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  • Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, and Scientific Imagination by David N. Stamos
  • Ton Fafianie (bio)
Edgar Allan Poe, Eureka, and Scientific Imagination. By David N. Stamos. Albany: SUNY Press, 2017. 602 pp. $90.00 cloth.

David Stamos is a philosopher of science at York University who studies the universal questions: "Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?" Stamos tends lately to be more interested, however, in the "philosophy by science," meaning the application of "scientific concepts and theories to topics outside of science as normally circumscribed." A question arises: does Stamos treat Poe's scientific imagination, especially in Eureka, as a topic outside of science? We understand scientific imagination, in general, to mean the creative ability to form a mental picture of (vexed) scientific problems. Stamos's chief method seems to be, for a philosophical seeker with the desire to illuminate ideas, to read Poe into ancient and modern epistemological discourse. Despite the appealing universality of Stamos's work, the title of his book is not very imaginative. At least it could have been provided with a catchy subtitle more in line with Stamos's bolder or more provocative statements: "Poe Vindicated at Last," or "Poe and the Meaning of Life," or something as daring as Poe's own model of the Universe.

Modern science evolves from verifiable evidence leading, preferably, to tangible, workable, and objective "truths." Counterarguments must also be based on evidence. In view of overwhelming evidence for cosmogony and evolution (including innate morality), there is no need for assumption of a deity in these fields. For those counterpoised who carry the burden of proof, who will and cannot admit of being wrong, and who do not need proof because they reason from an irrefutable conclusion, there is no evidence possible; all is a matter of belief and/or faith. They need to move to another seesaw for finding balance between alternate premises, hypotheses, and conclusions, between [End Page 234] good and evil. This is the sound and basic tenet behind Stamos's daring Evolution and the Big Questions: Sex, Race, Religion, and Other Matters (2008). That universal human rights do not exist, again on the ground of evolutionary principles constituting our moral being, underlies his interdisciplinary Myth of Universal Human Rights (2013). In these recent works, Stamos does not restrict himself, and he is interested in everything outside the ivory spires of academia (the result of a "rejection of territoriality" [457]).

According to Stamos, his most recent book emerged from reading "a recent book (2012) by one of [Poe's] living relatives, Harry Lee Poe, a professor of theology whose book focuses on Poe's magnum opus, Eureka, published in 1848":

That is when the lights went on. Harry Poe doesn't know science or philosophy of science very well, which is basically true of the entire field of Poe scholarship, which explains why they either ignore Eureka or play it down—they don't understand what's going on there. What was supposed to be a paper quickly evolved into a most ambitious project, Edgar Allan Poe and Scientific Imagination. The book is written for all those who love Poe, for Poe scholars and related literary critics, for all those who love science, including philosophy and history of science, and for all those interested in the largely overlooked topic of scientific imagination. The book weaves together many different strands into a unified tapestry, including Poe studies, literary theory, theology and philosophy of religion, meaning of life, natural science, history of science, philosophy of science, neuroscience, and the study of the unconscious mind, all guided by the desire to understand Poe's Eureka, to take it to an entirely new level, and to provide the ultimate vindication of Poe.


I would contend that this "tapestry" cannot be achieved in just one book. This motley carpet will not fly because takeoff is too heavy; we might say its meta-science is too metaphysical. There is no one who may live to see the puzzle completed (or the tapestry dialectically unified), hence there can never be an ultimate vindication of Poe or, for that matter, Eureka, which, in our...


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