Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, and Scientific Imagination

By David N. Stamos

Subjects: Philosophy Of Science, American Literature, Literature, Cosmology, Aesthetics
Paperback : 9781438463902, 602 pages, January 2018
Hardcover : 9781438463919, 602 pages, March 2017

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Table of contents


1. Prologue
Discovering Poe
Poe’s House of Usher
Poe’s Poiesis

2. Poe’s Literary Theory
The Problem
Pleasure, Plot, and Unity of Effect
Eureka as a “Prose Poem”

3. Poe’s Theology
Poe’s Theology and the Problem of Evil
Artistic Sensitivity and Poe’s View of the World
The Argument from Beauty
The Problem of Pain
The Problem of Death
Beauty and Hope

4. Poe’s Intellectual Background
Poe’s Formal Education
The Conchologist’s First Book
“A on Science and Art”
The Bridgewater Treatises
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation
Poe’s Scientific Sources for Eureka
Poe’s Criteria of Truth
Was Eureka a Hoax?

5. The Scientific Anticipations of Eureka
Rejection of Axioms as Intuitively True
Big Bang Cosmogony
Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Nature
Non-Existence of Laws of Nature Before the Big Bang
Olbers’ Paradox
Multiverse Theory
Space–Time Interdependence
Matter–Energy Equivalence
No Material Ether

6. Imagination in Philosophy and History of Science
Philosophy of Science in Poe’s Time
Logical Positivism
Logical Empiricism
Karl Popper
Thomas Kuhn
The New Experimentalism
The Disunity of Science Movement
Inference to the Best Explanation
Epistemic Virtues and Values
Evolutionary Epistemology
Contextualist History of Science
Charles Darwin
Albert Einstein
Mutation and Imagination, an Analogy

7. Poe’s Theory of Scientific Imagination
Double Consciousness
Mesmeric Consciousness
Lunatics, Lovers, and Poets
Kepler, Champollion, and Humboldt
Leibniz, Newton, and Laplace
Poe’s “Double Dupin”
Against Deduction and Induction
The Poetic Intellect

8. Epilogue
Unconscious Scientific Creativity
Comparative Biography and Psychology
Cognitive Science


Explores the science and creative process behind Poe’s cosmological treatise.


Silver Winner, 2017 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the Philosophy category

In 1848, almost a year and a half before Edgar Allan Poe died at the age of forty, his book Eureka was published. In it, he weaved together his scientific speculations about the universe with his own literary theory, theology, and philosophy of science. Although Poe himself considered it to be his magnum opus, Eureka has mostly been overlooked or underappreciated, sometimes even to the point of being thought an elaborate hoax. Remarkably, however, in Eureka Poe anticipated at least nine major theories and developments in twentieth-century science, including the Big Bang theory, multiverse theory, and the solution to Olbers' paradox. In this book—the first devoted specifically to Poe's science side—David N. Stamos, a philosopher of science, combines scientific background with analysis of Poe's life and work to highlight the creative and scientific achievements of this text. He examines Poe's literary theory, theology, and intellectual development, and then compares Poe's understanding of science with that of scientists and philosophers from his own time to the present. Next, Stamos pieces together and clarifies Poe's theory of scientific imagination, which he then attempts to update and defend by providing numerous case studies of eureka moments in modern science and by seeking insights from comparative biography and psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and evolution.

David N. Stamos teaches philosophy at York University in Toronto. He is the author of several books, including Darwin and the Nature of Species, also published by SUNY Press.


"A truly delightful read, Stamos's volume illustrates how Poe weaved literary and scientific theories together and incorporated his notions of cosmology and cosmogony into his poems and fiction. This book deserves a place on the bookshelves of students and scholars. " — American Literary Scholarship

"This book will become an indispensable resource for anyone with an academic interest in Eureka, but contains many unexpected pleasures for any reader of Poe. " — Modern Language Review

"It is rich, entertaining, informative, comprehensive, intelligent, and provocative. Poe fans, literary critics, and even scientists will enjoy this immersion in the unplumbed imaginative depths of Poe's Eureka … Highly recommended. " — CHOICE

"…revelatory … Stamos uses Poe's Eureka as a springboard to explore a subject with a far wider relevance, making it much more than a niche work for Poe aficionados … Stamos displays an enormous erudition and mastery of a range of academic and scientific disciplines, and writes with eloquence … an exhilarating read. " — Magonia Review of Books

"Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, and Scientific Imagination is the most comprehensive treatment of Eureka that has yet been published. It is staggeringly thorough in its analysis of Poe's book, but it also shows how Poe's theories of cosmogony and cosmology ramify into his fiction and poetry, especially the tales of ratiocination. Stamos takes Eureka seriously, and he does so with the empirical undergirding of vast amounts of scientific scholarship and literary criticism. " — James M. Hutchisson, author of Poe