domingo, 25 de noviembre de 2012

Poe's Big Bang

Edgar Allan Poe también fue cosmólogo y filósofo evolucionista—en su "poema en prosa" Eureka, que expone una teoría unificada del universo combinando principios físico-matemáticos, observaciones astronómicas, y especulaciones filosóficas. Para la sección científica se basó en escritores anteriores como Laplace, los Herschel, y el Humboldt de Kosmos, a quien dedica la obra. Supongo que también conocería los escritos de Erasmus Darwin. La obra también pretende ser una teodicea, o explicación de la existencia del mal y el sufrimiento en el mundo—un desarrollo de la explicación clásica de la cuestión, a saber, que la divinidad actúa mediante causas secundarias. Aquí para Poe las causas secundarias son toda la evolución del universo, pues causas primarias sólo se hallan en la fuerza original indiferenciada que da lugar al universo en una especie de Big Bang decimonónico. Por supuesto, las ideas Poe no fueron tomadas en absoluto en serio en su propio momento; ni su sintaxis, ni su uso de las fuentes, ni su trayectoria literaria invitaban a ello; suena el autor demasiado como uno de los frenéticos unreliable narrators o sabios locos de sus relatos. El mismo Poe intuyó que no se le tomaría en serio como pensador hasta que su obra ya no pudiese ser considerada científica sino meramente poética, y de ahí el prefacio:

To the few who love me and whom I love—to those who feel rather than to those who think—to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities—I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone:—let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.
    What I here propound is true:—therefore it cannot die:—or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting.”
   Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.
E.A.P.

Sin embargo, algunas de sus ideas anticipan notablemente las de Herbert Spencer, y aún más, las de la física del siglo XX, intentando extraer de la noción misma de la fuerza gravitatoria y de su acción presente los principios de la finitud, el origen, y la evolución del universo.


It will now be readily understood that no axiomatic idea—no idea founded in the fluctuating principle, obviousness of relation—can possibly be so secure—so reliable a basis for any structure erected by the Reason, as that idea—(whatever it is, wherever we can find it, or if it be practicable to find it anywhere)—which is irrelative altogether—which not only presents to the understanding no obviousness of relation, either greater or less, to be considered, but subjects the intellect, not in the slighest degree, to the necessity of even looking at any relation at all. If such an idea be not what we too heedlessly term “an axiom,” it is at least preferable, as a Logical basis, to any axiom ever propounded, or to all imaginable axioms combined:—and such, precisely, is the idea with which my deductive process, so thoroughly corroborated by induction, commences. My particle proper is but absolute Irrelation. To sum up what has been here advanced:—As a starting point I have taken it for granted, simply, that the Beginning had nothing behind it or before it—that it was a Beginning in fact—that it was a beginning and nothing different from a beginning—in short that this Beginning was——that which it was. If this be a “mere assumption” then a “mere assumption” let it be.

To conclude this branch of the subject:—I am fully warranted in announcing that the Law which we have been in the habit of calling Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having been irradiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited[4] sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it was possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, irradiation, and generally-equable distribution throughout the sphere—that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the irradiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Irradiation.

I have already given my reasons for presuming Matter to have been diffused by a determinate rather than by a continuous or infinitely continued force. Supposing a continuous force, we should be unable, in the first place, to comprehend a rëaction at all; and we should be required, in the second place, to entertain the impossible conception of an infinite extension of Matter. Not to dwell upon the impossibility of the conception, the infinite extension of Matter is an idea which, if not positively disproved, is at least not in any respect warranted by telescopic observation of the stars—a point to be explained more fully hereafter; and this empirical reason for believing in the original finity of Matter is unempirically confirmed. For example:—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 Rëaction could have taken place; no movement toward Unity could have been made; no Law of Gravity could have obtained.via lactea 2

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.

With the understanding of a sphere of atoms, however, we perceive, at once, a satisfiable tendency to union. The general result of the tendency each to each, being a tendency of all to the centre, the general process of condensation, or approximation, commences immediately, by a common and simultaneous movement, on withdrawal of the Divine Volition; the individual approximations, or coalescences—not cöalitions—of atom with atom, being subject to almost infinite variations of time, degree, and condition, on account of the excessive multiplicity of relation, arising from the differences of form assumed as characterizing the atoms at the moment of their quitting the Particle Proper; as well as from the subsequent particular inequidistance, each from each.

What I wish to impress upon the reader is the certainty of there arising, at once, (on withdrawal of the diffusive force, or Divine Volition,) out of the condition of the atoms as described, at innumerable points throughout the Universal sphere, innumerable agglomerations, characterized by innumerable specific differences of form, size, essential nature, and distance each from each. The development of Repulsion (Electricity) must have commenced, of course, with the very earliest particular efforts at Unity, and must have proceeded constantly in the ratio of Coalescence—that is to say, in that of Condensation, or, again, of Heterogeneity.

Thus 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.

También anticipa Poe cuestiones sobre la estructura del universo que sólo en el siglo XX recibirían confirmación experimental, como la existencia de otras galaxias o la no centralidad de la Vía Láctea:

And here, at length, it seems proper to inquire whether the ascertained facts of Astronomy confirm the general arrangement which I have thus, deductively, assigned to the Heavens. Thoroughly, they do. Telescopic observation, guided by the laws of perspective, enables us to understand that the perceptible Universe exists as a cluster of clusters, irregularly disposed.

The “clusters” of which this Universal “cluster of clusters” consists, are merely what we have been in the practice of designating “nebulæ”—and, of these “nebulæ,” one is of paramount interest to mankind. I allude to the Galaxy, or Milky Way. This interests us, first and most obviously, on account of its great superiority in apparent size, not only to any one other cluster in the firmament, but to all the other clusters taken together. The largest of these latter occupies a mere point, comparatively, and is distinctly seen only with the aid of a telescope. The Galaxy sweeps throughout the Heaven and is brilliantly visible to the naked eye. But it interests man chiefly, although less immediately, on account of its being his home; the home of the Earth on which he exists; the home of the Sun about which this Earth revolves; the home of that “system” of orbs of which the Sun is the centre and primary—the Earth one of sixteen secondaries, or planets—the Moon one of seventeen tertiaries, or satellites. The Galaxy, let me repeat, is but one of the clusters which I have been describing—but one of the mis-called “nebulæ” revealed to us—by the telescope alone, sometimes—as faint hazy spots in various quarters of the sky. We have no reason to suppose the Milky Way really more extensive than the least of these “nebulæ.” Its vast superiority in size is but an apparent superiority arising from our position in regard to it—that is to say, from our position in its midst. However strange the assertion may at first appear to those unversed in Astronomy, still the astronomer himself has no hesitation in asserting that we are in the midst of that inconceivable host of stars—of suns—of systems—which constitute the Galaxy. Moreover, not only have we—not only has our Sun a right to claim the Galaxy as its own especial cluster, but, with slight reservation, it may be said that all the distinctly visible stars of the firmament—all the stars Visible to the naked eye—have equally a right to claim it as their own.

Y presenta algunos razonamientos para demostrar la finitud del universo que por su formulación paradójica y clara a la vez no vuelven a encontrarse antes de Stephen Hawking:

No astronomical fallacy is more untenable, and none has been more pertinaciously adhered to, than that of the absolute illimitation of the Universe of Stars. The reasons for limitation, as I have already assigned them, à priori, seem to me unanswerable; but, not to speak of these, observation assures us that there is, in numerous directions around us, certainly, if not in all, a positive limit—or, at the very least, affords us no basis whatever for thinking otherwise. Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy—since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star. The only mode, therefore, in which, under such a state of affairs, we could comprehend the voids which our telescopes find in innumerable directions, would be by supposing the distance of the invisible background so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all. That this may be so, who shall venture to deny? I maintain, simply, that we have not even the shadow of a reason for believing that it is so.

De las mediciones de la velocidad de la luz y del tamaño del Universo disponibles en su época también hace Poe buen uso:

In attempting to appreciate this interval by the aid of any considerations of velocity, as we did in endeavoring to estimate the distance of the moon, we must leave out of sight, altogether, such nothings as the speed of a cannon-ball, or of sound. Light, however, according to the latest calculations of Struve, proceeds at the rate of 167,000 miles in a second. Thought itself cannot pass through this interval more speedily—if, indeed, thought can traverse it at all. Yet, in coming from 61 Cygni to us, even at this inconceivable rate, light occupies more than ten years; and, consequently, were the star this moment blotted out from the Universe, still, for ten years, would it continue to sparkle on, undimmed in its paradoxical glory.

Aquí apunta una intuición del concepto de espacio-tiempo y de la relatividad:

I have already said that light proceeds at the rate of 167,000 miles in a second—that is, about 10 millions of miles in a minute, or about 600 millions of miles in an hour:—yet so far removed from us are some of the “nebulæ” that even light, speeding with this velocity, could not and does not reach us, from those mysterious regions, in less than 3 millions of years. This calculation, moreover, is made by the elder Herschell, and in reference merely to those comparatively proximate clusters within the scope of his own telescope. There are “nebulæ,” however, which, through the magical tube of Lord Rosse, are this instant whispering in our ears the secrets of a million of ages by-gone. In a word, the events which we behold now—at this moment—in those worlds—are the identical events which interested their inhabitants ten hundred thousand centuries ago. In intervals—in distances such as this suggestion forces upon the soul—rather than upon the mind—we find, at length, a fitting climax to all hitherto frivolous considerations of quantity.

Our fancies thus occupied with the cosmical distances, let us take the opportunity of referring to the difficulty which we have so often experienced, while pursuing the beaten path of astronomical reflection, in accounting for the immeasurable voids alluded to—in comprehending why chasms so totally unoccupied and therefore apparently so needless, have been made to intervene between star and star—between cluster and cluster—in understanding, to be brief, a sufficient reason for the Titanic scale, in respect of mere Space, on which the Universe is seen to be constructed. A rational cause for the phænomenon, I maintain that Astronomy has palpably failed to assign:—but the considerations through which, in this Essay, we have proceeded step by step, enable us clearly and immediately to perceive that Space and Duration are one. That the Universe might endure throughout an æra at all commensurate with the grandeur of its component material portions and with the high majesty of its spiritual purposes, it was necessary that the original atomic diffusion be made to so inconceivable an extent as to be only not infinite. It was required, in a word, that the stars should be gathered into visibility from invisible nebulosity—proceed from nebulosity to consolidation—and so grow grey in giving birth and death to unspeakably numerous and complex variations of vitalic development:—it was required that the stars should do all this—should have time thoroughly to accomplish all these Divine purposes—during the period in which all things were effecting their return into Unity with a velocity accumulating in the inverse proportion of the squares of the distances at which lay the inevitable End.

Y no se le escapa a Poe que esta nueva percepción del universo tiene consecuencias para la percepción narrativa del mismo: que una narratividad general se manifiesta en este proceso evolutivo:

The pleasure which we derive from any display of human ingenuity is in the ratio of the approach to this species of reciprocity. In the construction of plot, for example, in fictitious literature, we should aim at so arranging the incidents that we shall not be able to determine, of any one of them, whether it depends from any one other or upholds it. In this sense, of course, perfection of plot is really, or practically, unattainable—but only because it is a finite intelligence that constructs. The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.

E incluso algunas de sus intuiciones se aproximan a la noción del espacio curvo—por ejemplo cuando especula sobre la esfericidad del universo:

"It would scarcely be paradoxical to say that a flash of lightning itself, travelling forever upon the circumference of this unutterable circle, would still, forever, be travelling in a straight line."

A Humboldt, que no ve indicios de centro alguno en el universo—en el universo espacial—lo corrige Poe sin embargo arguyendo que el centro ha de concebirse en el espacio-tiempo: que la estructura del universo es su historia:

The phænomenon here alluded to—that of “many groups moving in opposite directions”—is quite inexplicable by Mädler’s idea; but arises, as a necessary consequence, from that which forms the basis of this Discourse. While the merely general direction of each atom—of each moon, planet, star, or cluster—would, on my hypothesis, be, of course, absolutely rectilinear; while the general path of all bodies would be a right line leading to the centre of all; it is clear, nevertheless, that this general rectilinearity would be compounded of what, with scarcely any exaggeration, we may term an infinity of particular curves—an infinity of local deviations from rectilinearity—the result of continuous differences of relative position among the multitudinous masses, as each proceeded on its own proper journey to the End.

E intuye que incluso la gravedad es una manifestación accidental, relacionada con un estado físico dado, de una fuerza más básica:

Going boldly behind the vulgar thought, we have to conceive, metaphysically, that the gravitating principle appertains to Matter temporarily—only while diffused—only while existing as Many instead of as One—appertains to it by virtue of its state of irradiation alone—appertains, in a word, altogether to its condition, and not in the slighest degree to itself.

Poe es original al intentar conciliar el mito creacionista cristiano y la ciencia física, explicando cómo a partir de la naturaleza misma de las partículas elementales y de las fuerzas físicas, es posible una creación a partir de la nada—una noción que tardaría en abrirse paso hasta los libros de física. Y prevé el circuito completo del universo como un paso de la unidad original o divinidad propiamente dicha, pasando por el despliegue de una diversidad de formas, cuerpos y fuerzas, para terminar en un retorno a la unidad, una especie de Poe's Big Crunch:

When, on fulfilment of its purposes, then, Matter shall have returned into its original condition of One—a condition which presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether, whose province and whose capacity are limited to keeping the atoms apart until that great day when, this ether being no longer needed, the overwhelming pressure of the finally collective Attraction shall at length just sufficiently predominate and expel it:—when, I say, Matter, finally, expelling the Ether, shall have returned into absolute Unity,—it will then (to speak paradoxically for the moment) be Matter without Attraction and without Repulsion—in other words, Matter without Matter—in other words, again, Matter no more. In sinking into Unity, it will sink at once into that Nothingness which, to all Finite Perception, Unity must be—into that Material Nihility from which alone we can conceive it to have been evoked—to have been created by the Volition of God.

La proyección del lenguaje volitivo a la escala cósmica es ciertamente poco evolucionista, y muy de época. Desafortunada, podríamos decir incluso. Pero no se espanten demasiado los ateístas, porque el dios de Poe es otra manera de nombrar la totalidad del universo, su espíritu no es un espíritu humano, y sus "voliciones" y "deleites" no tienen lugar a escala humana.

—¿Que Poe no es científicamente correcto en todas sus especulaciones? Oigan, que estamos hablando de un borracho extravagante de la primera mitad del siglo XIX, guardemos un poco las perspectivas. A cada genio lo suyo. Se ve obligado Poe para justificar sus explicaciones a acudir a un supuesto manuscrito del futuro que consulta, una carta encontrada dentro una botella en el Mar de las Tinieblas, procedente del año 2848—señales del futuro que llegan distorsionadas. Habla el manuscrito por ejemplo de "Kant, a Dutchman, the originator of that species of Transcendentalism which, with the change merely of a C for a K, now bears his peculiar name." Supongo que tampoco estos artificios retóricos ayudaron mucho a que se lo tomase en serio en su momento, ni luego.  "These ancient ideas", dice el manuscrito,

"confined investigation to crawling; and I need not suggest to you that crawling, among varieties of locomotion, is a very capital thing of its kind;—but because the tortoise is sure of foot, for this reason must we clip the wings of the eagles?"



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