The Lion, The Witch, and the Wormhole: Einstein-Rosen Bridges in Literature

Imagine two doors connected by a corridor, with each door leading to a different room. Now, imagine the corridor is a conduit through space-time, and the rooms are completely distinct where’s and when’s. This is called a wormhole.

In 1936, Albert Einstein and his colleague Nathan Rosen published a paper about the possibility of wormholes which, in theory, could connect two or more different universes. Although wormholes only exist hypothetically and cannot be observed, they are mathematically proven to be able to occur in nature.

Incidentally, wormholes also occur in literature. In 1871, Lewis Carroll published Through the Looking Glass, a story (later adapted to Alice in Wonderland) about a girl who steps through her mirror and enters a different world. In 1950, C.S. Lewis introduced the literary world to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which the characters find a hidden portal to Narnia in an unexpected place. In 1930, Frank L. Baum‘s Wonderful Wizard of Oz hurled an unassuming Dorothy over the rainbow. What exactly did her house pass through en route to Oz? Was it really a tornado, or was it a manipulation of gravity that allowed her to traverse space-time–a wormhole?

Perhaps unwittingly, these authors uncovered an astronomical secret in the process of inventing a literary device to transport their characters. What’s interesting is that in the case of Baum and Carroll, their stories were published well before Einstein and Rosen’s theory was. Did Einstein read Carroll? Did C.S. Lewis study relativity? There’s no way to know for sure, but the idea of wormholes–or enchanted mirrors, wardrobes, or tornadoes–seem to be rooted in the imagination of scientists and artists alike.

Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass

C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Wizard of Oz tornado

Here’s a helpful video from the History Channel to illustrate how wormholes and black holes work:


Wormholes are a popular point of discussion in science, but they still remain a cosmic mystery. From what we know of wormholes, it would not be possible for anything to traverse one without it collapsing into itself. There is still much left to be learned of this phenomena, and it still may be quite some time before we unlock the secrets of interstellar travel (if there is one at all).

For more examples of wormholes in fiction, see here

Did Edgar Allan Poe solve Olbers’ Paradox?

Here’s a riddle for you. If the Universe has infinitely many stars, then presumably, the night sky should be filled with light–right? So, then, why isn’t it? Welcome to Olbers’ Paradox.

There are many possible explanations:

  1. There’s too much dust to see the distant stars.
  2. The Universe has only a finite number of stars.
  3. The distribution of stars is not uniform.  So, for example, there could be an infinity of stars,
    but they hide behind one another so that only a finite angular area is subtended by them.
  4. The Universe is expanding, so distant stars are red-shifted into obscurity.
  5. The Universe is young.  Distant light hasn’t even reached us yet.

This idea can be traced as far back as Kepler in 1610. Olbers popularized it in the 19th century, confounding scientists and philosophers alike. But what if I told you that author Edgar Allan Poe was the first who posed a possible solution? Poe wrote the following passage in “Eureka: A Prose Poem,” published in 1848:

“Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us a 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 that the distance o the invisible background [is] so immense that no ray from it has yet been able to reach us at all.”

Veritably, Poe was not a scientist. He was an author who wrote compelling science fiction that remains salient even in today’s literary landscape. However, it’s interesting to think that even from a speculative standpoint, he was able to provide primitive insight on the answer to this cosmological conundrum.

Here’s a beautiful video from the YouTube series Minute Physics explaining how Olbers’ Paradox works:


Edgar Allan Poe has been an abstruse, enigmatic figure in the literary realm as well as in his personal life. Read about his mysterious death (the day he became nevermore), when–perhaps– he took off “to seek a shelter in some happier star.” 


There were several theories about Edgar Allan Poe’s death, all of them just as mysterious and elusive as he was. The last known sighting of Poe was in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 3, 1879. He was dressed in someone else’s clothes and seemed disoriented (possibly drugged or under the influence of something).

I think the most interesting theory is the one proposing Poe was “cooped” on a local election day of that year. When a person is “cooped,” they’re kidnapped, drugged, or bribed to be dressed up as different people, then taken to the polls to vote multiple times–swaying the vote toward a candidate, depending on who’s behind the cooping.

I once drove to Baltimore for no other reason than visiting Poe’s grave. Though historians would likely disagree, I think it’s better that the exact cause of Poe’s death remains unknown. Edgar Allan Poe: poet, author, native Bostonian, science fiction pioneer. Man of the macabre until the very end–’til he was nevermore.

“The Truth” podcast does a great job at reimagining this bizarre situation in an eerie radio drama. I recommend listening to it. Other theories about his death enumerated here via Wikipedia.

Two Wolves

“The one you feed.”

See larger version of comic here.

Gavin Aung Than is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic books artists. Founder of Zen Pencils, he left a corporate graphic design job to go rogue. He’s inspired by the pathos of great minds past and present. He illustrates inspirational quotes from influential people in history (from Carl Sagan to Walt Whitman and beyond), providing a visual supplment for sage wisdom. I’ll admit–I own quite a few of prints myself.

A Series of Tubes

View the original entry on Public Radio Exchange’s (PRX) blog.

All right, I admit it. I’m in love with steampunk. In October, I attended Bruce Rosenbaum’s talk at Creative Mornings: Boston. (If you don’t know who Bruce Rosenbaum is, don’t fret. I didn’t either before the seminar, but I won’t forget now.) A designer by day and the founder of ModVic, Bruce Rosenbaum has converted his entire house in Sharon, MA, into a steampunk paradise. I’m talking about gadgets with gears, brass-laden furniture, old wood-fire stoves and massive pipe organs repurposed to fit a modern household.

I couldn’t help but think of Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible episode, “A Series of Tubes.” Pneumatic tubes, that is. This refers to an early 20th century system of underground, steam-powered tubes used to deliver messages (almost) instantaneously. (Think of it as an analog form of text messaging.)

Some of you may be thinking, “So what?” Underground tubes and brass gadgets are cool, but isn’t this kind of, well, outdated? What’s the appeal?

Let’s think about it. In a world where things are increasingly digitized, the basis of steampunk’s appeal lies in the fact that it romanticizes tangible technology. It answers the question, “What if the Steam Age and Industrial Revolution happed at the same exact time?” Steampunk re-imagines a reality in which the modern and the antique co-exist artfully and meaningfully. Take a listen to this episode of 99% Invisible for more insight on this retro-futuristic world. You can call it fantasy or science fiction. You can even call it absurd. As for me, I’ll just call it awesome.

If you’re still interested in learning more, check out this PBS special on the genre.

The Kendall Band

“Shake the handle back and forth slowly to sound the bells.”

One of my favorite things about Boston is the Kendall Band, a musical sculpture at the Kendall/MIT stop. The audiophile in me can’t resist. The musical sculpture is composed (no pun intended) of three different musical “instruments” that inquisitive commuters can play. The chimes, named Pythagoras after the mathematician (it is the Kendall/MIT station, after all), are my favorite.

On either side of the T stop are handles that you can swing back and forth to rock the hammers against the chimes. When they sound, a lilting B minor chord reverberates through the station.

“Although the detailed mathematical analysis of motions is quite complex, most visitors quickly and intuitively figure out how to operate the sculpture without any written instructions.”

What I love most about this sculpture is that it invites the curious to interact with it, luring eyes previously glued on backlit screens back toward the physical world. The secret of the chimes is left to the discovery process, and the consequent chord elicits an ambience that starkly contrasts the litany of a typical commute. It triggers almost all the senses–something that you can see, feel, hear, experience, and immediately share with others. When approaching curiosity in this case, don’t knock. Ring the bell.

Other neat public, kinetic art sculptures include the Singing Tree in Lancashire, UK and Sway’d in Salt Lake City, UT.

Hello, Curious World.

Well, hello. Nice to meet you! [firm but gentle handshake] My name is Lily, and I’m a public media junkie interested in transmedia storytelling.

This particular intersection is where my brain likes to hang out:

To me, the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of knowledge are one in the same, so it’s safe to say that I’m interested in, well, a little bit of everything. I created this blog in order to re-post and write about stuff that tickles my fancy.  And I’m quite ticklish.

Twitter: @dangerbui & @CuriosityCult