Lovecraftian Scientists: Hugh S.R. Elliot, the mentor of Crawford Tillinghast

resonator_done The Resonator by Steve Maschuck

In tales like “From Beyond” Lovecraft tried to convey that how we see and experience our world and universe is only a small portion of the true nature of reality. In the tale Crawford Tillinghast explains that are perception of reality is limited by our five senses and that even the senses we have are severely limited in their capacity. The best example of this is sight. Humans can “see” only a small portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, which is a continuum of EM waves of varying energy arranged according to frequency and wavelength. More energetic waves have shorter wavelengths but higher frequencies. The EM spectrum ranges from 100 meters (radio waves) to 1 x 10-12 meters (gamma rays). Out of this huge EM continuum humans can only see wavelengths between infrared and ultraviolet, which is the visible light portion of the spectrum, varying in wavelength between 4.00 x 10-7 meters and 7.00 x 10-7 meters (400 – 700 nanometers).

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From Beyond by Michael Lyddon

From an Earth-based perspective, it makes sense that humans, in fact most Earth organisms, can see primarily within the visible light portion of the EM spectrum, since the majority of the sun’s rays that reach the surface of the Earth are primarily composed of light rays. However, there are some variations to this. For example, while bees cannot see the color red, they can see ultraviolet light (UV-light). However, imagine if we could see not only UV-light but the entire EM spectrum! This idea of opening up our senses to all of reality is what Lovecraft was conveying in “From Beyond.”

4Eyes_www.beeculture.com www.beeculture.com

The idea of expanding the limits of our existing senses or having more than simply our known five was something that certainly stimulated Lovecraft’s imagination when he read Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot’s book Modern Science and Materialism (published in 1919). In S.T. Joshi’s essay “The Sources for “The Beyond,”” found in his book Primal Sources: Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2015), he compares a number of Crawford Tillinghast’s quotes to passages found Elliot’s book. For example, Tillinghast’s discussions on how we have only five senses and how they limit our ability to perceive reality from a holistic perceptive, are very similar to some detailed passages found in Elliot’s book. There are also discussions, both in “From Beyond” and Elliot’s book, on how a large portion of an atom is composed of empty space as well as how human sight is limited to the light waves of the EM spectrum and how typically we cannot see UV-light. So, who was this mentor of Crawford Tillinghast’s?

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Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot, better known as Hugh S.R. Elliot, was a writer of science and well known for his favorable view of scientific materialism and his criticism of metaphysical speculation. Elliot established three main principles of scientific materialism that included:

The Uniformity of Law – the sequence of cause and effect is constant throughout the universe.

The Denial of Teleology – the denial that the cosmos as a whole is progressing in some direction from a religious, metaphysical perspective.

The Denial of Any Form of Existence that cannot be described in terms of matter and motion – this denial states that under the laws of physics and chemistry every type of existence can be described.

As S.T. Joshi has cited, mechanistic materialism was originally described under Pre-Socrates, Greek philosophy (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providences: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013). However, Elliot developed a modern view of mechanistic materialism, from an early 20th century perspective, through his three principles. In spite of this mechanistic view of having the potential to understand how everything in the universe operates, Elliot freely admitted that our limited capacity for detecting everything in our reality with our five senses severely limits our ability to truly understanding the universe.

tillinghast_hutchinson1860 Crawford Tillinghast by D. Hutchinson

This 20th century view of mechanistic materialism is at the heart of Lovecraft’s philosophical cosmic view as well as the development of many of the cosmic horrors in his tales. The Mi-Go and Cthulhu are beings from “outside” of our known reality, so many of the physical and chemical rules of our universe do not apply to them. Thus, by being outside of our universe these beings have a supernatural aspect to them. However, Lovecraft’s scientific, materialistic view states that these beings are not supernatural. Instead, it’s just that we don’t understand (and maybe we never will) the rules of those other universes that have different sets of physical and chemical rules. Relative to “From Beyond,” by generating specific fields of waves, Tillinghast is awakening dormant sense organs (e.g. the pineal gland) that can sense or perceive things that exist but we cannot detect with our operating senses. The result is a scientific effort to describe something that would otherwise be described as supernatural. Thus, in a sense, Hugh S.R. Elliot was the mentor of Crawford Tillinghast, establishing the principles that Tillinghast needed to bend to see into the Beyond.

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Lovecraft has utilized the three principles of Hugh S.R. Elliot ‘s mechanistic materialism in other stories and we will be covering one of these in the next article. Specifically, we will be looking at one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated and notorious scientists – Dr. Herbert West. Thank you – Fred.

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