Category Archives: H.P. Lovecraft

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.

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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.

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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.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Pseudoscientific Study of Racism

HPLovecraft_by_LeeMoyer_www.strangehorizons.com                                                                                   H.P. Lovecraft by Lee Moyer (www.strangehorizons.com)

I have always been appreciated how H.P. Lovecraft introduced the most up-to-date scientific developments into his fiction and cosmic philosophy. Additionally, he was more than willing to adjust his viewpoint, perspective and even philosophy on science based on the latest scientific findings. Time and again he exhibited this whether it was the confirmation that Antarctica is composed of one, not two land masses or the discovery of Yuggoth (known to many as Pluto). Another example of this is Lovecraft’s changing attitudes toward Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

einstein_360x450_www.laphamsquarterly.orgAlbert Einstein (www.laphamsquarterly.org)

Like many astronomers of the time Lovecraft was very skeptical of the Theory of General Relativity. However, with the accumulation of evidence over the years, by 1923 Lovecraft acknowledged that relativity was a valid and tested theory. As a materialist Lovecraft’s initial attitude was one of dismay, saying the theory “…removes the last hold which reality or the universe can have on the independent mind. All is change, accident, and ephemeral illusion…” Lovecraft went on to say, “All the cosmos is a jest, and one thing is as true as another. I believe everything and nothing—for all is chaos, always had been, and always will be.” However, Lovecraft’s pessimistic attitude on how relativity impacted his philosophy was eventually replaced with a more harmonized perspective, incorporating Einstein’s ideas into his materialistic view of the cosmos (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by Joshi, 2014). Again this is another example of how Lovecraft’s perspective, and even philosophy, of reality and the universe would change based on accumulating evidence. However, the one component of science where Lovecraft’s attitude would remain unchanged, even in the light and consideration of accumulating scientific evidence, is that of the study of anthropology and race.

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As cited by Joshi, in spite of all of the accumulating evidence, H.P. Lovecraft still believed in the biological inferiority of certain races of humanity (Joshi, 2014). Indeed, such abhorrent attitudes were by no means unusual in the early 20th century whatever the accumulating scientific data revealed; in the 1920’s many leading scientists warned that interracial mixing of the races could lead to biological abnormalities (Joshi, 2014). However, through the 20th century the “scientific” justification for racism was demonstrated to be false. In spite of this, such concepts would appear in several of Lovecraft’s earlier stories such as “the Lurking Fear.”

As cited by Joshi (2014), Lovecraft held his racist attitudes in spite of the most up-to-date findings on the study of humanity and race in the fields of biology and anthropology. All of the “scientific” studies that provided evidence for a hierarchy of races with Caucasians and the top and Australian aborigines at the bottom, were largely discredited as pseudoscience by the early 20th century. Indeed, as early the 19th century studies that have attempted to correlate “race-based” size and shape of the skull to some type of racial hierarchy were considered highly unscientific and preposterous (Joshi, 2014). By the early 1930’s any scientific justification for such racism was largely discredited by the scientific community; such efforts were led by the anthropologist Franz Boas.

FranzBoas                                                               Frank Boas (www.wikipedia.org)

Born in Germany, Franz Boas had a doctorate in physics and studied geography; however, once he emigrated to the U.S. he became a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. He had a distinguished career at Columbia, being called “the Father of American Anthropology.” One of the key components Boas used in identifying the nonsensical perspective in scientifically justifying racism was to show that the cranial index (the ratio of the maximum width of one’s head multiplied by 100 and then divided by its maximum length of the head from front to back) varies widely both among adults within a single group as well as within the life of an individual (The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, revised and expanded edition, 1996). Even more important Boas identified significant differences between immigrant parents and their American-born children. The fact that such a change can be significantly measured within a single generation indicated that changes in environment (diet, health, surroundings, etc.) is as important or even more so than one’s race (better described as genetics) in dictating the cranial index (Gould, 1996).

theartofseanpillips.blogspot.comH.P. Lovecraft by Sean Phillips (www.theartofseanphillips.com)

While Joshi found no evidence of Lovecraft reading or being familiar with any of Boas’s work, Lovecraft had to frequently defend his racist views to his younger correspondents such as Frank Belknap Long and J. Vernon Shea. Why the augments of these younger acquaintances did not convince Lovecraft to, at least from a scientific basis, examine some of the more modern developments in anthropology and reconsider his thoughts on the pseudoscience of scientific racism is unknown (Joshi, 2014). Lovecraft’s “scientific” racist views were largely based on the writings of some 19th century scientists such as Ernst Haeckel. However, psychologically Lovecraft’s view was firmly rooted in his fear of the “other” or those who did not originate from his beloved New England and/or fit into his world-view. One wonders if Lovecraft lived longer and observed the scientific and cultural changes in attitudes toward race, would his have changed as well, particularly after World War II.

Lovecraft’s pseudoscientific understanding of race was certainly explored in many of his tales, particularly in his earlier ones. One of note, “The Lurking Fear”, discusses the evolutionary degeneration of a family due to out-of-class breeding and subsequent incest (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Dee, 2014). While in this case the “horror” associated with this is based on breeding out-of-class, this can also be associated with the implication that one is also breeding out-of-race, with the result being mammalian degeneration. Again, most of the horror associated with this tale is not based on science but pseudoscience, which will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article.

h_p__lovecraft_s_the_lurking_fear_by_cheesecake_weasel-d624gkrH.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear by Cheesecake Weasel (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to Lovecraft’s “selective” view of race from a scientific perspective, his review of race also generates an inherent conflict in his cosmic and materialistic philosophy. If we are all just composed of a complex of physical and biochemical reactions, housed within a foundation of honeycombed cells filled with water and associated protoplasm, the color of our skin or hair should be absolutely trivial. While Lovecraft was not familiar with Boas, he did read Modern Science and Materialism by Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot (originally published in 1919), which Joshi clearly documents had a profound influence on the development of Lovecraft’s cosmic / materialist view of the universe (Joshi, 2014). This influence, both on Lovecraft’s philosophy and attitudes toward race, will be the topic of conversation in the next article.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the “Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 2.” We made our goal and I will add a stretch goal sometime next week. If you are interested in supporting this project, please check the site out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-two. Again, thank you to all how have contributed! Fred.

Additional Notes on Venus

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Sculpture of H.P. Lovecraft with book in one hand and a telescope in another. Artwork by Legiongp (www.deviantart.com)

“The general ignorance of the public as regards the science of astronomy has often been noted and deplored.” This quote was the opening sentence in an article H.P. Lovecraft wrote for the Providence Sunday Journal (26 December 1909), called “Venus and the Public Eye.” Lovecraft goes on to say that in the early evening on Christmas Eve 1909 in the business section of Providence a number of people were looking at something in the sky. Initially Lovecraft was very pleased that they were observing the brilliant beauty of Venus; however, it turned out they thought they were looking at an airship owned by a local merchant, a Mr. Wallace E. Tillinghast of Worcester, Mass. When Lovecraft corrected them that the light was in fact the planet Venus the result was only mild surprise (Collected Essays, Volume 3: Science by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005). One gets the impression that the observers were disappointed that the light turned out to be Venus and Lovecraft was disappointed that the group were not excited about observing Venus.

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Venus (the morning star) is the brightest object in the sky in this photograph; the second brightest is Jupiter (from http://www.wikipedia.com)

Venus has always been considered the sister planet of the Earth since it is similar in dimensions, gravity and density. Obviously being closer to the sun it receives higher amounts of light and heat. Details about the planet’s surface were minimal in Lovecraft’s day due to the extensive cloud cover. Given its similar size to Earth, closer proximity to the sun and cloud cover, the possibility of life on Venus in Lovecraft’s day was real. Many thought of Venus as a hot, steamy jungle world, filled with a wide array of vegetation and perhaps fauna similar to that of the dinosaurs of ancient Earth. Lovecraft did hypothesize that any inhabitants of Venus must rarely see the heavens due to the extensive cloud cover but when their sky was clear “…our terraqueous globe must shine in the heavens of Venus as a brilliant planet, having motions like those of Mars as seen by us” (S.T. Joshi, 2005).

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Radar image of the surface of Venus by the Magellan spacecraft (www.blogs.esa.int).

It would not be until 1962, 25 years after Lovecraft’s death that the first probes would visit Venus. The Mariner spaceflights by the US and the Venera and Vega spaceflights by the USSR collected a wide variety of data both orbiting the planet and on the surface. Venus is a world with high temperatures (surface temperature of 475oC) and pressures, with an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide but also containing nitrogen and oxygen. Thunder and lightning have been detected on Venus as well as inter-annual fluctuations of sulphur dioxide, which is more than likely the result of large-scale volcanic activity. It is probably the closest thing to “hell” in our solar system.

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A view of the landing gear of Venera 13 on the surface of Venus before it was destroyed by the high temperature and pressure of the planet (www.blogs.esa.int).

The exploration of this planet will continue; the European Space Agency plans on conducting two flybys to Venus in the near future as part of a mission to Mercury. Venus is a particularly important planet to study since it shows what happens to a world when extremely high concentrations of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide accumulate in the atmosphere, trapping all of the heat from solar radiation. However, in Lovecraft’s time Venus was a stemming jungle-world, filled with its own unique collection of flora and fauna. Next time we will review and discus some of the Venusian life described in “In the Walls of Eryx.” Thank – you. Fred

 

 

Lovecraftian Solar System, Part II: Comets

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Lovecraft in Space by Belthazubel (www.deviantart.com)

Last year we discussed the eight planets in the Lovecraftian solar system over a series of articles.  Over the next few weeks we will continue this review of the Lovecraftian solar system, starting with comets.  Lovecraft’s fascination with astronomy began when he was very young and with a book from his grandmother’s collection called Geography of the Heavens (from an article on www.io9.com by Robbie Gonzalez).

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This is a plate from the book Geography of the Heavens (www.io9.com)

Comets are essentially an icy body that travels through space releasing gas or dust.  They are best described as snowy dirtballs and contain dust, ice, carbon dioxide, ammonia, methane and other material (www.space.com).  In Lovecraft’s day, very little was known about the composition of comets.  In an article he wrote about comets in November 1906 called “The Wanderers of Our System” Lovecraft stated, “Comets are extremely light in density, but otherwise from that, little concerning their physical conditions is known, the most prevalent theory being that they are composed of minute particles, enclosed in atmospheres.” (from Collected Essays, Volume 3: Science by H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005).

The first comet Lovecraft observed in his life was Borelli’s Comet in August 1903.  In a notebook Lovecraft kept, called “Astronomical Observations Made,” he included lengthy discussions of Halley’s Comet observed on May 26, 1910 and Delavan’s Comet on September 16-17, 1914 (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, by S.T. Joshi, 2013).

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Some of the part of a comet (www.wikipedia.com)

It is interesting to note that Lovecraft wrote articles on astronomy for the Evening News.  In the same paper, J.F. Hartmann had an article published called “Astrology and the European War.”  The article was published in September 4, 1914, three days after Lovecraft’s monthly astronomy article and in the same location where Lovecraft’s articles typically appeared.  Lovecraft had no patience for the subject of astrology and thus a series of debate letters and articles were published in the paper between Lovecraft and Hartmann.  In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe Lovecraft noted “Recently a quack named Hartmann, a devotee of the pseudo-science of Astrology, commenced to disseminate the usual pernicious fallacies of the occult art thought he columns of The News, so that in the interests of true Astronomy I was forced into a campaign of invective and satire.” (Joshi, 2013).

In one of the more amusing articles Lovecraft wrote a satirical piece under the name Isaac Bickerstaffe, Jr. in October 24, 1914 titled “Delavan’s Comet and Astrology.” In it Lovecraft, or should I say Bickerstaffe, predicted that Delavan’s Comet would hit the earth in the distance future, the year 4898, and take a large portion of humanity to Venus to live, which is a good thing since he predicted that the world would explode 56 years later in the year 4954 due to increased volcanic activity.  Lovecraft, being a great “astrologer”, actually predicted the exact day the earth would explode – February 26, 4954 (Joshi, 2005).  Unfortunately, while humanity will survive on Venus, in typical Lovecraftian fashion, the explosion of the Earth will create a lot of damage to Venus and its new inhabitants.  Needless to say, this strange parody on the value of astrology somewhat stunned Lovecraft’s intellectual adversary Hartmann (Joshi, 2014).

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Halley’s Comet (www.wikipedia.com)

In an article for the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-News in March 1915, Lovecraft reviewed what was known about the comet as of the early 20th century.  In it he briefly reviewed and compared periodic comets (those that revolve around the sun in some type of orbit) to solitary comets (those that appear from deep space and return back into the void never to be seen again).  He also had a brief discussion on some famous comets and once again reviewed what comets were thought to be composed of at the time.  Lovecraft states that comets were thought to be composed of extremely small solid meteoric masses but spread very far apart and possessing individual gaseous materials.  Lovecraft mentioned that some say comets are mainly self-luminous through sparks of electricity but also cited that the reflection of light from the sun contributes to this as well.  We now know that comets are not self-luminescent.

Lovecraft also notes in the article that the tails of a comet can be millions of miles long and that the Earth has passed through portions of these tails in both 1861 and 1910.  In spite of the popular media hype of the time, nothing unusual occurred. There was concern during these past occurrences that cyanogen gas in the tail of the comets would kill all of life on Earth.  Some people took advantage of people’s fears of this situation (see below).

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From http://www.astroguyz.com

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From http://www.godlessmom.com

It was not until the early 1950’s when Fred Lawrence Whipple proposed that comets were essentially dirty snowballs and that their tails were the result of the volatilization of gases and the evaporation of water.  Support for this hypothesis was obtained when some European spacecraft flew through the coma (the nebulous envelope around the nucleus of a comet) of Halley’s Comet in 1986 and photographed evaporating material (www.wikipedia.com).  Additional data to support this have been obtained through various spacecraft missions from 2001 to 2014; in addition to water vapor, simple organic molecules such as HCN, HNC and H2CO have been detected on and in comets.  This has led some to hypothesize that comets may be the remnants of material that was used in the development of the solar system approximately 4.6 billion years ago.  Also, some hypothesize that comets may have delivered water and organic molecules to early Earth.  Thus, the raw material that the Elder Things used to create complex, eukaryotic life on Earth may have originated from comets.  It makes one wonder what Lovecraft would have thought about with the existing information we have on comets today.

Next time we will talk about how Lovecraft used comets in his tales.  Thank you – Fred.

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Lovecraft by Anderpeich (www.deivantart.com)

The Mismeasure of Lovecraft – the “scientific” origins of his racism


A portrait of H.P. Lovecraft (factsandotherstubbonthings.blogspot.com)

Given the numerous recent discussions concerning H.P. Lovecraft’s attitude toward race, I thought I would investigate this from a scientific point of view.  A lot has already be written about how his blatant racism has impacted his stories, how we as readers in the 21st century should intpret this and whether his stories should even receive / deserve our attention.  For this article I am not going to justify or condemn the stories of HPL or analyze how his racism may have filtered through.  For a large number of reasons, including based on science, racism is abhorrent and should not have a place in any civilized society.  However, for this article I am only examining scientific sources that HPL may have used to justify or support his racist views.  More importantly, I will be sharing some scientific information that clearly indicates there is no justification for racism from an inherently genetic perspective.

Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species explained how through natural selection organisms are constantly evolving to suit their environment.  Those individuals best adapted for a particular environment tend to produce more offspring than those less adapted.  Additionally, if a group of individuals is separated from its parent population, over time, the separated population will eventually become a different species, particularly if the respective environments are somewhat different.  Thus, over time more species evolve and those best adapted to their environments survive and reproduce.  Darwin saw this as a branching tree or shrub of life, with each extant species, including humans, being represented as an individual tip.


Darwin’s original sketch of branching lines of evolution.

I prefer the shrub analogy since evolution is simply change over time and does not necessarily mean that organisms get “better and better” over millions of years.  Populations are constantly adapting to a constantly changing environment.  However, some scientists, like Ernst Haeckel (a German scientist and artist) clearly saw evolution as a progression of complexity over time with “primitive” life in the lower branches of the tree and the most “advanced” forms of life (humans of course) at the top of the tree (see below).  However, if a squid or octopus was creating a tree of life, do you think they would put humans on top?

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As shown above, Haeckel’s tree of life puts humans on top.  Such a presentation can be misleading on two counts.  First, it falsely suggests that older forms of life stop evolving once they get into a desirable or stable species state.  Second, it also falsely suggests that everything is striving to evolve into humans.  Every organism alive today is an “advanced” form of life relative to past forms.  Thus, while a horseshoe crab living today may look like one in the fossil record dating back over 400 million years, the fossil form is a primitive version of that species, while the living individual is an advanced form.  While they may look alike, they may vary considerably from a genetic point of view.

Examining Haeckel’s tree of life, it is easy to infer that humans are the most “advanced” form of life on Earth.  That being the case, many scientists, including Haeckel, thought this could be extended into the races of humans and what better way to rank humanity than by “preferred” morphological traits and/or intelligence.  Haeckel actually divided humans into 12 species, placing the northern Europeans and Greeks on top of the tree of human “species” and Africans and Australians on the lower portion of the human tree.

While Haeckel produced two, large and technical volumes on evolution, called Generelle Morphologie, his discussions on human evolution came at the end (The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought by Robert J. Richards, 2008).  But what was particularly shocking, even for the later part of the 19th centaury, were his 12 human “species” and their associated descents (see below).  Darwin, as practically every subject of the British Empire, did not question the superiority of Anglo-Saxons and those of northern Europe.   However, the idea that humans beings could be divided into a series of species was not creditable to many naturalists at the time.  However, such ideas may have appealed to HPL and certainly did appeal to others.  Indeed, many of Haeckel’s augments concerning human evolution were used in the early part of the 20th century by the Nazis to attempt to scientifically justify their philosophy, attitudes and horrendous treatment of other people.

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Ernst Haeckel’s controversial illustration showing select human “species” and some of their relatives (bevets.com)

Obviously, dividing humans into 12 species is just plain incorrect.  A species is a group of similar individuals that are capable of producing interbreeding and producing viable offspring.  Homo sapiens fit that definition.  The fact that a male and female from any continent or corner of the Earth can successfully reproduce and give birth to viable offspring means all of humanity is one species.

Even the term race, from a biological point of view, is used incorrectly when applied to humans in certain instances.  Biologically, races represent genetically based population variation within a species (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009).  However, dividing the human species into five groups – Caucasian (white), Mongolian (yellow), Malayan (brown), Negroid (black) and American (red) – which could the be divided into races has been used to justify slavery, genocide, and the oppression of one group over another (Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009).

In addition to Haeckel’s ideas, another concept that might have appealed to HPL concerning issues of race was biological determinism, which was originally suggested by Plato.  Specifically, it states that behavioral norms and social / ecnonomic differences among the races arise from inherited, inborn distinctions and that society is an accurate reflection of biology (The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, 1996).  Again, such ideas, which flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries must have appealed to HPL.

However, through the 20th and into the 21st century, biological determinism has been largely rejected through our accumulated knowledge on human biology, evolution and genetics.  Traits such as intelligence, and even skin color, are not determined by a single gene as once originally thought.  Instead, such traits and phenotypes are determined through polygenic (many genes) mechanisms; a host of environmental factors also come into play such as climate, diet, etc. (Gould, 1996).  Also, although frequencies of specific genes may vary among the races, no “race genes” have ever been identified (Gould, 1996).  Thus, such factors result in the absence of identifying a specific trait to a specific human race.  This means there is no scientific validity in ranking races based on a factor such as intelligence.  As someone who valued and appreciated the scientific method, one wonders what HPL would have thought of such information on genetics and evolution.

I want to discuss Ernst Haeckel and the scientific origins of HPL’s racist views in more detail in future articles, however, I did want to at least initiate a discussion on these subjects.  Next time we go back to our analysis of The Music of Erich Zann.  Thank you – Fred.

 

Materialism and a Scientific Philosophy in a Lovecraftian Universe

Cosmic Horror (from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

The death of H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather Whipple Phillips, along with the loss of the family fortune and the need to move from his birthplace, drove HPL to consider suicide when he was 13 years old.  As S.T. Joshi cites in his extensive biography of HPL I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, 2013), this was apparently the only time HPL considered suicide.  After riding his bike to the Barrington River and contemplating throwing hims into the weedy-waters, he decided against it.  It was not his remaining family ties, religious beliefs or his desire to be a writer, that prevented him from killing himself.  It was scientific curiosity that prevented H.P. Lovecraft from committing suicide in 1904.

Barrington River, Rhode Island (Wikipedia.org)

HPL admitted in a letter, cited by S.T. Joshi, that it was scientific curiosity and a sense of world drama that prevent him from killing himself. The scientific curiosity is self-explanatory; the word drama appears to refer to both world geography and history. Some of the questions that “baffled” HPL included how sediment stratification eventually leads to granite peaks, exactly what the upcoming Antarctic expeditions would find, when did people stop speaking Latin and start speaking other languages, and what occurred in other parts of the world, other than Britain and France, during the Middle Ages. HPL asked larger questions in this letter such as “What of the vast gulfs of space outside all familiar lands – desert reaches hinted of by Sir John Mandeville & Marco Polo…Tartary, Thibet…What of unknown Africa?” (Joshi, 2013).

So intellectual curiosity, with a large part of this curiosity based on science, was what prevented HPL from  killing himself in the summer of 1904.  This is an important point when reading HPL’s stories and understanding his philosophy of life.  Many people see HPL fearing or detesting science, particularly due to his opening paragraph in “The Call of Cthulhu” that includes the line:

“…but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Cthulhu rise on R’lyeh (by Ash3ray)

While many of HPL’s stories are cautionary – that delving into forbidden lore will only result in horrible outcomes – he had a love and fascination for science, having a healthy streak of optimistic skepticism that most scientists have.  This love and respect for science always came into view in his stories, where he was known to actually change the text of a story as new scientific information was presented to the public.  I have cited a number of these instances in previous articles.   While HPL had a love for pure science, science for the sake of learning and discovering new things about our planet and the universe, he did have an aversion to new technology and progress and this is where the old gent pined for life in the 18th century.

In terms of HPL’s view of the universe, he had a very mechanistic, materialistic philosophy, which was fundamentally based on the scientific approach.  Many authors, writers and philosophers  impacted HPL throughout his life including Haeckel and Schopenhauer; however, it appears that Hugh Elliot’s (1881-1930) principles of mechanistic materialism, outlined in his book Modern Science and Materialism, lays the groundwater for HPL’s view of the cosmos and reality (S.T. Joshi, 2013).  These of the three principles are briefly reviewed below, relative to HPL.

The first was the uniformity of law, which states that the sequence of cause and effect is constant throughout the universe.  While the emerging science of quantum mechanics appeared to violate this principle, such ideas could still be explained from the perspective of probabilities and stochastic models, in contrast to the simple deterministic models so well developed in previously endeavors, such as the Newtonian physics.  Also, there may be a complete set of laws to the cosmos but it doesn’t mean we understand them or will ever completely understand them.

The second was the denial of teleology, which is the idea that the cosmos is moving in a specific direction under the direction of a deity.  It is obvious from HPL’s stories and writing in general that he certainly denied any teleological view of the cosmos.  HPL thought of the universe as a giant machine operating but with not goal or purpose.  A machine that would eventually run down.

The third principle was the denial of any existence beyond that envisioned by physics and chemistry.  While many religious thinkers agreed wit this – that the soul or spirit can not be quantified –  HPL took this to mean exactly what Elliot was getting at; that there was no non-corporal after-life or existence.  Again, we may not completely understand or even perceive all of the laws of the cosmos; there may be other dimensions and realities; there may be other forms of life and look nothing like us or may not even be considered as biological life under our definitions, but all would be governed by the basic laws of physics and chemistry.

Joshi cites a statement made by Elliot that, “We cannot assumed that the Universe has only five qualities because we have only five senses.  We must assume, on the contrary, that the number of its qualities may be infinite, and that the more senses we had, the more we should discover about it.” (cited in S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft).  This concept obviously made it way into a number of HPL’s stories such as “From Beyond” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”

Another of HPL’s stories that incorporates such ideas will be discussed in the next article – “The Music of Erich Zann.”  Thank you – Fed.

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft and the Piltdown Man

Probably the biggest find in 20th century human evolution and paleoanthropology was the 1974 finding of a 40% complete skeleton in Ethiopia of one of our fossil ancestors named  Australopithecus afarensis, better known as “Lucy.”  This discovery was obviously decades after HPL died.  However, one of the most “infamous” findings in human paleoanthropology was the discovery of a “big-brained proto-human” in 1912 at Piltdown, England.

 An artist’s interpretation of the Piltdown Man (www.bizarrebytes.com)

The finding of the Piltdown Man in 1912 was suppose to provide evidence that brain size, and not an upright gait, led the way in human evolution (Evolution by Edward J. Larson; 2004).  Also, the fact that the fossil was conveniently found in England was almost like a informal means of establishing recent human evolution to be of Anglo-Saxon origins.  This is certainly something that HPL could identify with being an anglophile.

The Piltdown discovery was a partial skull and incomplete mandible  made by a local lawyer – Charles Dawson (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years; edited by Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis; 2009).  However, since the discovery was first publically announced, there was a fair amount of skeptism over the presented evidence by the scientific community.  By 1953, over 15 years after HPL’s death, some detailed analyses revealed that the Piltdown was a fake – a fabrication.  Turns out the skull was clearly human but that the mandible was that of a female orangutan.

The Piltdown skull – combination of man and orangutan (Adolf Reith, Trans. by Diana Imber – http://www.clarku.edu)

HPL was obviously familiar with the Piltdown man since he mentioned it in his stories; however, as shown below he only cited it in two of his earlier tales.  The first time he cited it was in Dagon and the second was in the Rats of Walls.  In Dagon while the protagonist was examining the bas-reliefs that rose from the ocean depths, he noted that the structure must have been carved out by some ancient seafaring tribe that went extinct “before the first ancestor of the Piltdown or Neanderthal Man was born.”

 Sketch of the monolithic bas-relief in Dagon (artwork by Death Dragon111)

In The Rats in the Walls as Dr. Trask, an anthropologist, was inspecting some of the skulls in the twilit grotto, he notes that most of them were “mostly lower than the Piltdown man in the scale of evolution, but in every case definitely human.”

The Rats in the Walls – the Twilit Grotto (from i.ytimg.com)

In Dagon HPL mentioned the Piltdown man, and Neanderthals, to convey the age of the monolith that emerged from the sea.  In The Rats in the Walls, HPL mentioned the Piltdown man again to convey age; here the issue is that this subterranean community has been feeding on humans and other similar species for hundreds of thousands of years.  While I am sure there was some public debate over the Piltdown man in HPL’s time, I don’t think there were any direct accusations that it was an outright hoax in the 1920’s and 1930’s

What makes the Piltdown man situation so unnerving is that it was an intentional and fabricated hoax. This wasn’t a hypothesis that was proved incorrect and that some in the scientific community were still clinging to; this was an outright lie.   Knowing how HPL would adjust his fiction to ensure that the most up-to-date scientific information were included (e.g. At the Mountains of Madness), I’m sure he would have been disgusted over the hoax.

Next time, I will more than likely initiate discussions on  The Shadow Out of Time.  Thank you – Fred