Never Ignore a Ranter

Here's a great article in the New York Times about people making leaps of logic and predictions years before they're proven to be real. The main example in the story is how Edgar Allen Poe thought up The Big Bang 70 years before it was proven in science.

In 1848, by then a nationally celebrated poet, Edgar Allan Poe published "Eureka," a 150-page prose poem on the nature and origin of the universe. The work, an overheated grab bag of metaphysics and cosmology, was a flop. A reviewer for Literary World likened it to "arrant fudge." A hundred years later T. S. Eliot summed up the critical consensus. "Eureka," he wrote, "makes no deep impression . . . because we are aware of Poe's lack of qualification in philosophy, theology or natural science."

Of course, Eliot had a point: "Eureka" was the work of an amateur, a backyard stargazer who read astronomy books in his spare time.

But Eliot � himself no scientist � was underestimating his fellow poet. Eighty years before 20th-century cosmologists hammered out the math, Poe, it turns out, came up with a rudimentary version of contemporary science's best guess for explaining how the universe began.

Departing from conventional wisdom of the day, which saw the universe as static and eternal, Poe insisted that it had exploded into being from a single "primordial particle" in "one instantaneous flash."

"From the one particle, as a center," he wrote, "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."


And yet Mr. Siegfried raises the tantalizing possibility that valuable scientific ideas may lie outside science, awaiting a mathematical mind to seize on them: Alexander Friedmann, the man credited with inferring the expansion of the universe from Einstein's theory, he notes, loved Poe.

Did Friedmann read "Eureka?" No one seems to know. Nevertheless, Mr. Siegfried speculates, it's quite possible "that Friedmann was conditioned by Poe's imagination to see the true meaning of Einstein's equations, whereas others, Einstein included, did not."

As for Poe, he never doubted that his ideas would eventually get their due. "What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical & Metaphysical Science," he wrote to a friend in 1848. "I say this calmly � but I say it."

Very cool... I propound (i.e. rant) a lot of things on this blog too... I'm not Poe, but hey, we'll see what happens. ;-)


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