Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Cosmology of Edgar Allen Poe

Kea and Dynamics of Cats are first to jump on the Year 007 bandwagon. A simple numerical expression can catch on quickly!

Harmonic oscillators are used all over physics. Here we salute the best harmonic oscillator story ever written, Edgar Allen Poe's THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Who can forget his description of the blade swinging closer and closer? In addition to his fiction, Poe was ahead of his time in cosmology!

In 1848 Poe published a 150-page prose called EUREKA, in which he speculated about cosmology. He was partly inspired by the mathematician Pascal, who wrote, "Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere." Like Pythagoras seeking harmony in spheres, Poe felt that a spherical universe was natural.

Most prescient, Poe suggested that this spherical universe expanded from a tiny point! "From the one particle. as a center, let us suppose to be irradiated spherically--in all directions--to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space." 75 years before Friedmann-Lemaitre, Edgar Allen Poe proposed an expanding universe!

Poe also adopted Pierre Laplace's "nebular hypothesis" that the solar system condensed from a gas cloud. He further proposed that the Milky Way orbits around a giant Central Orb. Since we can not see this massive object, Poe concluded it was a "non-luminous sun." He foresaw that our galaxy contains at its centre a massive Black Hole.

Poe also addressed Black Holes more directly. His story "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" describes a mysterious unseen object causing matter to spiral into it. EUREKA also contains a plausible solution to Olbers' Paradox. Not being a professional scientist, he preferred intuition to Aristotelian experiments. Despite his great works of poetry and fiction, Poe considered EUREKA his career masterpiece.

Yesterday we learned how Alexander Friedmann predicted an expanding universe. He may have been at partially inspired by EUREKA, for Friedmann was a huge fan of Poe. (Both men died at a young age.) Friedmann and Georges Lemaitre put the math into the expanding universe. Pascal, Einstein, even Edgar Allen Poe--if you think the universe is spherical you are in good company.


Blogger Kea said...

Great story! And thanks, yet again, for the link. I don't think I've ever read that story, although I like Poe's style. Must look it up.

9:05 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Thank you too. I have been seeking out little-known contributions to cosmology by artists like Poe and Da Vinci. Some of them will end up in a book.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Guess what? Someone just put me onto the Mixed States feed. I guess they realised that some crackpots have as much right to be called 'professional' as some other people on the roll. Hee hee.

7:42 PM  
Blogger nige said...

Congratulations, Kea. Just hope you don't start to become too conformist...

6:06 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

No danger of that, Nigel! They giveth, but they can also taketh away....

11:08 AM  
Blogger nige said...

Kea, privileges are usually accompanied by responsibilities. I think that's why so many mainstream people don't play around looking for new ideas and trying them out. They don't want to annoy colleagues, but prefer to fit it. The key to success is to appear to come up with new insights in a completely orthodox way, and be a model for kids to aspire to. Then nobody can complain too much. Be original, but not eccentric/crackpot. Don't make mistakes, or come up with something that will take a long time to be properly confirmed.

3:13 AM  
Blogger Rae Ann said...

I didn't know this about Poe. Thanks for informing! Very interesting stuff.

5:02 AM  

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