Poe's hieroglyphic universe: the master keys.
Eureka: a prose poem--an essay on the material and. spiritual Universe (New York: George P. Putnam), 1848, was dedicated by Edgar Allan Poe (19 Jan. 1809; Boston, Massachusetts--7 Oct. 1849; Baltimore, Maryland) to Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), being inspired by the latter's book entitled Kosmos, by which Humboldt offered one of the fundaments of cosmographic thought. Eureka is a cosmological treatise, elaborated in an interdisciplinary, rational and intuitive manner, the conceptual basis being mathematics and poetics. It was developed from the initial lecture entitled On the cosmology of the Universe, held by Poe on 3 February 1848, in circa two and a half hours, to an audience of sixty persons that had gathered at the New York Society Library Room, to whom the American poet tried to disclose his revelations regarding the mysteries of God's creation, of the Universe regarded as God's cosmic masterpiece. Eureka has about 40,000 words, being the 10th and last volume published by Poe (it was printed in July 1848, in only circa 500-750 copies; cf. Sova 2007: 63-64).
In Eureka, we are dealing with a scientific-aesthetic attempt to write what Poe called a "Book of Truths," yet also a "Romance," containing "the Beauty that abounds in its Truth." (Poe 1848: 5; 1996: 1259) Science and art are combined in Poe's vision in a programmatic manner, reminding us of John Keats's famous truth-beauty equation which is the foundation of the latter's entire onto-aesthetic system.
In this sense, John T. Irwin--considered by Harold Bloom as being "Poe's most advanced critic" (American hieroglyphics is Irwin's reference work on Poe)--is of the relevant opinion that in Eureka the American poet-scientist built an "aesthetic cosmology" (Irwin 1983, apud Bloom 2006: 2), a "mystical-mathematical treatise on cosmology" (Irwin 2006: 45) in the Pythagorean line of thought, structured like a detective story whose main character is none other than Auguste Dupin, who now tries to find a solution for the enigma and mystery of the Universe, which must be not only mathematically correct, but also aesthetically satisfactory: it must be true and beautiful--such a solution, necessarily an interplay between simplicity and complexity (and so an expression of simplexity), can be accessible only to somebody who is simultaneously a mathematician and a poet, just like Dupin, defined by Poe as "a double Dupin--the creative and the resolvent" (cf. Irwin 2006: 47, 61). The one who has a mind that can function like a telescope and a microscope, capable to see the simple in the complex, and the complex in the simple--in short, a versatile mind that can discern the deep mysteries of simplexity. Otherwise, Bloom (2009: 3) considers Eureka Poe's answer to Emerson, who in 1836 anonymously published the manifesto of transcendentalism, Nature.
Furthermore, recently John Tresch (2004: 119f)--who sees in Poe the "definitive" author of the steam age, of the electric, electronic and nuclear age, as well as the inventor of the science fiction genre--advanced the hypothesis according to which Eureka is a "conceptual time machine," by means of which Poe studies the "macromachine" that is the Universe itself, wherein the fundamental mechanism is the perfect fitting together (as between the dented wheels of a clock) between cause and effect, by whose agency all physical phenomena are (directly or indirectly) interconnected with the whole of reality. Even the smallest event, the smallest word--as vibration--is retained in the ether and thus modifies the texture or "tapestry" of the Universe in its entirety (which, as we shall see, is an idea that is congruent with modern chaos theory: the butterfly effect). Also, Tresch suggests that for Poe any text (including his own texts, among which some describe machines whose task is to modify reality) is itself a "micromachine" (as all the other technologies created by man), by which the world is transformed.
Thus, for instance, in The power of words Poe (1976: 174) imagines a disembodied conscience that gives birth to a "wild star," whose "brilliant flowers are the dearest of all unfulfilled dreams" and whose "raging volcanoes are the passions of the most turbulent and unhallowed of hearts." According to Tresch (2004: 122), Poe wanted to say that, written or spoken, words convert thoughts into vibrations in the ether, and thereby man modifies and reconstructs the world. Poe (1976: 173) considers that by words/vibrations men influence with impulses in the ether (these propagate eternally) even the times that are infinitely remote:
[T]o a being of infinite understanding [...] there could be no difficulty in tracing every impulse given the air--and the ether through the air--to the remotest consequences at any even infinitely remote epoch of time. (The power of words, 1845)
This is an important metaphysical, spiritual element in Poe's system, which points to what the poet underlines in the end of the epistle in Eureka: "I have stolen the golden secret of the Egyptians." This bold statement reminds us of a similar one made by William Blake in Jerusalem, 77 (1804-1820):
I give you the end of a golden string, / Only wind it into a ball, / It will lead you in at Heaven's gate / Built in Jerusalem's wall.
As a "Book of Truths" containing "the golden secret of the Egyptians," the text of Eureka in Poe's mind must have been associated principally with the Egyptian wisdom literature, in which Ptah was among the most important god figures. Ptah was known in this sense as the "Lord of Truth" (Pteh-Neb-Maat), the "Lord of Life" (Pteh-NebAnkh), "the heart and tongue of the gods" (Ptehur), the creator of the sky (Pteh-Nu), the "stabilizer of law" (Pteh-smen-Maat), the "lord of the artist's designing and painting room" (Pteh-neb-qet-t), "Ptah of the beautiful face" (Pteh-nefer-her); he is one aspect of the triune god of the resurrection Pteh-Sekri-Asar (Ptah, Seker, Ausar/Osiris--the three together symbolized the entire cycle of life, death and resurrection); he was believed to be the architect of heaven and earth, the mastercraftsman working the metals; he was a sculptor and designer; he was the blacksmith and mason of the gods (so he is currently equated with Hephaistos / Vulcan); and most importantly, he was regarded as the fashioner of the bodies of man, like Prometheus of Greek lore (cf. Budge 1978i: 254-255; 1987: 98). Among the attributes mentioned above, the most significant ones are the lordship over truth and life, the quality of being the maker of the physical body of man, and that of being "the heart and tongue of the gods." The latter notion brings Ptah quite close to the Christian understanding of God as "Logos" or "Word" (cf. the Gospel according to St. John). The importance of Ptah for understanding Poe's project can be glimpsed from the following concise presentation of his main features:
Ptah was the only true god, the creator, and all spiritual beings, divine or human, emanated from his will. The creation deities worshiped in other cities were supposed to have been devised by Ptah. This deity was also the source of the ethical and moral orders in the world, and he was called "the Lord of Truth" in all historical periods. He was deemed capable of bringing forth life with words, as the tongue announced what the god's heart experienced. [...] Statues and reliefs depicting the god showed him as a man with very light skin, sometimes green, mummy wrappings, and an immense collar with the menat. Most depictions of Ptah were designed as pillars, emblems of justice. Called the First of the Gods, Ptah was a patron of the great architectural monuments of the Old Kingdom (2575-2134 B.C.E.). As Tatenen [var. Tatunen, Tathunen, an ancient elemental Earth-god, one of the creators of the world; cf. Budge 1978ii: 821] he was revered as the creative urge, both for the world and for the individual works of art. Also called Hetepi and Khnemi, Ptah was associated with the chaos that existed before the moment of creation, and was then called Ptah-Nun. When associated with the Nile, the deity was worshiped as Ptah-Hapi; with the earth as Ptah-Tenen; and with the solar disk, called Ptah-Aten. (Bunson 2002: 313)
We are dealing with an omnipotent deity that creates from chaos (ex nihilo) by sheer power of will, as is the case with the God in Poe's cosmogony, as we shall see. Ptah, by simply uttering the words formed in his heart, is said to be capable of bringing forth into physical manifestation both real living beings and works of art, among which the physical Universe may be regarded as the masterpiece. As a still disembodied entity formed in the interior of one's conscience (the heart), a thought--being uttered through the mouth as vibration--is as a consequence said to be magically transformed into material reality: we can see in this Egyptian notion related to the cult of Ptah a precursor of Poe's idea mentioned above according to which words-vibrations, once uttered through the mouth, never die, being perpetuated through the spiritual ether to finally become physical reality in the "wild star" whose "brilliant flowers" Poe explains as being "the dearest of all unfulfilled dreams," and whose "raging volcanoes" are the physical manifestation of "the passions of the most turbulent and unhallowed of hearts." In Poe's view, what happens inside man's heart (in his psychological microcosm) will thus have impact on a macro-scale on the physical Universe. In a way, this implies a reversal of the order of things as seen by the Egyptians: the latter were interested in the mysterious correspondence between events taking place in the sky and those occurring in human life, namely men needed to imitate the orderliness that could be observed as being the ruling principle in the motion of celestial bodies (see also infra)--any act by which man went against the celestial harmony was harmful for himself and would attract the wrath of the ruling gods.
But a Universe such as that envisaged by Poe--in which "every impulse given the air--and the ether through the air" is indelible for ever and perpetuated as vibration "to the remotest consequences at any even infinitely remote epoch of time"--will be no doubt a "hieroglyphic" Universe in the following sense: such a Universe is like an infinite cosmic chamber with infinite walls (the cosmic laws and matter) on which lie indelibly imprinted all events of the past (the tapestry or network of dynamic phenomena having occurred up to the present time); many of the past events (imprinted on the tapestry hung on the cosmic "walls") through the passage of vast ages will have become unintelligible to living beings. Indeed only "a being of infinite understanding" could make such a hieroglyphic Universe intelligible by deciphering the double hieroglyphics contained therein (in the cosmic walls that are at one with the "phenomenal" tapestry): the natural laws (the astronomer has this task) and the eternal vibrations imprinted on the infinite walls of the cosmic "chamber" (the historian has this task; see infra the references to Ligeia).
Harold Beaver (1976: 388-389), however, shows that Pascal (Les Pensees, 505) is the source for Poe's idea in The power of words, according to which "as no thought can perish, so no act is without infinite result": "The smallest movement affects all of nature; the entire sea is changed by a stone." ["Le moindre mouvement importe a toute la nature; la mer entiere change pour une pierre."] In this concept we identify the germs of chaos theory--the butterfly effect (see infra references to fragments in which Poe clearly thinks in the terms of non-linear systems theory):
We moved our hands, for example, when we were dwellers on the earth, and, in so doing, we gave vibration to the atmosphere which engirdled it. This vibration was indefinitely extended, till it gave impulse to every particle of the earth's air, which thenceforward, and for ever, was actuated by the one movement of the hand. (Thepower of words; Poe 1976: 172-173)
As regards the scientific, astro-physical truth contained in Eureka, an exceptional study on this controversial issue is to be noticed only in the year 1994, having been written by Alberto Cappi from the Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna (via Zamboni 33, I-40126 Bologna, Italy): Edgar Allan Poe's physical cosmology (published in Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 35). The essential question that Cappi asks himself is why Poe's cosmology has constantly been neglected (with a single notable exception), while other authors always get permanent credit for various hypotheses, ideas, etc. [For instance, Democritus (460--ca 370 BC) is associated with the atom; Aristarchus of Samos (ca 310-230 BC) --with the first formulation of the heliocentric system; Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Thomas Wright (1711-1786)--with the hypothesis that the nebulae are galactic systems similar to the Milky Way; Thomas Wright published An original theory or new hypothesis of the Universe in 1750; Kant published his nebular theory in 1755 under the title: Universal natural history and theory of the heavens; etc.]. The notable exception invoked by Cappi is Edward Harrison's work entitled Darkness at night: a riddle of the Universe (1987), in which the author explains the reason for which Eureka has been ignored, namely the metaphysics implied in Poe's entire undertaking.
In short, Alberto Cappi points out that Poe in Eureka tries to build a "theory of everything," presenting the most revolutionary cosmology of the 19th century and hoping thus to become a modern Hesiod or Lucretius. We are dealing here with a cosmological model in which the Universe is finite (as matter) inside an infinite cosmic space, its matter springing from a Primordial Particle that fragmented itself under the action of a force of rejection (the Spiritual Principle) causing the homogenous and spherical diffusion of atoms into space by uniform radiation. After the diffusion of the atoms into space, when the force of rejection ceases, the atoms tend to return back to the initial Unity, by the action of universal gravity (the Material Principle), all of which leads to a cosmological model in which the Universe, after expansion, collapses into itself, by this collapse being formed the galaxies and all the other celestial formations--namely by the action of small fluctuations in the density of matter, with the fluctuations themselves having been generated due to the various forms of the initial atoms having been uniformly dispersed through space in the expansive phase of cosmic evolution.
We are dealing, therefore, with a Universe that undergoes evolution.
Harold Beaver, who published in 1976 a remarkable critical edition of Poe's science fiction (the volume is also a precious guide for many scientific issues in the thought system of the American poet), laid stress on the idea that by Eureka Poe proposed, a long time before Albert Einstein, a model of finite Universe with Stars (finite both as matter and time); this Universe undergoes a process of evolution, and the initial explosion of energy (which occurred in a past that is not infinitely remote) generated time itself and, with time, also space, it being possible that the explosion itself at present changed its vectorial direction, now moving in the reverse, the phase of collapse having set in (the implosion stage), as in the similar case that in 1926 R. H. Fowler demonstrated for the first time: a star having consumed its fuel falls into itself forming a super-dense "gigantic molecule," the "white dwarf." (Beaver 1976: 397, 401, 412; he follows R. G. Collingwood's observations in The idea of nature, part III, chap. 2)
[In his groundbreaking edition, Beaver introduced Eureka among the works considered as science-fiction, namely: MS. found in a bottle; The unparalleled adventure of one Hans Pfaall; The conversation of Eiros and Charmion; A descent into the maelstrom; The colloquy of Monos and Una; A tale of the Ragged Mountains; The balloon-hoax; Mesmeric revelation; The thousand-and-second tale of Scheherezade; Some words with a mummy; The power of words; The system of Dr Tarr and Prof. Fether; The facts in the case of M. Valdemar; Mellonta tauta; Von Kempelen and his discovery. Poe thus came to be recognized as being one of the founders of this literary genre, together with Kepler, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Mary Shelley].
According to Alberto Cappi, in Eureka Poe offers us a Newtonian model which is plausible from a scientific viewpoint, and in this context, entering into the details of universal cosmogony and dynamics, Poe applied for the first time in a modern sense the cosmological anthropic principle (for details regarding this important concept, see Barrow & Tipler 2001) in order to explain why the Universe is so vast. Namely, Poe argued that large distances mean long periods of time; space and duration are one and are connected to life. In other words, it is necessary for the Universe in evolution to be so large in order that it can give the possibility for histories of civilizations to unfold inside it, in the progress of all towards the end--which Poe (1848: 118) calls the "vitalic development" that takes place during the process of return to the initial Unity: history occurs in the implosive phase of the Universe.
In other words, the Universe has as a purpose the appearance of conscience, of beings (also human) aware of it, a fact that is visible in what modern cosmology calls the "fine tuning" of the entire cosmos. This important question is formulated in recent cosmology as follows:
It seems that the universe we live in is very special. For a universe to exist for billions of years and contain the ingredients for life, certain special conditions must be satisfied: the masses of the elementary particles and the strengths of the fundamental forces must be tuned to values very close to the ones actually we observe. If these parameters are outside certain narrow limits, the universe will be inhospitable to life. This raises a legitimate scientific question: given that there seem to be more than one possible consistent set of laws, why is it that the laws of nature are such that the parameters fall within the narrow ranges needed for life? We may call this the anthropic question. (Smolin 2001: 197; see chap. 14 in its entirety; see also Rees 2000: 71-90, chap. 6, The fine-tuned expansion: dark matter and [OMEGA])
Moreover, Poe surely used contemporary astronomical knowledge, deriving from it modern concepts such as the primordial atomic state of the universe (see the Big Bang theory) or the common era of galaxy formation, these being, according to Cappi, his most original contributions from a cosmological point of view.
Lastly, another merit of Poe's writing is mentioned by Cappi, which was noticed for the first time by Edward Harrison in Darkness at night: a riddle of the Universe (1987): in Eureka Poe offered the first correct qualitative solution for Olbers' paradox (namely the "finite age solution"). Cappi underlines that this is no mere coincidence, adding that Frank Tipler (who is of the opinion that it is not Poe who would deserve credit for this solution, but the German astronomer Johann Heinrich Madler; Tipler 1988: 45) is wrong when stating that this solution of finite age proposed by Poe is fatally contradicted by the very cosmological fundamental model constructed by the poet, namely that of a cyclical "oscillating universe of infinite age" (Tipler 1988: 46; Tipler shows that in cyclical universes the sky during nighttime is fully shining if the light emitted by the stars in each cycle is not absorbed back into matter at each end of cycle).
Cappi argues that Poe suggested only as a hope, as a final hypothesis, the idea of a universe that is cyclical ad infinitum; also, taking into account that at each end of cycle Poe speaks about the annihilation of the matter created at the beginning, it is more correct for us to talk of "a succession of universes," and not of a single cyclical universe. Furthermore, Cappi (1994: 187188) correctly observes (see infra for details) that Poe discusses Olbers' paradox for the case of an infinite and static universe, but not also for the case of his own model of finite universe (with finite matter) that is sunk in infinite space (an infinite Newtonian universe, that is with infinite matter, is known to be inconsistent).
In the fact that Poe's Universe undergoes a process of evolution Cappi sees the main reason for its having many elements that are common also in modern cosmology: such a model of Universe in evolution was accepted only in the 20th century, when Aleksandr Friedman (for whom Poe seems to have been among the favourite writers--cf. Tropp et al 1993: 37; Friedman's other two favourite writers were Dostoievski and E. T. A. Hoffmann) observed that such a Universe is a mathematical consequence of the general theory of relativity: in 1922, in the study entitled Uber die krummung des raumes (On space curvature), the Russian mathematician and cosmologist found the general and homogenous solution for Einstein's field equations from the general theory of relativity--what today is known as "the big bang solution to Einstein's equations" (cf. Greene 2000: 157).
Friedman's models offered the mathematical fundament for the majority of modern cosmological theories and they have been validated experimentally after Edwin Hubble gathered solid observational proof.
Steven Weinberg described the two types of Friedman models, which are relevant for the comparison with Poe's model:
1) if the average density of matter in the universe is smaller than a certain critical value or equal to it, then the universe is infinitely extended spatially: the present expansion of the universe will continue for ever--a model of Universe undergoing evolution which does not correspond to the one imagined by Poe;
2) if the density of the universe is larger than this critical value, then the gravitational field produced by matter curves the universe backwards, on itself: the universe is finite, but unbounded, like the suraface of a sphere, and its expansion will stop due to gravity, what follows being the phase of implosion-compression (cf. Weinberg 1993: 34)--a model of Universe undergoing evolution close to the one proposed by Poe in Eureka and confirmed by Kip Thorne (from California Institute of Technology), who stated that we live in a Universe made up of space and time which were created by explosion, and so "we are trapped inside its [the explosion's] gravitational radius. No light can escape from the universe." (apud Beaver 1976: 413) [In this second cosmological model, as Weinberg explains, if we set out on a trip in a straight line, we never reach any kind of boundary of the universe, but at a certain moment we get back to where we started from].
Friedman's solutions suggest that space and time are isotropic (uniform in all points and in all directions), and the density and average radius of the universe vary in time, which indicates either an expansion, or a contraction of the Universe (cf. Jenkins-Jones 1997: 181); in essence, we are dealing in both cases with models of Universe undergoing evolution, as in the model of Poe (who, however, does not agree with the idea of a Universe eternally undergoing expansion).
The most famous relativistic model of Universe with expansion belongs evidently to Georges Lemaitre, the Belgian cosmologist, engineer and theologian, recognized as the promoter of the theory about the Big Bang, the great initial explosion whereby the Universe was formed, starting from a "primitive atom," an extremely dense "egg," which comprised in itself the entire matter of the Universe in a sphere approximately thirty times larger than the Sun the explosion is believed to have taken place circa 20-60 billion years ago and with it time and space are supposed to have been born (cf. Jenkins-Jones 1997: 292).
Here are Georges Lemaitre's words:
Le monde a procede du condense au diffus. [...] L'atome-univers s'est brise en fragments. Nous pouvons concevoir que l'espace a commence avec l'atome primitif et que le commencement de l'espace a marque le commencement du temps. [The world evolved from condensation to diffusion. [...] The atom-Universe broke into fragments. [...] We can conceive of the fact that Space began with the primitive atom and that the beginning of space marked off the beginning of time]. (Lemaitre 1931; apud Cappi 1994: 184, 186)
The major difference between Lemaitre's model and that proposed by Poe is the following: in both systems the Universe is born by explosion, but in the American poet's model the Universe is born inside a sea of infinite space that had existed probably since forever. A model akin to Poe's had been developed by Pierre Simon Laplace in 1796, but it was restricted only as a hypothesis of the formation of the Solar System, not as a hypothesis of the creation of the entire Universe. In short, Laplace posited that initially there existed the solar nebula, a primordial cloud rotating, which under the action of gravity started to contract, thus leading to the formation of our solar system.
It is, however, interesting to observe that the Amerindians of the Omaha tribe (of the Great Plains) had imagined already a long time ago a creation of the universe by an explosive process:
The Omaha people of the Great Plains have their own "big bang" account of creation. At first all living things were spirits floating through space, looking for a place to exist in bodily form. The sun was too hot. The moon was too cold. The earth was covered with water. Then a huge boulder rose out of the water and exploded with a roar and a burst of flame that dried the water. Land appeared. The spirits of plants settled on earth. Animal spirits followed. Finally the spirits of people took bodily form on earth. (cf. Parks 2009ii: 257)
Also, the Stoics are credited with having envisaged the notion that mankind lives in "a universe of periodic fiery explosions and implosions" (cf. Harrison 2003: 198). The Stoics in this sense would have probably sided (maybe like Poe himself) with the catastrophists of the 19th century, who--although they lost their battle against the uniformitarians and the evolutionists in that century (the real fight was between the notion of creation as operated by catastrophic quick evolution or by peaceful slow evolution) surely emerged as victors in the 20th century: the Big Bang catastrophic model became dominant in cosmology against the steady state models (cf. Harrison 2003: 113). In the battle mentioned above, the paradox, observed by Velikovsky (2009), is that Darwin, as a proponent of evolutionism, attacked the catastrophists (and, many would argue, won), but these did not counterattack; instead, the counterstrike came unsuccessfully from the creationists. Darwin's attack was fuelled by the consequence of catastrophism, namely that the age of the Earth needed not be that large as assumed by evolutionists, because huge transformations could occur quickly by cataclysmic processes. Since evolutionists stressed out the fact that evolution was slow, namely as it still is occurring at present (this constituted precisely the justification of the uniformitarians, which is why today it is admitted that Darwin's theory is based on Lyell's principle of uniformity, itself derived from Hutton's uniformitarianism), the age of the Earth had to be indeed very large. On the other hand, the creationists attacked Darwin because his theory rejected the notion that all species were created by God as immutable, fixed forms. From this perspective it becomes clear why, as an evolutionist, Darwin felt threatened by the catastrophists, although he was attacked fiercely and directly only by the creationists:
For species to evolve as a result of incessant competition and struggle for survival, all the way from the simplest forms to Homo sapiens and other advanced organisms, an enormous span of time is required. The teaching of catastrophes appeared to make the story of the world very short: if the Deluge occurred less than five thousand years ago, then, following the book of Genesis, Creation took place less than six thousand years ago. In order to have at the disposal of the evolutionary process the almost unlimited time needed, Darwin accepted Lyell's teaching; and whereas Lyell tried to show that the usual agents--such as rivers carrying sediment--act with comparative speed, Darwin liked to stress their sluggishness. / He wrote: "Therefore a man should examine for himself the great piles of superimposed strata, and watch the rivulets bringing down mud, and the waves wearing away the sea-cliffs, in order to comprehend something about the duration of past time." The waves of the sea reduce a rock particle by particle, and if a visible change is produced, it requires many thousands of years. "Nothing impresses the mind with the vast duration of time, according to our ideas of time, more forcibly than the conviction thus gained that subaerial agencies which apparently have so little power, and which seem to work so slowly, have produced great results." [The origin of species, chap. X] Darwin even went so far as to suggest that "he who can read Sir Charles Lyell's grand work on the Principles of Geology [...] and yet does not admit how vast have been the past periods of time, may at once close this volume (The origin of species)." (Velikovsky 2009: 213)
Lastly, it is interesting to note also that Poe's model of Universe undergoing collapse may have been suggested to him, among others, by the theory of the romantic poet-prophet William Blake, according to which the Creation of the physical material Universe is carried out by the Fall itself from Eden: the Fall of spirits coincides with the act of Creation, of Genesis; by the collapse of spirits, immense energies are condensed/imprisoned into matter, by this act being generated the aggregates of physical matter.
The laws of the universe as hieroglyphs
Poe may well have been aware of the possibility that Keat's truth-beauty equivalence was derived by the latter from a major concept of the Egyptians: Maat was defined, among other things (such as law, order, truth, straightness, right of heart, integrity, justice, genuineness), as "beautiful truth" (Budge 1978i: 271; 1991: 164). Knowing about the Egyptians' advanced knowledge regarding astronomy and astrology (their integral science of the stars), Poe thus came even to evoke--at the end of the letter inserted at the beginning of Eureka--Kepler's mysterious, and by now famous, words believed to have been uttered by him when he discovered the third law of planetary motion:
"Yes, Kepler was essentially a theorist; but this title, now of so much sanctity, was, in those ancient days, a designation of supreme contempt. It is only now that men begin to appreciate that divine old man--to sympathize with the prophetical and poetical rhapsody of his ever-memorable words. For my part," continues the unknown correspondent, "I glow with a sacred fire when I even think of them [Kepler's words], and feel that I shall never grow weary of their repetition:--in concluding this letter, let me have the real pleasure of transcribing them once again:
--'I care not whether my work be read now or by posterity. I can afford to wait a century for readers when God himself has waited six thousand years for an observer. I triumph. I have stolen the golden secret of the Egyptians. I will indulge my sacred fury."' (Poe 1848: 20-21; 1996: 1270)
Poe probably approximated this statement attributed to Kepler from the following larger passage in the latter's Harmonices mundi (here in modern English translation):
Eighteen months ago, the first light of dawn hit me; three months ago, the light of morning; and then, only a very few days ago, the complete light of the sun has revealed this remarkable spectacle. Now, nothing holds me back. Indeed, I live in a secret frenzy. I sneer at mortals and defy them by the following public proclamation: I have pillaged the golden bowls of Egypt, to decorate a holy tabernacle for my God, far from the lands of the Egyptians. If you will forgive me, then I am happy. If you are angry with me, I will survive it. Well then, I will throw the dice; I will write a book, if not for the present time, then for posterity. To me, they are one and the same. If the book must wait a hundred years to find its readers, so what. God has waited six thousand years to find a true witness. (Kepler 1937vi: 480; apud Connor 2008: 328-329)
Kepler refers here, as mentioned, to his hierophany-like experience when he discovered the third law of planetary motion, which can be written as follows: [p.sup.2]/[a.sup.3] = k. Connor (2008: 375, n. 10) explained this important law thus:
[T]he period (p) of a planet's orbit (the time it takes to make one revolution) squared [...], divided by the mean distance (a) that the planet is from the sun, cubed, -[...], is equal to a constant (k). This means that the relationship between ([p.sup.2]) and ([a.sup.3]) remains constant throughout the motion of the planet in its orbit. This is Kepler's harmonic law because as Kepler saw it, this relationship possessed the same kind of harmony that one could find in musical chords or in colors that work together. This harmony is innate in the human soul, placed there by God as a key to understanding God's mind.
To Poe, no doubt, Kepler's third law was a major key, its discovery being of a magnitude comparable to that of Champollion's deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, even if the method used in the discovery was not clear (Kepler believed that God's hand was at work; to Poe's liking would have been a more detectivistic method, of the kind a Dupin would have set in motion):
I have often thought, my friend, that it must have puzzled these dogmaticians of a thousand years ago, to determine, even, by which of their two boasted roads it is that the cryptographist attains the solution of the more complicate cyphers--or by which of them Champollion guided mankind to those important and innumerable truths which, for so many centuries, have lain entombed amid the phonetical hieroglyphics of Egypt. In especial, would it not have given these bigots some trouble to determine by which of their two roads was reached the most momentous and sublime of all their truths--the truth--the fact of gravitation? Newton deduced it from the laws of Kepler. Kepler admitted that these laws he guessed--these laws whose investigation disclosed to the greatest of British astronomers that principle, the basis of all (existing) physical principle, in going behind which we enter at once the nebulous kingdom of Metaphysics. Yes! these vital laws Kepler guessed--that is to say, he imagined them. Had he been asked to point out either the deductive or inductive route by which he attained them, his reply might have been--'I know nothing about routes--but I do know the machinery of the Universe. Here it is. I grasped it with my soul--I reached it through mere dint of intuition.' Alas, poor ignorant old man! Could not any metaphysician have told him that what he called 'intuition' was but the conviction resulting from deductions or inductions of which the processes were so shadowy as to have escaped his consciousness, eluded his reason, or bidden defiance to his capacity of expression? How great a pity it is that some 'moral philosopher' had not enlightened him about all this! How it would have comforted him on his death-bed to know that, instead of having gone intuitively and thus unbecomingly, he had, in fact, proceeded decorously and legitimately that is to say Hog-ishly, or at least Ram-ishly--into the vast halls where lay gleaming, untended, and hitherto untouched by mortal hand--unseen by mortal eye--the imperishable and priceless secrets of the Universe! (Poe 1848: 19-20)
Thus, from the very beginning of his essay, Poe announces the reader what he is after: no less than the "priceless secrets of the Universe," and in his detectivistic quest he is determined to use induction and deduction and to clearly trace his steps back to the ultimate secret of reality, the law of all laws, whereby all came into existence and thenceforward was maintained in existence.
In short, these are the directive lines of thought and scientific constellations of ideas that Eureka points to, but an ampler understanding of Poe's work, of the romantic philosophy/ metaphysics and cosmology that constitute its basis, is not possible without following in all its complexity Poe's entire scientific-aesthetic approach with its connections and ramifications into the modern scientific sphere, in the context in which Poe was of the following opinion on his own speculative work on the nature of gravitation:
What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical & Metaphysical Science. (Letter addressed to George W. Eveleth; Poe 1966ii: 360; apud Cappi 1994: 178, 180)
From the very beginning, Poe announces his "sublime" theme: the physical, metaphysical and mathematical, material and spiritual Universe; its essence, its origin, its creation, its present condition, its destiny. The "poem" constitutes a cosmological treatise in which the poet-astronomer discloses his final revelation on the origin and fate of reality.
Poe takes distance from the "classical" mathematics, stating from the outset, in a Blakean echo, that "there is, in this world at least, no such thing as demonstration" (Blake himself did not give credence to the Newtonian "demonstration" of materialist mechanism--i.e. of the cold philosophy of the five senses, because life cannot be "demonstrated," it being in essence indeterminate Spirit in conjunction with the determined material form, together with which it constitutes the interfinite paradox of cosmic manifestation--this romantic notion is quite close to the Egyptian concept of the sah or sahu, i.e. "spiritual body"; see infra).
The first general statement made by Poe is the following:
In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation. (Poe 1848: 8; 1976: 211)
That is to say, everything is created in an invincible harmony of the beginning and end, which are the terminal points of the infinite primordial unity. Here, in other words, limitation and the unlimited paradoxically co-exist, as in Philolaos's old equation of the union between the limit and the unlimited, the peras and the apeiron.
This is the first romantic foundation set by Poe for his scientific model of Universe (the notion of the "unlimited limit," or "interfinitude" --or "finite infinity" in Emily Dickinson's terminology, as according to poem 1695, There is a solitude of space).
Poe defines the object of his exploration: the Universe is "the Universe of Stars":
[T]he utmost conceivable expanse of space, with all things, spiritual and material, that can be imagined to exist within the compass of that expanse. (Poe 1848: 8; 1976: 212)
He states here that nobody before him has attempted such a synthesis, the closest work being Kosmos: entwurf einer physischen weltbeschreibung (1845-1862) by Alexander von Humboldt, which presents the topic not in its individuality, but in its generality--approaching only the physical Universe and the universality of the material relation. Poe, however, does not mention that the Humboldtian cosmographic principle was precisely this: studying the phenomena as individualities, for their uniqueness, because they exist, and not in order to extract--by exploring them--general laws (see Franz Boas, The study of geography, 1887; Boas 1982: 639-647).
Alberto Cappi observes in this sense that the first volume of Humboldt's monumental work was translated into English in 1845, the crucial names referred to here being Kepler, Laplace, Newton and William Herschel; in fact, in Eureka Poe offered a synthesis of the thought system of these great scientists:
1) Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) provides him with the famous three laws of the planets' motion on their elliptical orbits (they were used by Isaac Newton in his groundbreaking discovery);
2) Isaac Newton (1642-1727) provides him with the law of universal gravity, which becomes a consistent framework for the dynamic description of a finite universe;
3) Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace (17491827) offers him the nebular hypothesis (according to which the Solar System originates from a cloud of cosmic gas--this being an attempt to scientifically formalize the nebular theory proposed earlier by Emanuel Swedenborg and Immanuel Kant; cf. Beaver 1976: 408), which Poe generalizes to become the fundamental universal process whereby celestial bodies are formed; and the wave theory of light;
4) William Herschel (1738-1822) provides him with the astronomical observational data regarding the magnitudes of cosmic space, the structure and the contents of the Universe (cf. Beaver 1976: 397; Cappi 1994: 179-180).
A conclusion in this sense is that Poe inherits from Isaac Newton and John Locke the model of mechanistic universe controlled by God (the "Great Mechanic" or the "Great Clockmaker"), who is not only its primal cause, but also its continuous source of energy/impulse. Poe, however, brings a major modification, namely the static Newtonian model of universe which functions on the basis of a "fixed design" becomes a universe undergoing a continual process of evolution and involution (Beaver 1976: 397), in accordance with the new romantic view of the universe as a phenomenon undergoing a process of perpetual becoming (this notion is opposed to a static understanding of being, the latter of course characteristic for Enlightenment thought). Similarly, Poe inherited from the Newtonian model the idea that man is a privileged "member of the cosmical family of Intelligences," for whose evolution towards perfection the very Universe he inhabits was created (Beaver 1976: 397).
In this context it is known that Poe was fascinated by the individual cosmic phenomena, by science in general, but mostly by astronomy, already from 1825 he becoming a faithful observer of the Moon and the stars by means of a small telescope received as a gift from his stepfather, John Allan. Moreover, Poe admitted that science was a source for his literary creation: the science ficiton story The unparalleled adventure of one Hans Pfaall (1835), for instance, was inspired by John F. W. Herschel's work entitled A treatise on astronomy (an American edition appeared in 1834) (Cappi 1994: 179).
The Eureka epistle: a retro-causal glimpse into the future
Before starting the description of the treatise proper, Poe introduces an ingenious and unexpected digression: the poet-astronomer quotes a few fragments from a letter allegedly found in a corked bottle floating in the waters of the ocean called Mare Tenebrarum and marked with a date that testifies it comes from the future, one thousand years in the future to be exact: the year 2848 A.D. This digressive epistle is an abridgement and revision of the short story entitled Mellonta tauta (in Greek, mellonta tauta means "these things are in the future").
Poe's Mare Tenebrarum may allude to:
1) William Blake's cosmological idea of the "Sea of Time and Space," which was a direct reference to the physical cosmic space filled with stars and planets hung in immense voidness and evolving through time; the "sea of Space" thus pointed to the unfathomably deep matrix of spatial creation (space as a female principle, identified in the mythology with Enitharmon); the "sea of Time" pointed to the unfathomably deep matrix of becoming or evolution; the two, space and time, however, could exist only together, as the couple formed by Enitharmon-Space and Los-Time, they being the parents of Orc, or the inner energy of time, a symbol of eternal Revolution; in this Blakean equation, time was seen as being finite, while space was infinite: the two formed a "finitely infinite" unity;
2) the Germanic concept of ginnunga gap (lit. "yawning/gaping gap"), referring to the protomatrix (the primordial abyss)--which is believed to be unfathomally deep--out of which the entire cosmos emerged. This is a concept crucial for Jakob Bohme's idea of Ungrund and in fact for his entire system of thought (the latter is one of the acknowledged spiritual "fathers" of the romantic movement).
In this sense, it is interesting to observe that the Germanic augmentative ginnunga (mentioned in this function by Jakob Grimm 1981: 463, chap. XIX, Creation) might be lexically connected with the Akkadian gina, ginu (adv.), which signifies "always," "permanently"; hence the Neo-Babylonian ana gina / ana ginu = "for ever" (cf. Black et al 2012: 93). If this lexical-etymological connection with Akkadian is genuine, then the Germanic augmentative ginnunga might in fact mean also "eternal," "permanent," "continuous," "constant" in time, and not only "vast" in space, as the Anglo-Saxon root attests (gin = "yawning gulf," "abyss"; ginan = "yawn"; ginian, geonian = "to be wide open"; ginn = "spacious"; ginnes = "gap," "interval"; but: ginnan = onginnan = "to begin"; cf. Sweet 1981: 75; the latter case, that of ginnan, which means "to begin," certifies that between the root gin and time there is indeed a connection). If the above association is correct, then this idea renders the concept of gap ginnunga quite close to the atemporal reality that J. W. Goethe ascribed in Faust to the realm of the "mothers" [a realm described as being also aspatial--cf. Goethe 2011: 219 (verse 6214)--, untouched, intangible--cf. Goethe 2011: 219 (verses 6223-6224)--, void, alone]. So, gap ginnunga might signify the "eternal void," i.e., probably, the cosmic void space in its entirety, which constitutes a matrix or lattice on which all matter in the Universe rests. Gap ginnunga might, however, also signify the underlying reality beyond the void space itself, that is the source out of which this very void space and matter emerged (the two together forming the cosmos) --i.e. precisely, probably, the atemporal and aspatial realm of the Goethean "mothers."
Poe's Mare Tenebrarum is the kind of "sea," as the American poet confessed in a letter to the editor of the story Mellonta tauta, rarely visited by people, with only a few exceptions like the transcendentalists (cf. Beaver 1976: 415). A possible source for the Latin expression Mare Tenebrarum Poe might have found in the writing entitled Kitab Rujjar / The book of Roger, by an Arab author, Idrisi or El Yrisi (cf. Beaver 1976: 358, 403).
By this message floating on Mare Tenebrarum and allegedly coming from the future (written by Pundita in the extended version of Mellonta tauta), Poe underlines (with inevitable irony) the distorting nature of time: the world in this view is similar to a palimpsest, on which the names of people are wiped away slowly, but surely, in a process similar to what happens to all of historical/temporal knowledge: some elements are lost with no possibility of ever being recovered again, while other elements are gained, in an irreversible process, in which cosmic entropy seems to rule supreme.
For instance, the name Aristotle--"filtered" through the mist of time / history--becomes "Aries Tottle"; Francis Bacon is mistaken for the poet and novelist James Hogg and so becomes "Hog"; Euclid becomes "Tuclid"; J. S. Mill becomes "Miller," etc. [In Mellonta tauta, Euclid becomes "Neuclid," Samuel Morse becomes "Horse," Johann Heinrich Madler becomes "Mudler," Americans become "Amriccans," Canadians become "Kanawdians," Europe becomes "Yurope," Africa becomes "Africia," Asia becomes "Ayesher," etc.].
Yet, significantly, the names of Kepler, Newton, Kant, Laplace, Hume and Champollion are kept intact.
This phenomenon of selective "palimpsestization" of reality reminds us of Ilya Prigogine's notion of "symmetry breaks": entropy, in open systems, introduces errors, information being lost increasingly more as the causal chains (temporal lines) become increasingly longer, and so increasingly more complex (information being added) or increasingly simpler (information being lost), or increasingly more simplex (with metainformation being added: decoding data by which the patterns of complex information can be seen as being simple). Symmetry breaks occur when a critical intensity of unbalance is reached (errors being introduced to tilt the balance towards system crashing)--then structures break down and reemerge in new, more complex/ simplex patterns, which are better fitted to face the disruptive factors troubling their holistic balance. In other words, in these critical moments when the structures approach the more the maximal points of systemic disequilibrium (with a maximum of errors introduced), the structures move on to "orbits" of superior structural energy, and so "symmetry breaks" do occur in the causal structural chains, the result being the formation of new structures, in which errors have been assimilated or corrected holistically and integrated structurally in the new systemic configuration.
Poe (1848: 21) synthesized this idea of loss of information and accumulation of errors with the increase of distance when he affirmed that "all certitude becomes lost in the remote." So he referred here to spatial distancing, but it is obvious that the same principle is applicable also for temporal distancing (since for Poe space and duration are one, as we shall see later in detail). In the cosmos the vast distances, be they spatial or temporal, create the possibility for mystery to emerge always and be perpetuated in this way. In this way, time renders "hieroglyphic" (i.e. impossible or very difficult to decipher) information that in the present may be commonplace.
By laying stress on both distances, the historical and the spatial, Poe places his writing in a deeply romantic setting, since it is well known that most romantics nourished a cult of vast distances, exotic remote places, remote in space as well as in time, with a view to creating a remoteness from matter per se, and so as to engage in an embrace of Spirit, the latter being the vastest of the realities intuited by man.
In the year 2848--that is at a time chosen as a point of reference in the future distanced from Poe's own present by 1000 years (1848, the year of the publication of Eureka, but also of the great European revolutions)--mankind no longer believes in self-evident truths (or axioms) and deplores the repression of imagination which could never be compensated for, not even by absolute certainty. Poe thus questioned the assumption of Euclidian geometry that the axioms of this system are self-evident truths; and he did this precisely in the crucial period in which Janos Bolyai, Nikolai Lobachevsky, Karl Gauss and Georg Riemann were laying the foundations of non-Euclidian geometry, which is grounded not on axioms, but on "spatial definitions," these being always consistent, although inconceivable (Beaver 1976: 400). Janos Bolyai published in 1823 the work entitled The absolute true science of space, which Wolfgang Bolyai, Janos's father, sent to Karl Gauss, the latter answering that he had been thinking in the terms of the proposed theory already for the past twenty five years. Still, the theory did not get too much attention at that time, and Janos Bolyai discovered subsequently that Nikolai Lobachevsky had published in 1829 a very similar theory, likewise largely ignored. It was only after the publication of Georg Riemann's system in 1867 that the new non-Euclidian geometry was recognized as a solid branch of scientific knowledge (cf. Jenkins-Jones 1997: 60, 303, 408).
Poe offers us here, therefore, under a satiric cover, a prophecy according to which, in the thousand years that passed by up to this potential future, mankind had been blinded by "detail," by the request that the entire knowledge should consist in "facts," while at the same time mankind often having had no clue whatsoever regarding the significance of the term "fact."
In other words, Poe prophesies here a victory of materialistic positivism and empiricism in the coming millenium, by which man gives up emotion (governed by the right cerebral hemisphere), and so loses the vast picture of the universe, being content with physical perception and reason only (the latter function governed by the left cerebral hemisphere), and so wilfully agreeing to be lobotomized symbolically. By promoting only Baconian empiricism and Cartesian rationalism, i.e. the two great and conflicting doctrines of the Enlightenment (cf. Beardsley 1966: 140ff; see also Stroe 2011: 369444), Poe suggested, by using his epistle mysteriously coming from the future as if by the agency of a time machine, that mankind retarded "the progress of true Science, which makes its most important advances--as all History will show--by seemingly intuitive leaps" (Poe 1848: 12; 1976: 214).
What Poe here announced is not accidental and it is not to be neglected: namely the perspective of what Colin Wilson called the "Eureka effect," what Arthur Koestler called the "Eureka act," or what is popularly known as the "aha" moment of unique privilege, when man finds a solution after sustained effort to confront some complicated question in the labyrinth of reality (see details in Stroe 2004). In such exemplary moments the solution emerges into consciousness almost miraculously, as if arriving from "nowhere," ready formed, from the unseen deep labyrinths of the brain/mind/spirit. Such "Eureka effects" have been recently explained in neuroscience as the work of the entire human brain, with special support from certain cerebral regions such as the associative cortex, which is believed to be involved in most of the unconscious activity of the brain (see Andreasen 2005). "Eureka effects" are often expressions of what Andreasen called "extraordinary creativity," in the unfolding of which thought processes are non-sequential, non-linear, non-rational, unconscious; it is as if during the moments of emerging creativity the multiple associative cortices communicate with each other freely and repeatedly, in uncontrolled fashion, not subject to any principles of reality (Andreasen 2005). In other words, when searching for creative solutions, the brain, being a self-organizing structure, starts by disorganizing itself, eventually emerging out of this self-created disorder by arriving at new more complex/simplex orders.
In point of fact, this is how historical evolution itself operates, by macro-structural leaps towards higher complexity, whereby the previous structures break, getting into chaos; such a process is initiated when a new function needs to create the new organs which will exert that new function--this is just what the fundamental thesis of Lamarckism had announced and just what Ervin Laszlo, Ilya Prigogine and Ken Wilber kept on asserting in their well-known thesis of symmetry breaks which represent sudden and holistical leaps in evolution.
Erich Jantsch, following Ilya Prigogine's science closely, postulated in this sense that the history of the universe is in fact a succesion of symmetry breaks, each symmetry break unfolding a new space-time continuum as a medium for the self-organization of structures. For Jantsch a "symmetry break" was a tendency of structures towards self-organization (or autopoiesis--see the Santiago hypothesis), while what he called "time binding" and "space binding" were forces exerted in the direction of reestablishing the symmetry. With every new symmetry break the universe, in Jantsch's acceptation, passes on to a new level of evolutional dynamics, so that evolution enters what we can call "metaevolution," the very modes of evolution proper evolving, since symmetry breaks are defined as being both temporal and spatial, thus giving birth to new realities, endowed with new laws.
Obviously, to simplify, we in fact come back to the notion that history is a process of continuous pulsation of two forces: the force of simplicity (of individuation by liberation/ breaking free) and that of complexity (of conglomeration by enslavement/being bound), the binding medium between the two being simplexity which contains both simplicity (simple patterning rules) and complexity (the result of applying simple rules in endless repetitions). The novelty emerges probably because no two successive repetitions are completely identical, what we call "repetition" being an ideal case reality shows that infinitesimal differences are introduced every time a phenomenon seems to repeat itself.
Poe decrypted these two forces by and large as the two universal vectors, that of attraction (identifiable as Newtonian Gravity) and that of repulsion (identifiable as heat, magnetism and electricity, as we shall see).
Poe (1848: 12) (in his role of narrator in the epistle) warned, however, that the "ancient ideas," i.e. the traditional dogmas like the British baconianism/empiricism, have limited the scientific investigation, reducing it to a "confined investigation to crawling," by which, in other words, only "facts" are searched for. But Poe added ironically that although "crawling" is fundamental as a means of locomotion--for instance for snails --, this fact must not determine us to abandon imagination: "because the snail is sure of foot, for this reason must we clip the wings of the eagles?" By invoking this example, Poe in fact resumed an argument made by John Keats, who in a Letter to J. H. Reynolds, dated 3 February 1818, wondered:
Why should we be owls, when we can be Eagles? (cf. Bate 1963: 327)
Of course, this was for Keats, as for Poe, an argument for the human imagination (against cold and dry reason), by which life itself becomes possible, and progress--a certitainty. Not only in Eureka did Poe express himself against Francis Bacon: in reviews, essays and in Mellonta tauta (the latter being the augmentation of the Epistle in Eureka), he states that the inductive and deductive scientific methods for finding objective truth are too reductive; Bacon's method for finding the scientific truth is deficient because it "cultivated the natural sciences to the exclusion of Metaphysics, the Mathematics, and Logic" (Poe 1848: 14; cf Sova 2007: 294).
Poe therefore unsurprisingly pleaded for the freedom of the imagination--against any dogma whatsoever, especially against an empiricist-sensorial materialism such as Baconianism:
For many centuries, so great was the infatuation, about Hog especially, that a virtual stop was put to all thinking, properly so called. (Poe 1848: 12; 1976: 214)
In other words, Poe emphasizes here that the pendulum of thinking, and so that of history, can freeze when it encounters in its path a dogma which represses the energies of imagination, that is precisely the "engine" of what we call the pendulum of history. Poe (1848: 18) calls this state of affairs "mental slavery," of the kind an anthropologist such as Franz Boas later attempted to explode in his vast scientific-cultural projects having undisguised romantic features.
The American poet (1848: 12) shows in this context that this freezing of thought might take place when nobody anymore dares express anything for which they are indebted to nobody else but their own soul: "No man dared utter a truth for which he felt himself indebted to his soul alone." Why this is so, Poe explains later:
[T]he Soul [...] loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition which are utterly incognizant of "path." (Poe 1848: 18; 1976: 219)
In other words, when man stops schooling himself at the School of his own heart (in the sense of a John Keats and a Friedrich Holderlin, for example) and his own imagination which is virtually infinite (as most of the romantics asserted), then his end as a thinking, imaginative, creative being is near. Poe (1848: 13) concluded the following:
[T]he repression of imagination was an evil not to be counterbalanced even by absolute certainty in the snail processes. But their certainty was very far from absolute.
Imagination-intuition is the one that led even Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) to the discovery of the famous planetary laws, from which Isaac Newton (1642-1727) derived the universal law of gravity. But even so, Poe is skeptical when it comes to absolute (spiritual) truth, which cannot be reached easily, and in any case not only by empirical or rational means: intuition-imagination is the pathless way, the interface space, the matter-spirit mirror, the interdimensional portal to the unbounded power which bursts out of the human spirit in its "marriage" with matter operating the conjunction with the divine Spirit from which it receives the absolute truth.
The conceptual time machine
In connection with all the above, Poe pointed out his request for "distinctness intelligibility, at all points" as "a primary feature in my general design" (Poe 1848: 22; 1976: 221). This request might seem strange for one who is considered among the founders of what is known as "dark romanticism." But we have to remember that a similar request had been with good purpose made by William Blake: the wirey line, the virile and vigorous line, was the only conceivable as exerting the role of Creation.
In fact, it seems that Poe searched for this intelligible transparence precisely by creating the temporal distance--the millenium loop separating the present from the message from the future (1848-2848). This requirement is in keeping with Poe's strategy of the detective in presenting the topic of Eureka, and in using a temporal "loop" by which a necessary detachment from his own present becomes possible, Poe seems to have the attitude of the romantic visionary who, at the height of the Eureka act (cf. Koestler 1989), receives punctual access to key moments from the future, especially moments that define cosmic macro-events. [Here we must be reminded that the role of romantic irony was precisely enabling detachment: one that was supposed to create the necessary transparence in order for the romantic quester to learn again to see in time and space, through matter, into the eternal].
Poe literally suggests a temporal-historical loop, a portal, a threshold opened between his own present and the future a thousand years later. In this perspective, John Tresch's (2004: 119ff) naming Eureka a "conceptual time machine" is justified.
An essential thesis advanced by Poe (1848: 22) in Eureka is that the "Universe" admits two "modes of discussion":
1) the ascent: starting from the Earth we go towards the stars in the high heavens (the human perspective);
2) the descent: starting from the high heavens we come to the Earth (the divine perspective).
What is underlined is that in the process of knowledge by "ascent" (from the Earth to the stars), once the (spatial) distance grows, the certitainty diminishes--which reminds us of Ilya Prigogine's idea that an event loses with the passage of time (with the growth of the "temporal" distance) any visible causal connection with other events, so that it comes to a point where it is no longer relevant for those remote events. This is not Poe's view, as emphatically expressed in The power of words, but distances, Poe admits, will always introduce uncertainty.
The American poet-cosmologist (1848: 23) starts from considering the concept of "Infinity," which, like the terms "God," spirit, etc., are believed to be not the expression of an idea, but "an effort at one"--therefore a conative category, romantic par excellence: "the possible attempt at an impossible conception," "the thought of a thought."
Thus, in philosophy for instance there is a camp that supports the hypothesis of finitude, and another that believes in the hypothesis of infinitude, some thinkers pendulating between these two options. This means that the pendulum of history is structured dynamically by the extreme tension created between the advocates of the two hypotheses.
According to Poe (1848: 25), it is madness to try to "prove Infinity itself" or even our conception of infinity by the usual modes of reasoning. He (1848: 25) confesses: "I cannot conceive Infinity." And he is convinced that no man can. Thereby he seems to attribute this concept only to the divine uncreated Super-being, the latter being infinite by its super-nature.
When he refers to the "Infinity of Space" (which Cappi points to in his study), Poe does not mean the impossible concept of "absolute infinity," but instead he means the following:
The 'utmost conceivable expanse' of space--a shadowy and fluctuating domain, now shrinking, now swelling, in accordance with the vacillating energies of the imagination. (Poe 1848: 27; 1976: 225)
This infinity, therefore, is a reference point for the imagination proper, around which imagination pulsates, generating a "cognitive pendulum," by which the life of thought becomes possible. As in Blake's older vision (see the last plates of Jerusalem), human imagination has for Poe the power to dilate and contract in relation to infinity, with that pendular motion the very spaces of the cosmos being modified to dilate and, respectively, to contract. Poe's "Infinity of Space" comes thus close to Cantor's notion of "transfinity" (an extremely large quantity, but not infinite).
For Blake physical space itself was created by the dilation/ expansion and the contraction of the spaces of the mind/thought and imagination/ spirit (since according to Blake any physical phenomenon had a spiritual cause), the two, imagination and reason being intertwined, systemically enfolded one into the other in a dialogue of the matter-spirit paradox. For Poe, on the other hand, the infinite space existed since always. The American poet saw from this perspective nevertheless a correspondence between the imagination and the physical space, the latter evolving in concordance with the energies of the imagination. The similarity of cosmological view between Blake and Poe in this particular point seems obvious: 1) Blake: matter, energy, space, time have a spiritual cause, so they are an effect of spirit; 2) Poe: infinite space is correlated with the energies of imagination/spirit.
In modern terms, the two postulate a kind of "psychotronic principle," a principle of the correspondence between spirit (conscience) and matter: mind/thought/imagination/conscience have the power to influence or even to determine/ modify matter and, thereby, even "time" as a vector of matter.
Poe thus reaches the conclusion that thinking itself has a "nebular" structure forming an unfathomable enigma:
[I]n the intellectual firmament [...] lies a nebula never to be solved. (Poe 1848: 27; 1976: 225)
He can as a consequence be considered as being a precursor of the modern theory of the archetypal fields, with the archetypes being like the knots of maximum psychic energy around which the fields of psychic force unfold similar to stelar nebulae (see Stroe 2004 for details). It is this very nebular structure in the psyche that makes possible the practically infinite complex of degrees of freedom of thought and emotion.
Essentially, the American poet accepted a Pascalian "Universe of space" not in order to define the material "Universe of Stars," but in order to define the Universe proper, i.e. the "Universe of space":
[A] sphere of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. (Poe 1848: 28; 1976: 226)
This is what Cappi (1994) identified in Poe: the finite Universe--as a sphere of physical matter --in infinite space, i.e. in a space that knows no circumferential limits. This idea applied to God can be found at least already in the early Middle Ages (Beaver 1976: 405).
Then Poe (1848: 29) proceeds intuitively: assuming the existence of a God as Spirit, he postulates that God initially created Matter by his Will--out of Spirit or Nihility. The Matter Poe (1848: 30) talks about here is that in its maximum conceivable state, that is Matter "in its absolute extreme of Simplicity." In fact, this assertion is declared by Poe (1848: 29; 1976: 227) to be "the sole absolute assumption of my Discourse."
Simplicity in its absolute extreme refers to "one particle," of a single kind, a single nature, a single measure, a single form: a particle "without form and void," a particle in all its points, absolutely unique, individual, undivided, but not indivisible--God as the Creator can divide it by an act of Will infinitely less energetic. Poe (1848: 30; 1976: 227) postulates therefore "Oneness" about this primordial Matter, by which he explains the creation of the Universe, the existence of phenomena and the final inevitable annihilation of the material world. The American poet uses here for his fundamental theory yet another quintessential romantic idea: that about the unity of being (see Preda 1995 for this concept). He explains that the "primordial Particle" was created out of nothing by God's act of the Will, or conception, which obviously corresponds to the ex nihilo biblical creation. The One thus entered the "abnormal" state of the Many.
Poe (1848: 66; 1996: 1303) defined this prime particle as the absolute absence of any relationship:
My particle proper is but absolute Irrelation.
[In Beaver's edition--1976: 254--there is a probable misprint: "My Particle Proper is but Absolute Radiation."]
This means that "the Beginning had nothing behind it or before it" (Poe 1848: 67; 1996: 1304). In other words, the "primordial Particle" (or what we could call the "Titanic Atom of Titanic atoms," even though Poe did not use this term, but, as we will see, there is some justification in calling it that) is the pure beginning, the pure action, which causes the generation of a reaction--an idea probably stemming from Jean D'Alembert's principle of action and reaction.
The American poet-cosmologist finds in this state of affairs the explanation for the irresistible tendency of creation by diffusion out of Unity to return to Unity. In this sense, this crucial notion in modern terms is to be translated in chaos theory by the action of punctual attractors, by whose attractional force the structural energies gravitate towards a central point. There is here a remarkable concordance of systems: the activation of chaotic attractors (equivalent to the force of diffusion out of Unity) leads to a reaction by which punctual attractors are activated: they make possible the return to the Centre / to Unity by activating centripetal structural forces.
Similarly, for Erich Jantsch a symmetry break (any phenomenon implying breaking also implies chaotic, de-structuring, attractors) represents, as mentioned, the tendency towards self-organization (this implies punctual and/or periodic attractors): a structure, under the pressure of chaotic de-structuring attractors, tends to become autonomous, by creating a more stable structure which is superiorly organized. On the other hand, as we could see, the "time binding" and the "space binding" exert a force in the direction of reestablishing symmetry, so that the phenomenon of symmetry break should not become permanent; this way, evolution stabilizes into a symmetry, which can be: 1) superior, i.e. more integrated, if the evolution is positive: the system moves towards more complexity which assimilates simplicity in its being more integrated and more elegant, the simplicity element giving it its very coherence, cohesion, harmony (hence the concept of simplexity as applied to a superior symmetry); 2) inferior, i.e. less integrated, if the system's evolution is negative: regression or retrogression--the system decays energetically, thus moving towards degeneration and disintegration, its complex structure collapsing now one level (or more); the constitutive simpler elements get loose: they possess a smaller degree of integration when compared with the degree they had had in the initial symmetry.
Poe stresses that the act of creation was punctual; after it, there was a discontinuity in the creative activity:
There could have been no reaction had the act been infinitely continued. (Poe 1848: 90; 1976: 271)
In the primordial Particle, or the Titanic Atom of Titanic atoms, there was thus "absolute Unity" and simultaneously "infinite divisibility" (Poe 1848: 31). This is one reason why the Particle has not been completely exhausted by diffusion in Space. By asserting this, Poe basically states that in this Titanic Atom of all Titanic atoms we witness the first manifestation of "finite infinity" (what we call "interfinitude"), which by definition is governed by the golden section as spiral number (1.618).
The hieroglyphic universe and the golden section
Poe's model of hieroglyphic-mysterious-paradoxical universe therefore is said by him to contain in its primordial structure, close together, the two fundamental principles, the finite and the infinite: the finite material Universe in infinite cosmic space--the two incommensurable realities co-exist one inside the other, the infinite (as a reality of superior magnitude) enfolds the finite. But this finite (the finite matter inside the Particle) is not simply finite: instead, it is "interfinite," i.e. it contains in its deep nature the infinite (namely the "infinite divisibility," as a real potentiality), thus forming the paradox of the "infinite finite" of the primordial Particle. As a consequence, in Poe's model the Universe is from its matrix governed by the golden section, because this mathematical ratio (Phi) is a paradoxical reflection of the infinite in finite form (the infinite contained in a finite number, as Hermann Keyserling concluded when trying to define the golden section).
It would appear that in this aspect of Poe's cosmology we find an important connection with the Pythagorean school of thought, known to have understood the golden section as a perfect irrational incommensurable number, whose "exact numerical determination vanished in infinity" (Irwin 2006: 54). This was a ratio that was important both for Euclid and Vitruvius (see De architectura), but also for Plato and later in the Renaissance for Luca Pacioli (see Divina Proportione, 1509), Leonardo da Vinci and Pierro della Francesca. Luca Pacioli stated about the golden section the following:
[It] cannot be expressed by a number and, being beyond definition, is in this respect like God, "occult and secret"; further, this three-in-one proportion is symbolic of the Holy Trinity. (cf. Irwin 2006: 55)
The ratio of the golden section contains three elements (hence Pacioli's symbolic comparison with the Holy Trinity): the entire line, the longer segment and the shorter segment--the ratio between the entire line and the longer segment is similar to the ratio between the longer segment and the shorter segment, and equal with the golden section, which is what Euclid called "the partition of a length into mean and extreme ratio" (Ghyka 1981: 31).
The golden section is approximated by the ratio 8/13 sit is 0,618 ... or 1,618 ... : (1+V5)/2]. According to the historian of science G. J. Allman, the Pythagoreans discovered incommensurability precisely in connection with the line that was divided asymmetrically into extreme ratio and mean ratio (Irwin 2006: 54). Poe may have found a source for the notion of the incommensurable --which he set in his cosmological system as a foundation--in Pythagoras's "definition of beauty" as "the reduction of many into one" (see Poe's Marginalia; cf. Irwin 2006: 55).
Poe may have come across a similar idea in Hogarth's system of thought (as expounded by the latter in The analysis of beauty, 1772), according to which "all the charms of beauty" are summed up by two words, "infinite variety" (Shakespeare's definition); in other words, beauty was to be found in "an infinite variety of parts" that form together a harmonious and unique totality, as the result of a play between simplicity and complexity, identity and difference (cf. Irwin 2006: 55).
For Poe, who in Eureka was playing the double role of the mathematician-astronomer and the poet-artist, this must have been the best way to integrate scientific with aesthetic knowledge, in order to get to the bottom of things in his attempt to decipher the ultimate mystery of reality--the making-of-the-cosmos equation.
We retain that in Poe's view, because the primordial Particle is endowed with "infinite divisibility," it has not been completely exhausted by diffusion in Space.
At this point Poe practically postulates what we now know as the "Big Bang" cosmological hypothesis (Georges Lemaitre formulated it in his model of the "primitive atom"):
From the one Particle, as a centre, 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. (Poe 1848: 31; 1976: 228)
So, Poe marks off the cosmic instant, the instant explosion, the instant modification of the state of prime Matter from simplicity to complexity, from homogeneity to heterogeneity, from identity to diversity, from unity to multiplicity (therefore the passage to beauty):
[T]he design of variety [multiplicity] out of unity diversity out of sameness--heterogeneity out of homogeneity--complexity out of simplicity. (Poe 1848: 32; we read "multiplicity" in 1976: 229)
Moreover, in a revised edition of Eureka, Poe explicitly says the following in a note:
Here describe the whole process as one instantaneous flash. (Poe 1976: 246)
This note (printed in Beaver's edition as such), frequently quoted as evidence for Poe's being the first to have postulated the Big Bang theory, appears immediately after the following paragraph:
We have now the sphere filled, through means of irradiation, with atoms equably diffused. The two necessary conditions--those of irradiation and of equable diffusion--are satisfied; and by the sole process in which the possibility of their simultaneous satisfaction is conceivable. (Poe 1848: 55-56; 1976: 246)
So the "flash" of creation propagated by radiation: in other words, initially matter was irradiated from the centre by diffusion. Harold Beaver (1976: 407, n. 27) compared this fragment with another in The expanding universe (1933) by Arthur Eddington, and the similarities are indeed uncanny:
In the beginning all the matter created was projected with a radial motion so as to disperse even faster than the present rate of dispersal of the galaxies [...]. (cf. Eddington 1933: 80)
The end of time/history is identified in Poe's model as the time when the "inevitable munition (sic) at the end" (Poe 1848: 33; 1976: 230; Poe 1996: 1279) takes place under the indomitable force of the primordial Unity inside the initial material Particle. From an astronomical point of view, it is significant to observe that Poe's "absolute Unity" from inside the atom of all Titanic atoms, as it were, has strong affinities with what in astro-physics could be called the "singularity of singularities," the initial point out of which physical reality erupted.
In a physical-mathematical sense--a singularity is the point in which the amplitude of a wave is immense or even infinite; in astrophysical sense, it is a point which is simultaneously infinitesimal and infinite in the space-time continuum in which the known physical laws cease to operate: an "interfinite" point of a type similar to the "infinite abundance in infinite unity" that Friedrich Schlegel spoke about when attempting to define the fundament of ideal romanticism. We observe that the astro-physical singularity has a mathematical structure which is similar to that of the golden section, in which infiniteness fuses with the finite in interfinitude--as suggested by Hermann Keyserling.
In the theory of the Big Bang on the origin of the universe it is believed precisely that the singularity is the point from which the expansion of the universe started (Lafferty & Rowe 1997: 538-539), the "alpha" point, the spherical center in which all the known laws of physics are surpassed in what is probably a paradoxical physics of indeterministic order (belonging to Spirit) and deterministic chaos (belonging to matter) unified: in a word, a physics of "intercausality" (causality and acausality fused together) and of interfinitude (the finite and the infinite fused together). In modern physics it is suggested that the quantum effects may remove the "singularity," which would lead to the birth--by dilation-expansion--of a new universe inside the "horizon" of the black hole (Smolin 2001: 192-193).
According to Poe (1848: 33; 1976: 230), therefore, the "reunition (sic) at the end," i.e. the reunification of matter, will occur as a final cosmic act by the force of the law of gravity, which operates by concentralization, as a force opposite to the diffusion of radiation at the beginning. The cycle thus is complete--first radiation spreads the power of expansion throughout cosmic space, then gravity brings everything back to unity, through the unifying power of contraction throughout cosmic space.
The "ultimate design" of the creation of the Universe is according to Poe (1848: 33; 1976: 230) to unfold the "utmost possible Relation," i.e. to create "complexity out of simplicity," "the utmost possible multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelative One" (Poe 1848: 32; 1976: 229). The universal purpose is, in other words, to generate the maximum network / tapestry of unique connections between all the unique parts of the created totality emerging from the singularity of singularities, the absolute primordial Particle that, as suggested, we could call Poe's Proto-Titanic Atom of Titanic atoms. This design is endangered precisely by the tendency towards unity, if it becomes operative too soon, that is before the "utmost possible Relation" has been fully established. It should be noted that Poe here stated that the purpose of the Universe is to create depth, more complexity, and so also more mystery, more "hieroglyphic" horizons: as increasingly more individuals form increasingly more relations in the cosmos, the perspective of the unique individual--although increasingly larger (by the increasingly larger number of relations he himself forms), when compared with the vast multiplicity of the rest of individuals--will be found to be less and less capable to encompass the knowledge thus created by the network of the more and more individuals forming more and more relations. This is indeed a Universe bound to move in the direction of becoming increasingly more "hieroglyphic" in nature.
It is significant to observe that in mathematics this network is rendered by the idea of mathematical continuum, i.e. the total number of relations between the infinitely numerous members of the set of natural numbers. (Georg Cantor dealt extensively with the Continuum hypothesis). From a mathematical perspective, for Poe the ultimate plan of the Universe is thus the manifestation of the unfathomable and infinitely stratified plenitude of the mathematical Continuum; it should be noted in this sense that this concept remains one of the most controversial problems in contemporary mathematics, the Continuum being a kind of mathematical impenetrable "hieroglyph." However, if the cosmos indeed moves in this direction of forming the Continuum of relations, as Poe suggests, this would indicate that the Maker of the Universe is what Paul Dirac imagined him to be, namely a Mathematician of the highest rank.
Rejection in Poe's model of Universe appears as the limit that is set in order to stop the "absolute coalition" of the atoms, but "only up to a certain epoch," when the "repulsive influence" shall yield in front of the "pressure of the Unitendency collectively applied" (Poe 1848: 34).
In this sense, Poe (1848: 35) explained the existence of repulsion as the only act of interference by God: repulsion is founded in a spiritual unfathomable principle, to be found in the Spirit in itself. Without this phenomenon giving coherence to the parts, Poe realized that no structure could exist as such in the whole of the cosmos (everything would be formless):
[W]e thus see the necessity for a repulsion of limited capacity--a separate something which, on withdrawal of the diffusive Volition, shall at the same time allow the approach, and forbid the junction, of the atoms; suffering them infinitely to approximate, while denying them positive contact. (Poe 1848: 34; 1976:230)
The withdrawal of the "diffusive Volition" can be translated as the ceasing of the action of the chaotic attractors.
This in fact is a fundamental romantic principle stating that the romantic purpose / ideal is an object of infinite aspiration, its reaching being ever closer, but a total reaching being infinitely postponed. Poe rendered this paradoxical principle by the idea of coalescence without coalition:
[P]reventing their coalition, but no ability to interfere with their coalescence in any respect or degree. (Poe 1848:34;1976:230)
The power of repulsion therefore prevented contact between atoms and so it influenced the speed of condensation. Electricity, and its involute (kindred) phenomena--heat, light and magnetism--must thus be understood as operating like the process of condensation.
The process of coalescence without coalition can be understood as "unity without unity," which again has affinities with John Wheeler's (1983) concept of "law without law."
The tendency towards unity (governed by punctual attractors) of the atoms dispersed through space is easily recognizable as the principle of Newtonian gravity, while the tendency towards rejection (governed by chaotic attractors) is designated by the principle of heterogeneity operating in phenomena like heat, magnetism and electricity. For instance, only where things are different can electricity appear. The essence of atoms is difference, the essence of their spring, on the contrary, is the lack of difference, or the presence of no-difference (Poe 1848: 36).
The two master forces: attraction (gravity) and repulsion (electricity)
Poe generalizes here, extracting a universal principle: the attempt to bring together two differences will have as a consequence the appearance of electricity. He (1848: 37) goes even further to identify the two principles operating in the universe: gravity (Attraction) and electricity (Repulsion), further identified as the body and the soul, matter and spirit, respectively. (Mary Shelley probably would have agreed with the correspondence posited here between electricity and soul/spirit).
About these Poe states the following:
[...] the two Principles Proper, Attraction and Repulsion--the Material and the Spiritual--accompany each other, in the strictest fellowship, forever. Thus The Body and The Soul walk hand in hand. (Poe 1848: 70;1976:256)
Likewise, simplicity and complexity in Poe's model of Universe are always "walking" hand in hand, unfolding the mystery of simplexity, which is probably the deepest enigma of Poe's hieroglyphic universe.
In this context, Cappi (1994: 180) is of the opinion that the uniqueness of Eureka rests in Poe's assumption that the metaphysical principle is the one explaining the origin of the force of gravity: gravity is a manifestation of the primordial unity of all things (the unity of matter, derived from the observable fact that attraction is universal).
It is remarkable that the two fundamental principles established by Poe to be universally operative in the cosmos can readily be equated with the two Blakean human types: 1) the Devourer (the material): Poe's attraction, gravity/ matter; and 2) the Prolific (the spiritual): Poe's repulsion, electricity / radiation / soul-spirit:
Thus one portion of being is the Prolific, the other the Devouring: to the devourer it seems as if the producer was in his chains; but it is not so, he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole. / But the Prolific would cease to be Prolific unless the Devourer, as a sea, recieved the excess of his delights. (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790-1793, plate 1517; Blake 1979: 155)
In an astro-physical context, Blake's "Devourers" could well be interpreted as being the black holes, the most powerful generators of gravity--Poe's material principle.
Paradoxically, for Blake the Body was a part of the Soul, the two walking "hand in hand," as Poe stated is the case with attraction (gravity) and repulsion (electricity). Here is what Blake says about these two universal principles (Body-Soul), allowing us to understand that they do not in fact form a duality (as in the Cartesian equation where Mind and Body are separate), but a dialectics of complementaries (which is a view more in keeping with Oriental philosophy, e.g. Taoism):
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age. / 2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy. / 3. Energy is Eternal Delight. (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 4; Blake 1979: 149)
Poe concludes that these two phenomena (gravity and electricity) are the only really existing principles, all other phenomena referring to them: attraction and repulsion are the only properties by which we perceive the Universe--by which Matter becomes manifest in front of the Mind or Thought. Matter exists only as attraction and repulsion, these themselves being matter.
The American author walks here on the footsteps of Empedocles, who had postulated the existence of two universal principles:
1) Love/Friendship (Philotes) (attraction/the force of unification), which maintains a balanced mixture of things, but if it becomes dominant it leads to the condensation of matter into a unique globe (Sphairos); and
2) Hate (Neikos) (repulsion/the force of fragmentation), which dissolves the cosmic mixture, the unique globe, into its constitutive parts, becoming the source of all differentiated things, these making war with each other.
Of course, when we compare Poe's with Empedocles' principles we observe the contradiction: Love would correspond to matter, and Hate would correspond to spirit, which would lead to the image of an upside-down Christian system of values. This inconsistency is, however, surpassed if we remember that Poe did not think in dualistic terms, but, on the contrary, in dialectic terms, as Blake and other romantics did: the key to solving this inconsistency is therefore to be found in the principle of "interfinitude" ("finite infinity") that describes the discrete high geometry of the golden section.
Furthermore, Cappi (1994: 181) observes that in the criticism on this topic reference is made to Ruggero Giuseppe Boscovich (1711-1787), who wrote an influential book on a "unified" theory, in which he applied the two notions of attraction and repulsion in the field of molecular theory (the atoms for Boscovich were nuclei of attractional and repulsive forces; cf Beaver 1976: 405), but he does not believe that there might exist any conceptual connection between Poe and Boscovich (the latter having been a member of the Royal Society and founder of the Observatory in Brera).
In Poe's model, Newtonian gravity is defined as the force that compels matter to search for matter, hence, since matter is to be found everywhere in the universe, gravity seems not to be a tendency towards unity, but rather a tendency of all bodies to move in all directions, a tendency to diffusion.
He starts by summarizing what the Newtonian law states:
[A]ll bodies attract each other with forces proportional with their quantities of matter and inversely proportional to the squares of their distances. (Poe 1848: 39; 1976: 234)
He then observes the consequence of Newtonian gravity:
Every atom, of every body, attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force which varies inversely as the squares of the distances between the attracting and attracted atom. [...] (Poe 1848: 39; 1976: 234)
Further yet he refines his understanding of the vast consequences:
That each atom attracts--sympathizes with the most delicate movements of every other atom, and with each and with all at the same time, and forever, and according to a determinate law of which the complexity, even considered by itself solely, is utterly beyond the grasp of the imagination of man. (Poe 1848:42; 1976:236)
In this state of affairs, if there had been an infinity of matter in the universe, Poe argued, no movement would have been possible, because every little atom would have been attracted equally in all directions. So, matter had to be finite, while space--infinite:
--Admitting, for the moment, the possibility of understanding Space filled with the irradiated atoms--that is to say, admitting, as well as we can, for argument's sake, that the succession of the irradiated atoms had absolutely no end--then it is abundantly clear that, even when the Volition of God had been withdrawn from them, and thus the tendency to return into Unity permitted (abstractly) to be satisfied, this permission would have been nugatory and invalid practically valueless and of no effect whatever. No Reaction could have taken place; no movement toward Unity could have been made; no Law of Gravity could have obtained. / To explain:--Grant the abstract tendency of any one atom to any one other as the inevitable result of diffusion from the normal Unity:--or, what is the same thing, admit any given atom as proposing to move in any given direction--it is clear that, since there is an infinity of atoms on all sides of the atom proposing to move, it never can actually move toward the satisfaction of its tendency in the direction given, on account of a precisely equal and counterbalancing tendency in the direction diametrically opposite. In other words, exactly as many tendencies to Unity are behind the hesitating atom as before it; for it is a mere sotticism to say that one infinite line is longer or shorter than another infinite line, or that one infinite number is greater or less than another number that is infinite. Thus the atom in question must remain stationary forever. Under the impossible circumstances which we have been merely endeavoring to conceive for argument's sake, there could have been no aggregation of Matter--no stars--no worlds --nothing but a perpetually atomic and inconsequential Universe. In fact, view it as we will, the whole idea of unlimited Matter is not only untenable, but impossible and preposterous. (Poe 1848: 68-69)
Quoting R. G. Collingwood's The idea of nature (1945: 153), Beaver observes that in Einsteinian physics this idea (about the impossibility of movement if matter were present in infinite amounts in the Universe) becomes an argument for the finiteness of the matter and space in the Universe:
[I]f space is all full of fields of force, it will follow that at every point in space there are infinite forces impinging from every side upon any piece of matter situated there; and consequently, since these forces will cancell out, none of them will act on that piece of matter at all. Determinate events happen at this or that point in space only because determinate forces are at work there; and determinate means finite. (apud Beaver 1976: 406, n. 23)
From this chain of ideas about the finiteness of cosmic matter Poe reached a remarkable conclusion: namely that the influence exerted by a particle inside a ray of light upon the neighbouring particle can never be known without measuring, i.e. counting and weighing, all the atoms in the Universe and without specifying their precise positions at a certain moment. In other words, God set in the Universe a "hieroglyphic" barrier to knowledge, which no intelligence, however high, seems to be able to lift.
Symmetry and the two wings of the "butterfly effect"
The consequence Poe derived here is crucial, since he thereby anticipated what we today in chaos theory call "the butterfly effect" which appears in non-linear systems:
If I venture to displace, by even the billionth part of an inch, the microscopical speck of dust which lies now upon the point of my finger, what is the character of that act upon which I have adventured? I have done a deed which shakes the Moon in her path, which causes the Sun to be no longer the Sun, and which alters forever the destiny of the multitudinous myriads of stars that roll and glow in the majestic presence of their Creator. (Poe 1848: 42; 1976: 236)
In other words, Poe may have had a brilliant intuition that in a non-linear system the slightest modification may have catastrophic consequences, out of proportion with the initial infinitesimal event, such as the beat of the wings of a butterfly.
For its relevance in this context, we need to observe--in connection with the nature of the "butterfly effect"--that in a non-linear system the slightest modification can have immense effects, just as, conversely, huge modifications may have only infinitesimal effects. So, the "butterfly effect" is symmetrical: infinitesimal causes can operate giant effects, giant causes can be diminished to infinitesimal effects. For some obscure reason, the latter consequence of the "butterfly effect" is the one less mentioned in chaos theory studies, but we need to stress out that without it the cosmos may have been deprived of an important mechanism whereby cataclysmic processes are "mellowed" down to systemic equilibria by mysterious mechanisms yet to be understood.
Here is an excellent description of this physical effect of crucial importance for any cosmological model:
Another hallmark [of seemingly random, yet fully deterministic behaviour of chaotic systems, i.e. nonlinear systems] is the so called "butterfly effect": change the initial conditions of wind speed in the global weather by an amount corresponding to the beat of a wing of a butterfly in Peking, and the path of a Caribbean hurricane is altered, because the change introduced increases exponentially. In chaotic systems, infinitesimal changes in initial conditions propagate exponentially in time, resulting in drastically different outcomes from infinitesimally different initial conditions. This means that future and past cannot be deduced with arbitrary precision or for arbitrary periods in time from measured data, which always contain some finite error. It is possible to determine a degree of chaos: the Lyapunov exponent. This is a number which determines the doubling rate of the error in the prediction. If it is low the system is not very chaotic, and medium to long term predictions remain accurate over considerable periods of time. If it is high, errors increase rapidly, and only very short term prediction is possible. Other measures of degree of chaos exist, most notably the fractal dimension of the attractor, which is a measure of the complexity of the shape of the attractor. The more complicated the attractor, the higher the degree of chaos. (Wilkinson 1997: 114)
Poe (1848: 43; 1976: 237) therefore thought at this point in terms that are very close to those employed in chaos theory, deriving from his considerations regarding the "marvellous complexity of Attraction," the awsome "brotherhood among the atoms" and the fact that "they [the atoms] are inconceivably divided and unutterably complex."
The American poet also conceived of the atoms as having been in the past "even more than together" (Poe 1848: 43; 1976: 237)--they formed an unconditional, absolute, non-relative Unity. Still, Poe explains the fact that the journey of atoms towards the center is due not to the central point of origin, but to the sphericity with which they were radiated into space: the atoms are not allied with any special point in space--they are not tied to anything specifically local / spatial, in a concrete or abstract sense. It is not the location that is their origin; the origin of all atoms is Unity --this is the atoms' "lost parent" (Poe 1848: 44; 1976: 238), whom they are looking for in every direction, simultaneously, even if this "parent" is to be found only partially. So attraction in this acceptation can be defined as a "general tendency to a centre," the atoms emitted like a radiation from a center going "rectilinearly" back to the central point of origin (Poe 1848: 43-44). This is how all atoms are directed towards all other atoms; therefore, they are headed not towards a certain unique center, but towards a "general centre" constituted by the collectivity of all the other atoms:
[T]he tendency to the centre is merely the tendency each to each, and not any tendency to a centre as such. [...] [T]he general result sis] a tendency of all, with a similar force, to a general centre. (Poe 1848: 44-45; 1976: 238)
This universal tendency makes the whole universe behave like a genuine network which is choir-like sensitive to the conditions of all constitutive components. The sensitive-network dimension makes in fact phenomena such as the "butterfly effect" emerge in the first place, the two "wings" of the effect (the small becoming large, the large becoming small) being most probably the two key mechanisms whereby the cosmos reaches and maintains its systemic equilibrium.
The "great Truth" that Poe (1848: 46) at this point derived is "the truth of Original Unity as the source--as the principle of the Universal Phaenomena"; this truth is postulated by Poe here as a supreme certainty, even higher than the perception of one's own heart, or of one's own soul; higher even than the probability for the Sun to rise up tomorrow.
All Things and All Thoughts of Things, with all their ineffable Multiplicity of Relation, sprang at once into being from the primordial and irrelative One. (Poe 1848:46;1976:239)
Here the adverbial locution "at once"--this time placed not only in a note or footnote--undeniably suggests yet again the Big Bang hypothesis.
In this context, Poe (1848: 46) underlines the fact that the "ultimate principles" always take on the form of "the simplicity of geometrical axioms," but the phenomenon of self-evidence does not exist in reality (see the non-Euclidian geometry). Still, he states that in fact what we call principles are not principles, because in reality there is a single principle that can exist, and that is "the Volition of God." The true ultimate principle is "the consummation of the complex," i.e. of "the unintelligible," "the Spiritual Capacity of God" (Poe 1848: 47; 1976: 239-240).
Here the American writer (1848: 47-48) drew attention to the fact that nobody before him--excepting those who made extraordinary, but rare, efforts in the direction of magnetism, mesmerism, Swedenborgianism and Transcendentalism--tried to explain the principle behind the "Law of Gravity." Even Newton himself, although he understood the Law itself, still avoided "the principle of the Law." Furthermore, not even Laplace or Leibniz had the courage to broach this issue. Poe (1848: 49; 1976: 241) however postulates that the modus operandi of the Law of Gravity is extremely simple namely, the Universe with Stars has a condition of "immeasurable diffusion through space." The connection between unity and diffusion is found in the idea of radiation: if the "Absolute Unity" is the center, then the existing Universe with Stars is the consequence of radiation from this center. Here the poet-cosmologist observed a phenomenon of correspondence between the diffusion of light and gravity.
Namely, light radiating from a center A will diffuse on a surface B, as in the schematic illustration above; at a distance two times larger than the segment A-B (AC = 2AB), the suraface of diffusion will double; at a distance three times larger, the surface of diffusion will triple; at a distance four times larger, the surface will quadruple, etc. Poe (1848: 51; 1976: 242) imagines now the operation contrary to diffusion: concentralization operates inversely proportionally to the square of the distance--which is precisely the law of gravity.
Put differently, if initially the matter was irradiated from the center by dilation / diffusion, now it symmetrically returns to it, by "concentralization." Poe (1848: 51) observes, however, a difficulty: establishing a direct connection between the process of con-centralization and the force of con-centralization: this is possible if we can establish a connection between "irradiation" and "the force of irradiation." This brilliant observation remarkably suggests the phenomenon of the "pressure of radiation," about which Arthur Eddington was to observe in 1916 that, together with gravity and gaseous pressure, it represents the third essential factor in maintaining the inner equilibrium of a star (Lang 2006: 278).
In this sense, it is interesting to notice that Eddington saw in Eureka the expounding of a crank-theory, although he himself was to propose a fundamental theory which has elements that can be found in Poe's theory, and in addition he, nevertheless, had a certain appreciation for Poe, about whom he said, in a letter to Arthur Hobson Quinn, that he "seems to have had the mind of a mathematician" (cf. Beaver 1976: 407; quoted also by Cappi 1994: 178). Cappi (1976: 189) in fact paraphrases Eddington when he states that Poe, using the anthropic principle in order to account for the vastness of the Universe, "seems to have had the mind of a cosmologist."
According to Poe, therefore, radiation is the connective bridge whereby unity and diffusion are reconciled. In order to reach the "all-important" principle of the mode of operation of Newtonian gravity, Poe thus imagined the universe of space like a sphere having in its center the diffusive power, i.e. the Divine Will, out of which burst through radiation the cosmic matter. It is remarkable that when Poe postulated the idea of emergence of cosmic matter through radiation, he touched a crucial point in the special theory of relativity: in 1905, by his well-known formula E = mc2, Albert Einstein showed that light itself transports matter, by radiation the universe being populated not only with energy, but also with matter--matter being a form of energy.
The matter radiated into space with a force that varies proportionally with the squares of the distances can be assumed to return back to its center of radiation with a force that varies inversely proportionally to the squares of the distances. The American poet (1848: 58) presupposes here that the "absolute, irrelative particle" created at the beginning by the "Volition of God" was in a condition of "positive normality" or rightfulness, because the wrongfulness implies relation: the rightfulness is "positive," and the wrongfulness is negative, the negation of rightfulness --just as coldness is the negation of warmth, and darkness--the negation of light. Poe at this point thinks in accordance with concepts like the Hindu rita, the Chinese tao, or the Greek moira, which, according to Gilbert Durand (1998: 298), represent anticipations of the prescientific notion of cosmos, and of the modern scientific concept of the physical Universe that has as a foundation the idea of law and the scheme of man's becoming aware that there is a logical rationality pervading the Universe.
The greatest reaction of all is according to Poe (1848: 59) the one expressed in the tendency to return to the "absolutely original," to the "supremely primitive"--i.e. to the archetypal. Hence he derives the idea that gravity must be "the strongest of forces," the atoms, however, seeking to reestablish not their initial position / point--as mentioned, but their initial condition (of Unity, this being the only essential center). In the direction of the sphere's center the perspective is such, that it allows every atom to perceive more atoms than in any other direction. Thus, the atoms are all pushed towards the center because alongside the straight line to the center--that unites them with the center and passes to the surface beyond--there is a larger number of atoms than alongside any other straight line.
A universe with variable skeleton keys, but unalterable destiny
We may say that in this direction we find in elements of archetypal and "relativistic" thought, as becomes clear also from the following considerations: Poe (1848: 66) argues that the axiomatic principle is susceptible to vary (susceptible of variation), the "axioms [themselves] [being] susceptible of similar change"--at this point Poe somehow opens the way to the subsequent ideas expressed by Kurt Godel, according to whom a mathematics capable to describe reality more fully would be possible only if we discover new axioms that can go deeper into the essence of reality:
There might exist axioms so abundant in their verifiable consequences, shedding so much light upon a whole field, and yielding such powerful methods for solving problems (and even solving them constructively, as far as that is possible) that, no matter whether they are intrinsically necessary, they would have to be accepted at least in the same sense as any well-established physical theory. (Godel 1990: 182-183, 261; cf. also Robertson 1995: 278; a first version of this text appeared in 1947)
Similarly, Poe concludes the following with regard to axioms:
Being mutable, the "truths" which grow out of them [out of the axioms] are necessarily mutable too; or, in other words, are never to be positively depended upon as truths at all--since Truth and Immutability are one. (Poe 1848: 66; 1976: 254)
This attitude reminds us of a crucial similar one embraced by the father of quantum theory on the matter of natural laws:
How do we discover the individual laws of Physics, and what is their nature? It should be remarked, to begin with, that we have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exist in a similar manner in future. It is perfectly conceivable that one fine day Nature should cause an unexpected event to occur which would baffle us all; and if this were to happen we would be powerless to make any objection, even if the result would be that, in spite of our endeavours, we should fail to introduce order into the resulting confusion. In such an event, the only course open to science would be to declare itself bankrupt. For this reason, science is compelled to begin by the general assumption that a general rule of law dominates throughout Nature, or, in Kantian terminology, to treat the concept of causality as being one of the categories which are given a priori and without which no kind of knowledge can be attained. (Planck 1931: 58-59; cf. Planck 1926; see also Planck 1929)
In this respect, Poe seems to come close to the view that man has cognitive access only to an elastic, malleable, mutable cosmos, in which the universal constants would also be variable / mutable--it is possible Poe meant this phenomenon as an equivalent of the "phantasmagoric effect" (see infra) in the way we perceive the physical laws: the immutable Truth of the physical laws would thus be accessible to us only from a privileged perspective, the divine. The "detective" in Eureka attempts precisely to reach such a unique perspective.
There is a certain affinity between such a malleable, mutable universe and the magical worlds of H. G. Wells (1866-1946), for whom the knowable reality was a kind of magic shop, in which various phenomena could take place that defied any usual human logic, like time travel (cf The time machine, 1895), the elimination of gravity by means of a miraculous substance, "cavorite" (cf. The first men in the Moon, 1901), or lead soldiers coming alive (The magic shop, 1903).
Maybe in this sense it is not accidental that--as observed by John Tresch (2004)--the prototype for the science fiction in the 20th century, namely H. G. Wells's novel The time machine, finds its precedent in two tales by Poe:
1) Some words with a mummy (1845): here the embalmed body of the pharaoh (the "Count") Allamistakeo is brought back to life by agency of a voltaic pile (so by means of electricity, at that time considered a galvanic fluid; for details regarding the possible sources used by Poe here, see Beaver 1976: 382-384, n. 3), interpreted by John Tresch as a "time machine" whose engine is an electromagnetic and spiritual mechanism operating also in mesmerism (animal magnetism). Tresch probably referred to the procedure described by Count Allamistakeo as being common in ancient Egypt: considering that men normally lived 800 years, historians at the age of 500 years would write a book putting a lot of toil into it, after which they were embalmed with a view to being reanimated after a while (e.g. after 600 years) in order to live the rest of 300 years of a normal life. The reason for this interruption of life and continuing it in the future (by agency of a mechanism / device / gimmick that is not depicted by the Count) was the correction of truth distorsions introduced inherently by the passage of time (e.g., they had to rewrite, in order to correct, the message in their own history book, which in time becomes a palimpsestic artefact); similarly, traditions had also to be corrected according to their original meaning, which is lost with the passage of time. In short, this was a way to do the following:
[T]his process of rescription and personal rectification, pursued by various individual sages, from time to time, had the effect of preventing our history from degenerating into absolute fable. (Some words with a mummy; Poe 1996b: 531; 1976: 165)
Historians would thus "travel" in time (by being preserved / mummified), in order to be the witnesses of a time which passed long ago and which they bring back to life; the hero of this story himself (the unnamed narrator) finally decides to be embalmed because he is curious to know who was going to be the president of the United States 200 years in the future, in 2045.
The connection with the situation described in the epistle included in Eureka is obvious. Likewise, the resurrection of the Count by means of a voltaic pile is an element that reminds us of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818): the animation of the Daemon / Monster takes place by agency of electricity (even if we are not given any details in this regard). In this sense, Robert Lee Rhea discovered in The Medical Repository (January 1820) the report of a medical case in which galvanic batteries were used for the reanimation of a corpse; other sources for this story by Poe may have been also the following (Beaver 1976: 382-384):
a) Jane Webb, The mummy: a tale of the twenty-second century (London: H. Colburn, 1827), where we are dealing with the reanimation of the mummy of Cheops (Khufu).
b) Letter from a revived mummy (a short prose published by New York Evening Mirror, 21 January 1832).
c) William Bayle Bernard, the play entitled The mummy; or, The liquor of life! (London: Duncombe and Moon, 1833).
d) Encyclopaedia Americana, Mummies (vol 9, pp 89-90), Embalming (vol 4, p 487).
It is, however, significant to point out a small detail, namely the fact that the Count Allamistakeo maintains that in effect he had not really died 5000 years ago, but only fell into catalepsy:
"But what we are especially at a loss to understand," said Doctor Ponnonner, "is how it happens that, having been dead and buried in Egypt five thousand years ago, you are here to-day all alive, and looking so delightfully well." "Had I been, as you say, dead," replied the Count, "it is more than probable that dead I should still be; for I perceive you are yet in the infancy of Galvanism, and cannot accomplish with it what was a common thing among us in the old days. But the fact is, I fell into catalepsy, and it was considered by my best friends that I was either dead or should be; they accordingly embalmed me at once (Some words with a mummy; Poe 1976: 162)
This element reminds us of Poe's own obsession with this malady, which he himself might also have suffered from (see his mysterious death). Cataleptic trances are the central concern in the stories The premature burial (1844) and The fall of the House of Usher (1839). In the latter, the images connected to catalepsy are particularly haunting:
The disease of the lady Madeline [Usher] had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. [...] [B]ut, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she succumbed [...] to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain--that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more. [...] The disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house. (The fall of the House of Usher; Poe 1996: 323-324,329)
In The premature burial the following passage is relevant in showing the obsessive character of Poe's interest in the disease, and its gruesome character:
Methought I was immersed in a cataleptic trance of more than usual duration and profundity. Suddenly there came an icy hand upon my forehead, and an impatient, gibbering voice whispered the word "Arise! " within my ear. / I sat erect. The darkness was total. I could not see the figure of him who had aroused me. I could call to mind neither the period at which I had fallen into the trance, nor the locality in which I then lay. While I remained motionless, and busied in endeavors to collect my thoughts, the cold hand grasped me fiercely by the wrist, shaking it petulantly, while the gibbering voice said again: / "Arise! did I not bid thee arise?" / "And who," I demanded, "art thou?" / "I have no name in the regions which I inhabit," replied the voice, mournfully; "I was mortal, but am fiend. I was merciless, but am pitiful. Thou dost feel that I shudder. My teeth chatter as I speak, yet it is not with the chilliness of the night--of the night without end. But this hideousness is insufferable. How canst thou tranquilly sleep? I cannot rest for the cry of these great agonies. These sights are more than I can bear. Get thee up! Come with me into the outer Night, and let me unfold to thee the graves. Is not this a spectacle of woe?--Behold!" / I looked; and the unseen figure, which still grasped me by the wrist, had caused to be thrown open the graves of all mankind; and from each issued the faint phosphoric radiance of decay; so that I could see into the innermost recesses, and there view the shrouded bodies in their sad and solemn slumbers with the worm. But, alas! the real sleepers were fewer, by many millions, than those who slumbered not at all; and there was a feeble struggling; and there was a general sad unrest; and from out the depths of the countless pits there came a melancholy rustling from the garments of the buried. [...] [B]efore I could find words to reply, the figure had ceased to grasp my wrist, the phosphoric lights expired, and the graves were closed with a sudden violence, while from out them arose a tumult of despairing cries, saying again--"Is it not oh, God! is it not a very pitiful sight?" / Phantasies such as these, presenting themselves at night, extended their terrific influence far into my waking hours. My nerves became thoroughly unstrung, and I fell a prey to perpetual horror. [...] I no longer dared trust myself out of the immediate presence of those who were aware of my proneness to catalepsy, lest, falling into one of my usual fits, I should be buried before my real condition could be ascertained. [...] I exacted the most sacred oaths, that under no circumstances they would bury me until decomposition had so materially advanced as to render farther preservation impossible. And, even then, my mortal terrors would listen to no reason--would accept no consolation. I entered into a series of elaborate precautions. Among other things, I had the family vault so remodelled as to admit of being readily opened from within. [...] There were arrangements also for the free admission of air and light, and convenient receptacles for food and water, within immediate reach of the coffin intended for my reception. This coffin was warmly and softly padded, and was provided with a lid, fashioned upon the principle of the vault-door, with the addition of springs so contrived that the feeblest movement of the body would be sufficient to set it at liberty. Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the corpse. But, alas? what avails the vigilance against the Destiny of man? (The premature burial; Poe 1996: 674-676)
Poe's hieroglyphic Universe here reveals itself to be one in which, against the greatest precautions taken by man, the operations of destiny will for ever prevail. Thus, the Egyptian meskhen-t as "tablet of destiny," shau as "destiny," and Shait as Fate (goddess), the Sumerian NAM, the Greek Moirai, the Latin Parcae, etc., all express courses of events (or those in charge over them) in the Universe that are fixed by the divinity and are unalterable (see infra). Poe seems to have grappled to understand such mysterious and inexplicable operations as implied by the notions just mentioned.
2) Mellonta tauta (1848): here the heroine, Pundita, from the year 2848, is on board a baloon operated by hot air (called "Skylark," in honour of P. B. Shelley) and writes out of boredom a letter, which she then puts inside a bottle that she corks up and throws into the sea (in Eureka Poe introduced a short version of this epistle), whence it mysteriously arrives in the past. In it Pundita recounts that in that future man will not be protected by the technology he strives to create, becoming a sort of "ballast" that can at any time be thrown over the board of balloons (see also Tresch 2004: 117-118). This is such an "enlightened" epoch, that individuals no longer need to exist as such, the masses of people being the only care of Mankind, man as an individual being abandoned; it is a totalitarian future, in which the Earth is overpopulated (the sky is full of dirigibles, the sea--full to the brim with boats), a reason for which population control becomes a political fundament, and war and epidemics are welcome:
[W]e live in an age so enlightened that no such a thing as an individual is supposed to exist. It is the mass for which the true Humanity cares. (Mellonta tauta, Poe 1996b: 405) [The title mellonta tauta in Greek signifies, as mentioned, "these things are in the future"; cf. Sophocles, Antigone, 1334; apud Beaver 1976: 361, 409, 417]
As in The time machine, mankind in Poe's futuristic vision regresses up to an absurd level of primitivism, and time has the strange force to make reality into a palimpsest. Poe's solution seems to be precisely multi-dimensional communication with (as we shall see) the ghost future and the buried past, from which we thus receive messages regarding what we should do in order for mankind not to reach extinction namely to learn to "be born again" and to relearn to read all alphabets of reality that with time have become altogether incomprehensible hieroglyphs.
Furthermore, Poe states in Eureka that the first cause is God's Will / Volition, and the first act is the "Radiation from Unity" (Poe 1976: 251; in the first edition we read: "Irradiation from Unity," Poe 1848: 62). The creation of the "absolute material Particle" was not so much an act, as it was a conception. The "absolute material Particle" is what we can call, as already suggested, the Titanic Atom of "Titanic atoms." In this notion of an "absolute material Particle" Poe united two incommensurables, namely finitude (matter) and infinitude (the absolute, Spirit), the making of the cosmos being proclaimed as the birth of a unity (in the Particle) between Matter and Spirit. So, this absolute Particle contains in itself the whole of cosmic life, past, present and future, in an abyssal germinal form.
A similar notion about the nature of time was embraced by many romantics, among them William Blake and Fr. Schelling stating that past, present and future are contained in the present moment in a germinal form. This idea of finite infinity was to be invoked by Emily Dickinson in 1914, in the poem 1695:
There is a solitude of space / A solitude of sea / A solitude of death, but these / Society shall be / Compared with that profounder site / That polar privacy / A soul admitted to itself--/ Finite infinity. (Dickinson 1961: 691)
In this poem by Emily Dickinson the invocation of the "solitude of space" seems not to be accidental: she probably referred to the vast cosmic voidness, to outer space, which in Poe's model is infinite, constituting the vehicle for the finite matter inside the primordial Particle; but Dickinson may also have referred to the infinite inner world of spirit / soul. An infinite space cannot have "company" in the social sense referred to by Dickinson, and the ontological solution for this "solitude" of space can be seen as susceptible to emerge from a unique source: namely the paradox of the soul as the space of convergence between two ontological orders, infinity and finiteness (many romantics believed in this paradox). In fact, Dickinson talks about a soul being "admitted to itself" precisely when its own paradox becomes apparent to it: "finite infinity" is the inner nature of the soul / heart. This means that the soul--being assumed to be both infinite (as spirit) and finite (as form: it awaits and wishes and has as a mission to become flesh, to take the bodily form)--is able to populate "infinitely" the infinite space, because in its own paradox it contains the mystery of infinity and finiteness forming a unity (governed by the proportion of the golden section). Infinite space, then, can hope to no longer be overwhelmed by solitude only by perpetuating a "brotherhood" with souls. This is, of course, a romantic equation, of the kind Herman Melville was fascinated by, such as can be clearly observed in his definition of the human soul as an infinite spiral shaft:
Deep, deep, and still deep and deeper must we go, if we would find out the heart of a man; descending into which is as descending a spiral stair in a shaft, without any end, and where that endlessness is only concealed by the spiralness of the stair, and the blackness of the shaft. (Melville 1923: 402; Book XXI, II)
From such and similar powerful visions of the soul was depth psychology no doubt born in the 20th century.
On the other hand, according to Poe (1848: 62), the first act in the making of the cosmos was the setting of principles, this act itself being a continuous Volition. God's thought gave birth to Diffusion. There appeared the Reaction and thereby the Principle. The immediate result of the discontinuing of Divine Vollition is the emergence of the two agents--Attraction and Repulsion--on which depend all the other "Natural agents," which are thus sub-principles.
The idea of "unlimited Matter," as we could see, was considered by Poe (1848: 69) as being impossible, because if real, then an atom, being surrounded by an infinity of atoms would remain stationary for ever, not being able to satisfy its journey to a center in whatever direction, because there would exist the same tendency in the opposite direction ("the atom in question must remain stationary forever," Poe 1848: 69). In such a situation the aggregation of matter would not have been possible, the stars would not have been able to form, the worlds would not have existed at all:
[T]here could have been no aggregation of Matter --no stars--no worlds--nothing but a perpetually atomic and inconsequential Universe. (Poe 1848: 69)
Poe therefore places Matter clearly in the camp of finiteness, and Spirit in the camp of infinity, the two being united / married in the paradox of the first state of the "absolute Particle," which comprizes inside itself the whole of cosmic life.
Another certainty announced by Poe (1848: 70) is that immediately after the Divine Volition withdrew (the diffusive force, the chaotic attractors), what followed suddenly, in infinitely many points everywhere in the "Universal sphere," was the emergence of numberless agglomerations of matter of various forms, measures and essences, and located at various distances from each other. First expansion took place, then the collapse towards Unity followed, and this collapse is accompanied by the creation of the galaxies and all the other celestial forms.
The unfolding of Repulsion (i.e. of Electricity) started, according to Poe, with the first attempts to reestablish Unity, continuing proportionally with the speed of coalescence / condensation / heterogenization. As shown, Attraction (the Material) and Repulsion (the Spiritual)--as "Principles Proper"--accompany each other in the strictest eternal collaboration:
The Body and The Soul walk hand in hand. (Poe 1848: 70;1976:256)
Repulsion is a divine force that sustains structure, not allowing it to become formless, chaotic. Poe's Repulsion (the Spiritual) is an antichaotic principle of form--which holds matter in the elastic matrix of living limit, of living order. Without this force, no distinct created beings could exist. This is, as mentioned, what William Blake called the "wiry line" that the Almighty draws into the dark abyss with his luminous pair of compasses, giving consistence to inconsistency, depth to flatness, dimension to lack thereof, so that spirit should take on the form of a natural-material three-dimensional body.
Poe reproaches Laplace that in his "Nebular Cosmogony" he in fact is limited only to a discussion of the Solar System, only advancing the hypothesis--without any basis--that matter is diffused (without explaining the phenomenon of diffusion) everywhere and beyond our own system, in a nebular state and governed by the law of gravity, about whose principle he made no speculations. Still, later in Eureka he recognizes the following:
[I]n the case of the Nebular Cosmogony, it [Laplace's "almost miraculous mathematical instinct"] led him, blindfolded, through a labyrinth of Error, into one of the most luminous and stupendous temples of Truth. (Poe 1848: 93; 1976: 273)
The adaptative trans-symmetrical reciprocity and the uncertainty principle
One of the crucial conclusions drawn by Poe (1848: 80) is that the laws tend to converge into a single Law ("the condensation of laws into Law"), and that "each law of Nature is dependent at all points upon all other laws" (Poe 1848: 81).
In this sense, Beaver (1976: 402) emphasized that this is the fundamental law in Poe's Universe: the "complete mutuality of adaptation," the "absolute reciprocity of adaptation" (Poe 1848: 119), i.e. "that absolute reciprocity of adaptation which is the idiosyncrasy of the Divine Art" (Poe 1848: 136). This interdependence in Poe's system is extended up to causality, which from a divine perspective is a symmetrical principle, in which cause and effect can interchange their roles indistinctly:
[I]n human constructions a particular cause has a particular effect; a particular intention brings to pass a particular object; but this is all; we see no reciprocity. The effect does not re-act upon the cause; the intention does not change relations with the object. In Divine constructions the object is either design or object as we choose to regard it--and we may take at any time a cause for an effect, or the converse--so that we can never absolutely decide which is which. (Poe 1848: 119)
Taken literally, if truly existing, this phenomenon could actually explain more or less scientifically the possibility of miracles: by an act of will, the divinity could choose at any time to change a given realty by turning causality upside-down, with effects becoming causes--therefore with time moving from the future to the past. A philosophy similar to this was used in the Superman story, when the latter hero is credited with the god-like miraculous power to move back time in order to change a certain detail in the past.
In this sense, Clark Kent's "Kryptonian" name was Kal-El. This name has an unmistakeable Semitic ring to it, and was most possibly inspired from: 1) the Hebrew root kalal = "perfect," "to complete," "to make perfect" (Strong 2001: 553); or 2) the Akkadian root kallum = "express messenger"; or 3) the Akkadian root kalum = "all," "totality" (Black et al 2012: 142ff); or 4) the Hebrew root qal = "light," "rapid," "swift"; or 5) the Aramaic root qal = "sound," "voice" (Strong 2001: 785). Hence Kal-El could have been intended to mean the "voice of God," the "perfection of God," "God's messenger" (angel), "God of all," the "swift God," all of which seems to fit to a certain degree the actual spiritual-ethical functions played by Superman in the famous story.
On the other hand, given "the condensation of laws into Law" (Poe 1848: 80), the same type of symmetry and interdependence exists also between matter, space, time, light and gravity, the fundamentals of physical reality.
These essential elements being given, Beaver (1976: 402) underlined in this context that Paul Valery was the first to associate this "coherence theory of truth" embraced by Poe with Einstein's theory of relativity--in other words, in their synthetic essence Poe's and Einstein's Universes are coherent with each other, the major difference between the two being that Poe includes in his description not only physical phenomena, but also conscience, life itself, Spirit, the divinity, the divine perspective, the result being the understanding of the fact that the cause-effect interdependence operates also between the observer and the observed objects--which is precisely what Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle implies. Danah Zohar offered what we believe is one of the best descriptions of this phenomenon:
If, for example, a physicist wished to observe the movement of an electron around an atomic nucleus, he might try to locate it under a very high-powered microscope. But vision depends upon the transmission of light from an object to the eye, so in order to produce such a transmission, he would have to focus at least one photon of light sin fact, Heisenberg pointed out that what is needed is a beam of gamma rays, the only ones that have sufficiently short wavelength in order to detect an electron] on to the electron. But a photon of light is a quantum of energy, and when it strikes the electron it will disturb it, causing it to change its direction and speed--its momentum. / Hoping to get around this problem of disturbing the electron's momentum, the physicist might then try focusing light of a lower frequency on to the electron. As Einstein demonstrated, the frequency of any radiation is directly proportional to the amount of energy it carries, so lower frequency light would carry less energy and thus be less likely to unsettle the electron. But as soon as he tries this, the physicist has a different problem. He finds that his low frequency light won't make a distinct image. A low frequency light wave would have a very long wavelength, and thus it would produce a fuzzy, approximate picture that left it unclear just where the electron is. (Zohar 1982: 124-125)
No doubt, the discovery of Heisenberg's indeterminacy / uncertainty principle (published in 1927) is one of the most important landmarks in modern science which drew attention to the fact that reality cannot be known infinitely deeply, contrary to what the romantic Titanism of the 19th century suggested. Mankind now had clear evidence that reality sets before us a cognitive barrier which is unsurpassable, an unsurpassable "hieroglyphic" frontier:
[T]hat is the nub of the Uncertainty Principle: that at a certain level of reality we come up against a barrier beyond which it is impossible ever to make a full set of exact measurements, and hence impossible ever to know exactly just how the constituents of matter are behaving. (Zohar 1982: 125)
Or in Heisenberg's own formulation:
[I]n quantum theory the uncertainty relations put a definite limit on the accuracy with which positions and momenta, or time and energy, can be measured simultaneously. (Heisenberg 1958: 162)
This also meant that between the observer and the observed there is a unity, as in Poe's model the phenomenon of cause-effect interdependence ensues. What is crucial to notice here is that just as Poe introduced conscience / life into his cosmological model, likewise Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle--with its consequence according to which observer and observed form a unity--introduced conscience in the understanding of the physical laws of reality, thus changing the very nature of natural science in the classical sense, in this way opening the way to the quantum:
Ceasing to be any longer a spectator of nature, science recognizes itself too as part of the reciprocal actions between man and nature. The scientific method which selects, explains and orders, recognizes also the boundaries that have been imposed on it due to the fact that by using the method the object is changed and transformed, that the method can no longer be thus separated from its object. The natural-scientific image of nature thus ceases to be any longer properly speaking natural-scientific. (Heisenberg 1977: 124)
Here Heisenberg seems to have borrowed from Niels Bohr the metaphor of science as simultaneously spectator and player in nature's drama:
[W]e have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal. In this way quantum theory reminds us, as Bohr has put it, of the old wisdom that when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators. (Heisenberg 1958: 58)
The method thus has a kind of "screening effect," becoming inextricably embedded in the cognitive result:
Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is a part of the interplay between nature and ourselves; it describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning. (Heisenberg 1958: 81)
In other words: if no method, then no description whatsoever. The clearest example of this being true is brilliantly brought forth as follows:
[T]he law of causality is reduced to the method of scientific research; it is the condition which makes science possible. Since we actually apply this method, the law of causality is "a priori" and is not derived from experience. (Heisenberg 1958: 89)
Furthermore, in science the method used is simply experimentation:
Since the time of Galileo the fundamental method of natural science had been the experiment. This method made it possible to pass from general experience to specific experience, to single out characteristic events in nature from which its "laws" could be studied more directly than from general experience. If one wanted to study the structure of matter one had to do experiments with matter. One had to expose matter to extreme conditions in order to study its transmutations there, in the hope of finding the fundamental features of matter which persist under all apparent changes. (Heisenberg 1958: 149)
Of course, Poe reduced the entire cosmic equation to a few fundamentals: matter with its effect, gravity; spirit with its effect, electricity--all of which exists as "bathed" in the infinity of space which is correlated with the infinity of the mind. Beaver (1976: 402) put it brilliantly as follows:
Nothing now, not even our central nervous system or cerebral cortex, is exempt [from the reciprocal law of cause and effect]. So only now can we begin to acknowledge the total coherence, the infinite play of mirror imagery, in Poe's design. For this absolute symmetry of the whole Universe, he claimed, inheres in the very structures of our minds. Thus his ultimate, his fundamental hypothesis: that the poetic instinct will lead undeviatingly to truth.