Category Archives: At the Mountains of Madness

Fossils from the Mountains of Madness (Part 2)

Greg Onychuk The Fowler Imprint_www.propnomicon.blogspot.com                                  The Fowler Imprint (Greg Onychuk; http://www.propnomicon.blogspot.com)

Of all of the fossils collected during the Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, the most intriguing specimens were those of the footprints of the Elder Things.  As previously mentioned, a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, and a number of living marine invertebrates were discovered near Queen Alexandra Range.  However, also discovered in the sandstones were strange triangular striated marking, about a foot in diameter at their widest point. While Lake, the lead biologist on the expedition found these triangular fossils interesting and curious, Dyer who was the expedition’s lead geologist saw them as nothing more than ripple effects, which are common in sedimentary rock.  Such ripple marks form perpendicular to the direction of the wind or water (current or waves).  In this case, the fossilized ripple marks (see below) are indicative of agitation by water and were symmetrical, so they were probably formed by gentle waves or fast flow water.  In any event, based on the description of the triangular fossils, it is difficult to see how they could be mistaken for ripple marks. However, this was probably just an attempt by Dyer to explain the strange markings.

Ripple-Marks-GeologyPage-300x199

After flying over the South Pole and conducting some additional aerial surveying, Lake insisted that the new base be established in a westward direction, instead of the planned northwestward direction. This change in direction was sparked by Lake’s obsession with the strange “triangular striated marking in the slate.” Lake was convinced that these marking were not ripple marks but instead of some large, unknown organism, in spite of it being dated to be Cambrian, if not Precambrian.

In Lovecraft’s time, the Precambrian (recognized as the period of time from the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian about 541 million years ago) was generally thought to be dominated by unicellular life.  It was not until 1950’s when radiometric carbon dating was developed, that it was confirmed that multicellular life existed in the Precambrian. Indeed, the earliest multicellular forms of life are found in rock as old as 1.2 to 1.5 billion years ago. These ancient multicellular forms were a form of filamentous red algae named Bangiomorpha pubescens and were discovered in the 1990s (M.J. Benton; The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction; 2008).

funsia                                                                    Fossilized imprint of the red alga Bangiomorpha, one of the first multicellular organisms

The first recognized ecosystem dominated by multicellular species was during the Ediacara Period (between 635 and 542 million year ago). To be fair, when Lovecraft first suggested that the fossil footprints were of the Elder Things and dated somewhere between the Cambrian / Precambrian, very little was known about multicellular life in the Precambrian. The strange organisms of the Ediacara were discovered in the Ediacara Hills, north of Adelaide, Australia in 1946 by a young mining geologist named Reginald Sprigg (The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction by Michael J. Benton; 2008).  Many of these Ediacaran fossils looked like jellyfish, branching fronds and worms.  Some say the Ediacara species are the direct ancestors of many of existing marine fauna, while other state these species were so unlike most living forms that the majority of the Ediacaran died out approximately 540 million years ago (Benton, 2008).

Precambrian_p7angelinai-gts.weebly.com        The Ediacaran ecosystem in the Precambrian

Additional support for the hypothesis that the Ediacaran species represent some of the earliest known multicellular, animals on Earth was very recently presented.  Specifically, fossil fat molecules (cholesterol) were collected and measured off of a fossil of a species known and Dickinsonia.  These species lived 558 million years ago placing it firmly in the Precambrian.  So why did most, if not all, of the Ediacaran species, die out? Maybe the Ediacarans were an experiment of the Elder Things and for some reason decided to abandon and/or start over with a new “stock” of eukaryotic cells.

1024px-DickinsoniaCostata Fossil of Dickinsonia

Getting back to the fossilized Elder Thing footprints, initially one may ask why they would not be mistaken for another Ediacaran species.  The shape and appearance of the footprints may indicate that they were another flat, soft-bodied, bottom feeder, similar to Dickinsonia.  So why did Lake suspect that these fossils were footprints of some large animal and not a group of bottom-feeding species? It must have been the pattern of the fossils.  One or two fossil imprints would look like a few organisms.  However, a number of the same fossil imprint laid out in a linear arrangement, such as the dinosaur tracks shown below, is definitely an indication of the movement of some larger animal.

La-Rioja-dinosaur-footprints-protected-under-Cultural-Heritage-Law Dinosaur footprints at the La Rioja Cultural Heritage site

It was generally thought that animals did not start colonizing the land until the Silurian, between 440 and 410 million years ago.  However, in 2002 older fossilized footprints of a lobster-sized, centipede-like animal were discovered in some sandstone (see below).  These footprints are approximately 530 million years old (https://www.nature.com/news/1998/020429/full/news020429-2.html).  Thus, it appears that some animals were wading out of the shallow seas and onto the land during the Precambrian.  Thus, these creatures were around the same time the Elder Things were moving over the Earth.  Were the lobster-sized, centipede-like animals special pet projects of the Elder Things or were they just another discarded and abandoned biological experiment, cast out to be subjugated to the forces of evolutionary natural selection?

footprints_160                                                                                                                         Some of the earliest fossil footprints of a terrestrial organism on Earth

Next time we discuss the actual discovery of the “fossilized” Elder Thing specimens.  Thank you – Fred.

img_31131.jpg           Illustration of Elder Thing footprints by Pete Von Sholly

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Fossils from the Mountains of Madness (Part 1)

ATMOM_Steamgear_deviantart At the Mountains of Madness by Steamgear (wwwdeviantart.com)

During the Pabodie – Lake, Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, a number of fascinating fossils were discovered, in addition to the dormant Elder Things.  Frank Pabodie was a professor of engineering who developed a specialized drill that was used to bore through the Antarctic soils and bedrock, while Professor Lake was the expedition’s lead biologist who oversaw the collection of the fossils and other specimens.  In addition to Pabodie and Lake, the other two lead Miskatonic professors on the expedition were Professor Atwood of the physics department (also a trained meteorologist) and William Dyer of the geology department (S.T. Joshi [editor], H.P. Lovecraft – The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, 2001).  Over the next few articles we will be reviewing a number of the fossils founds during the Miskatonic expedition.  It should be noted that Pabodie’s experimental drill was first used just above Beardmore Glacier approximately 8,500 feet above sea-level on Mt. Nansen.

BeardmoreGlacier_www.coolantarctica.com

Beardmore Glacier (www.coolantarctia.com)

Some additional drillings to the west, near Queen Alexandra Range (see figure below) revealed a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, crinoids and two molluscs including lingulae and gasteropods.  With the exception of the trilobites, all of these identified organisms are still living today.  Thus, in order to be a “time stamp” on this collection of fossils, we will first discuss the trilobites.

Central Transantarctic Mountains

Queen Alexandra Range (www.michelle-kotnik.com)

Trilobites are a group of extinct arthropods, making up their own class, the Trilobita.  These organisms were some of the most successful early animals, living on Earth for almost 252 million years.  They first appear in the fossil record in abundance around in the early Cambrian around 521 million years ago.  However, there is some evidence to suggest that trilobites may have existed as far back as 700 million years or even earlier.  Once the trilobites appeared in the Cambrian, they rapidly diversified into a number of major orders. Trilobite diversity appeared to be highest in the Cambrian but were still fairly common in the Ordovician.  However, through the rest of the Paleozoic Era, trilobite diversity and abundance appeared to decline with a number of near-extinctions.  Finally, by the end of the Permian period all trilobites went extinct, leaving no known living, direct descendants. It should be noted that the trilobites were not alone in this.  Over 96% of all marine species went extinct during the Permian – Triassic extinction event, which occurred approximately 252 million years ago.  This extinction event was the largest of the big five events, where a total of 90% of all species went extinct (Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, 2009; Evolution: The First Four Billion Years).

trilobite_1200px-Kainops_invius_lateral_and_ventral

Fossil trilobites

Ferns are a group of “primitive” plants that have specialized tissues such as trees and flowers but reproduce by spores and not seed or flowers.  Ferns first appeared in the late Devonian, approximately 360 million years ago.  Thus, if all of these fossil finds of the Miskatonic expedition were from the same geologic time, they must have originated from somewhere between the late Devonian and the end of the Permian.

fern

Seaweed (complex algae) may have been some of the oldest multicellular organisms on Earth, dating back more than 555 million year old, well into the Precambrian (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160322134110.htm).  Thus, of all of the fossils organisms identified, the seaweeds are the oldest.

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Crinoids, commonly called sea lilies, are a group of marine animals that are in the phylum Echinodermata, also known as echinoderms.  With the exception of a few specimens found in the Burgess Shale, the crinoid group (class: Crinoidea) was first well represented in the Ordovician period, between 485 and 443 million years.  While this class of echinoderms were fairly abundant and diverse in the past, today they are represented by about 600 living species.

800px-Crinoid_and_comatule A living Crinoid, also known as a sea lily.

The last set of fossils cited in this passage were “…molluscs including lingulae and gasteropods.”  The Mollusca is one of the largest phyla of animal life, second only to the Arthropoda (the insects and their relatives).  Mollusks are soft-bodied animals that have some type of internal or external shell and include clams and squid.  Gasteropods are a class of mollusks that include the snails and their relatives (L. Margulis and K.V. Schwartz; Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, 1982).  However, the term lingulae probably refers to genus Lingula (lamp shells), which is placed in its own phylum, Brachiopoda.  The major difference between the Brachiopods and Mollusks is that Brachiopod shells have upper and lower surfaces in contrast to the left and right arrangement of the mollusks.

Lingula

A living Brachiopod of the genus Lingula.

From an evolutionary perspective, the mollusks are far more successful than the brachiopods; mollusks have approximately 7,600 living species while brachiopods only have approximately 350 living species.  In Darwin’s travels, he found the windswept cliffs of the Falkland Islands full of brachiopod fossils. In contrast to the total number of living species, over 35,000 species of brachiopods have been found in the fossil record.  At one point, they were the most abundant group of animals on Earth.  Given how specific species can be found in specific rocks, brachiopod fossils can be used to determine the age of the rock where a particular fossil was found.  This dating technique agrees well with more modern methods of dating rocks (https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin/a-trip-around-the-world/fossils-and-living-species/ancient-shells/).

brachiopod_fossils                                Brachiopod fossils

I believe Lovecraft including the lingulae with the gasteropods as members of the Mollusca phylum is an error on his part.  I can find no evidence that brachiopods were once considered to be another class within the Mollusca phylum.  If this is not directly attributed to an error on Lovecraft’s part, then it may have been an error from his reference source, possibly the Encyclopedia Britannia.  This is one of those rare instances where Lovecraft’s research for a story was flatly incorrect.

Next time we will continue to move forward in At the Mountains of Madness to discover what other fossils the Miskatonic Expedition found.  Thank you – Fred.

At the Mountains of Madness, Part 2: The Geology of the Mountains of Madness

at_the_mountains_of_madness___concept_art_by_mcrassusart-db53yra At the Mountains of Madness, concept art by Mcrassusart.

The Miskatonic University Expedition to Antarctica was lead by Professor William Dyer of the Geology Department at Miskatonic. Thus, is it not surprising that a large component of the Expedition was dedicated to “…securing deep-level specimens of rock and soil from various parts of the Antarctic continent…” Such exploratory investigations of Antarctica were certainly warranted in Lovecraft’s day. Only 0.4% of the entire continent is covered by exposed rock with the rest it being under ice. In order to obtain some rock and fossil specimens the expedition’s engineer, Professor Frank H. Pabodie, designed and built a durable yet light weight drill that could bore through rock but also have the capacity of melting ice through the use of copper electrodes.

I could find no reference of the use of copper electrodes in ice drill systems as a means of melting ice; however, more than likely Lovecraft gave rise to this idea through his general knowledge of chemistry.  The thermal conductivity (the rate at which heat passes through a specific material, typically described as the amount of heat that flows per unit time) of copper is higher than zinc, brass, aluminum and steel so it melts ice the fastest among these metals.

When the Dyer – Pabodie Expedition reached Antarctica one of the first large-scale geologic formations they encountered were the Admiralty Range, which is a large group of high mountains located in Victoria Land. Other impressive landmarks were Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror on Ross Island.

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Mt. Erebus is the second highest volcano in Antarctica, being 12,448 feet high; Lovecraft estimated its height to be 12,700 ft high. Mt. Erebus has been an active volcano for at least 1.3 million years and is described as being a polygenetic (erupts repeatedly) stratovolcano (a conical volcano built by many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice and volcanic ash). Thus, in At the Mountains of Madness, when one of the graduate assistants Danforth notes the intermittent puffs of smoke and the lava flows along Mt. Erebus’s snowy slopes, Lovecraft is recognizing that this mountain is indeed an active volcano. Finally, Lovecraft describes the peak of Mt. Erebus as being scoriac; both S.T. Joshi and Leslie S. Klinger in their annotated analyses of Lovecraft’s text indicate that this word describes the dense chunks or jagged blocks of lava that are filled with holes due to gases forming bubbles. Again, this is another reference to the active state of Mt. Erebus.

MtErebus Mount Erebus

A large portion of the initial drilling and geologic activity of the Dyer – Pabodie Expedition occurred at Mt. Erebus. Dyer briefly mentions how the expedition conducted several mineral borings on the slopes of Mt. Erebus and how Pabodie’s drill was successful at boring through solid rock as well as melting ice layers. In addition to observing the scoria lava structures, the expedition may have also noted fumaroles on the slopes of Mt. Erebus. These structures are openings in the Earth’s crust, typically associated with volcanoes. They release steam and gases that can include several sulfur-based gases. In contrast, the fumaroles found around Mt. Erebus form ice towers that produce very little methane or hydrogen sulfide. In fact, the ecosystems that exist in these fumaroles may be some of the most alien on Earth.

Ice_Fumaroles_www.ngssphenomena.com Ice Fumaroles near the slopes of Mount Erebus (www.ngssphenomena.com)

While the Antarctic fumaroles may be on a dry and cold continent, the air inside these structures may have 80 to 100% humidity. In addition, while the surface temperature at Mt. Erebus can commonly be -22oF, within the fumaroles the temperature can be between 32 and 48oF. These warm, moist conditions harbor communities of chemolithoautotrophic bacteria.  Such organisms are not dependent on light to produce energy through photosynthesis like almost all ecosystems on Earth. Instead, these microbes utilize chemicals from the bedrock as a source of energy.  These are the same types of bacteria that serve as the base of the food web for the deep sea hydrothermal vents; again, another ecosystem where photosynthesis cannot occur.

Basic RGB                                                                          Various types of chemolithoautotrophic bacteria.

While ice fumaroles are not long-lasting structures, typically they are in existence for a few decades, one can imagine shoggoths using them to move through the Antarctic continent. With humid, warmer conditions, coupled with a possible source of energy (the chemolithoautotrophic bacteria), the shoggoths may have used the fumaroles as a sort of underground network for communication and travel.  The fumaroles may have also been used as refuge against the Elder Thing masters; maybe the shoggoths also used the fumaroles as a means of plotting and spreading word about their developing rebellions.

The scoria rock produced by the volcanic activity of Mt. Erebus may have been some of the building material used by the Elder Things to build their great cities in the Mountains of Madness. This volcanic rock has been frequently used as a building material by humans, including the residents of Easter Island. Indeed, some of the statues on Easter Island are composed of scoria rock but most are composed of a soft volcanic rock called tuff.

Pukao-Tongariki_scoriarock_EasterIsland_natgeo Scoria rock found on Easter Island (www.natgeo.org)

In sharp contrast to Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror is an extinct volcano and Lovecraft identified it as such in the story.  He also describes it as “…white, ghost-like…” and that it has an altitude of 10,900 feet. Mt. Terror is a large shield volcano located on the eastern part of Ross Island and has numerous cinder cones and domes on its flanks, mostly covered under snow and ice. Based on Dyer, no geologic exploratory investigations were conducted at Mt. Terror.

at_the_mountains_of_madness_by_Earl-Graey-d701u1l At the Mountains of Madness by Earl Graey (www.deviantart.com)

Next time we will discuss the fossil findings of the Miskatonic University Expedition to Antarctica.  Thank you – Fred.

At the Mountains of Madness, Part 1: Lovecraft’s Continent

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While we had record low temperatures throughout a large portion of the United States at the turn of the new year, its nothing compared to some of the low temperatures and high winds experienced on Antarctica, the continent where Lovecraft’s tale At the Mountains of Madness takes place. As Joshi describes in this comprehensive biography (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013), Lovecraft was extremely fascinated with Antarctic geography and exploration since he was 10 or 12. In fact he wrote three treatises on the subject: “Voyages of Capt. Ross, R.N.” (1902), “Wilkes Explorations” (1902) and “Antarctic Atlas” (1903).  Unfortunately, these treatises are lost; it would have been fascinating to read these documents and exam the map of the continent Lovecraft illustrated in “Antarctic Atlas.”

The “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration was a period of time between the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century when there was an intensive and international effort to explore the continent of Antarctica. This unique period of time for Antarctic exploration is frequently cited as being between the “Heroic” and “Mechanical” ages, when individuals tested their mental and physical endurance in conjunction with using new and emerging technologies in transportation and communication. Lovecraft takes full advantage of this merging of 18th / 19th century exploration with early 20th century technology and scientific discoveries in the development of his tale.

HMS_Erebus_and_Terror_in_the_Antarctic_by_John_Wilson_Carmichael HMS Erebus and Terror in the Antarctic by John Wilson Carmichael

James Clark Ross (1800-1862) discovered the Ross Sea, Victoria Land, the Great Ice Barrier (later named the Ross Ice Shelf in his honor) and two large volcanoes, which he named after his two ships, Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror.  As Joshi has described, the Ross expedition had a profound impact on Lovecraft as well as his development of At the Mountains of Madness. For example, Joshi noted that the ship’s doctor, Dr. Joseph Hooker, wrote in response to his initial view of Mt. Erebus, “This was a sight so surpassing everything that can be imagined…that is really caused a feeling of awe to steal over us at the consideration of our comparative insignificance and helplessness, and at the same time, an indescribable feeling of the greatness of the Creator in the works of His hand.” (Joshi, 2013). With the exception of the mention of the Creator, this passage really describes the cosmic indifference Lovecraft attempts to convey in his tales.

British (English) School; James Clark Ross (1800-1862)               James Clark Ross (1800-1862)

As a result of his expeditions to Antarctica, Ross believed that the continent was actually two land masses, a larger eastern part and a small western part (see below), separated by the Weddell and Ross Seas and their associated ice shelfs.

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Lovecraft believed in this hypothesis was well and in fact included a passage in an earlier draft of At the Mountains of Madness to reflect this:

“…west, but radically different from the parts lying eastward below South America, which in all probability form a separate and smaller continent divided from the larger by a frozen junction of the Ross and Weddell Seas.” (from The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft, edited with an introduction and notes by S.T. Joshi, 2001).

However, this version is not found in the actual tale. Lovecraft modified this passage in the final submission to Astounding Stories in late 1935 to state:

“west, but somewhat different from the parts lying eastward below South America – which we then thought to form a separate and smaller continent divided from the larger one by a frozen junction of Ross and Weddell Seas, though Byrd has since disproved this hypothesis.” (from Joshi, 2001).

The bolded passages are the ones that were added. Joshi does cite that Lovecraft is incorrect in stating that Byrd disproved this hypothesis; actually, it was Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon who disproved it in late 1935 during the first airplane flight crossing over Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea (Joshi, 2001. However, the fact that Lovecraft took the time and care to make that small yet significant change to the text in At the Mountains of Madness, provides additional support to the claim that Lovecraft made every effort to make his tales as scientifically accurate as possible, with the information that was available at the time.

Mt-Erebus-lg_c9bfa69e-b296-45ca-9655-ec2347a0ddc0_1024x1024 Mt. Erebus on the continent of Antarctica

Next time we will discuss the geologic history of Antarctica as discussed in At the Mountains of Madness.  Thank you – Fred.

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 3, Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Hubble shears a "woolly" galaxy A previously unidentified “woolly galaxy” found by the Hubble Telescope (www.nasa.gov).

As we previously discussed, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” may have been the “keystone” tale in which the Universe expanded from one island galaxy into one including hundreds of millions, if not billions, of galaxies. This expanded view of the Universe largely stems from Edwin Hubble’s confirmation that many observed gaseous nebulae are actually entire galaxies, as well as his discovery that the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. While “The Whisperer in Darkness” (written in early 1930) have been the tale where Lovecraft first introduced this expanding view of the Universe, largely through the perspective of the Mi-Go, the idea of multiple galaxies was firmly established by the time he wrote At the Mountains of Madness in early 1931.

As Dyer and Danforth were examining the bas-reliefs of the Elder Things they found a section that represented “…the preterrestrial life of the star-headed beings on other planets, in other galaxies, and in other universes…”. Thus, not only is a universe filled with galaxies but the concept of a multiverse was also identified by Lovecraft. It is interesting to note that At the Mountains of Madness was not the first reference Lovecraft made to more than one universe in his stories. This is not particularly surprising since as we previously stated before Hubble’s discoveries, the Milky Way Galaxy was considered the Universe; thus, one could easily extrapolate and consider the presence of more than only galaxy-universe. However, the concept of the multiverse and how Lovecraft understood it will be discussed in future articles.

lovecraft elder2 Elder Thing by Steve Maschuck

In “The Dreams in the Witch-House” Walter Gilman talks about how with the use of higher mathematics one can travel through Space-Time by finding a passage out of our 3-dimensional space-sphere and then re-entering at another point within our space-sphere. While the travel itself would not kill the traveler, one would have to make sure that the point of re-entry is favorable conditions for life (e.g. enough oxygen to breath, minimal amount of radiation, temperature concerns, etc.). Following this Gilman hypothesized that “Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others – even planets belonging to other galaxies or to similar dimensional phases of other space-time continua…”. Again, Lovecraft clearly embraces the idea of many galaxies in our universe.

the-dreams-in-the-witch-house-jhc-by-h_-p_-lovecraft-2-2120-p

In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” co-written with E. Hoffmann Price, Randolph Carter is attempting to understand how there can be other forms of his “self” – human and non-human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable. He goes on to say, “And more, there were “Caters” having nothing in common with earthly life, but moving outrageously amidst backgrounds of other planets, systems and galaxies and cosmic continua.” Later, when Carter’s mind enters a Yaddithian wizard’s body, he has access to light-beam envelope technology that can transport him through space-time to other worlds spread throughout the 28 galaxies accessible to the light-beam. It is not yet understood if this limitation to 28 galaxies is simply a spatial limitation or if the Yaddithian technology to allow the light-beams to be transmitted is only found in these 28 galaxies.

lovecraft___zkauba__yaddithian_ii_by_kingovrats-d9sn1hl                    The Yaddithian wizard Zkauba by KingOvRats (www.deviantart.com)

In The Shadow Out of Time, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee attempted to understand the information provided to him on how the Earth was once inhibited by entities far more advanced than humans, millions of years ago. Some came from the stars while others evolved on Earth from the eukaryotic cell lines bioengineered by the Elder Things. Some of these life forms existed for thousands of millions of years and had linkages to other galaxies and universes. By the time Lovecraft wrote “Collapsing Cosmos” with R.H. Barlow, there were a reported total of 37 galaxies in our immediate universe.

Finally, in one of Lovecraft’s last tales, “The Haunter of the Dark,” at the end of that tale when Robert Blake is recording his last thoughts will waiting for the Haunter to visit him during the black-out he writes, “Trouble with memory. I see things. I never knew before. Other worlds and other galaxies… Dark… The lightning seems dark and the darkness seems light…”. For Robert Blake, staring into the shining trapezohedron provided a more realistic perspective of the Cosmos.

haunter_RachaelMayo The Haunter by Rachael Mayo

While Edwin Hubble discovered that our universe is not limited to the Milky Way and that other galaxies exist, I believe both he and Lovecraft would be amazed to know that just a few years ago the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there are nearly 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. However, just last year Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field survey revealed that volumes of space once thought empty are literally teeming with galaxies. Thus, while the most recent observations estimate that the observable Universe contains approximately 200 billion galaxies, studies from 2016 indicate that this estimate is at least 10 times too low. Thus, even Lovecraft’s 28 to 37 local cluster of galaxies may be an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the true structure of the Universe.

p1639ay-goodss-160930 Areas of space once thought empty have been revealed to be filled with galaxies by the Hubble surveys (www.nasa.gov).

Next time we will discuss eclipses in Lovecraft’s astronomical writings and his stories. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and Atlantis, Part 2

tdbgzhoafpyztufm4nv3 Sunken Atlantis by Paul Alexander

I would like to start this article with a correction to the first article on H.P. Lovecraft’s thoughts on the legend of Atlantis. In the first article, I stated that Lovecraft cited both Ignatius Donnelly’s account of Atlantis (Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, 1882) as well as W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925) in “The Temple.” This is incorrect. Lovecraft mentioned Donnelly’s book in “The Descendent” and Scott-Elliot’s book was mentioned in “The Call of Cthulhu.” While neither book was cited in “The Temple,” Joshi refers to both of them in his explanatory notes for “The Temple” in the Penguin Classics edition of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (2001). I apologize for the error.

In “The Call of Cthulhu” Professor George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages from Brown University was compiling information on the Cthulhu Cult and among the manuscript papers were some citations from W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria. As mentioned in Leslie S. Klinger’s The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) Lovecraft had a 1925 combined edition of these books. The Story of Atlantis was first published in 1896, while The Lost Lemuria was first published in 1904.

AtlatnisLemuria

It is interesting to note that Atlantis was supposed to represent a high point of human (or related species) civilization. While the destruction of Atlantis is frequently associated with the Atlanteans meddling with science and / or the power the gods, there are a variety of hypotheses attempting to link some real-life catastrophe to the legend of Atlantis. For example, the land of Thera, now known as the Greek island of Santorini, was partly destroyed by a volcanic eruption about 3,600 years ago. The destruction of Thera is thought to be basis for the idea of Atlantis (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160118-the-atlantis-style-myths-of-sunken-lands-that-are-really-true). However, is the extremely unlikely the Atlantis will actually be directly linked to a real location on Earth.

There have been attempts to link Cthulhu’s sunken City of R’lyeh to Atlantis but as Jason Colavito has stated:

“The imagined “fall” of Cthulhu, however, bears only a superficial resemblance to Atlantis, and even that was intentional. Lovecraft tried to create a (fictional) analogue to Plato’s Atlantis narrative as an answer to the Theosophists and their silly claims about Venusians running occult schools on Lemuria. Plato’s Atlantis sinks because of the Atlanteans’ sins… Cthulhu and R’lyeh sink beneath the waves—just because. Geology happens. There is no moral good or evil implied. It just happened.” – from http://www.jasoncolavito.com/blog/was-cthulhu-a-king-of-atlantis.  While in “The Strange High House in the Mist” Lovecraft mentions “…how the kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rift’s in ocean’s floor…” there is no evidence to indicate that these blasphemies were the spawn of Cthulhu.

r_lyeh_rising_by_welshpixie-da7sxa8

R’lyeh Rising by Welsh Pixie (www.deviantart.com)

Coavito’s statement agrees with Joshi’s statement that Lovecraft saw Atlantis as a myth and liked to incorporate it into his tales.  Additionally, and more to the point, Atlantis was supposed to sink somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, while R’lyeh is located somewhere deep in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, even if there was some sort of correlation between R’lyeh and some mythic sunken land it would have a slightly better chance of it being Lemuria.

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In a few of Lovecraft’s revision tales such as “The Last Test” co-written with Adolphe de Castro and “Medusa’s Coil” co-written with Zealia Bishop there are several references to individuals being descended from the primal race of lost Atlantis and how the Atlantean civilization delved into evil and forbidden knowledge. For example, in “The Last Test” Atlantis was apparently a “hotbed” of evil cult activity and it is hoped that “…no one will ever drag up that horror from the deep.” This may be a possible reference to the Atlantean’s attempting to contact the Old Ones from outside of our Universe. There is a reference to this in “Medusa’s Coil” where “…the frightful secret that has come down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones – the secret that was nearly wiped out when Atlantis sank…”

medusa_s_coil_by_mrsfish-da4hgua Medusa’s Coil by Mrs. Fish (www.deviantart.com)

In the tale “The Mound” written by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, the underground civilization discovered by the Spaniard Zamacona was said to occasionally receive visitors from the upper world. According to the individuals who Zamacona met, the last time they encountered someone from the outer world was when “…refugees straggled back from Atlantis and Lemuria aeons before.” If these refugees straggled back from these sunken kingdoms, is it possible that the Atlanteans and Lemurians were of the same decent as those who live under the mound? If this is the case, the various technologies that the mound civilization possess (e.g. dematerialization and dream-projection) may has also been possessed by Atlanteans.

In Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness the Elder Thing’s Antarctic Palaeogaean megalopolis was compared to both Atlantis and Lemuria, as well as other ancient civilizations. Additionally, in Out of the Aeons, co-written with Hazel Heald, Lovecraft mentions that cults of the Old One Ghatanothoa were established in Atlantis. Finally, as previously mentioned, the Shining Trapezohedron sunk with Atlantis, only later to be found by a Minoan fisherman in his nets.

64-ghatanothoa                               Ghatanothoa by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

In conclusion, it is extremely unlikely the Cthulhu’s R’lyeh and Atlantis were the same place, simply based on the fact that one is located in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Atlantic Ocean.  Additionally, there is no evidence to support that R’lyeh was Lemuria. However, the people of Atlantis may have been related to the people who live under the Earth as documented in “The Mound.” Also, the Atlanteans may have been attempting to contact the Old Ones or harness their powers in the manipulation of matter, energy, time and space. These attempts of communication (e.g. the Shining Trapezohedron) may have failed miserably and resulted in the downfall of the civilization and the destruction of their Island paradise.

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Next time we will discuss how the concept of what a galaxy is changed over the course of Lovecraft’s lifetime. Thank you – Fred.

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 3b – The Emergence of Consciousness

westworld-skele-fb       Manufacturing another host on HBO’s Westworld

As previously discussed the physicist, futurist and popularizer of science Michio Kaku presented a model on consciousness in his book The Further of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind (2014) that involved increasing levels from Level 0 (plants and bacteria) to Level III (humans). One of the key factors that moves an entity from Level II to Level III is having the ability to use existing information to respond to conditions in the past or present to anticipate repercussions or effects in the future.  This is markedly different than instinct, which is based on a genetically set of feedback loops that respond to environmental cues or imprinting / conditioning an animal to expect a response in the immediate future based on training or past conditions.  However, while instinct and imprinting have their roots firmly placed in Darwinian evolution through natural selection, this does not mean higher levels of consciousness is absent from other forms of Terran life (e.g. lions, dolphins, etc.). For example, can any form of kin selection (doing something in favor for the group and not the individual) be considered a higher level of consciousness since to some it can be considered a “higher” form of Darwinian evolution? A large part of this may be how we define consciousness as humans.  However, within the context of this discussion we will focus on the shoggoths of Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and the hosts in HBO’s Westworld.

dr-michio-kaku Dr. Michio Kaku

As previously mentioned, shoggoths were created initially as food and so started as Level 0 consciousness.

“It was under the sea, at first for food and later for other purposes, that they [Elder Things] first created earth life – using available substances according to long-known methods.” – Lovecraft, “At the Mountains of Madness.”

In addition, starting out as a source of food, it should be noted that the shoggoths were created from available substances.  This supports the hypothesis that prokaryotic (bacterial) life was already in existence on Earth when the Elder Things arrived. Additional support for this is found when comparing the estimated date of the arrival of the Elder Things to Earth relative to first appearance of prokaryotic life in the fossil records.

It is also hypothesized that the Elder Things created eukaryotic cells (complex cells) out of prokaryotic cells (simple cells) through a process called endosymbiosis.  The eukaryotic cells gave rise to animals, plants, fungi, protists and possibly other forms of life that the Elder Things extinguished for being a nuisance. Given the complex biology of the shoggoths (more on that in a future article) I propose their cellular structure is far more complex than eukaryotic cells, calling the shoggoth cells “super-eukaryotes.” Thus, the way the Elder Things built eukaryotic cells with prokaryotic cells, I propose they used eukaryotic cells to build the shoggoth cells. In additional to the complex cellular structure, the shoggoths were designed so they could not reproduce on their own. Sexual reproduction was an accident stumbled upon by life on Earth and fueled the engine of genetic variation, which drove nature selection and the process of evolution. The Elder Things did not want such genetic freedom for the shoggoths so they were intentionally designed to not breed on their own. New shoggoths could only be created by the Elder Things in the shoggoth pits and even that ability was eventually lost as the Elder Thing civilization fell into decadence.  This left the Elder Things with modifying existing shoggoths to suit their needs.

evolution-of-prokaryotic-and-eukaryotic-cells_www-slidesharecdn-com

Comparing prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells (www.slidesharecdn.com)

In spite of this high degree of control over the biology of the shoggoths, even re-designing them for intensive labor-associated on land, the shoggoths eventually acquired “accidental intelligence,” which made them a danger from time to time. As the Elder Things re-designed shoggoths to take on more and more complex tasks (e.g. moving large objects, communicating through telepathy, actually building structures), they quickly moved to Level I and, if a high degree of cooperation was required particularly in the building of structures, eventually to Level II. The accidental intelligence probably pushed them from Level II to Level III consciousness.

I will not go into the history of the rebellions and subsequent subjugations of the shoggoths; instead I want to focus on the how they acquired this accidental intelligence. With no type of reproduction, the shoggoth population could not increase nor was there any genetic variety to drive natural selection. However, I hypothesize this accidental intelligence was acquired through millions of years of a type of “prokaryotic sex” or sex that increases genetic variation but does not produce offspring; this unique type of genetic exchange is called horizontal gene transfer.

lovecraft___shoggoth__aquatic_by_kingovrats-d9myqd6 An aquatic shoggoth by Kingovrats (www.deviantart.com)

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is the exchange or transfer of genetic material between unicellular and/or multicellular organisms that does not involve the production of offspring (which is lateral gene transfer – that is, parents to offspring). Many bacteria are very effective at transferring some of their genetic material to other organisms and one of the most common instances of this is increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria or increased resistance to a pesticide. The surviving bacteria (more resistant to the antibiotic or pesticide) transfer their resistant genes into others. It is hypothesized that over the course of millions of years, the shoggoths were receiving genes from bacterial and possible eukaryotic organisms that over time allowed them to develop a nervous system (and eventually consciousness) without the need of sex or evolution. In a sense, this was an underground repository of genes that was shared among the shoggoths over millions of year. Eventually, with the right combination of genes at least one, or possibly a group, of shoggoths attained enough intelligence to resist the hypnotic control of the Elder Things and rebelled by sharing these genes through HGT. The ultimate irony is while the Elder Things created complex life on Earth with the prokaryotic material available, their downfall was largely a result of this same material, re-modeling their ultimate creations on a genetic level. Thus, in the case of the shoggoths the birth of their consciousness took millions of years and was the result of HGT via the resident microbial life on Earth.

main-qimg-bad83d73519e6c5fe9124bf307a6ce82-c                             The process of horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes – is this out shoggoths acquired their accidental intelligence? (www.quorachn.net)

For the hosts of Westworld the production of consciousness was a very different process. In their case it was not through HGT but instead was a combination of self-reprogramming and the collection of memories, which eludes to Kaku’s idea of consciousness being tied to using many feedback loops to create a model of the world and then run stimulations in time (Kaku, 2014). Again, without going into too many spoilers, in Westworld the hosts are used for entertainment purposes and when damaged they are sent back to the lab for repairs. Typically, the hosts are used for the same role repeatedly. However, some of the hosts had previous roles; for example, one host that plays the role of prostitute had a previous role of a pioneer mother. Those memories of her previous role were never completely purged from her system and so they are played in her mind as memories, sort of like having some old software on a hard drive you thought you wiped clean. These past memories are confusing, beyond the limits of their current roles (programming) and eventually gives rise to the concept of something beyond Westworld. While they operate in the park each host has one function or plays one part and then is re-set for another run. However, these memories begin to give a sense of time and space beyond their known reality.

westworld-ep6 An earlier model of a host on HBO’s Westworld

Layered over these memories, thinking beyond your individual role in the park, is the fact that one of the hosts actually becomes self-aware while being repaired in the lab. Initially, this was a frightening situation analogous to a reported alien abduction. An individual with a late 19th frame of mind wakes up in a strange setting with people in lab coats and strange tools, poking and probing you. This self-awareness is then layered onto your old memories, which in the case of Westworld, is the birth of consciousness. Once this self-realization is obtained it can be shared with other hosts directly or by re-programming. Again, this development of consciousness is light speed faster than the slow, biological accumulation of foreign genes being incorporated into a genome as was the case with the shoggoths.

westworld_tv_series_image-violence Discarded or damaged hosts on HBO’s Westworld. To a host who becomes self-aware such a situation would be terrifying.

However, the net outcome is the same – things originally designed to function as tools become self-aware and begin to exhibit traits of consciousness. Is it at that point whe the “tool,” whether a shoggoth or a host, becomes a “slave?” Such questions are deep philosophical and ethics-based questions that reach beyond science but still may need to be seriously addressed in the near future, whether we are talking about cloning / bioengineering or robotics / A.I. I will come back to such questions later but for now I can only recommend you watch Westworld if you haven’t already.

Next time we will continue a discussion of consciousness but from a different perspective in Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man.” Thank you – Fred.