08 March 2021

Edgar Allan Poe and the Big Bang Theory

Yesterday evening I was reading some editorial commentary in The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (Peithman, 1981) and came across this remarkable passage:
"Briefly, Poe believed that originally all matter coincided with the Godhead but that an explosion or diffusion took place, in which all matter was hurled outward from its starting point, the Primordial Particle.  Since that time, matter has been moving away from its source, but it still shares an identity with its Creator, still longs to be reunified with the Godhead...

[Colin] Wilson points out that Poe's concept of the origin of the universe predates Willem de Sitter's theory of the expanding universe (1917) by seventy years, and that his collapsing universe that ends in annihilation is almost identical to the black-hole theory, which we owe to modern radio astronomy.  "Poe also throws off the casual suggestion that space and time are the same things," Wilson says, "an insight that seemed obvious nonsense at the time, and that did not begin to make sense until Einstein's appearance"  Poe also recognized that the Milky Way is a galaxy and not just a cluster of stars - something that would, again, be proved in this century.  "And when Poe states that the universe ends in annihilation, and then begins all over again, he anticipates one of the most recent theories of cosmology: that a black hole does not continue to collapse indefinitely, but that it finally reaches a limit, and then explodes again.""
Poe had a modest formal education - a grammar school in Scotland, a tutor in Virginia, and one year at the University of Virginia.  He was an autodidact, reading extensively in the world's literature (partly in order to crib material for his own writing).  One presumes he based these theories on some pre-existing cosmology from the Far East, India, or the Arab world - perhaps from Hinduism.  But the parallels between his thoughts and modern science are really quite striking.

Addendum:  fulltext of Poe's Eureka: a prose poem, where he extensively discussed these ideas.  And see also Gizmodo's How Did Edgar Allan Poe Manage to Describe the Big Bang in 1848? and Edgar Allan Poe - Cosmologist? in Scientific American.


  1. "In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded." #Terry Pratchett

  2. Call the Poe Poe, after reading Pratchett, and Adams, and realising Terry and Douglas were wrong, I have come to the conclusion that our world, solar system, galaxy and universe, ... our everything ... is indeed just a collection of atoms in some giant pop rocks,
    Hence the expansion and compression cycle will continue for a while, but not forever.

    Lol, my mental vision of a panspermia godhead (lack of capital very intentional) sears my retinas with an embarrassing 'construction'.

  3. Let's hope that Lovecraft's cosmological musings are not as accurate as Poe's.

    1. I have been to Providence. They are.


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