Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Eureka ~

"Eureka (1848) is a lengthy non-fiction work by American author Edgar Allan Poe which he subtitled "A Prose Poem", though it has also been subtitled as "An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe". Adapted from a lecture he had presented, Eureka describes Poe's intuitive conception of the nature of the universe with no scientific work done to reach his conclusions. He also discusses man's relationship with God, whom he compares to an author. It is dedicated to the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt.[1][2] Though it is generally considered a literary work, some of Poe's ideas anticipate discoveries of the 20th century.[3] Indeed a critical analysis of the scientific content of Eureka reveals a non-causal correspondence with modern cosmology due to the assumption of an evolving Universe, but excludes the anachronistic anticipation of relativistic concepts such as black holes.[4][5]

Eureka was received poorly in Poe's day and generally described as absurd, even by friends. Modern critics continue to debate the significance of Eureka and some doubt its seriousness, in part because of Poe's many incorrect assumptions and his comedic descriptions of well-known historical minds. It is presented as a poem, and many compare it with his fiction work, especially science fiction stories such as "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar". His attempts at discovering the truth also follow his own tradition of "ratiocination", a term used in his detective fiction tales. Poe's suggestion that the soul continues to thrive even after death also parallels with works in which characters reappear from beyond the grave such as "Ligeia". The essay is oddly transcendental, considering Poe's disdain for the movement. He considered it his greatest work and claimed it was more important than the discovery of gravity."


"In 1848 Poe wrote a cosmology. The most remarkable thing about it is that it anticipates in many respects the account of the origins of the universe we associate with modern physics. Poe said the universe was born out of the explosion of an infinitesimal point. He proceeded to this conclusion by means of intuition and his own kind of reasoning, which, like everything about him, is so elegant as to seem suspect. He deduced that the irregular distribution of matter, in the form of stars, was the work of  gravity. In such a universe gravity would therefore cause the universe to fall in on itself, to contract again to an infinitesimal point which would again explode.

What the fate of the universe might be remains an open question in contemporary physics, of course, and theories about it like Poe's are entirely respectable now, with the difference that, being Poe, he was persuaded the universe is at present contracting toward its end. He saw in the rhythm of it all a great beating heart. In his hands this is a frightening image. Still, the theory is consistent with theories now, that our universe may be only one in a series, in any case not a unique event. We know now about the accelerating expansion of the universe. Poe would have loved dark matter and dark energy, even though they come at the cost of his ultimate vision of the narrowing perimeters of reality, so often imagined in his greatest tales."

Marilynne Robinson "Cosmology"
When I Was a Child I Read Books