From Beyond, Part 1 – the Pineal Gland

The Resonator from Stuart Gordon’s movie From Beyond (1986)

For the next few articles, the discussion will focus on HPL’s short story From Beyond.  For such a short story HPL crammed a lot of interesting scientific concepts and ideas into it.  Essentially, it is about a man who develops a machine that generates waves (radiation) that stimulates dormant parts of the human brain so we can see what is all around us beyond of five senses; essentially, it allows our dormant senses to see the true nature of the Universe.  Based on HPL the key part of the brain that is stimulated to observe these unperceived parts of the Universe is the pineal gland.

Based on Gray’s Anatomy (my version is a revised American version from the 15th English Edition; 1977), the pineal gland is a small (about the size of a pea), reddish gray body located deep in the brain (see drawing of brain below).

Gray’s Anatomy (Bounty Books, New York; 1977)

While Gray’s Anatomy provides detailed descriptions of bones and organs, it does not tell one what each organ is specifically used for (it’s a book on anatomy, not physiology).  As S.T. Joshi cites in his notes on From Beyond (The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories; Penguin Classics; 2004), HPL may have identified the pineal gland to be the organ of concern in seeing the true nature of the Universe, through the writings of Rene Descartes.  Descartes hypothesized that the pineal gland is the mediator between the material body and the immaterial soul.  However, no empirical evidence has been provided to support Descartes hypothesis.

Given its small size, the function of the pineal gland was not revealed until the 1960’s.  The pineal gland secretes a hormone – melatonin, which regulates sexual development, metabolism, animal hibernation and seasonal breeding.

Location and relative size of the pineal gland (from nabulsi.com)

The gland secretes melatonin in sync with circadian rhythms.  Essentially, more melatonin secreted contributes toward a reduction in sexual thoughts.  Thus, more melatonin is secreted while we sleep, which is why (for the most part) sexual thoughts are generally lower when we sleep.  Also, higher amounts of melatonin is secreted in children relative to adults, which inhibits sexual development in children.  After puberty, the pineal gland shrinks and releases less melatonin (www.wisegeek.org).  Thus, less melatonin is associated with sexual development and an increase in sexual thoughts.

Given the hormonal control of the pineal gland over sexual development, it is understandable why this concept was integrated into Stuart Gordon’s 1986 movie From Beyond.  The movie is loosely based on HPL’s story and, if anything, is sort of a sequel of sorts.  The movie will be discussed in upcoming articles, however, here the point is being made that when one is within the field of waves generated by the machine (in the movie it is called the Resonator), it stimulates your pineal gland and begins to physically and physiologically alter you.  One of these changes is your pineal gland increases in size, primarily through a stalk.  In addition, sexual thoughts and urges substantially increase.

Dr. Katherine McMichaels (actress Barbara Crampton) being affected by the Resonator in Stuart Gordon’s 1986 movie From Beyond. 

Based on what is known about the pineal gland, the  Resonator may have generated a field of waves that completely shuts down the production of melatonin.  However, instead of continuing to shrink in size (as it does in the development from child to adult) it actually increases in size (length-wise) and eventually breaks through the skull.  Is it possible that this wave-induced change in the pineal gland allows it to shut down the production of melatonin, to make way for allowing one to sense or experience the Universe as it really is?

Dr. Crawford Tillingshast (actor Jeffrey Combs) demonstrating the extension of the pineal gland in Stuart Gordon’s 1986 movie From Beyond

I know a lot of people are not thrilled when Mr. Gordon incorporates sexual situations in his HPL-based movies, since sex literally had no place in HPL’s stories.   However, in the case of From Beyond, it was more than justified given the role the pineal gland plays in the regulation of sexual development and behavior.  Next time, we will be discussing the philosophical origins of From Beyond.  Thank you – Fred.

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10 thoughts on “From Beyond, Part 1 – the Pineal Gland

  1. Very good article. I was not aware that melatonin was a chemical that also caused repressed sexual feelings (to me, its an over-the-counter medicine that helps people go to sleep – sorry!).

    “From Beyond” is wonderful to me. Going past the awesome title, the scientific concepts that H.P.L. throws in there are really interesting – the notion that monsters exist on the same plane as us, and they are just as unaware of us as we are of them. Crawford Tillinghast is really well-written, and the story is just…just…creepy!

    I apologize from going on yet another of my idiotic rambles, and clearly taking up valuable comment space for more refined replies. I just love your articles, and I highly enjoy commenting on them.

    Best of luck;

    BRIAN

    1. Thank you for the reply and I always appreciate your comments on the stories; that is one of the primary reasons for this site! From Beyond is a very tight and well structured story, saying a lot of very cool stuff in a very small space! Thanks again – Fred.

  2. In addition, tying extrasensory abilities to the pineal gland in From Beyond may have been an oblique reference to some folkloric references (such as in Finland) to the pineal gland as the “third eye.”

    Or maybe it’s just signal in the noise. Intentional or not for HPL, it’s definitely something that could be incorporated into someone else’s work.

    1. I agree. There are a variety of ideas of what the pineal gland was used for up until the 1960s. Thank you for the comment! Fred

  3. It’s against all logic that a stimulus (whatever it is) shuts down an activity or substance release but makes the organ in charge to grow. In the case of that movie, so much to break through the skull. It makes no sense to me.
    BTW, I didn’t know the pineal gland was deep in the brain, I thought it was more or less in the forehead area. I must be confused.

    1. “It’s against all logic that a stimulus (whatever it is) shuts down an activity or substance release but makes the organ in charge to grow”

      Not necessarily. Consider goiter. When the thyroid is hyperactive or hypoactive, it may become enlarged, leading to a large growth on the front of the neck.

      That said, I can’t imagine what could cause the pineal gland to grow forward through the midbrain and frontal lobe and out the forehead.

      1. Good point Jon! Many biological processes are based on millions of years of evolution and have a lot of genetic baggage so many processes that do not seem logical are more a result of historical evolutionary pathways building on previous ones.
        In the case of the movie From Beyond it was a unique electromagnetic field are causes the growth (similar to cancer growth of cells when exposed to certain types of radiation).

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