Cosmology of Edgar Allen Poe
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.