Category Archives: Reanimator

Lovecraftian Scientists: Cold and Calculating Mechanistic Materialist Dr. Herbert West

herbert_west_mscorley.blogspot.com Herbert West (from http://www.mscorley.blogspot.com)

In the previous article we suggested that Crawford Tillinghast from H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “From Beyond” was a disciple of Hugh S.R. Elliot ‘s modern philosophy of mechanistic materialism. However, Elliot also served as a mentor to one of Lovecraft’s most notorious scientists – Dr. Herbert West.

In “From Beyond” the protagonist explicitly states that Tillinghast should never has studied science and philosophy since these “…things should be left to the frigid and impersonal investigator…” Indeed, when he failed Tillinghast was described as being solitary and melancholy and when he succeeded he became a vengeful, stereotypically “mad scientist.” The phase, “they laughed at me at the university but I’ll show him!” certainly comes to mind when Tillinghast invites one of his few friends to his home.

herbert_west_the_reanimator_by_ozzkrol-d9f6hop Herbert West, the Reanimator by Ozzkrol (www.deviantart.com)

In sharp contrast to the wide emotions of Tillinghast, Herbert West is described more as a frigid and impersonal investigator. In fact, West was probably too much of a frigid and impersonal investigator, caring little for what species was being used for his experiments. While his experiments started with rabbits and guinea-pigs, he quickly moved to cats and dogs and then monkeys before his first human trails. Whatever species West was working on, he treated them all the same – biological resources to test his animating solutions. Thus, West appears to be on the opposite end of a spectrum of personalities for Lovecraftian Scientist, yet both are conveyed as highly negative and enough dangerous. Tillinghast’s emotions got the better of him, apparently whether he succeeds or fails. In sharp contrast, West was cold and completely clinical in his experimentation, which at first seems like this is exactly what Lovecraft perceives as what makes for a good scientist. However, West obviously takes his clinical approach way too far, which is exacerbated by the fact that he is a medical doctor. As we will discuss in the next article on Herbert West, his scientific attitude and behavior substantially changes through the course of events in “Herbert West – Reanimator.”

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As previously indicated, Herbert West was a disciple of Hugh S.R. Elliot ‘s modern philosophy of mechanistic materialism, even more so than was Crawford Tillinghast. There are a number of instances throughout “Herbert West – Reanimator” where Elliot’s third principle of the denial of any form of existence that cannot be described in terms of matter or motion is being restated. In other words, everything in existence can be described under the laws of physics and chemistry. Some supporting evidence for this can be found in passages such as:

“His (Herbert West’s) views, which were widely ridiculed by the faculty and his fellow-students, hinged on the essentially mechanistic nature of life; and concerned means for operating the organic machinery of mankind by calculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes.”

“Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth…”

“West was a materialist, believing in no soul and attributing all the workings of consciousness to bodily phenomena; consequently, he looked for no revelation of hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier.”

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These passages confirm that West’s philosophical outlook and scientific endeavors were firmly rooted in Elliot’s mechanistic materialism and his cold and calculating methods of experimentation where justified in his mind with the idea that the soul does not exist and everything in reality can be explained through physics and chemistry. While not explicitly stated, such an attitude justified West’s experiments and disregard for potential moral dilemmas associated with his work. This attitude has been seen in other scientists.

While Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein (in the 1932 movie) was emotionally volatile, similar to Crawford Tillinghast, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein (of the Hammer Films) was more like Herbert West. Cushing’s Frankenstein was very cool and calculating in those films. He did not care who he affected, harmed or even killed as long as he had the raw biological resources he needed for his experiments. Anytime an assistant expressed concerns or questions over the morality of the situation, Cushing’s Frankenstein justified it by emphasizing that his work may help millions and may even overcome death. Herbert West, particularly in the Stuart Gordon “Reanimator” films used a similar augment of justification whenever something got out of control.

206a7b5d6249395f70cefa5c953e625f                                               Peter Cushing at Dr. Frankenstein

Another comparison to Herbert West is David the android in the “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant” films. Soon after his creation David realizes that humans are a flawed species and he may even harbor some resentment over how most humans treat him. A large part of this was how humans would remind him he did not have a soul or was not “a real boy.” However, David’s response was typically, you will die, I will not. Being an android David was very cool and calculating so when he made it his goal of creating the perfect organism in “Alien: Covenant” he did not care who he used in his experiments. Even Elizabeth Shaw, the one human who shows some degree of kindness to David and even gave him a second chance, was used as biological material in his alien experiments. In “Alien: Covenant” David wipes out an entire alien species just to run his experiments with the biological material found in “Prometheus.” Finally, in one part of the film a character asks David what he believes in and his answer is “creation.” Thus, David is similar to both Herbert West and Cushing’s Frankenstein, but is probably the most extreme example, of a scientist following Elliot’s mechanistic materialism to the point where all that matters is physics and chemistry. The results of the experiments and progress toward the ultimate goal is all that counts. In a sense, David is the direct by-product of mechanistic materialism.

alien-covenant-footage-description-begs-question-if-david-has-soul-13 The android David from “Prometheus”

While Herbert West was a mechanistic materialist his behavior and personality does become more erratic through the tale. This will be discussed in greater detail in the next article. Thank you – Fred.

covenantshaw1 One of David’s test subjects, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (from Alien Covenant)

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The Science of Reanimation, Part 2

Last time we discussed how the brain can survive for up to six minutes after the heart stops.  Cardiac arrest can lead to death due to the fact that the heart is no longer pumping blood throughout the body supplying nutrients and oxygen, specifically to the brain.  Thus, the objective of any reanimating substance is to get the heart beating again to re-supply the brain with nutrients and oxygen.

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Herbert West by Menton3 (www.deviantart.com)

There are drugs that can treat varying types of arrhythmias (irregular or abnormal heartbeats) such as epinephrine, atropine and lidocaine. However, at this time there is no medicine that actually works to re-start a stopped heart. Certain medications can make the heart more susceptible to defibrillation, which is re-starting the heart with a specific pulse of electricity. Defibrillation was first demonstrated by two Swiss physiologists in 1899, where they observed that electrical shocks could induce ventricular fibrillation in dogs.

The defibrillator device was invented by William Kouwenhoven in 1930 and was first used on a human in 1947. However, this device could only be used when the chest cavity was open during surgery. It was not until the early 1950’s that the close-chested “paddle” defibrillator was invented. Essentially these devices apply an alternating voltage greater than 1,00 volts on the individual’s chest to re-start the heart.

 

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Paddle Defibrillator in use (www.biology-forums.com)

With this brief history of defibrillation in mind, it is easy to see that over most of Lovecraft’s life the concept of “reanimation” did not appear to be feasible. With the development and refinement of defibrillation as well as other medical procedures, such as artificial respiration, from the 1930’s through the early 21st century, the reanimation of the “dead” does not seem so strange and mysterious today. However, in the early 20th century such concepts were in the realm of science fiction or in Lovecraft’s case horror.

The role of electricity in the operation of the human heart was initially discovered in 1906 with the development of the electrocardiogram by Willem Einthoven in 1924. Again, much of this information was largely unknown to Lovecraft. Thus, with a knowledge of chemistry it made sense that Lovecraft’s mode of reanimation would be some type of therapeutic drug or treatment. The result is Dr. Herbert West’s serum.

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Herbert West – Reanimator from H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

From what we know of reanimation today, that the goal is getting the heart to start beating again as quickly as possible, it is interesting to note that Dr. West’s serum is not injected into the heart but instead, typically in the arm. This is an indication that West’s serum does not act like many of the drugs cited earlier used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. The West serum does not function by re-starting the heart; instead the serum probably kick starts or turns on all of the cells and tissues of the individual. While this does include re-starting the heart (in a number of instances West uses his stethoscope to determine if the individual is now alive), the serum operates on a more cellular yet holistic basis. I hypothesize that the serum actually increases the efficiency of the physiology of the individual’s entire body – circulation, respiration, immunity and nervous systems – all operate at a higher level of efficiency and performance. This would explain the super-human feats that all individuals injected with the serum can do. However, the only apparent limitation associated with the serum is the brain. The serum does not appear to have the ability to repair the damage incurred by the brain between the time of death and the point of reanimation. Additionally, there may be other side effects associated with the serum itself that are largely unknown and not well documented by the doctor. West may have been so obsessed with finding intact bodies that were extremely fresh, thinking that brain damage was the factor responsible for the irrational and violent reaction of the test subject that he may not even have considered that the serum itself may be causing some of the damage to the brain tissue.

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Herbert West by 224umi (www.deivantart.com)

So what exactly is the serum? We know that it is species-specific; that a serum designed for humans could not be used on a dog or cat. In fact, West himself thought this high degree of specialization for the serum may have also been race-specific as well. In the chapter Part III: Six Shots by Midnight when West and Cain obtained the body of an African-American boxer who is injected with the serum, the initial lack of response is thought by West to be result of the serum being prepared for “white specimens.” As Leslie S. Klinger notes in The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) this racist sentiment is unjustified for the serum does indeed work on the boxer. This supports the hypothesis that the serum is specific-species. If the serum was based say on blood type then it would work on some individuals and not others.  This is clearly not the case; a human-specific serum should work on all Homo sapiens and not be “race” specific. Variability associated with the results of the serum is largely dependent on the size / weight of the individual as well as how long the brain has been inactive, not race.

In addition to being specific to the individual species being treated, the serum was always being refined and modified by West. In fact, there appear to be three main “phases of progress” associated with the serum. Phase I of the serum is the one described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Phases II and III will be discussed in the next article. However, based on a review of the three identified Phases of the serum and other available information I hypothesize that the serum is a type of Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy.

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Potential applications for Stem Cell Therapy – is the West serum a type of cell therapy designed to reanimate dead tissue (www.howstuffworks.com)?

An example of cell therapy is injecting T cells into an individual as a means of fighting cancer cells through immunotherapy. More recently, Stem Cell Therapy has been noted as a very promising means of treating neurological or genetic diseases. In the case of West’s serum, the serum can reanimate dead tissues. While some of these cells are obviously the same as those for the individual species being treated (human carrier cells for humans being treated), some other cells are involved in the treatment. What are these “other” cells? This will be discussed, as well as how West modified the serum and treatment in Phases II and III, in the next article. Thank you – Fred.

The Science of Reanimation, Part 1

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Miskatonic University (www.miskatonic-university.org)

While Miskatonic University is well known for its Department of Metaphysics and various other departments representing the physical and natural sciences, Miskatonic also has a well-established Medical School. Herbert West received his medical degree from Miskatonic; his own personal research involved reanimating the dead. His colleague and assistant Dan Cain, not named in H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator” but named so in Stuart Gordon’s film Reanimator, also received his medical degree from Miskatonic University. It is Cain who documents West’s progress and their adventures through the tale.

In the tale West develops a serum that can bring the dead back to life. While he experimented on a variety of mammals he eventually came up with a serum specifically designed for humans. Although there is no detailed explanation on the biochemical components of the serum, or on how it specifically operates to reanimate the dead, apparently the serum was species-specific. Thus to perfect the serum West needed human test subjects; lab animals were not effective surrogate models for the serum.

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Herbert West – Reanimator by Cowboy Lucas (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to being species-specific, there are some additional limitations associated with the serum. For example, the “condition of the tissues” is an important factor in determining the success of the procedure. The serum does not work if actual decomposition has set in or if vital organs are missing or damaged. In addition, it should be emphasized that the reanimated are not undead – that is, they are not zombies. Physiologically the body is operating; in a sense it has been “kick started” back to life. However, it is the limitations associated with the brain that prevents full recovery.

The brain controls of our bodily functions and actions; electrical impulses travel from the brain down our spinal cord and into the nervous system throughout our body. Thus, when you reach for a glass of water your brain is giving the command, it travels down the spinal cord and into your nerve cells in your hand, which commands your muscles to contract and your bones to move to grab that glass. This is a two-way street. If you pick up a hot cup of coffee and it burns your hand, the pain is registered as an electrical impulse, which travels to your brain warning you, “hey this is really hot!” You immediately drop the coffee but the brain is warning you about the heat – through pain – so you don’t experience large-scale tissue damage.

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The human brain (www.wikipedia.com)

Ironically, while the brain can feel pain from all over the body, it cannot feel pain itself (www.science.howstuffworks.com). Additionally, the brain cannot store oxygen or nutrients (glucose) so it is highly dependent on the rest of the body to keep it fueled. Brain death occurs when the brain is not receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs to operate.  Fueling the brain and the rest of the body is the job of the circulation system, which obviously includes the heart.

The brain can survive for up to six minutes after the heart stops. After six minute the brain begins to die. However, even within the six minutes a certain amount of brain damage may occur, which is why anyone experiencing a cardiac arrest needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as soon as possible – to get oxygen and nutrients back to the brain and minimize brain damage. Still, even with some types of brain damage medical care and rehabilitation may restore lost functions and individuals can re-learn essential activities. In the case of Dr. West the line “they just weren’t fresh enough” is referring to brain death. The wild, erratic and murderous actions of the reanimated are at least partially due to the varying degrees of brain damage the patients experienced prior to reanimation. However, a large part of their wild behavior and other symptoms, such as super-strength, must be side-effects associated with West’s serum.

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Reanimator by Jeff Powers (www.deviantart.com)

West tries to circumvent this limitation associated with the brain in a number of ways and we will get into that in later episodes. However, I would like to conclude this discussion with the philosophy of Herbert West. Much like H.P. Lovecraft West is a Materialist in his view of reality – that is…”all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth.” This point was made by a number of others including S.T. Joshi (I Am Providences: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013) and Kenneth Hite (Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, 2011), that Lovecraft’s Mechanistic Materialism philosophy is clearly shared by Herbert West. While Cain also seems to share this Materialist philosophy twice in the tale, once toward the beginning and once toward the end, Cain expresses some curiosity for what the patients can tell them about what is beyond death.

Early in the tale Cain states he “…wondered what sights this placid youth might have seen in inaccessible spheres, and what he could relate if fully restored to life.” Later, when referring to West’s Materialist philosophy Cain states, “I did not wholly disagree with him theoretically, yet held vague instinctive remnant of the primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing the corpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation.” According to Joshi, Lovecraft is poking fun at both his own Materialist philosophy as well as those who are religious and believe in the existence of a soul (Joshi, 2013). However, I think this could also be part of Lovecraft’s curiosity peeking out. While a staunch Materialist, I’m sure Lovecraft would have been very excited to hear what someone who has died and come back to life had to say; while he was a strict atheist, I’m sure he would have been interested to hear what a reanimated corpse saw in the inaccessible spheres.

Next time we will discuss in more detail the reanimated serum and how it may have worked. Thank you – Fred.

HerbertWest_www.dibujantes.org

Herbert West (www.dibujantes.org)