Category Archives: Uncategorized

Through the Gates of the Silver Key: Chapter IV, Yog-Sothoth and the Multiverse

In Chapter IV of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price, Randolph Carter passes through the Ultimate Gate. After passing through the Ultimate Gate, Carter initially still feels he is a “fixed point in the dimensional seething,” but then he begins to lose his sense of space and time in our reality. This statement indicates that passing through this gate may be somehow going outside of our known Space-Time Universe. For example, Carter realized that he is not just one person but many people over the span of linear time. All at once he was that boy at his Uncle and Aunt’s farm in October 1883, as well as the adult who is on the other side of the Ultimate Gate, talking to the Ancient One Umr At-Tawil. Humans are entities grounded in linear time and if this sense of “cause and effect,” which is the essence of time, is removed the past, present and future would certainly become difficult to distinguish from each another.

234edc2913c24e7eb8a9cc8b09858e98                                                                  Yog-Sothoth by Daigoro115

Layered on this loss of linear time is Carter’s loss of “self.” Beyond the Ultimate Gate Randolph Carter acknowledged the existence of multiple “Carters.” Carter felt his self beyond the limitations of one individual. He perceived himself as a variety of entities and creatures – “…humans and non-human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable.” He also perceived Carters beyond Earth, on other planets, in other galaxies and perhaps even other Universes (called cosmic continua in the story).

This loss of both linear time and individual self and described by Carter was one of the supreme horrors he experienced. Indeed, in a number of instances in Lovecraft’s tales, few individuals come back from beyond our Space-Time reality sane. As “quasi-Carter” struggles to stay grounded in his self and prevent the loss of his individuality, he sensed the presence of an entity beyond our Space Time.

lovecraft___yog_sothoth___lurker_at_the_threshold_by_kingovrats-d66k92p Yog-Sothoth, Lurker at the Threshold by King Ov Rats (www.deivantart.com)

“It was an All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self – not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep – the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. It was perhaps that which certain secrete cults of earth have whispered of as YOG-SOTHOTH, and which has been a deity under other names;”

This entity was actually attempting to communicate with Carter in a concentration of energy that was almost described as painful. This combination of both mental pain and loss of self are a few symptoms of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia has been described by some as a self-disorder or ipseity disturbance (ipse is Latin for “self” or “itself”) and is associated with complementary distortions of the act of awareness (Schizophrenia, Consciousness, and the Self by Louis A. Sass and Josef Parnas; Schizophrenia Bulletin, 29(3):427-444, 2003). Is it possible that some forms of schizophrenia are the result of individuals having some type of contact with Yog-Sothoth?

Yog_sothoth_rising_by_butttornado-d6ubvy6 Yog-Sothoth rising by Richard Luong (www.luongart.hostoi.com)

Yog-Sothoth has been mentioned numerous times in Lovecraft’s tales and tends to be more associated with magic and metaphysics than science. Obviously, how Yog-Sothoth is presented or described depends on the philosophical perspective and knowledge base of the person involved. Thus, is it not surprising that Joseph Curwen in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” or Old Wizard Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror” describe Yog-Sothoth as some type of demon to be summoned. However Yog-Sothoth is being perceived, whether from a magical or scientific point of view, there are some common themes associated with this entity. Frequently, it is stated that the past, present and future are all one in Yog-Sothoth. Again, this is another reference to this entity not being confined to the limitations of linear time. Yog-Sothoth is also described as being the “key and the gate,” which refers to the fact that access to beyond our Space-Time reality is through Yog-Sothoth. This access can be opening the “door” to allow things from outside our Space-Time in or allow residents of our Universe, such as Randolph Carter, to go outside of our Space-Time.

While Yog-Sothoth is described as the key and the gate, it seems to be much more than that when Lovecraft’s tales are reviewed. In a number of instances Yog-Sothoth is said to be “where the spheres meet.” In “The Horror in the Museum,” co-written by Lovecraft and Hazel Heald, Yog-Sothoth is described as a “…a congeries of iridescent globes…” These descriptions may be veiled references to the Multiverse structure of reality.

yog_sothoth_by_verreaux-d38lggo                     Yog-Sothoth by Verreaux (www.deivantart.com)

The prevailing concept of the Multiverse is that quantum fluctuations during the inflation phase of the Universe sparks the creation of bubble Universe that then inflate on their own, making more bubble Universes into infinity. However, there is now a competing theory that the quantum fluctuations did not occur until the inflation phase was complete, creating an overlapping, finite Multiverse (see below). Whatever theory is more representative of the Multiverse concept, Yog-Sothoth seems to be “stitched” or “woven” into the very fabric of the Multiverse and in order travel through or go beyond the Multiverse one must make some sort of contact with Yog-Sothoth. Unfortunately, even briefly encountering this entity can result in insanity.

Multi_www.newscientist.com Multiverse Concepts (www.newscientist.com)

In Carter’s encounter with Yog-Sothoth it is revealed that the Ancient Ones, like Umr At-Tawil, are manifestations or extensions of this Old One into our Space-Time. Yog-Sothoth also communicates to Carter that it will grant his request and show him the “Ultimate Mystery.” Yog-Sothoth claims that it has granted this request only eleven times to beings from Earth, with five of these being men or resembling men. What were the other six? Elder Things or Deep Ones? The Great Race in the Cone Shaped Beings? Mi-Go or the Insects from Shaggai? Or some other, yet undiscovered species from Earth’s distant past or future?

Chapter IV concludes with Yog-Sothoth giving Carter one last choice – to return back to his own Space-Time or to peer beyond the Veil of reality. Next time we will journey with Carter beyond this Veil. Thank you – Fred.

 

Through the Gates of the Silver Key: Chapter III, from Metaphysics to the Multiverse

Once Randolph Carter used the silver key to go back in time he disappeared from our Space-Time. In previous articles, I hypothesized what happened to him as his disappearance was documented in H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “The Silver Key.” While the Carter we know looped back in time to once again be the young boy, the “other” Carter that would have continued in our Space-Time may have “fractured” into another universe. However, in the subsequent tale, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” written by Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price we get an unprecedented view of his experiences after he used the silver key.

6468203

Chapter III continues the tale with the mysterious individual Swami Chandraputra explaining to the others what happened to Randolph Carter. Once he used the silver key, Carter lost all sense of motion and time – “Imperceptibly, such things as age and location ceased to have any significance whatever.” Additionally, “Now there was no distinction between boy and man.” Based on these statements, Carter was in a realm where linear time did not exist – he felt as if he was an extension of consciousness tunneling through time and not just experiencing time from one moment to the next. One top of that he had no spatial reference, having “…only a flux of impressions not so much visual as cerebral amidst which the entity that was Randolph Carter experienced perceptions or registrations of all that his mind revolved on, yet without any clean consciousness of the way in which he received them.”

Later Swami Chandraputra states that Carter unlocked the gate “…one leading from earth and time to that extension of earth which is outside of time, and form which in turn, the Ultimate Gate lead fearsomely and perilously to the Last Void which is outside all earths, all universes, and all matter.” The last, bold part of this statement may provide evidence for Lovecraft predicting the theory of the multiverse. Essentially, the multiverse theory is the idea that there is a set of infinite or finite universes that make up the entirety of space, time, matter and energy.

multiverse-1-1024x1004 The concept of the multiverse as conceived by physicists.

The term “multiverse” was first coined in 1895 by American philosopher and psychologist William James. In his essay “Is Life Worth Living?” James wrote “Truly, all we know of good and duty proceeds from nature…[which] is all plasticity and indifference – a moral multiverse, as one might call it.” – from www.philosophynow.org/issue/89/The_Multiverse_Conundrum. While there is no reference to William James in any of Lovecraft’s stories, he makes a passing reference to this philosopher in a discussion of philosophy in the United States in Collected Essays, Volume 2: Literary Criticism, H.P. Lovecraft – edited by S.T. Joshi (2004).

james                                                                                                                              William James, the person who coined the term “multiverse.”

While Lovecraft never used the term multiverse, he has used the word “universes” throughout many of this stories including “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (see above). Thus, while Lovecraft may not have been familiar with William James word multiverse, he used the term “universes” in the following tales:

The Transition of Juan Romero

The Call of Cthulhu

The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

The Colour Out of Space

The Whisperer in Darkness

At the Mountains of Madness

The Shadow Out of Time

The Challenge from Beyond (a round-robin tale)

And his poem “The Poe-et’s Nightmare”

While in Lovecraft’s time the word multiverse was coined by James and used in a more philosophic or moral context, physicists have used to term in their scientific studies of cosmological forces, quantum mechanics and the Big Bang. Thus, the term multiverse is one that originally had a more metaphysical meaning until the latter half of the 20th century when theoretical mathematics, particle physics and deep-space astronomical observations merged in the subsequent development of hypotheses that included the concept of more than one universe. Thus, by pushing the boundaries of known science Lovecraft may have had a small part in moving the idea of the multiverse from metaphysics into the realm of science.

multiverse-1-100335844-orig                                Multiverse

Randolph Carter states that humanity would have a difficult time understanding the true nature of reality but he had a Guide to help him.  This Guide was an entity on Earth millions of years ago “…when man was undreamed of, and when forgotten shapes moved on a streaming planet building strange cities among whose last, crumbling ruins the earliest mammals were to play.” While this may have been a reference to the Serpent Men of Valusia, more than likely this was a reference to the Elder Thing cities built by the shoggoths. Later, Carter observed earth’s ancient past where “There were cities under the sea, and denizens thereof; and towers in deserts where globes and cylinders and nameless winged entities shot off into space or hurtled down out of space.” Again, this passage appears to be referencing the Elder Things and their cities under the sea as well as their travels to space.

05-elder_thing                                                                                               Elder Thing by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

Beyond the history of Earth, Carter makes a few references to the Dreamlands, which he visited as a boy in dreams. Some of these references include galleys sailing up the river Oukranos, the gilded spires of Thran and the jungles of Kled. Thus, at this point Carter’s consciousness was moving from the history of Earth to another universe – the Dreamlands. However, beyond linear time and this adjacent universe, Carter’s “Guide” was about to open another door beyond these realities. Next time we will discuss Carter’s “Guide,” the Ancient One named Umr At-Tawil. Thank you – Fred.

Through the Gates of the Silver Key: Discovering What Happened to Randolph Carter

“I will say this – this is some kinda slam-bang story. There’s more wonderful loose ends, trippy metaphysics, and crazy fizzy-pop ideas in this story than in virtually any other Lovecraft tale of like length.” Kenneth Hite from Tour De Lovecraft: The Tales (2011).

untitled

Over a large part of 2017 Lovecraftian Science will focus on the science associated with H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle of stories and the Dreamlands in general. This will include discussions on the theory of multiverse, the structure and nature of matter, quantum mechanics, the ecology of the various ecosystems of the Dreamlands and other topics.  Thus, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price will be the start of these investigations as we move through 2017.  I included Kenneth Hite’s quote above to emphasize the point that “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is filled with a variety of metaphysical and scientific ideas and concepts.  To delve into these, I will be conducting this analysis on a chapter by chapter basis. This article will cover Chapters 1 and 2 of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.”

The story begins with four people at the home of Etienne Laurent De Marigny of New Orleans to discuss the estate of Randolph Carter who has been missing for four years.  While the attorney Ernest B. Aspinwall is anxious to declare Carter dead and divide his estate up among his heirs, a strange individual named Swami Chandraputra opposes this action since he claims he knows that Carter is alive and what has happened to him over the last four years. The rest of the tale documents Carter’s adventures.

1594571-19_1

Randolph Carter by Andrew Johansen

It should be noted that “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” is sort of a sequel to “The Silver Key,” which we have discussed in previous articles and Chapters 1 and 2 summarize the occurrences in “The Silver Key.” Carter takes the key to back to the wooded hills and into a “strange cave in the forest slope, the dreaded, “snake-den” which country folk shunned…” In the farthermost corner, deep in the cave, Carter approaches a granite wall and pulls the silver key out of his pocket. As a result, present day, adult Carter disappears but young Carter in the past has acquired the ability to predict future events and discoveries.

Initially, these circumstances appeared to result in a “time loop” of Carter forever going back into the past with the aid of the Silver Key only to reach that point when he uses it to again go back in time. However, I hypothesized that the first Carter loops back to give his younger self the Silver Key to alter his own timeline so that he can eventually break out of our Space-Time and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” supports this hypothesis.  This more quantum view of time is sometime referred to as the “river model,” where our Space-Time is not just one of many Universes but is also one of many Times. Indeed, in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” a friend and distant cousin of Carter, Mr. Ward Phillips, claims that Carter “…was still alive in another time-dimension and might well return some day.” This “time-dimension” may be a reference to an alternative time-line.

As the individuals were discussing Carter, De Marigny presents the group a strange piece of parchment that was found in Carter’s car on the day of his disappearance. While no one can translate the characters on the parchment, they are similar to characters that have been observed in an old book Harley Warren once had. Remember Warren was the person in “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (another tale of Lovecraft’s previously reviewed) who entered an underground crypt in Florida, encountered some creatures and did not return to the surface. It was hypothesized that this crypt was actually a portal to the Dreamlands that ghouls were using to enter our Space-Time.

the_silver_key_and_dream_parchment_fragment_by_jasonmckittrick-d83xfq0                                                                     The Silver Key and the Dream Parchment Fragment by Jason McKittrick (www.cryptocurium.com)

Thus, to summarize so far, Carter used a key and parchment (which he memorized but left in the car) to leave our Space-Time. The parchment had similar characters used by Warren to enter a place that may have been a portal to our Space-Time by ghouls. Additionally, the “snake-den” portal was near Kingsport, a location also known to have a Universal connection with the Dreamlands Universe. In “The Festival” this known portal or connection may actually be underneath the town itself; is it possible that there are a series of catacombs and grottos underneath Kingsport and the surrounding lands that can be used to leave our Space-Time?

In Chapter 2 of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” we get more information in what was in the “snake-den” when Carter disappeared from our Space-Time. Turns out the simple snake-den was an unknown, inner grotto with a rock wall shaped like a large pylon. A keystone appeared on the wall and above it was a large, sculptured hand. Carter then used the silver key with some motions and intonations to “…cross the barrier to the untrammeled land of his dreams and the gulfs where all dimensions dissolved in the absolute.”

snakeden_glinda_chen               Is the Snake-Den near Kingsport a portal to another Space-Time? Artwork by Glinda Chen

Finally, recently it has been reported that scientists have actually created time crystals, which are essentially a unique and possibly new form of matter. These crystals have an atomic structure that repeats not just in space but also in time. Essentially, their atomic lattice matrix structure is in perpetual motion without the introduction of an external source of energy. This unique form of matter is not in equilibrium. Thus, these crystals oscillate in their ground state, keeping them in a constant condition of non-equilibrium in the absence of any applied energy. Keep in mind this is fairly new and largely theoretical research; while two teams and generated results, such research needs to be repeated and confirmed by other labs. However, if proven true, the ability to oscillate or repeatedly flip their atomic spin without the application of energy will provide valuable insight into additional applications of quantum mechanics. Are similar forms of non-equilibrium matter needed for inter-dimensional travel to other Space-Times? Is the Silver Key composed of some unique form of non-equilibrium matter, similar to a time crystals? Without examining the key, we may never know.

view-into-ion-trap-apparatus       Physicists plan to create a “time crystal” — a theoretical object that moves in a repeating pattern without using energy — inside a device called an ion trap. Image: Hartmut Häffner (www.wired.com)

Next time we will review Chapter 3 of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” 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.

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 3a – The Emergence of Consciousness in Natural and Artificial Forms of Life

1478297539-ptolemy-slocum-as-sylvester-leonardo-nam-as-lutz-and-thandie-newton-as-maeve-credit-john-p-johnson-hbo A technician re-programming one of the hosts on HBO’s Westworld.

Before we compare and contrast the origins of consciousness in both H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and HBO’s show Westworld, we should spend a little time on discussing what exactly is consciousness.  A very simple definition of consciousness is “a State of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings as well as other people / organisms.” It can also be thought of as “self-awareness.” In much of science fiction, self-awareness of artificial life, from Frankenstein to Westworld, results in big problems for the creator. Movies such as the Terminator, The Matrix and Blade Runner all describe situations where consciousness triggers self-preservation at any cost. However, from a biological, evolutionary perspective consciousness didn’t just “click on.” It’s the result of millions of years of evolution and has occurred multiple times on Earth – humans are not the only Terran organisms with consciousness.

In the case of artificial life, would consciousness immediately “turn on” as is the case in the Terminator? Or would there be a series of gradual steps necessary for artificial life to reach consciousness? While such steps may not be millions of years in the making, in fact they could within the span of merely years to decades, there would still be some type of non-Darwinian evolution or process toward consciousness, even for artificial life. Recently films such as Ex Machina and the HBO show Westworld have focused on this development of consciousness in artificial life. Additionally, while not blatantly obvious, Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” also demonstrated a gradual evolution of consciousness in the shoggoths but that timeline, as least documented on the bas-reliefs in Antarctica indicate that the timescale was similar to that for natural, biological life – millions of years.

shoggoth_by_manzanedo-d65yhix Shoggoth by Manzanedo (www.deviantart.com)

In many instances the term “sentience” is thought to be interchangeable with consciousness but as I found out in these investigations this is not the case. Sentience is simply the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively, while consciousness is a higher level of thought -that is, self-awareness and interacting with the world and other life around you. For “natural” life on Earth consciousness appears to be the eventual result of sentience; however, this may not necessary be the case for some forms of artificial life.

octo_51bjxkgj0pl__ac_ul320_sr214320_

From an evolutionary point of view sentience is developed through living systems interacting with the environment (Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2016). However, in a sense this describes all of life so can bacteria and plants be considered sentient organisms? To further assist in this discussion, I reviewed Michio Kaku’s definition of consciousness in The Further of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind (2014). Kaku defines consciousness as a “space-time theory of consciousness” where he states

“Consciousness is the process of creating a model of the world using multiple feedback loops in various parameters (e.g., in temperature, space, time and in relation to others), in order to accomplish a goal (e.g., find mates, food, shelter).

This definition is strongly grounded in evolutionary theory but it also allows for the procession of consciousness – that of animals creating a model of the world mainly in relation to space to one of human consciousness where the model integrate time (Kaku, 2014).

drmichiokaku12162013

Based on this definition the first stage of consciousness is Level 0 – organisms that have little or no mobility create a model of their environment using feedback loops based on several parameters (e.g. temperature, light, food, oxygen, etc.). In a sense, this Level 0 consciousness is in fact sentience. Feedback loops are used to respond to environmental conditions to maximize health and eventually evolutionary fitness.  For example, some blue-green algae (which are essentially photosynthetic bacteria) that live in lakes have gas vacuoles that allow them to move up and down the water column. If they have a sufficient amount of light and are low on nutrients the gas vacuoles will collapse and they will sink to deeper waters where nutrient concentrations tend to be higher. In contrast, when they need more light for photosynthesis they will create gas vacuoles in their cells, making them more buoyant and they float to the well-lit surface waters. Sometime they are too buoyant and float to the surface, creating surface scums, which helps to reduce competition for light and nutrients with other algal groups.  This series of feedback loops that aid the blue-green algae to biochemically determine if gas vacuoles should be created or destroyed, have provided an evolutionary advantage to the them and can be considered Level 0 consciousness or event basic sentience.

hopatcong_11oct2Surface scum of blue-green algae on Lake Hopatcong in fall of 2016 – Level 0 Consciousness?

Organisms that are more mobile and have some type of central nervous system have Level I Consciousness (Kaku, 2014). Reptiles are an example of Level I Consciousness – they have so many feedback loops that they need a central nervous system to handle all of the information. Here feedback loops are governing the five senses, balance, blood pressure, etc. based on incoming information about the world around them (weather and varying interactions with other organisms). It is at this level that more direct intra-species (competition, mating) and inter-species (competition, predator-prey) interactions occur.

Next is Level II Consciousness, which is where an even higher number of feedback loops is required to include social interactions with other animals (Kaku, 2014). This level of consciousness is required when a species interacts as a pack, pod or tribe; it is at this level of complexity that emotions form, possibly as an evolutionary means of enhancing both individual selection and kin selection. Surprisingly, there is very little empirical studies of animal behaviors at this level of consciousness.

For Kaku, Level III Consciousness is what separates humans from the rest of the Terran animals and it is at this level is where there is an understanding of the concept of the future (Kaku, 2014).  It is the potential of modeling reality not just in space but in time that defines Level III Consciousness. Humans can run stimulations of how are interactions will impact others and ourselves in the future while other species cannot.  Thus, for Kaku:

“Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulate in it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.”

Using Kaku’s system, shoggoths were created initially as food and so started as Level 0 consciousness.  However, as the Elder Things re-designed them 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.  I’m sure the Elder Things did not want the shoggoths to get to Level III but they did and that is the discussion for next time.

howardvbrown                           Shoggoth building a structure under the guidance of the Elder Things by Howard V. Brown

The hosts of Westworld were built, designed and on-line as Level II entities. When functioning at optimal efficiency, they could easily handle complex human interactions as well as respond to their surroundings but they were designed to be limited these responses– in other words they could not “think” of the future or beyond their world.  However, similar to the shoggoths, they eventually did attain Level III consciousness. However, while there is a biological mechanism responsible for the increased consciousness in the shoggoths, for the hosts this was accomplished through the retention of memories and some re-programming. In a strange way, this was a directed, Lamarckian form of evolution.

westworld108-4 A host now re-programming itself in a unique form of Lamarckian evolution

In any event, the development and consequences of consciousness in the shoggoths and the hosts will be discussed in the next article – thank you. Fred.

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 2 The Creation of Artificial Life

elder-comic-bw

Frequently life is simply defined as the conditions that separates organisms from inorganic objects and the dead (Elements of Biological Science, 3rd Edition, William T. Keeton and Carol Hardy McFadden, 1983). Life is also more frequently described by listing characteristics typical of life such as metabolism, responsiveness, movement, growth and reproduction.

All life on Earth is shaped and molded through the forces of evolution; specifically, natural selection is the biological engine that continuously tests a species’ adaptation to its ever-changing environment. Thus, life being influenced by natural selection can be thought of as natural life.  In contrast, artificial selection is the breeding of preferred traits (e.g. producing more milk or seeds; faster animals or more attractive flowers) and the development of such species could be thought of, in a sense, as artificial life. For example, the English bulldog would not exist if humans did not breed dogs for the traits that this particular breed exhibits – thus, in a sense the English bulldog can be thought of as a type of “artificial life.”

bulldog           Zoey, the English bulldog, can be considered a form of artificial life

Another definition for artificial life is life directly created by another species as opposed to being the result of millions of years of natural selection in operation. In the case of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, it is revealed that the Elder Things created all life on Earth so does that make all life we know a form of artificial life? In this case I would say no for several reasons.

The Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and most evidence suggests life began about 3.8 billion years ago; however, some recent work on carbon minerals provide some tantalizing evidence to suggest that life may have been on Earth as early as 4.1 billion years ago (www.sciencemag.org; October 2015). However, it should be noted that the data to support this is small and additional studies / analyzes are required to further support this hypothesis.

Based on the fossil evidence and bas-reliefs found in Antarctica, the Elder Things arrived on Earth during the Archean Eon, approximately 4.0 to 2.5 billion years ago (Joshi, 2001). If the Elder Things arrived on Earth before any life existed on Earth, then they could be the creators of all life on Earth. However, if they arrived after prokaryotic (bacteria) appeared on Earth (say they arrived 2.5 billion years ago and life was already on the planet by 3.8 billion years ago), then the Elder Things may have created eukaryotic life out of prokaryotic life. Indeed, evidence suggests that eukaryotic life appeared on Earth approximately 1.5 billion years ago. Thus, in this scenario, the Elder Things used the raw prokaryotic (bacterial cells) life to create more complex, eukaryotic life such as fungi, plants and animals.

elder-jpeg

While the Elder Things “created” eukaryotic life, once released into the wild these organisms grew, had offspring and under the existing genetic variability that was coded in them, natural selection arose. The Elder Things largely left the majority of life on Earth alone to evolve and diversify through the eons. Thus, while the initial “eukaryotic germ cells” were artificially produced, once released into the environment, they became “naturalized” and adhered to the conditions used to define life: metabolism, responsiveness, movement, growth and reproduction.

In the case of Shoggoths, these organisms are better defined as artificial life since they cannot reproduce on their own. While Lovecraft does mention that the Shoggoths can reproduce through binary fission, this apparently is completely controlled, more than likely on a genetic level, by the Elder Things. Reproduction can only occur with the direct supervision and assistance of the Elder Things in special areas or structures called “shoggoth pits.” Thus, shoggoths cannot reproduce on their own, something that is required in the definition of life. I believe the Elder Things intentionally designed the shoggoths like this so they could control the population, the way only sterile grass carp are used to control heavy aquatic plant growth in lakes. By controlling or eliminating the potential for reproduction, this prevents the grass carp from taking over a lake, the way it would prevent the shoggoths from taking over the Earth.

shoggoth-for-book

Additionally, shoggoths do not appear to age or increase in size. They are fluid organisms, similar to the octopus, in that they can change their shape, size and structure but not their mass. Shoggoths in their natural state appear to be spherical with a diameter of fifteen feet, although smaller sub-species have been noted (possibly in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”). Thus, shoggoths do not appear to grow; again, another important characteristic used to define natural life. Thus, I would define shoggoths as artificial life; the cannot grow and do not reproduce and so are not influenced as a species by evolution through natural selection like the rest of Terran life.

In the HBO series Westworld, bioengineering is not used to create the “hosts,” a term used to describe the androids in the park. Instead, high-tech robotic engineering used to create the “core” of the hosts, which are then covered in biological tissues to make them look like real people. In one episode, it is casually mentioned that the hosts use to be entirely composed of inorganic / mechanical parts but it’s actually cheaper to cover their robotic skeleton and organs with biological material. No detailed were given on how this biological material covering the hosts is created, however, I hypothesize that its grown through the proliferation of stem cells in large vats akin to the Elder Things shoggoth pits.

westworld-hbo The creator examining his creation in HBO’s Westworld

The fact that humans developed and manufactured the hosts makes them obviously artificial life. While the hosts have an inorganic core with a biological shell they still have much in common with the shoggoths. In reviewing the basic characteristics of life both the hosts and the shoggoths exhibit responsiveness and movement. In terms of metabolism, both the hosts and the shoggoths need to take in energy of some sort to continue to function. In the case of shoggoths, based on Lovecraft, these organisms had very flexible modes of nutrition. They could directly be modified by the Elder Things for various modes of life (living deep in the sea or on the land) or nutrition (e.g. photosynthetic or heterotrophic) through direct artificial selection, similar to breeding a dog for a specific trait. While the hosts on HBO’s Westworld could eat and drink, nothing is known about how they derive their energy. Do they actually extract energy from the organic material they ingest or do they have alternative sources of energy built within them?

lovecraft___shoggoth__terrastial_ii_by_kingovrats-d5uohe5 A terrestrial shoggoth by KingOvRats (www.deviantart.com)

Again, the key traits that both the shoggoths and the hosts have to define them as artificial life is that they do not physically grow and they cannot reproduce. However, in spite of these control measures imposed by their creators, both groups eventually developed consciousness and that will be the focus of the next article.  Thank you and Happy New Year! Fred.

02-shoggoth                                                                                  Shoggoth by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 1 Comparing H.P. Lovecraft to Michael Crichton

westworld_1973_               Original movie poster for Westworld (1973) written and directed by Michael Crichton

I remember going to the Drive-In theater as a kid in the 1970’s to see the original version of Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973) with Yul Brynner.  It did leave an impression on me – an adult themed park of the Wild West (there was also a Medieval World and a Roman World) with robots or better described as androids. The parallels between Westworld and Crichton’s Jurassic Park books are obvious – using science and technology for recreational purposes where the resulting theme park ends up harming or killing the visitors.  In the past I have compared the Jurassic Park books and movies to H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness, where genetic engineering results in new forms of life that cannot be contained or fully controlled by their creators. However, HBO’s new series Westworld (2016) can also be compared to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness but here the underlining theme is not simply the creation of life but the creation of sentient life with consciousness.

This is the first article in a three-part analysis, comparing H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “At the Mountains of Madness” to HBO’s Westworld. The second article will discuss the creation of life, while the third article will discuss the evolution and development of consciousness. This article will briefly compare the attitudes and opinions Michael Crichton’s to that of Lovecraft’s with regard to science. Please note that while these articles will discuss the general themes and ideas of Westworld, no specific plot spoilers will be given. However, it is strongly recommended that you watch the first season of Westworld to fully appreciate these discussions. In contrast, more detailed plot points will be discussed for “At the Mountains of Madness.”

at_the_mountains_of_madness_2_by_moonxels-d5jux47 “At the Mountains of Madness” by Moonxels (www.deivantart.com)

The tales of both Crichton and Lovecraft commonly express concerns over humanity’s science and technology exceeding the boundaries of the natural world. One of the most common themes in Crichton’s novels is the damage uncontrolled science can do to humanity. Whether its dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, androids in Westworld, space exploration in Andromeda Strain or nanotechnology in Prey, Crichton’s tales tend to be cautionary warnings on how science can be a force onto itself that may negatively impact the human species.

Crichton regularly expressed a genuine level of skepticism on the use of science and noted the limits of science in his autobiography Travels (originally published in 1988). In his autobiography, Crichton frequently expressed an interest in metaphysical concepts and ideas associated with psychic phenomenon and he thought that science and mysticism were different paths that led to the same universal truths. While Crichton had medical training, he claimed to have experienced a number of supernatural phenomenon in his global travels involving psychic channeling and exorcism. This gave Crichton a metaphysical perspective where the power of the mind was just as important as the power the body in healing one’s self.

51punaunyxl__sx322_bo1204203200_

While Lovecraft frequently incorporated supernatural elements in his tales, particularly his earlier ones, his mechanical, materialist perspective on the universe and reality helped to develop his unique cosmic tales of horror, in particular his “Cthulhu Mythos” tales. However, beyond a plot device Lovecraft thought very little of the supernatural. One just needs to read some of Lovecraft’s articles in Collected Essays: Volume 3: Science, H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2005) such as “Science versus Charlatanry,” The Falsity of Astrology,” and “The Fall of Astrology” to understand how what little regard he had for the supernatural. In fact, at one point Lovecraft and C.M. Eddy were going to work on a collaborative revision of an article drafted by Harry Houdini and expand it into a book called The Cancer of Superstition (Joshi, 2013). Thus, Lovecraft would have been disappointed and slightly amused with Crichton, a person trained in the medical field believing in such superstitions.

One of Lovecraft’s most famous quotation is from the beginning of “The Call of Cthulhu” where it is stated:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlated all is contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; 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_by_nathanrosario Cthulhu by Nathan Rosario (www.deviantart.com)

A large part of Lovecraft’s perception of reality is based on the writings of Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot (Modern Science and Materialism originally published in 1919), who argued that the universe is analogous to a large, vast machine, operating under some well-established laws of physics and chemistry (Elliot, 1919). Thus, there was no room in Lovecraft’s universe for the supernatural.  Just because we could not understand something in the universe did not make it supernatural; it was simply operating with processes and mechanisms we do not yet understand. In fact, Elliot frequently mentioned that we may never know the true nature of the universe since our senses are only limited to five. If we can increase our perception of reality, we may have a better understanding of the universe. Such themes obviously make their way into a number of Lovecraft’s tales such as “Beyond the Walls of Sleep” and “From Beyond.”

51vjkmorp-l__sx258_bo1204203200_

However, in spite of Lovecraft’s appreciation for science, he still expressed caution in his tales in its application.  Lovecraft’s attitude was firmly rooted in the belief that similar to the 18th and 19th centuries, science was a profession that only the well-to-do should pursue from an academic or theoretical perceptive. It was the application of science and its offspring – the development of technology – that could lead man to a “new dark age.”

To conclude, within the context of their tales, both Lovecraft and Crichton had reservations on how science could lead to the downfall of humanity. However, while Crichton reserved room for the supernatural in his life, Lovecraft’s mechanistic materialism excluded the existence of anything outside of the natural order of physics and chemistry.

The next article we will compare season 1 of HBO’s Westworld, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, to Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” with a focus on the creation of artificial life. Thank you – Fred.

westworld-trailer-key-art-700x380