Edgar Allan Poe: Philosophically and scientifically ahead of his time

Dear Editor,

As a Dutch translator of Poe’s work and member of the international Poe Studies Association (PSA) I read your articles about the uncertain future Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. In order to strengthen your arguments, I want to bring to your attention certain facts about Poe that are usually unknown or ignored in the USA. Please read the following points:

  • There is a rather large difference in the appreciation and admiration for Poe in the USA and in Europe. In the USA the attention goes to his horrific and grotesque stories, while in Europe there has always been much interest for Poe’s more philosophical end scientific work.
  • As a ‘philosopher of nature’ Poe was was in complete disagreement with the scientific views of his day, that were based on the celestial laws and mechanics of Newton, the so-called ‘clockwork universe’. In such a mathematically determined and ‘closed’ universe, there is no room for human freedom end responsibility, because we are no more than cogs in the universal machine that runs on time and gravity. It is therefore that pendulum and clock are deadly and fatal symbols in Poe’s work.
  • It was only towards the end of his life that Poe was able to solve the riddle of the universe, by designing a completely new and revolutionary view on the universe, based on the ideas that time cannot be absolute, and that gravity cannot be a fundamental force of nature. This new universe was described in Poe’s greatest work ‘Eureka’, and published the year before he died. At that time Poe’s ideas were in total contradiction of all scientific and religious beliefs, so ‘Eureka’ could not be understood by anyone, so as a consequence it was ridiculed and soon forgotten in the USA.
  • However, in Europe things went differently. ‘Eureka’ was regarded as a highly visionary piece by a great master, and although nobody could understand Poe’s scientific ideas about the universe, time and gravity, it was translated by Baudelaire into French and published in 1859 in a cultural Swiss magazine ‘Revue Mondial’ that was read all over Europe.
  • After the ‘Great War’ had shattered all old beliefs, the world was ripe for a revolution in science as well. During the ‘Roaring Twenties’ all scientific foundations were renewed, quantum physics was born and several European scientists were inspired by Poe’s vision on the universe, like the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann, the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre and the American astronomer Edwin Hubble. Together they created the greatest revolution in science ever, the theory of the Big Bang and the dynamic universe, but the origin of that theory goes back to Poe, a fact that cannot be disputed but that is still unknown to most. Please read this article from the New York Times.
  • So Edgar Allan Poe is one of the greatest and most important inspirers and founders of modern science, a fact for which he has never received recognition and credits, certainly not in the USA! I hope that these arguments may help you to get more recognition for the absolute importance of the Poe House and Museum! It would be a crime against human history if this house was closed and neglected.
  • But it does not end here, because a similar idea that gravity cannot be a fundamental force of nature, is now making headlines in theoretical physics. It seems that modern physics has finally reached a point that was already discovered by Poe 160 years ago!

These are a few facts about the unknown side of Poe, and they are indisputable. If you want, I can provide you with much more material, so I hope that you will pay attention to this in your publications. Also the USA should know how great Poe really was!


René van Slooten
The Netherlands




5 thoughts on “Edgar Allan Poe: Philosophically and scientifically ahead of his time

  • September 16, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    I don’t know why it is so little known or mentioned that in Newton’s day he was severely attacked by Leibniz as a believer that God was a mere clock winder. (Dead for all intents and purposes.Newton even believed that he discovered a secret code in the Bible that predicted the end of the world in 2060!) This extremely polemical debate was about whether Leibniz would become a power withe the Hanoverian succession in England at the time. Now, I know that Leibniz’ writings was part of the curriculum at least at Harvard at the time of the American Revolution. But in the English speaking world the influence of the Royal Society all but buried Leibniz. It is ironic in this regard that Poe dedicates his Eureka to the great Alexander von Humboldt, but apparently knows nothing of Leibniz.

    • September 17, 2012 at 6:43 PM

      Poe knew about Leibniz and mentions him several times with admiration in ‘Eureka’. Apparently Poe respected Leibniz more than he did Newton.

      • September 18, 2012 at 11:58 PM

        Poe in Eureka says this of Leibniz:
        “Nevertheless, we may well wonder that Leibnitz, who was a marked exception to the[48] general rule in these respects, and whose mental temperament was a singular admixture of the mathematical with the physico-metaphysical, did not at once investigate and establish the point at issue. Either Newton or Laplace, seeking a principle and discovering none physical, would have rested contentedly in the conclusion that there was absolutely none; but it is almost impossible to fancy, of Leibnitz, that, having exhausted in his search the physical dominions, he would not have stepped at once, boldly and hopefully, amid his old familiar haunts in the kingdom of Metaphysics. Here, indeed, it is clear that he must have adventured in search of the treasure:—that he did not find it after all, was, perhaps, because his fairy guide, Imagination, was not sufficiently well-grown, or well-educated, to direct him aright.”I believe that in this Poe sells Leibniz short, for his principle of the monadology as a harmonic ordering of the realms of the non living, the living and thinking realms is to this day an appropriate launching pad for scientific investigations.

  • September 16, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    One more parallel with Howard Phillips Lovecraft, himself a great admirer of Poe.
    Lovecraft shew a good understanding of Quantum physics and Relativity for his time in the 1920’s, when the physicists really understanding A.Einstein’s theories were to be counted on one hand in the whole world.
    He also had a good comprehension of what would be named the Theory of Chaos and the fractal mathematics, in the 1960’s-80’s. Though these kind of “mathematic monsters” were known and feared since the Greeks, feared by lack of computing power to study them.

    This kind of “mad” writers tends to be real soothsayers, in the purest scientific view.

  • September 16, 2012 at 6:27 PM

    It’s sad that the most important side of Poe’s work is the one that’s most overlooked. Thanks for this reminder of what a visionary he truly was.

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