Edgar Allan Poe, Poet, Essayist… Cosmologist?

Edgar Allan Poe, Poet, Essayist… Cosmologist?
January 31 12:31 2019 Print This Article

BIG THINK – Scott Hendricks – 30 January 2019: In 1848, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book outlining his theory of everything. Modern readers will find many familiar concepts, including the Big Bang and multiple universes. While it has little real scientific merit, it does have a solution to Olbers’ Paradox.

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the best-known American authors. His poems and short stories are known and loved all over the world. That he was the inventor of the detective story is less well known. Even less well known is his prediction of modern cosmology in a little book he titled Eureka.

In 1848, Poe gave a lecture titled “On the Cosmography of the Universe” to a crowd of 60 somewhat confused listeners. This lecture formed the basis of what would become Eureka: A Prose Poem; an obscure little masterpiece that had a run of a mere 50 copies.

Essentially a metaphysical work, Poe lays out a vision of a Newtonian universe that uses very different assumptions than those which were common when he was writing. While most physicists at the time presumed the universe was static, infinite, and eternal, Poe instead argued that God created a “primordial particle” which divided into all the matter we see today and then expanded from its initial position to spread across space. More than a few people have noticed the similarities of this idea to the Big Bang theory.

He doesn’t stop there. He then suggests that gravity, to him the attractive force caused by the primordial oneness of everything, will cause the universe to collapse upon itself into another primordial particle; which is reminiscent of the Big Crunch. He even muses that this could be part of an endless cycle of expansion and contraction, which today we call the oscillating model. 

In other sections, he touches on the idea that “space and duration are one” which some see as a prediction of relativistic “space-time” and muses on the interchangeability of matter and energy. Toward the end, he suggests that our universe could be one of many that exists on an infinite plane — one of the earliest references to other universes.

In another section, he devises the first working solution to Olbers’ Paradox; the problem of why the sky gets dark at night if the universe is infinitely old, vast and evenly populated with stars.

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