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Pearly Gates Engraved in Conch Shells

EUREKA: AN ESSAY ON THE MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE by Edgar Allen Poe

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 limitlesssuccession 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 itemNoticias 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 theircoalition, 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…Thedesign 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 mentionedcoalition (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 19thCentury 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?.

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