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EDGAR ALLAN POE: QUOTATIONS FROM EUREKA
To conclude this branch of the subject: -I am fully warranted in announcing that the Law which we call Gravity exists on account of Matter's having been radiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it was possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, radiation and equable distribution throughout the sphere -that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the radiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Radiation.
The following quotation has often been interpreted as a prophetic anticipation of the Relativity Theory. This is however completely erroneous: Poe is telling us that our existence implies that the evolving Universe should be large enough to avoid a premature collapse, as the age and scale of the expanding and collapsing Universe are correlated. This represents the first modern application of the anthropic principle, obviously in its strong (i.e. theleological) version. The second quotation is taken from a book written by the astrophysicist John Barrow: the style is quite different, but the meaning is the same!
Space and Duration are One. That the Universe of Stars might endure throughout an aera at all commensurate with the grandeur of its component material portions and with the high majesty of its spiritual purposes, it was necessary that the original atomic diffusion be made to so inconceivable an extent as to be only not infinite. It was required, in a word, that the stars should be gathered into visibility from invisible nebulosity -proceed from visibility to consolidation- and so grow grey in giving birth and death to unspeakably numerous and complex variations of vitalic development: -it was required that the stars should do all this -should have time thoroughly to accomplish all these Divine purposes- during the period in which all things were effecting their return into Unity with a velocity accumulating in the inverse proportion of the squares of the distances at which lay the inevitable End.
Here is what Barrow writes in his book ``The World within the World" (p.354, Clarendon Press, Oxford).
This state of expansion means that the size of the Universe is inextricably entwined with its age. The reason that the Visible Universe is more than 13 billion light-years in size today is that it is more than 13 billion years old. A Universe that contained just one galaxy like our own Milky Way, with its 100 billion stars, each perhaps surrounded by planetary systems, might seem a reasonable economy if one were in the universal construction business. But such a universe, with more than a 100 billion fewer galaxies than our own, could have expanded for little more than a few months. It could have produced neither stars nor biological elements. It could contain no astronomers.
John Barrow (1988)
During the night, the sky is dark. Why? A simple calculation, assuming an infinite, static and homogeneous Universe of stars shows that the sky should be totally covered by stars! This is the well known Olbers' Paradox. What is the solution to this paradox? You have simply to read what Poe writes in Eureka... However, while giving the correct solution for an infinite Universe, Poe thinks that the Universe of stars and galaxies is finite, therefore in this case there is no paradox.
Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy -since there would be no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all. That this may be so, who shall venture to deny? I maintain, simply, that we have not even the shadow of a reason for believing that it is so.
Telescopic observation, guided by the laws of perspective, enables us to understand that the preceptible Universe exists as a roughly spherical cluster of clusters, irregularly disposed. The `clusters' of which this Universal `cluster of clusters' consists, are merely what we have been in practice of designating `nebulae' and, of these `nebulae', one is of paramount interest to mankind. I allude to the Galaxy, or Milky Way. [...] The Galaxy, let me repeat, is but one of the clusters which I have been describing - but one of the mis-called `nebulae' revealed to us - by the telescope alone, sometimes -- as faint hazy spots in various quarters of the sky. We have no reason to suppose the Milky Way really more extensive than the least of these `nebulae'.
Whether we reach the idea of absolute Unity as the source of All Things, from a consideration of Simplicity as the most probable characteristic of the original action of God; - whether we arrive at it from an inspection of the universality of relation in the gravitating phaenomena; - or whether we attain it as a result of the mutual corroboration afforded by both processes; - still, the idea itself, if entertained at all, is entertained in inseparable connection with another idea - that of the condition of the Universe of Stars as we now perceive it - that is to say, a condition of immeasurable diffusion through space. Now a connection between these two ideas - unity and diffusion - cannot be established unless through the entertainment of a third idea - that of radiation. Absolute Unity being taken as a centre, then the existing Universe of Stars is the result of radiation from that centre.
On aurait tort de croire qu'Edgar Poe en écrivant Eureka avait seulement l'idée de faire un po"eme; il était bien absolument convaincu qu'il avait découvert le grand secret de l'univers, et il employait toute la force de son talent à développer son idée. [...] Il trouve d'abord Dieu, puis il attribue la diffusion de cette matière dans l'espace à un effort de la volonté divine ou à la puissance du souffle de Dieu. Un effort contraire ramènerait tous les atomes à leur source, et l'explication de l'Univers serait contenue en ces mots: expiration et aspiration de Dieu. Là est l'idée principale d'Eureka, idée très belle et très neuve qui rattache le commencement à la fin, marque le point de départ dans le point d'arrivée, et, si on l'admet, jette beaucoup de clarté dans l'ensemble de l'astronomie.
Judith Gautier, 1864
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