The work in the United States was underestimated, but was lauded as a visionary in Europe and censored in Russia.
A visionary, ahead of his time, with psychological problems, or just a writer with a great imagination?
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) had many things: the father of the detective novel, the master of the short story and horror, the first American who tried to live as a writer and surprisingly succeeded, in addition to being a journalist, an alcoholic, a thinker.
But there is one thing Poe has been fascinated with since he was young, science. With his tense mind, he devoted himself to speculating on the universe and the origin of things.
Thus, he wrote a work in which he predicted some modern theories in cosmology, including the Big Bang.
The article is named after the famous expression attributed to Archimedes, Eureka.
A dynamic and evolving world
Published in 1848, just a year before his death, Eureka “a prose poem”, a type of cosmogony essay. It is dedicated “with deep respect” to Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the explorer, astronomer, and co-founder of geography as an experimental science.
It is precisely von Humboldt’s work that awakens Poe’s imagination, which he praises for his attempts to describe the universe.
When the work was published, there was consensus among physicists that the universe is static, infinite, mechanical, and eternal. Opposing these conventions, Poe presents in his essay a dynamic universe, in constant evolution.
But what do you expect? Eureka This, even today, draws the attention of physicists and astronomers?
Already in the introduction EurekaPoe warns of his ambitious goals:
I would like to talk about the physical, metaphysical and mathematical universe – of the physical and spiritual universe – of its essence, origin, creation, present state and destiny.
1. Big Bang
This model claims that the universe, at its origin, was highly concentrated matter with a very high temperature. After the explosion, it expanded, and from there, due to gravity, stars and galaxies formed.
The Big Bang theory began to be formed in the early 20th century by the Belgian physicist and clergyman Georges Lemaitre, and was finally developed by the Ukrainian (albeit born under the Russian Empire and later naturalized in America) physicist Georges Gamow in 1948.
When Bo writes EurekaThe prevailing view of the universe was that of something static, mechanical, and finite. He presents it as the opposite: diverse, infinite, and full of stars, made up of diverse atoms. Where did this diversity come from? He describes it as follows:
So, my general assumption is: in the original unity of the first thing is the secondary cause of all things, with the seed of their inevitable annihilation.
That is, a dense elementary particle that splits and expands throughout the universe. A description that predicts, 100 years away, the theory Gamow finally came up with.
2. The Great Crisis and the Oscillating Universe Model
And he does not stop there, because he later suggested that the force of gravity would cause the entire universe to shrink and collapse in on itself into a new, primordial particle.
This, the shrinking of the universe in upon itself which would generate a state similar to the state in which matter was before the Big Bang, is the hypothesis raised in the twenty-first century by the theory of the Great Crash (or the Great Crash).
Furthermore, it suggests that the universe could be in a constant cycle of expansion (the Big Bang) and contraction (the Big Crunch) and predicts what is now known as the oscillating universe theory.
3. Olbers’ Paradox
The Olbers Paradox was a problem raised by German astronomer Heinrich Olbers in 1823. He claims that if the universe is infinite and so are the stars, they must be perfectly bright when looking at the night sky. Why is the sky dark?
Physicist Paul Halpern (US, 1961), Professor of Physics at Philadelphia University, has written several articles explaining Poe’s text, in Eon magazine and on Medium. He notes that “one of the greatest victories Eureka is Poe’s clever solution to this perplexing science puzzle.”
Here’s what Poe has to say about it:
If the succession of stars were infinite, then the background of the sky would give us a uniform luminosity, like that shown by the galaxy – because there can be no point at all, in all this background, that there will be no star in it.
Thus, the only way we could, under such a state of things, understand the voids that our telescopes find in infinite directions, would be by assuming that the distance from the invisible background was so enormous that there was no ray from it. able to reach us for a long time. perfect.
Poe was the first to suggest that it is impossible for us to see the entire universe, that it hasn’t always existed, and that starlight could take many years (millions of years, in fact) to reach us.
In 1987, astronomer Edward Harrison recognized this feat for Poe in his book The Darkness of the Night: The Mystery of the Universe.
4. Theory of relativity, multiverses and black holes
Elsewhere in the book, Poe touches on the idea that “space and duration are one,” which some see as a prediction of relativistic “spacetime,” and reflects on the interchangeability of matter and energy.
Talking about this in particular makes us think of Albert Einstein, who formulated his theory of relativity in 1915.
At the end of EurekaPoe suggests that our universe could be one of many that exist on an infinite level, one of the earliest references to other universes.
not in Eurekabut in an earlier anecdote, Descent to Maelstrom, where Poe describes a whirlpool, a deadly whirlpool into which things are dragged without a trace. Although Poe places them in the ocean, this capacity for complete annihilation is one of the main characteristics of black holes in astrophysics.
Disgraceful, beloved, blamed
For Bo, Eureka It was the culmination of his work. He is said to have been so excited he asked his publisher to print thousands of copies. He did not pay much attention, and the first edition was released with only 500 copies.
The criticism was intense with Beau, who was already ill and affected by the death of his wife. In the United States, the essay remained blank until the end of the twentieth century, and even today, many Poe biographers and scholars seasoned with his work consider it a minor work.
In Europe, he was a little more fortunate. The work arrived with translations of the French poet Charles Baudelaire and there his ideas resonated a little more, especially among philosophers, and were considered a visionary masterpiece. So dreamy that it was banned in 1871 in Tsarist Russia.
The idea that Poe, in the last years of his life, was drunk, grieving the death of his wife shortly before, due to mental health problems, wrote this work as a result of his delusions, has remained with time.
A major contribution to this idea was the fact that Marie Bonaparte, niece of Napoleon and pupil of Sigmund Freud, wrote an autobiography in which she psychologically analyzed the American author based on Eureka In the rest of his works.
In the preface, written by Freud, Poe is treated as a pathological condition, which Albert Einstein also said in his day.
but after all, Eureka Is it a strictly scientific work or a crazy literary article?
The astronomer Alberto Capi (Italy, 1962), currently at the Bologna Astronomical Observatory, is the author of several publications in which he has spoken of Poe, Eureka and its relationship to cosmology.
According to his opinion of the work: “It is neither a crazy theory nor a scientific theory. It offers us a fascinating view of the universe with an imaginative mind, which using the science of its time was able to envision the most revolutionary cosmology of the 19th century.”
In any case, Eureka It is Edgar Allan Poe’s last creative breath. So much so that the effort left him exhausted. This is what he recounted in a letter to his aunt, Maria Klim, and later his mother-in-law:
My dear, dear mother-in-law,
I was so sick I had cholera and convulsions so bad that I could barely hold a pen. (…)
I haven’t felt like living since I made Eureka. I couldn’t do anything else.
I was never angry, except on the occasions when my heart was moved (…)
The letter was signed on July 7, 1849. Exactly three months later, Edgar Allan Poe died of causes that have not yet been clarified.
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