Edgar Allan Poe’s Extremely Overlooked Contribution to Science
Just another fascinating tidbit about Edgar Allan Poe’s already infamously curious life.
The text I’ll be referring to in this article doesn’t fall into Poe’s typical horror/mystery genre. Before I reveal the piece let me quickly frame why it’s not only important for its scientific achievement but also in terms of its impact on literacy across multiple subject areas (yes, that’s a little bit of fancy teacher talk). For those not interested in that portion, scroll down.
Often the struggle of a High School English Language Arts teacher is to convince your students that what you’re offering is worth engaging with. Many fail to enter the course with an innate desire to explore literary concepts or to look past the explicit nature of what’s written. Often my higher achieving students prefer STEM subjects and feel there’s more of a future career wise in those fields. They may not be completely wrong on that point.
However, I make every attempt at the case that literary skills are highly important for success in STEM fields, noting major successes such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, or authors such as Brian Greene, who makes quantum physics comprehensible, and V.S. Ramachandran, whose neurological read The Tell-Tale Brain pays homage to the works of the very man featured in this article.
Edgar Allan Poe was the first person to publish the Big Bang Theory.
Okay, not exactly, but hear me out.
A simple Google search on who is credited for discovering the Big Bang Theory more times that not refers to George Lemaitre, a priest that stood toe to toe with theoretical physicists such as Albert Einstein. He didn’t coin the term Big Bang, or necessarily the model we refer to today, but he’s heavily credited for the work involving the expansion of the universe starting with the term “single quantum” or the “primeval/primordial atom”. This refers to the initial extremely dense matter that exploded (thus the Big Bang) to make up the stars as we know them.
What’s completely fascinating is that 80 years prior to Lemaitre, Edgar Allan Poe hypothesized the Big Bang (again, without using the exact name) and interestingly coined the term “primordial particle” in relation to the creation of the universe in a prose poem titled Eureka. I’m not entirely sure if Lemaitre ever credited Poe, or was aware of the poem. Furthermore, Poe goes on in Eureka to solve the paradox as to why the night sky is dark, given the prevailing belief that the Universe is infinite… I’ll let you look into that subject a little bit more before we get off track.
The big question is how one of the fathers of horror came up with such a theory—a theory which truly demonstrates he was ahead of his time on the subject.
That alone usually gets the attention of students.
The preface of Poe’s Eureka introduces the “poem” in a curious way — especially given that this was the last piece of work he published before his also peculiar death.
To the few who love me and whom I love — to those who feel rather than to those who think — to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities — I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: — let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.
What I here propound is true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting.”
Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.
It’s hard not to speculate that the man was somehow aware of his impending death and the fact that his ideas would be thought of as true/fact nearly a century later. Not to mention, his ideas would be reconstructed (unknowingly) by physicists who built technology that could utterly destroy the world — that notion alone being something seemingly far-fetched in Poe’s time.
I have not the room or time to examine the full extent of the fun that could be had examining Poe’s Eureka. As an English teacher, bringing this up the in classroom is merely a way to give credibility to the power of a mind bent on literary topics and themes, or better put, a mind focused on examining the nature of the world, society, culture, the human condition, and in this case the cosmos.
Science has been more accessible to the laymen due to scientists who develop and utilize their literary skills. In turn they create a perpetual state of creative and forward thinking which cycles through to sci-fi writers, journalists, film production houses, and policy makers (to name a few), which develops stories, ideas, and concepts that helps make our world a better and more interesting place to live.