Edgar Allan Poe Predicted Themes of Modern Cosmology, Including the Big Bang Theory

Monday, 15 September 2014 - 3:53PM
Astrophysics
Physics
Monday, 15 September 2014 - 3:53PM
Edgar Allan Poe Predicted Themes of Modern Cosmology, Including the Big Bang Theory

Edgar Allan Poe was, of course, not a scientist. But one of his (mostly ignored) works, "Eureka: A Prose Poem," has been reevaluated in recent times as a prescient work that reflects themes of modern cosmology, with some even touting it as the first version of the Big Bang theory. Poe didn't claim that it was a scientific work, but he did characterize it as non-fiction.

 

A key passage speaks of matter being "forced" into existence by a period of rapid expansion, much like the Big Bang theory: "The willing into being the primordial particle, has completed the act, or more properly the conception, of Creation. We now proceed to the ultimate purpose for which we are to suppose the Particle created - that is to say, the ultimate purpose so far as our considerations yet enable us to see it - the constitution of the Universe from it, the Particle.

 

"This constitution has been effected by forcing the originally and therefore normally One into the abnormal condition of Many…. From the one Particle, as a centre, let us suppose to be irradiated spherically - in all directions - to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space - a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms."

 

He also seems to predict the theory of dark matter when he says, "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." Like the "suns" Poe describes, dark matter cannot be seen, but is theorized as a result of effects that can be observed through human means. 

 

Although some have dismissed Poe's conception of a Big Bang-like event as nothing more than a lucky guess from an imaginative mind, some scientists believe that he was a scientific visionary as well as a literary one. "It's surprising that Poe arrived at his dynamically evolving universe, because there was no observational or theoretical evidence suggesting such a possibility," said Italian astronomer Alberto Cappi. "No astronomer in Poe's day could imagine a non-static universe."

 

There are, unsurprisingly, many features of Poe's "cosmology" that don't align with current conceptions of the Universe; Poe believed that the Universe was generally trending towards further organization and condensation: "While undergoing consolidation, the clusters themselves, with a speed prodigiously accumulative, have been rushing towards their own general centre-and now, with a thousand-fold electric velocity, commensurate only with their material grandeur and with the spiritual passion of their appetite for oneness, the majestic remnants of the tribe of Stars flash, at length, into a common embrace." This is essentially the (Romantic) opposite of prevailing theories of the end of the universe, which assert that the Universe is trending towards a lack of any organization and, eventually, uniform darkness.

 

But, on the other hand, he also seems to predict the Big Crunch, one of the possible contenders for the end of the universe in which it ends in one giant black hole singularity: "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... Of the still more awful Future... 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."

Science
Space
Astrophysics
Physics