Lovecraftian Ecosystems – Introduction

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Hey everyone – it has been a while since I posted anything.  In fact, the last time I posted was during the NecronomiCon back in August 2019. This year has been crazy with all of the Harmful Algal Blooms I have had to deal with over the summer and fall as part of my job as a Limnologist / Environmental Consultant. While the blooms are slooooowly dissipating, I have a little free time to start posting again on Lovecraftian Science. I will try to make these posts fairly routine (maybe twice a month) and to do that they may be brief. Also, working on finishing up Volume 3 of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science now that the summer is over. Again, I apologize to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the additional delays.  Please be patient; I am hoping to ship them out before the end of this year.

I was fortunate enough to give two presentation at the NecronomiCon in August 2019. The first talk was on Lovecraftian Ecosystems so the next series of posts will be on this subject. This first post is a discussion on history of the term of ecosystem.

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The formal definition of an ecosystem is “…a community of organisms and their physical environment interacting as an ecological unit” (Lincoln, et. al. 1988).  The word “ecosystem” was first defined by British Ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935 and was first used to describe the transfer of material between organisms and their environment.  Again, in 1935 Tansley defined the ecosystem as:

…the whole system (in the sense of physics) including not only the organism-complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment of the biome – the habitat factors in the widest sense (from McIntosh, 1985).

Picture2                             Examples of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems

However, it was G. Evelyn Hutchinson who re-defined the concept of ecosystem to be more quantitative in nature.  In fact, it was Hutchinson and his post-doctoral associate Raymond Lindeman who moved ecology from a descriptive “soft science” of the 18th / 19th to more of a quantitative “hard science” of the 20th century. Instead of merely identifying species and describing their life cycles and interactions, math and statistics could be used with models to construct experiments to predict how organisms interact and react in their environment and among themselves.  Hutchinson and Lindeman were limnologists (the sub-discipline of ecology I study / practice) and so many of these ideas were first initiated in focusing on the biogeochemistry and the transfer of energy among trophic levels in lake ecosystems. In a sense, it was logical for ecosystem science to begin with lakes since they appear to be very clearly defined and bounded ecosystems (as will be discussed later this distinct boundary is not the case).

Picture4                                                                         Photograph of a young G. Evelyn Hutchinson

Prior to Lovecraft’s time, the “hard sciences” were thought of as astronomy, physics and chemistry, while biology and ecology were “softer “sciences that focused primarily on descriptions.  This hierarchical view of the sciences was developed and promoted by the French philosopher and writer Isidore Marie Auguste Francois Xavier Comte (1798 – 1857). Comte stated that astronomy was the most general of the sciences, followed by (in hierarchical order) physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. I’m sure Lovecraft would have agreed with this hierarchy of the sciences, with astronomy being the hardest or “most pure.”

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A hard science is typically described as one where controlled experiments can be constructed and performed to test hypotheses, with the use of math and statistics. In turn, the results of the experiments can be used to make testable predictions about the natural world. Over the last two hundred years we have seen the softer sciences utilize a more quantitative, scientific approach and this is particularly the case for biology, including the sub-discipline of ecology.

Ironically, it was the quantitative aspects of astronomy and chemistry that kept him from pursuing a career in either field. As Joshi has cited in, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), Lovecraft stated:

In studies I was not bad – except for mathematics, which repelled and exhausted me. I passed in these subjects – but just about that. Or rather, it was algebra which formed the bugbear. Geometry was not so bad. But the whole thing disappointed me bitterly, for I was then intending to pursue astronomy as a career, and of course advanced astronomy is simply a mass of mathematics. That was the first major set-back I ever received – the first time I was ever brought up short against a consciousness of my own limitations. It was clear to me that I hadn’t brains enough to be an astronomer – and that was a pill I couldn’t swallow with equanimity.

This is from a letter Lovecraft wrote to Robert E. Howard, dated 25-29 March 1933.

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While the term “ecosystem” was first coined and used in the scientific literature in the early 20th century, it was not widely used in popular culture at the time. Thus, it is not surprising that I could not find the word in any of Lovecraft’s stories or other writings. However, while he did not use the word, many of his stories include several of the ideas and concepts associated with ecosystems and that is what we will review over the next set of blogs. Next time we will talk about the ecosystem-based alterations associated with his tale “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.

NecronomiCon – 2019

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Hello everyone!  I know it has been a while since an article has been posted (in fact I believe the last post was in January); work has been insane over the last year, particularly over the summer thanks to Harmful Algal Blooms.  However, I wanted to give an update on a few things.  First, the NecronomiCon 2019 begins in only a few days!  Just wanted give you my schedule – looking forward to seeing and meeting everyone!

On Saturday, 9 – 10:15 am, I am on a panel called “WE ARE NOT ONE THING: COLONIES, HIVES, COLLECTIVES AND COMPOSITES.” I will specifically be providing input on clonal organisms and the evolutionary advantage of such colonies.

I am also the Session Chair for the Armitage Symposium: Lovecraftian Grimoires: East & West, which will be on Saturday, 3:00 – 4:15 pm

I am also giving a presentation as part of the Armitage Symposium: Polar Myths & the Old Ones. My presentation is called “The Lackey / Fifer Hypothesis: The Weakness of the Old Ones.” This session is on Sunday, 10:30 – 11:45 am.

Finally, I will be giving an Academic Talk on Lovecraftian Ecosystems on Sunday, 1:30 – 2:45 pm.

Also want to mention that we will be completing Volume 3 of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science after the NecronomiCon and will be shipping out hard copies in the early fall.  I want to thank all of the supporters of our Kickstarter for Volume 3 and apologize for the delays in getting this tome to you.  By the way, we will also have copies of Volumes 1 and 2 of the Journal on sale at the NecronomiCon if you are interested in purchasing a copy.

Thank you and looking forward to seeing and talking to everyone in Providence, Rhode Island in a few days!

Rhan-Tegoth

 

Lurking Fear from Necronomicon Press!

Hey everyone – Necronomicon Press just released Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” from its original print run as a four part serial in the magazine Home Brew (1923).  In addition, it has an introduction by S. T. Joshi and illustrations by Robert H. Knox, which were inspired by the original illustrations done by Clark Ashton Smith.  I highly recommend this one!

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Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 3 Drifting through Interstellar Space

Being essentially, asexual, immortal beings, the Elder Things are not constrained by specific life cycle functions and are not overly concerned with reproduction. In addition, their ability to enter into cryptobiosis over extremely long periods of time and under very adverse environmental conditions, means the Elder Things are uniquely adapted to survive in interstellar space.

sadan-vague-elder_sadania.artstation.com Elder Thing by Sadan Vague (www.sadania.artstation.com)

Previously we hypothesized that the Elder Things may use dark matter and/or dark energy to propel themselves through space. Additionally, we know from their discovery in Antarctica that they go into a cryptobiotic state for long periods of time. Thus, it is not surprising that they would remain in such a state for millennia, drifting thorough interstellar space. Such a mode of existence is a very energy efficient means of colonizing other ecosystems, or in their case planets. A wide variety of organisms behave in a similar manner, such as phytoplankton, invertebrates and plants (e.g. seeds). In addition, we are familiar with at least one multicellular organism that can survive the rigors of space – the tardigrades.

tard1   A tardigrade

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are water-dwelling, multicellular, micro-animals of the phylum Tardigrada. These organisms have been found in hot springs and on the top of the Himalayas, in polar regions and the deep sea; they are some of the most resilient Terran organisms. Tardigrades can survive extreme temperatures, pressures, a absence of oxygen, dehydration, high amounts of radiation (they can withstand 1,000 times more radiation than any other Terran animal) and a complete lack of food. In fact, tardigrades are so resilient that they are one of the few groups of organisms to have survived all five of Earth’s mass extinctions. Thus, its not surprising that tardigrades are the first known animal to have survived when exposed to outer space.

One reason for the high degree of resiliency in the tardigrades relative to the exposure of high amounts of radiation in space, is its unique damage suppressor protein, called Dsup, which suppresses the frequency of DNA breaks associated with high amounts of radiation. It may be possible that among the many unique adaptations (e.g. extremely tough but flexible hide, the potential ability to utilize dark energy / dark energy), the Elder Things have its own set of Dsup proteins that allow them to survive drifting through space as intergalactic plankton.

Hypsibius                                                                                                  The tardigrade Hypsibius dujardini – an immunofluorescent micrograph

According to Dyer, early bas-reliefs found in the mountains of madness represented the preterrestrial life of the Elder Things on other planets, in other galaxies and even in other universes (more on this in a future article). Additional bas-reliefs indicated that they arrived on a “…nascent, lifeless earth…” although based on estimates of when the Elder Things arrived on Earth the world already had life but it was only microbial in nature. The Elder Things were said to have “…filtered down from the stars when earth young –.” However, while the Elder Things may have possessed an entire array of adaptations to survive in a cryptobiotic state drifting through space until they arrived on a habitable world, based on the bas-reliefs as the Pleistocene drew on the Elder Things “…had lost track…” of the ability to travel through space.

Bellerophon Cthulhu soapstone bas relief Bas-relief of the spawn of Cthulhu found in the Mountains of Madness (www.propomicon.blogspot.com)

Through the centuries the Elder Things experienced a war with the spawn of Cthulhu as well as a number of rebellions of their Shoggoth creations. Thus, by the time the inter-dimensional Mi-Go arrived on Earth, the Elder Things wanted to leave the planet in search of other worlds for colonization. However, when they attempted to leave Earth, they “…found it no longer possible to leave the earth’s atmosphere. Whatever the old secret of interstellar travel had been, it was now definitely lost to the race.” This passage is extremely interesting in that it makes it difficult to accurately describe just exactly how the Elder Things traveled through space.

untitled                   Elder Thing by Steve Maschuck

Based on earlier accounts of their complete lack of dependence or interest in mechanical devices we know their ability to travel through space is not based on technology. While space travel may be more of a biological adaptation, their essentially immortal status and the general absence of sexual reproduction, indicates that more than likely the Elder Things did not “loose” the ability to travel through natural selection (as least based on the way we understand how Terran evolution operates). Thus, I hypothesize that interstellar travel was more of a cultural trait or ability that was known and shared amount the Elder Things. Cultural traits, which are not evolutionary in nature, that are past from one generation to the next in humans include language and writing. Thus, interstellar travel may have been a cultural trait in the Elder Things.

Elderthing_CthulhuWars_SandyPetersen Elder Thing art for Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars

The colony of Elder Things that reached Earth and remained on the planet for millions of years had no need to travel through interstellar space and so not only forgot how to travel through space but even how to leave the planet’s atmosphere. Thus, over time, this ability or knowledge was simply lost, at least to those who colonized the Earth. However, their inert resiliency was not entirely lost since they could still live in the deep ocean depths and still put themselves into a state of cryptobiosis for millions of years.

Next time we will review how other colonies of Elder Things not only retained their ability to travel through space but also learned how to travel through higher dimensions to other Universes. Thank you – Fred.

Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 2 Traveling through Interstellar Space

“They were the great “Old Ones” that had filtered down from the stars when earth was young – the beings whose substance an alien evolution had shaped, and whose powers where such as this planet had never bred.” – from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

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At the Mountains of Madness by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society

In addition to withstanding the cool, desiccated conditions of Antarctica, the bas-reliefs and illustrations in the catacombs of the Mountains of Madness provided evidence that the Elder Things were extraterrestrial in origin.  In fact, it was documented that the Elder Things traveled to other planets and galaxies and even visited other universes.  Additional illustrations indicate that the Elder Things could travel through interstellar space on their vast membranous wings, propelled by the “ether” also known as aether.

Ether was once thought to be some type of material found throughout space, which allowed light to pass through.  Christiaan Huygens hypothesized that as sound waves travel through air and mechanical energy can travel as waves through water, light waves needed to travel through some type of media.  Huygens described this semi-physical material as aether and it allowed light to travel even through the vacuum of space.  However, the Michelson – Morley experiment of 1887 provided evidence that light was not traveling through a luminous aether.  By the 1920s a sufficient amount of experimental evidence accumulated to indicate light did not need the aether to travel through space.

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Christiaan Huygens

So, what are we to make of Lovecraft’s proposed hypothesis that the Elder Things propel themselves through space with ether?  In Lovecraft’s day the hypothesis of the ether was already largely regarded as not a valid interpretation of how light travels through space.  However, in spite of the scientific evidence for the absence of the aether, this material took on an almost metaphysical status.  For example, in Modern Science and Materialism, a book written by Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot and known to have a large impression on Lovecraft’s philosophical and cosmic view, it is stated…” The aether of space makes no impression on our senses, and its more rapid vibrations cannot be perceived. Yet we can easily understand that they exist, and in our “mind’s eye” see the ultra-violet rays which our bodily eye is blind to.” Thus, based on this metaphysical viewpoint, just because we cannot perceive or measure it, at least not yet, does not mean it does not exist.  A reality existing beyond our Earth-bound senses was a theme in many of Lovecraft’s tales including At the Mountains of Madness.

An alternative hypothesis to the utilization of aether as a means of interstellar transportation, has been that the Elder Things use dark matter and/or dark energy as a means of propulsion. However, it should be emphasized, that dark matter or dark energy is not simply a replacement for aether.  As explained by Sean Carroll, aether was a theoretical idea that could not be verified with experimental evidence.  In sharp contrast, dark matter and dark energy are observations in the universe that physicists would love to ignore but can’t (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2012/06/08/dark-matter-vs-aether/).  Dark matter is a new, but currently undetectable, kind of matter that appears to be required to explain how galaxies spin with our understanding of gravity.  Dark energy is a strange force that causes the universe to expand at an accelerated rate (Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart, 2016).

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Elder Thing by Tom Ardans

The reluctant consideration of dark matter originates with trying to explain why galaxies in the Coma cluster move substantially faster than they should under Newtonian gravity.  Specially, based on the observed rates of movement the galaxies should fly apart and the cluster should dissolve, again based on Newtonian physics.  Since they don’t something else must be holding the cluster together. Currently, the leading hypothesis for this observation is the presence of dark matter.  Dark energy is thought of as an anti-gravity field which is driving the galaxies apart (Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku, 2005).  In addition, dark matter and dark energy combined account for 96% of the mass-energy density of the universe; our “normal” (baryonic) matter only accounts for about 4% of the total mass-density in the universe.  Thus, while as humans we have difficult time measuring or imagining what dark matter and dark energy are, the Elder Things with senses beyond our five, may be able to recognize, quantify and thus utilize these “dark” forms of mass-energy.

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Maybe the Elder Things utilize dark matter as a sort of “fuel,” powering their interstellar sails (wings) and dark energy is a form of biological, anti-gravity drive that propels them through the cosmos.  However, even with such exotic forms of matter and energy, it is doubtful that the Elder Things could travel faster than the speed of light.  While certain factions of the Elder Things are known to utilize inter-dimensional travel as cited in “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (more on that in a later article), it appears that the majority of them travel through interstellar space.  Since the Elder Things seem to be essentially immortal, largely through their asexuality, and have an extremely tough yet flexible outer skin, it is more than likely that the majority of their time is spent passively drifting in space in an inactive, cryptobiotic state.  Next time we will talk about the Elder Things cryptobiotic state in space.  Thank you – Fred.

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Elder Thing by Henning Ludwigsen (www.henningludwigsen.com)

Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3 – Funded!

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With a little more than a day to go we hit the threshold where we will be adding a chapter and illustration on “The Curse of Yig,” one of several of Lovecraft’s revision tales in “The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3.” In addition to the Journal we are also offering a chapbook on the ecosystem of Lovecraft’s Venus in “In the Walls of Eryx.” Shown below is an early illustration for that tale by Steve Maschuck, who will be providing all illustrations. If you are still interested in the Kickstarter there is about a day left and it can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/…/journal-of-lovecraftian-scien…. Again, thank you to everyone who has contributed! Fred.

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Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 1 Antarctica

“10:15 p.m. Important discovery.  Orrendorf and Watkins, working underground at 9:45 with light, found monstrous barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature; probably vegetable unless overgrown specimen of unknown marine radiata.  Tissue evidently preserved by mineral salts. Tough as leather, but astonishing flexibility retained in places.” – from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

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Illustration by Pete von Sholly

The passage cited above is the first time in the Cthulhu Mythos that the Elder Things were referenced and described. A total of 14 specimens were found, 8 being in perfect condition, meaning all of their appendages were intact. The Elder Things were first described as “fossils,” again with tissues replaced by mineral salts, and were estimated to be found in geologic deposits from the late Cretaceous or early Eocene period (approximately 66 to 56 million years ago).

A number of times the Elder Things were described as tough as leather and yet very flexible. Thus, while not explicitly described, the Elder Thing fossils may have been perceived more as mummified remains rather than simple fossils. Such well-preserved, mummified fossils are extremely rare but are discovered from time to time. For example, in Alberta, Canada an extremely well preserved nodosaur (a type of ankylosaur) was found, providing some of the best-preserved examples of dinosaur skin and armor (www.smithsonianmag.com; 15 May 2017).

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Exhibit of a mummified  nodosaur

Once the Elder Thing specimens were brought to the field camp, it appears that an increase in temperature of their immediate surroundings contributed toward reviving them. Other environmental factors may have contributed toward this including exposure to an oxygenated atmosphere and sunlight. However, more than likely it was the rise in temperature, once the specimens were taken to camp to be thawed and dissected, that resulted in the revival of the Elder Things.

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Illustration of fossilized Elder Things by Howard V. Brown for Astounding Stories.

The Elder Things may have been in a state of cryptobiosis when discovered by members of the Miskatonic expedition. Cryptobiosis was first defined by David Keilin in 1959 as “the state of an organism when it shows no visible signs of life and when its metabolic activity becomes hardly measurable, or comes reversibly to a standstill.” Essentially, the organism shows no signs of life and yet is not dead. Cryptobiosis is an evolutionary adaptation that allows an organism to essentially stop all metabolic processes during adverse environmental conditions such as the absence of water, freezing or oxygen deficiency. Once favorable environmental conditions return, the organism will resume measurable metabolic activities. Thus, unknown to Lake and the others, exhuming what they thought were large fossils, exposed the Elder Things to higher temperatures, disrupting their cryptobiosis.  Similar cryptobiotic circumstances, where an assumed dead organism was recovered from the ice and revived as a result of increasing temperatures, occurred in the early 1980’s at Norwegian and American research stations in Antarctica. We know both instances resulted in disastrous results for the human researchers and scientists.

While cryptobiosis may seem to be an attribute of only non-terrestrial life, it is fairly common on Earth. For example, cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) produce “resting spores” called akinetes when environmental conditions turn undesirable. Most frequently this occurs in fall going into winter when temperatures decline and lakes and ponds freeze over. The Akinetes settle to the bottom and when the lake ices out and “turns over,” the mixing brings the akinetes to the surface, where increasing temperatures and sunlight result in increased metabolic activities. The akinetes “hatch” and a new crop of cyanobacteria are growing in the surface waters.

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A filament of the cyanobacteria Anabaena; the enlarged cell is an akinete.

The morphology of the Elder Things is described as a cross between an echinoderm (sea stars and sea urchins) and a fern. In general fern spores are not very hardy. Typically, they are only viable for a few days but under certain circumstances they can be viable for a year or a little more. Using specialized cryogenic techniques, it has been reported that spores may be preserved and viable after 15 years. However, in contrast to fern spores, the seeds of angiosperms (flowing plants), have been documents to be viable for substantially longer periods of times. Frequently, for seeds the key to their viability over extremely long periods of time is low temperature with little to no moisture. There have been reports of 2,000-year-old palm oil seeds, discovered in Israel during an archeological dig, successfully germinating. In addition, it has been documented in the mid-1990s that a Chinese water plant grew from a seed that was dated at around 1,400 years (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2005/jun/16/thisweekssciencequestions1). Again, the key to this extremely long state of cryptobiosis is existing in very dry and cold conditions. The Elder Things “fossils” were found buried in Antarctica, probably the driest and coldest place on Earth. This, in combination with their extremely tough yet very flexible structure allowed them to remain in cryptobiosis for millions of years – until they were revived by the small upright mammals.

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An Elder Thing by David Maguire.

Next time we will discuss the cryptobiosis of the Elder Things in interstellar space. Also, I want to remind everyone that we have about one week to go before the Kickstarter ends for the third volume of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science. We are about 90% funded and if you are interested please check it out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-three?ref=user_menu. Thank you – Fred.