfortunately Friedmann did not get much time to enjoy his rehabilitation and continue his work, for he died of typhoid fever in 1925.
Of course the question has arisen if Friedmann was inspired by Poe and Eureka when he realized that Einstein had overlooked the essential truth in the general theory of relativity. The answer to this question is positive, because it is known that Friedmann was a fan of Poe and knew his work well.[vi] But it should be noted that Poe has always been very popular and influential in Russia, where also Eureka was studied and discussed from the early Baudelaire translation[vii]. It was even officially forbidden for some time by the Central Censorship Committee because of its revolutionary content, of course an act that most certainly aroused a lot of curiosity and dispute inside and outside of Russia.[viii]
But in general it can be said that, due to Poe’s enormous popularity and countless admirers in Europe, the idea of a “Big Bang” and a dynamic, evolutionary universe was well known in literary and cultural circles during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[ix] This in contrast to the USA, where Eureka was forgotten after Poe’s death.
Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), the other founder of the modern scientific model of the universe, was also an intriguing personality. Unfortunately no personal archive of Lemaître has been preserved, but what we know of him makes certain that also he knew Poe’s work well.[x] Lemaître grew up in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, where Poe was extremely popular and influential due to the Baudelaire translations. In fact it was not possible to participate in the cultural and literary debate in Belgium without knowing the work of Poe, including Eureka.[xi] Moreover, Lemaître had a life-long interest in literature and poetry, and in his later life he became an acknowledged scholar on the French playwright Molière.
Lemaître was a brilliant student who excelled in mathematics. He studied to become a mining engineer, but at the outbreak of World War I he volunteered for the Belgian army, where he served for four years with the artillery in the trenches in Flanders[xii]. So, like Poe and Friedmann, also Lemaître was an expert in ballistics and explosives. During the war he further developed his talent for mathematics and after the war he continued his studies in physics, astronomy and mathematics, but he also became a priest. For his PhD he worked and studied in England (Cambridge) and the USA (Harvard and MIT in Boston), where he met and discussed with the best scientists of his time. Lemaître also became interested in Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and independently of Friedmann (whose work he did not know yet), he realized that Einstein had missed an opportunity. But Lemaître followed the ideas of Poe more closely and developed the mathematics for a dynamic universe that had exploded from an infinitely dense singularity, the ‘primordial particle’ or ‘cosmic egg’ (as he called it jokingly).
As happened to Friedmann, Einstein initially also opposed the ideas of Lemaître when they met at a conference in Brussels in 1927, where Einstein also told Lemaître about Friedmann’s work. (From that moment the modest Lemaître always mentioned Friedmann whenever he lectured or wrote about his cosmic ideas). But the two great scientists were reconciled in 1933 during a conference at Caltech, where Einstein openly expressed his admiration for the work of Lemaître[xiii].
Lemaître became a professor of mathematics, physics and astronomy at the Catholic University of Louvain, and he also became an advisor to the Vatican Observatory and to the popes Pius XII and John XXIII, who appointed Lemaître as a member and later as chairman of the Papal Academy of Sciences, a function that he held till his death.[xiv]
In retrospect one can say that Poe’s cosmic ideas had been present in the public consciousness for several decades before they entered science. However, during that long ‘pre-scientific’ period no scientist could do anything useful with Poe’s ideas because the mathematics for a dynamic universe simply did not exist, and because the prevalent scientific world view was not only static and mechanistic, but also indisputable.
But all that had changed after the Great War and the ensuing Spanish flu pandemic. Not only had Einstein developed the required mathematics, but also an exhausted mankind was desperately longing for a new heaven and a new earth. It was precisely at that time that Poe’s ideas were grasped by Friedmann and Lemaître, two visionary scientists who also had a profound interest in literature and poetry, and who, together with their colleagues who created quantum physics in the same period, finally opened the closed universe in which mankind had lived for so long.
The influence of Edgar Allan Poe on the development of modern science has been profound but hidden, which means that an important part of the history of science has to be rewritten. Also the name “Friedmann-Lemaître Model of the Universe” is no longer correct. In order to do justice to the original inventor and his military inspiration, the name “Poe-West Point Model of the Universe” is more appropriate[xv].
On the author:
René van Slooten is a chemical engineer from The Netherlands. He served with the artillery during his two year compulsory service with the Royal Netherlands Army. His interest in Poe started when he accidentally discovered an antiquarian edition of Eureka in 1982. Since then he has written articles about Poe and Eureka for Dutch magazines and newspapers. He also published the first Dutch translation of Eureka in 2003 and he presented papers on Eureka at the International Poe Conferences of 2002 (Baltimore) and 2009 (Philadelphia).
The author wishes to thank The Netherland-America Foundation and Susan Jaffe Tane for their support and encouragement, Liliane Moens-Haulotte (Université catholique de Louvain) for her help and dr. Chris van de Runstraat for his valuable suggestions.
[i] Modern physics distinguishes four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, the electromagnetic force (that is responsible for all electric and magnetic phenomena), the strong atomic force (that holds the nucleus of atoms together) and the weak atomic force (that is responsible for radio-active decay). In Eureka the force of gravity is accompanied by the force of electricity that is responsible for all normal physical phenomena and for the structural integrity of the atom, so it is a combination of the electromagnetic force and the strong atomic force. Poe predicted that fusion of atoms will generate electricity, and he also wrote that physical phenomena can never go faster than the velocity of light, which lead him to a rudimentary concept of relativity.
[ii] According to modern science (the theory of relativity), gravity effects travel with the velocity of light through space. However, several large scale international scientific experiments to detect such ‘gravity waves’ have not yielded positive results so far. Gravity remains the most elusive and mysterious of all forces. It is remarkable that also in modern physics (string theory) there is a growing doubt about the real character of gravity, and the suggestion that it is not a force in the classical sense has recently been made.
[iii] William Hecker’s Private Perry and Mister Poe. The West Point Poems (2005; Louisiana State University Press) makes clear how important Poe’s military experience was for his later work. From Hecker’s brilliant analyses, one can conclude that Eureka was in fact Poe’s last military poem, meant to detonate the mind of the readers and transport them into a new universe. In Eureka the poet-artillerist Poe also used the velocity of cannon balls, to illustrate the size of our solar system. Major William Hecker (1968-2006) was an artillery officer in the US Army, an assistant professor of English at West Point Military Academy and an outstanding and innovative Poe scholar. He was killed in action in Iraq on January 5, 2006.
[iv] The belief that the universe is static, unchanging and eternal, is very old and has been very firm for much of human history. However, with the wisdom of hindsight it is clear that also Newton’s celestial mechanics do not support such a static universe, because it is inherently unstable due to the continuously changing gravity fields of countless revolving moons, planets, solar systems and milky ways. Actually, with the help of Newton’s celestial mechanics it could have been predicted that the universe has to be dynamic (expanding or contracting) instead of static, but for centuries that fact was ignored and overlooked by scientists, because it did not fit in the general world view.
[v] This happened in 1923 at Leiden University in Holland, where Paul Ehrenfest had become professor of physics. Einstein lectured there regularly and always stayed at the home of his friend.
[vi] See for instance Tom Siegfried: Strange Matters: Undiscovered Ideas at the Frontiers of Space and Time (2002). ISBN: 0-309-08407-5.
[vii] Baudelaire admired Eureka for its visionary power. His French translation was published for the first time in installments in the Swiss international magazine Revue International, from October 1859 till January 1860. The first French edition of Eureka in book form was published in 1864.
[viii] See Elvira Osipova: The Reception of Eureka in Russia; The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Spring 2004, Volume V, Number 1, pages 16-28.
[ix] In Eureka Poe wrote about evolution, years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Poe even realized that evolution is not a gradual process, but that it is a “punctuated equilibrium” (as it is now called) due to cosmic and geologic catastrophes. Charles Darwin, on the contrary, always stubbornly stuck to his belief in gradual evolution, something one can safely call a blunder, given the already large fossil records of his time.
[x] For more information on the life and work of Georges Lemaître, see Dominique Lambert: Un Atome d’Univers. La vie et ‘oeuvre de Georges Lemaître, Editions Lessius, Bruxelles, 2000, 476 pages. ISBN: 2-87299-088-7; and John Farrell: The Day without Yesterday. Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology (2005). ISBN: 1-56025-660-5 (262 pages).
[xi] J.P. Vander Motten: Poe in Belgium; Poe Abroad, University of Iowa Press, 1999, pages 45-51; and Poe and the Belgian Aesthetic Movement, Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism, Volume 33, Nrs. 1 and 2, 2000, pages 54-63. J.P. Vander Motten is professor of English at Ghent University, Belgium.
[xii] Although Lemaître was qualified to become an officer, he remained an NCO. Later he jokingly contributed this to his ‘bad character’, because he used to interrupt and correct his superiors whenever he noticed errors in their lessons or instructions. Ballistics and explosives are complicated and difficult fields of applied mathematics, physics and chemistry, in which the young Lemaître was clearly superior to his superiors. However, he proved to be an excellent NCO and he served for four years in one of the worst sections of the Western Front, where he earned several decorations for courage under fire.
[xiii] In December 1933 and January 1934 Albert Einstein wrote two letters to Richard Gimbel, owner of the Poe House in Philadelphia. In these letters Einstein confirms that he was reading Eureka at that time, and that he admired Poe’s independent mind. These two letters were auctioned in 2002 and their present location is unknown, as is their complete content (information obtained from Poe collector Peter Fawn, at the International Poe Conference in 2009). So also Einstein knew Eureka, but at a later age. One can only wonder what would have happened if he had read it during his youth!
[xiv] Georges Lemaître as inventor of the ‘Big Bang’ and as science adviser to the Vatican has also been fictionalized by Dan Brown in his novel The Bernini Mystery.
[xv] It is high time that a major space project is named after Poe!
DECODING SOME EUREKA FORESEES
Juan Lartigue G.*
The author published in 2000 an essay1 that briefly mentioned some aspects of Poe’s personality and thinking and, in a wider form, analyzed twenty of his foresees related to Cosmology. Thirteen of them had previously been discussed by several Poe analysts and the remaining seven were interpreted by the author.
In the elapsed time since the essay publication, some astronomical findings have come to reinforce two of the before mentioned Poe’s foresees. As well, a review of some additional Poe’s propositions let us state their validity. A second essay2 oriented to their decoding was published (in Portuguese) in 2010, whose to-date English version follows.
Two propositions recently reaffirmed
“Every shining speck in the firmament—says Poe3—is, no doubt, a luminous sun…having in attendance upon it a greater or less number of planets…”. Confirmation of extra-solar planets was achieved in 1995 and, for 2000, they had been discovered 29. Recent reports4 mention, to date, more than 500 extra-solar planets. It is particularly noticeable the additional Poe’s phrase: “a greater or less number of planets” since most of them have been found gathered in many planetary systems.
A distinct similitude
Near the conclusion of Eureka, Poe asks5: “…are we not, indeed, more than justified in entertaining a belief…that the process we have ventured to contemplate, will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever…at every throb of the Heart Divine?”. A recent study6, related to the variation of the ultraviolet radiation field as a factor of stars formation in our Galaxy, concludes that “the pattern repeats as a heartbeat”.
Analysis of some additional propositions
Symmetry in Physic’s Laws
Regarding symmetry, Poe expresses7: “It is perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous–for the analogical—in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical—which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be dependent on with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe—of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now, symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth—true in the ratio of its consistency”. The formal application of symmetry in the mathematical field8 was initiated in the middle of the XIX century with the works of W. Hamilton and K. Jacobi (Poe’s contemporaries) but the relationship of symmetry and physics was proved only in 1894 by P. Curie. More recently M. Cassé wrote9: “Il existe une relation familière à tous les physiciens entre ceux qu’ils qualifient de symétrie, d’une part, et loi de conservation d’autre part.…Si une loi de conservation transparaît derrière les phénomènes, le physicien ne peut s’estimer satisfait que lorsqu’il découvre la symétrie qu’elle exprime”. A recent book of T. Siegfried10 points out some interesting related concepts. Referring to the transcendental works of Emmy Noether, he says: “She also showed that some of physics’ most sacred laws are not accidents of nature, but rather are strict requirements, imposed by fundamental symmetries in space and time”. After, he expresses: “To physicists, symmetry is at the very heart of using mathematics to understand nature” and, referring to the recent phrases of the Nobel prize L. Lederman: “symmetry may be the most crucial concept of all…All the fundamental forces in nature are unified under one elegant symmetry principle…Symmetry controls physics in a most profound way, and this was the ultimate lesson of the twentieth century”.
As it can be appreciated, all of above relevant citations coincide with the genial Poe’s foresee about symmetry. In addition, at the beginning of this paragraph, he equates the concepts of continuous and analogical, such as they are taken now in applied Mathematics.
It is an odd situation that, to date, Poe’s analysts had no commented about some noticeable words appeared at the initial paragraphs11 of Eureka: “A task may be more or less difficult; but it is either possible or not possible; there are not gradations. It may be more difficult to overthrow the Andes than an ant-hill; but it can not be more impossible to annihilate the matter of the one than the matter of the other”. Though he could not be absolutely conscious of the present significance of his words, Poe was referring to the ultimate application of Special Relativity equation E=mc2: the phenomenon today known as matter annihilation only achieved, in very limited cases, in the second half of the 20th century. In short: he did not mention any type of matter diffusion, dis-aggregation (fission) or fusion but matter annihilation, that is to say, the most energetic of nuclear reactions by which the mass is fully converted to energy.
The butterfly effect
Another not-to-date noticed Poe’s proposition12 was that: “If I venture to displace, by even the billionth part of an inch, the microscopic speck of dust which lies now upon the point of my finger, what is the character of that act upon which I have ventured? I have done a deed which shakes the Moon in her path, which causes the Sun to be no longer the Sun, and which alters forever the destiny of the multitudinous myriads of stars that run and glow in the majestic presence of their Creator”. The equivalence of these ideas with those exposed one century later by E. Lorenz13 and R. Bradbury confirms that Poe was a first proponent of the concept named by Lorenz as the butterfly effect, a typical example of the chaos phenomena.
Intuition, Dark Energy and the Cosmological Principle
Poe critiques, in an ironic message from the future, the deductive and inductive methods of reasoning and concludes that14: “…a perfect consistency [of reasoning] can be nothing but an absolute truth”…To illustrate the importance of intuition if it is supported by a consistent reasoning, he wrote: “Yes – this vital laws Kepler guessed-that is to say, he imagined them.” The relevance of intuition in Science was recognized at the beginning of the 20th century by H. Poincaré, though it had been employed well before by others such as Fermat, Galois, Pascal, Riemann and Oswald15. Perhaps the most relevant case of intuition applied to Modern Physics was that of A. Einstein when he added to his field equations, without any justification, a cosmological ‘constant’ (Λ) in order to preserve the static universe concept, currently accepted in his time. In this respect, T. Siegfred16 says: “Dirac prediscover antimatter because equations told him to. Einstein seems to be telling the equations what to do…Perhaps this is a good example …to understand how prediscovery is possible”. After the confirmation of the universe expansion by E. Hubble, Einstein recognized his mistake. However, a deeper interpretation of his ‘constant’ has lead to the new concept of an unknown ‘Dark Energy’, which generates the universe expansion. So, the intuitive Einstein daring turned into an unexpected success.
Poe says17: “I am fully warranted in announcing that the law which we have been in the habit of calling Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having being irradiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it is possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, radiation and generally-equable distribution throughout the sphere, that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the radiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Irradiation”. A. Cappi showed18 that the Poe’s expanding model meant a concept similar to that expressed by the Hubble law to confirm the expansive model of the Universe, imagined by Poe and mathematically deduced by Friedman. As mentioned above, the expansion of the Universe has been attributed to a mysterious dark energy, which would provide the force necessary to irradiate the matter. Therefore, it is possible to consider that Poe foresaw this phenomenon though he assumed it as a display of the Volition of God. Furthermore, the phrase “generally-equable distribution throughout the sphere” is an equivalent expression of the Cosmological Principle in General Relativity.
An additional commentary
It has been often said that Poe did not had the academic degree necessary to speculate on Science, in spite that the same occurred with eminent scientists and philosophers such as W. Herschel and D. Hume. Beside, it should be noticed that the word ‘scientist’ was coined only in 1840 by W. Whewell. “Poe19, like Newton, still thought of himself as a ‘natural philosopher’ whose ultimate affiliations were less with research than with ‘natural theology’ ”.
1 – J. Lartigue, “Edgar Allan Poe and Science: A cosmic poet”, C. Nilsson ed., (2000), www.poedecoder.com
2 – J. Lartigue, “Decodificando Algumas das Previsöes de Eureka”, www.poebrasil.com.br, (2010)
3 – Edgar Allan Poe, “Eureka” in: H. Beaver, “The Science Fiction of E.A.Poe”, Penguin Books, p.282, (1976)
4 – J. Schneider, “Enciclopedia de los Planetas Extrasolares”, (Jan, 2011), http://exoplanets.eu/catalog/
5 – Ref. 3, p. 307
6 – A. Kritsuk and M. Norman, “Stars Heartbits Help Stir up Galaxies”, Sc. American, (Nov. 4, 2002), www.scientificamerican.com
7 – Ref. 3, p.299
8 – K. Brading and E. Castellani, “Symmetries in Physics”, Cambridge Univ. Press, p.4, (2003)
9 – M, Cassé, “ Du Vide et de la Création”, Poches O. Jacob, p. 53, (2001)
10 – T. Siegfred, “Strange Matters”, J. Henry Press, p. 62, (2002)
11 – Ref. 3, p. 223
12 – Ref. 3, p. 236
13 – R. Ortega, “Teoría del Caos”, Conference at the National University of México, (Aug., 2005)
14 – Ref. 3, p. 219
15 – Ref. 1, p. 3
16 – Ref. 10, p. 144
17 – Ref. 3, p. 254
18 – A. Cappi, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Physical Cosmology”, Q.J.R. Astr. Soc., p.183, (1994)
19 - Ref. 3, p. 397.
* Juan Lartigue G. is a member of the crew of the poe-eureka web page.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The Second International Edgar Allan Poe Conference
October 3-6, 2002
Sheraton North and Goucher College Campus
Baltimore North/Towson, MD
“Renewed forever, and forever, and forever”
The eternally evolving universe of Edgar Allan Poe
By René van Slooten
Maarssen, The Netherlands
Ladies and gentlemen.
First of all I wish to express my gratitude to the Netherland-America Foundation at New York. Without their encouragement and support at an early stage, it would not have been possible for me to participate in this conference and prepare this paper.
I also want to thank Susan Tane, collector of Poe and stimulus for all foreign Poe students, for her presence here and for her generosity to share Poe’s own copy of Eureka with us all this morning.
My lecture on Poe and Eureka will deal with some aspects of this brilliant, but still relatively unknown essay that is so difficult to classify because it is theology, philosophy and science, all wrapped into one prophetic cosmology, or cosmogony.
As a starter I will tell you how and when I got involved with Eureka.
Next, I see a ‘Dutch connection’ between Eureka and some of Poe’s best known works, like The Masque of the Red Death and The Pit and the pendulum. This helps to give Eureka a central place in Poe’s work, for he himself considered Eureka as the keystone of his work, and I think it is indeed.
Third, there is a major question to be solved: did the ideas in Eureka, or at least some of them, somehow find their way into modern science and philosophy? Not only do I think that they have, but also I think that I know how this happened, although real proof of Poe’s influence on the science and philosophy of the twentieth century is lacking, and such proof may never be found at all.
And last I shall present an overview of the most important publications on Eureka during the past 15 years. From this list it seems that Eureka is much more admired and studied in Europe than in America; a situation that I would like to change.
Poe wrote Eureka during the years 1847-1848, the last phase of his life, between the death of his wife Virginia in January 1847 and his own death in October 1849. At that time Poe lived mostly at Fordham near New York (now in The Bronx).
My own interest in Eureka started when I discovered a copy in the attic of my ancestral home. It was a copy of John H. Ingram’s “The works of Edgar Allan Poe”, published at London in 1899. John Ingram was a remarkable man, a clerk at the London postoffice who devoted his life to bring Poe to the attention of the British public. What Charles Baudelaire did for Poe in France, John Ingram did in Britain and he should be remembered for that. Fortunately when Eureka came into my life I was well prepared for it, because my father was an excellent mathematician, physicist and amateur astronomer and I myself have studied chemistry. So the discussions at home often were about science and the history and philosophy of the sciences of nature. However, reading Eureka came as a big surprise to me. For in it I found scientific ideas and philosophical concepts that, to the best of my knowledge, were developed or proposed by men who lived long after Poe. I cannot go into detail, for that would take hours, but some major ideas should be mentioned here.
For instance, Eureka proofs beyond any doubt that Poe must be recognized as the inventor of the ‘Big Bang’ theory about the birth of our universe. Although the ‘Big Bang’ in Eureka is created by God, Poe’s description of the process is in accordance with the latest scientific ideas. He describes an universe that is created with a ‘Big Bang’, followed by phases of expansion, condensation and contraction and, finally a disappearance into nothingness, a black hole, a ‘Final Crunch’ as it is popularly called these days. But after this a new creation occurs immediately and the whole process starts again, and again, and again…. In fact, Poe describes a process that is now known as a ‘cyclic’, ‘pulsating’ or ‘oscillating’ universe.
Also Eureka offers a clear description of the so-called ‘multiple’ universe or ‘multiverse’, which is composed of a limitless number of different universes that exist simultaneously in different dimensions. According to the history of science the ‘multiverse’ was invented by the physicist Hugh Everett in 1957, but actually it is Poe’s idea, more than a century earlier. The fascinating concept of a ‘multiverse’ has been popularized recently, for instance it is the leading plot in Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel ‘Timeline’; a story about scientists who travel to another universe where they experience adventures in the Middle Ages.
Eureka also contains a ‘time-space continuity’, the idea that time and space are inseparably linked in a four-dimensional universe. ‘Space and duration are One’ in Poe’s words. From this time-space continuity, Poe also deduces the notion of relativity, meaning that all of our observations of the universe are related to the past, so that is impossible to obtain any knowledge about its present condition: “..the processes at present observed, or supposed to be observed, are, in fact, not processes going on, but the phantoms of processes completed long in the past..”
The next modern idea in Eureka is the presence of ‘black holes’ (as they are called nowadays) in our universe, and even ‘wormholes’ (a popular term from ‘Startrek’), a kind of shortcut between different universes. According to Poe, our universe will finally disappear into a black hole, but it will be recreated immediately as a new world in another dimension under different conditions and with different laws of nature. So in Poe’s vision black holes are also open doors to other universes in the multiverse, and in fact Poe states that our galaxy, the Milky Way, already revolves around a black hole in which it will finally disappear.
A brilliant insight of Poe, is his rejection of Euclid’s fifth axiom. This axiom states that two parallel lines cannot enclose a space, and it is one of the foundations of classic geometry. At the time when Poe wrote in Eureka, in only a few sentences and in an almost casual way, that this axiom is utterly untenable, the mathematicians Lobachevsky (Russia) and Bolyai (Hungary) were developing the so-called ‘non-Euclidean’ geometry that was based on the same idea. Later this ‘non-Euclidean’ geometry became the foundation for Albert Einstein’s work and nowadays it is an essential tool for most of the sciences of nature.
Another idea to be mentioned, is the fact that in Eureka Poe sketches the basic principles of a surprising concept of evolution, ten to fifteen years before Darwin did publish his first work. According to Poe, evolution of species is the result of two independent forces. First there is a gradual evolution into an ‘ever increasing complexity and heterogeneity of the animal structure’. However, this gradual process is interrupted periodically by cosmic catastrophes that occur in our solar system. This is exactly the mechanism that is presently used to explain the sudden and periodical extinction of dinosaurs and many other species during the long history of evolution of life on earth.
One of the most amazing fundamental insights in Eureka is Poe’s statement that all physical processes can be described in terms of attraction and repulsion, so that ”matter’ and ‘attraction and repulsion, taken together’ are ‘equivalent, and therefore convertible, expressions in logic’. Here Poe comes close, very close indeed, to the formula E=mc² that made Einstein one of the greatest scientists of all time.
It should be made clear here that, in order to appreciate Eureka and Poe’s genius, one should keep in mind that the great fundamental and unifying laws of physics, especially those of thermodynamics and electromagnetism, were formulated years after Poe’s death. This means that Poe had to develop his own terminology in order to express and describe his revolutionary scientific and philosophical ideas and concepts.
The reader who has come this far, will also understand that Poe needed a mental turn-around in the mind of his reader in order to make this new universe acceptable. The first step to prepare the reader for what is to come, is made immediately in the opening page of Eureka: ‘I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men’. And indeed Poe does question the wisdom of some of the greatest names from the history of human thought, like Aristotle, Euclid, Bacon, Hume, Kant and Mill. By attacking the ideas of these great minds and by declaring their ideas and axioms null and void (like Euclid’s fifth axiom), Poe prepares the the mind of the reader for his own revolution.
A Dutch Connection
Since the seventeenth century mankind has lived in a four-dimensional universe, composed of three space-dimensions and one time-dimension. The three space-dimensions have probably always existed as spatial concepts for as long as man exists as an observer. But the foundation or invention of the time-dimension, the concept of time as a separate and independent entity or force of nature, took place only recently from an historical point of view. The man who did more than anyone else to accomplish this, was the great Dutch scientist, or ‘philosopher of nature’ as it was commonly called in those days, Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695). Inspired by the theoretical work of the Italian Galileo (1534-1642), Huygens constructed the first pendulum clock in 1656, which transformed the measurement of time into an exact science that was completely independent of natural phenomena and human perception. Time became an entity in itself, a firm foundation for the further development of the sciences of nature, and a powerful symbol for a new world. For shortly after Huygens it was Newton who synthesized this emerging new world into a revolutionary, mathematical concept of the universe in which the laws of gravitation and attraction between heavenly bodies determined everything. The ‘mechanistic’, ‘clockwork’ universe was born; a triumph of reason over religion and medieval belief, a victory of logos over mythos, that would stand unchallenged for more than 200 years, with the exception of Poe and Eureka.
However, this new materialistic and determined universe that emerged during the age of enlightenment, did have serious consequences on a spiritual and religious level. For it seemed that individual freedom, the human free will and personal responsibility had vanished in the light of the all-embracing and rigid ‘laws of nature’ that determined everything in a ‘closed’ and stationary creation.
The reaction to this de-humanization of nature in general, and of mankind in particular, emerged during the eighteenth century as Romanticism, a new vision on man and nature, that stressed individuality and emphasized individual feelings and emotions as counterparts of reason and scientific ‘abstract’ thought.
To me Poe is the greatest thinker of the romantic age and I regard some of his best known works as direct attacks on mechanistic determinism. For instance his stories where evil, loss of individual freedom and death are inseparably linked with a pendulum or clock The pit and the pendulum; The masque of the red death and A predicament. But these attacks by means of the powerful double-symbols of gravitation and time, pendulum and clock, were not enough. In order to restore the human free will and spirituality, something had to be done about gravitation and time themselves; the ghosts had to be exorcized. First of all mechanistic time had to be made subordinate or inferior to human existence and perception. Poe did so in 1841 in The colloquy of Monos and Una, one of his philosophical essays. In this ‘angelic dialogue’, as it is sometimes called, Poe devotes a section to explain the fundamental difference between the human perception of ‘duration’, which is real and true, versus the inaccurate and misleading mechanistic time of clocks. During the twentieth century this distinction between ‘duration’ and ‘time’ was to become a major element in existentialism (Bergson, Sartre, Heidegger, etc). Also in Eureka the distiction between ‘duration’ and ‘time’ is clearly indicated and consistently maintained by Poe.
Charming the spirit of gravity
But next to mechanistic time and its negative effect on the human psyche, also the other fundamental problem of enlightenment had to be solved: the ‘spirit of gravity’ that seemed to rule the universe and poison the human mind1.
This problem with gravity was by far the most delicate to solve and Poe needs the major part of Eureka to do so, by elevating the materialistic effects of Newton’s laws of gravitation to a spiritual level. From a philosophical point of view Eureka is a treatise on the relation between matter and spirit in the widest sense, including God and mankind, and Poe used this matter-spirit relation to give new meaning to the modus operandi of Newton’s laws. According to Poe, that what we are used to experience as gravitation, is the result of a unifying force, a spiritual ether that was created simultaneously with the materialistic universe during the ‘Big Bang’. This spiritual ether connects every atom in the universe with every other atom and thus causes a common tendency to return to the original condition of Oneness.
Thus this spiritual ether in Eureka can be compared to the ‘grand unifying field’, the Holy Grail of modern physics. A point of interest is that next to gravity, Poe ascribes several effects to this immaterial ether. One of those effects is a direct and immediate sympathy between fundamental particles, regardless of their distance. This ‘sympathy’, as described by Poe, resembles a mysterious communicative effect that is speculated upon in quantum physics, namely the interaction or ‘entanglement’ between coupled particles that seem to react immediately to every change in each other’s condition, regardless of the distance in between.
So in Eureka Poe clearly distinguishes two classes of physical and cosmic phenomena. One class, under the common denominator of electricity, embraces all normal electro-magnetic phenomena like electricity, magnetism, light, heat, vitality, consciousness and thought. The other class depends on the ‘sympathy’ between particles, which is also the deeper and really fundamental force of which gravitation is a secondary effect. So this means that gravity itself is not a fundamental force of nature, but it also means, and in several places Poe affirms this, that gravitational effects may have an infinite velocity and thus also have instantaneous effects throughout the universe. This makes gravity the strongest, but also the most elusive and mysterious force in the universe. If Poe is right, and he could very well be, the ‘gravity-wave detectors’ that are now under construction in Europe and the USA, may detect cosmic events that occur in the present (if they detect anything at all, because the detecting principles may not work for ‘instant’ phenomena). Therefore these observations will almost certainly not correspond with the observations from normal optical telescopes and radio-telescopes, because these instruments detect events that took place in the past of our universe, since they depend on light and radio-waves that traverse space with only the velocity of light.
The French connection
Is Eureka a brilliant, but historically isolated document? Or did some of its ideas somehow find a way into modern science and philosophy? This is a puzzle that still has to be solved, but I think that some of Poe’s ideas did indeed have an impact on modern science and philosophy. This conclusion seems unavoidable to me, mainly due to Poe’s enormous influence in Europe, in France and Great Britain at first, and in other European countries later. I see two possible ways for the penetration of Eureka into modern thought. The first is, of course, the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) who spent almost 30 years of his life translating Poe’s work into French, and who published a translated summary of Eureka as early as 1859.
The second major source for Poe’s influence on late nineteenth and twentieth century thought is the French scientist and philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Reading Bergson is reading Poe, because the cornerstones of Bergson’s system of thought can be traced back to Poe. Bergson had the great advantage of an upbringing in Paris and London, which made him fluently bilingual in French and English, so he could read Poe’s original texts and did not have to depend on the Baudelaire translations. Bergson was undoubtedly one of the most infuential thinkers of his time and his ideas and opinions carried much weight in the most authoritative institutions of France of which he was a member, like the ‘Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques’ and the ‘Académie Française’, two unique French meeting places where the very best in art, literature, science and philosophy mingle freely and exchange ideas. Moreover, after the First World War Bergson was elected first President of the International Commission on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations (comparable to the present Unesco), which gave him ample opportunity to carry his ideas and influence all over the world.
Unfortunately in his last will Bergson formally forbade the publication of his letters, notes and unpublished manuscripts, so it will be difficult to prove direct links between Bergson and Poe, but all circumstantial and indirect evidence strongly suggests so.
There is no doubt that with Eureka Poe was far ahead of his time; so far ahead in fact, that his contemporaries could not follow him anymore, no more than they could comprehend Eureka itself.
In order to disprove the unacceptable consequences of the mechanistic and static ‘newtonian’ universe; to save human free will and responsibility from the notion of a predetermined existence; to expel the ‘spirit of gravity’ from western thought, Poe designed a completely new and evolutionary universe.
With his revolutionary ideas in Eureka Poe took a head start on physics, astronomy, philosophy and evolutionary theory of the late nineteenth and twentieth century.
Although the full explanation and understanding of Eureka has not yet been completed and much work remains to be done, it is high time that Poe is generally recognized and honored as a father of modern thought and founder of science.
To this goal I wish to contribute this paper.
Publications on Eureka
Ever since I took an interest in Eureka I have collected all publications about it that I came across, both in Dutch and foreign newspapers and magazines. Underneath my harvest is presented in chronological order:
1. Kovalyov, Y. Edgar Allan Poe and the cosmogony of the 20th century.
Vestnik of Leningrad University. 1985. #2. Issue 1. P.21-30. (Russian only)
2. Van Slooten, E.R. Tussen oerknal en eindkrak (‘Between Big Bang and Final Crunch’), Elseviers Magazine, Amsterdam, 22 March 1986, p. 67-75
3. Harrison, E. Kelvin on an old, celebrated hypothesis, Nature, 322, 417-418 (1986)
4. Van Slooten, E.R. Poe’s universes, Nature, 323, 198 (1986)
5. Gingerich, O. When dark is light enough, Nature, 330, 288 (1987)
6. Rowan-Robinson, M. The great triumph of Edgar Allan Poe, New Scientist 24/31 December 1987, p. 72.
7. Van Slooten, E.R. The poetic universe, The Osaka Group for the Study of Dynamic structures, Newsletter No. 2, February 1988, p. 5-7.
8. Van Slooten, E.R. Het visionaire heelal van Edgar Allan Poe (‘E.A. Poe’s visionary universe’), De Volkskrant, Amsterdam, 5 November 1988, p. 13.
9. Cappi, R. Edgar Allan Poe’s Physical Cosmology, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, 35, p. 177-192 (1994).
10. Ferris, T. Minds and matter, New Yorker, May 15, 1995, p. 46-50.
11. Van Slooten, E.R. Edgar Allan Poe, EUREKA, Filosofie Magazine, Amsterdam, July/August 1995, p. 12-13
12. Van Calmthout, M. Twee boogseconden verschil tussen Newton en Poe (‘Two seconds of arc between Newton and Poe’), interview with René van Slooten, De Volkskrant, Amsterdam, 7 October 1995.
13. Gallatin, G. Poetic bang, New Scientist, 7 September 1996, p. 50.
14. Van Slooten, E.R. Eureka, Trouw, Amsterdam, 15 march 1997.
15. Van Slooten, E.R. Parallel Poe, New Scientist, 19 April 1997, p. 55.
16. Tee, G. Boscovic’s parallel, New Scientist, 24 May 1997, p. 53.
17. Van Slooten, E.R. Zal GEO 600 het mysterie van Poe oplossen? (‘Will GEO 600 solve the riddle of Poe?’), Technisch Weekblad, 20 August 1997, p. 18.
18. Kovalyov, Y. The Cosmogony of Edgar Allan Poe. Essays.
Papers. Research. Vol.2. Ed. by V.Cherednichenko and Y. Luchinsky.
Kuban University Press. Krasnodar (Russia). 1997. P. 112-147. (Russian only)
19. Van Slooten, Poe vs. Darwin, TIME, Letters, 20 September 1999.
20. Sharp, R. From ‘Eureka’ to ‘Mellonta Tauta’. Paper for the International Edgar Allan Poe Conference, Richmond, Virginia, October 7-10,1999.
21. Osipova, E. Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Eureka’: a message to the future. Paper for the conference ‘American Culture: Globalisation and Regionalism’, Moscow University Press, 2001, p. 9-12.
22. Citati, P. Poe. Così ha aperto le porte dell’universo, La Reppublica, 21 August 2001.
23. Croswell, K. Wondering in the Dark, Sky & Telescope, December 2001.
24. Hasinger, G. and Gilli, R. The cosmic reality check, Scientific American, March 2002.
1 The term ‘spirit of gravity’ is borrowed from Niezsche’s ‘Zarathustra’. However, in my opinion Nietzsche owes a lot to Poe (and to Emerson and Thoreau as well). Even some of the ideas that made Niezsche famous, like the ‘Ewige Wiederkehr’ (‘Eternal return’) and the advent of the ‘Übermensch’, come straight from Eureka.