William Sanderson portraying Joe Slaader in the 2006 film Beyond the Wall of Sleep
In HPL’s story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” an intern at a New England mental institution discovers that an alien entity inhabits Joe Slater’s mind. His discovery was made through the use of a “cosmic radio,” a machine the intern constructed in his college days. The actual description of the device is somewhat ambiguous, being a “…suitable apparatus, and I had in my college days prepared a set of transmitting and receiving instruments somewhat similar to the cumbrous devices employed in wireless telegraphy at the crude, pre-radio period.”
The intern’s theory behind the device is that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion (energy) that can be converted into ether waves or radiant energy like heat, light and electricity. So what does this mean? Essentially, it is converting one form of energy into another. A great analogy to this is where radio emissions generated from the planets and their moons / rings are collected and then translated into sound waves by our space probes (Voyager I and II and Cassini). In this case natural radio waves generated in the vacuum of space are converted into a format that it then perceived through one of the five human senses; in this case sound. The results are astonishing. If you are interested in these sounds, then please either check out the NASA website below or type “sounds of the planets” into YouTube.
A shot of Saturn from the Cassini space probe, showing the rings, some of its moons as well as Venus, Earth and our moon (nasa.gov). All of these celestial bodies emit radio waves that can then be converted into sound waves. Is this what the intern’s cosmic radio did in Beyond the Walls of Sleep?
The intern had a hypothesis in college that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion that is similar to other forms of energy (that is, the potential energy associated with molecular vibrations can be released and converted into kinetic energy). While he was unsuccessful in using the device on humans (at least in his college days), the device did appear to work on Joe Slater. However, Joe’s body was inhabited by the “luminous entity” who actually spoke to the intern through the device. Thus, maybe the intern’s device was too crude to work on human thoughts or maybe human thoughts are not easily translated into sound waves. In contrast. since the luminous entity gives off light, maybe it also naturally emits other forms of radiation, some of which can be converted into radio waves.
Based on the evidence at hand, the cosmic radio can not be used to convert pure human thought into a form of energy that can be processed and presented into a format that is perceivable through one of the five human senses. However, an entity that generates radiation may be able to be perceived through the cosmic radio not visually but through an auditory measure. With the entity occupying Joe Slater for his whole life, it would make sense that its thought waves could easily be converted into English. It was simply blind luck that the intern with his “useless” cosmic radio happened to meet Joe Slater and his luminescent co-inhabitant.
However, it does beg the question, did HPL predict the ability of the space probes of the late 20th and early 21st century to collect radio emissions and convert them into sound waves? The next article will be the final on “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and will cover the astronomy behind the story. Thank you – Fred.
Artist’s rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching Saturn (from cloudfront.net)