Hey everyone – we just put a Kickstarter on-line for a 3rd volume of the Journal of Lovecraftian Science. The theme of this volume will be Lovecraft’s revision tales. A set of seven revision tales will be included in this issue. In addition, if a specific threshold goal is reached an additional tale, “The Curse of Yig” co-written with Zealia Bishop, will be added to this volume of the Journal.
A draft illustration of the cover of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 3 by Steve Maschuck
In addition to the third volume, a chapbook will be produced that discusses the ecosystem of Lovecraft’s Venus in the tale “In the Walls of Eryx” co-written with Kenneth J. Sterling. The chapbook will describe the endemic flora and fauna of the Lovecraftian Venus and how ecosystems processes operate very differently relative to Earth.
Early illustration of “In the Walls of Eryx” by Steve Maschuck
If you are interested in the 3rd volume and this chapbook, please check out our Kickstarter at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-three?ref=user_menu
Thank you for your time – Fred.
As we have previously discussed from 1906 to 1918 Lovecraft’s writings focused heavily on astronomy. He produced a number of articles and documents on astronomical observations, which were frequently published in newspapers such as the Providence Evening News and the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-News. Additionally, Lovecraft produced reports on the subject but much of this material has never been published and has been lost. However, Necronomicon Press just printed 250 copies of a facsimile reproduction of Lovecraft’s The Annual Report on the Science of Astronomy, 1904. The document includes notes as well as several illustrations by Lovecraft; some of these illustrations are shown below. If you are interested this subject, I strongly recommend you purchase one since they printed only 250 copies.
The Fowler Imprint (Greg Onychuk; http://www.propnomicon.blogspot.com)
Of all of the fossils collected during the Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, the most intriguing specimens were those of the footprints of the Elder Things. As previously mentioned, a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, and a number of living marine invertebrates were discovered near Queen Alexandra Range. However, also discovered in the sandstones were strange triangular striated marking, about a foot in diameter at their widest point. While Lake, the lead biologist on the expedition found these triangular fossils interesting and curious, Dyer who was the expedition’s lead geologist saw them as nothing more than ripple effects, which are common in sedimentary rock. Such ripple marks form perpendicular to the direction of the wind or water (current or waves). In this case, the fossilized ripple marks (see below) are indicative of agitation by water and were symmetrical, so they were probably formed by gentle waves or fast flow water. In any event, based on the description of the triangular fossils, it is difficult to see how they could be mistaken for ripple marks. However, this was probably just an attempt by Dyer to explain the strange markings.
After flying over the South Pole and conducting some additional aerial surveying, Lake insisted that the new base be established in a westward direction, instead of the planned northwestward direction. This change in direction was sparked by Lake’s obsession with the strange “triangular striated marking in the slate.” Lake was convinced that these marking were not ripple marks but instead of some large, unknown organism, in spite of it being dated to be Cambrian, if not Precambrian.
In Lovecraft’s time, the Precambrian (recognized as the period of time from the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian about 541 million years ago) was generally thought to be dominated by unicellular life. It was not until 1950’s when radiometric carbon dating was developed, that it was confirmed that multicellular life existed in the Precambrian. Indeed, the earliest multicellular forms of life are found in rock as old as 1.2 to 1.5 billion years ago. These ancient multicellular forms were a form of filamentous red algae named Bangiomorpha pubescens and were discovered in the 1990s (M.J. Benton; The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction; 2008).
Fossilized imprint of the red alga Bangiomorpha, one of the first multicellular organisms
The first recognized ecosystem dominated by multicellular species was during the Ediacara Period (between 635 and 542 million year ago). To be fair, when Lovecraft first suggested that the fossil footprints were of the Elder Things and dated somewhere between the Cambrian / Precambrian, very little was known about multicellular life in the Precambrian. The strange organisms of the Ediacara were discovered in the Ediacara Hills, north of Adelaide, Australia in 1946 by a young mining geologist named Reginald Sprigg (The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction by Michael J. Benton; 2008). Many of these Ediacaran fossils looked like jellyfish, branching fronds and worms. Some say the Ediacara species are the direct ancestors of many of existing marine fauna, while other state these species were so unlike most living forms that the majority of the Ediacaran died out approximately 540 million years ago (Benton, 2008).
The Ediacaran ecosystem in the Precambrian
Additional support for the hypothesis that the Ediacaran species represent some of the earliest known multicellular, animals on Earth was very recently presented. Specifically, fossil fat molecules (cholesterol) were collected and measured off of a fossil of a species known and Dickinsonia. These species lived 558 million years ago placing it firmly in the Precambrian. So why did most, if not all, of the Ediacaran species, die out? Maybe the Ediacarans were an experiment of the Elder Things and for some reason decided to abandon and/or start over with a new “stock” of eukaryotic cells.
Fossil of Dickinsonia
Getting back to the fossilized Elder Thing footprints, initially one may ask why they would not be mistaken for another Ediacaran species. The shape and appearance of the footprints may indicate that they were another flat, soft-bodied, bottom feeder, similar to Dickinsonia. So why did Lake suspect that these fossils were footprints of some large animal and not a group of bottom-feeding species? It must have been the pattern of the fossils. One or two fossil imprints would look like a few organisms. However, a number of the same fossil imprint laid out in a linear arrangement, such as the dinosaur tracks shown below, is definitely an indication of the movement of some larger animal.
Dinosaur footprints at the La Rioja Cultural Heritage site
It was generally thought that animals did not start colonizing the land until the Silurian, between 440 and 410 million years ago. However, in 2002 older fossilized footprints of a lobster-sized, centipede-like animal were discovered in some sandstone (see below). These footprints are approximately 530 million years old (https://www.nature.com/news/1998/020429/full/news020429-2.html). Thus, it appears that some animals were wading out of the shallow seas and onto the land during the Precambrian. Thus, these creatures were around the same time the Elder Things were moving over the Earth. Were the lobster-sized, centipede-like animals special pet projects of the Elder Things or were they just another discarded and abandoned biological experiment, cast out to be subjugated to the forces of evolutionary natural selection?
Some of the earliest fossil footprints of a terrestrial organism on Earth
Next time we discuss the actual discovery of the “fossilized” Elder Thing specimens. Thank you – Fred.
Illustration of Elder Thing footprints by Pete Von Sholly
At the Mountains of Madness by Steamgear (wwwdeviantart.com)
During the Pabodie – Lake, Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, a number of fascinating fossils were discovered, in addition to the dormant Elder Things. Frank Pabodie was a professor of engineering who developed a specialized drill that was used to bore through the Antarctic soils and bedrock, while Professor Lake was the expedition’s lead biologist who oversaw the collection of the fossils and other specimens. In addition to Pabodie and Lake, the other two lead Miskatonic professors on the expedition were Professor Atwood of the physics department (also a trained meteorologist) and William Dyer of the geology department (S.T. Joshi [editor], H.P. Lovecraft – The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, 2001). Over the next few articles we will be reviewing a number of the fossils founds during the Miskatonic expedition. It should be noted that Pabodie’s experimental drill was first used just above Beardmore Glacier approximately 8,500 feet above sea-level on Mt. Nansen.
Beardmore Glacier (www.coolantarctia.com)
Some additional drillings to the west, near Queen Alexandra Range (see figure below) revealed a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, crinoids and two molluscs including lingulae and gasteropods. With the exception of the trilobites, all of these identified organisms are still living today. Thus, in order to be a “time stamp” on this collection of fossils, we will first discuss the trilobites.
Queen Alexandra Range (www.michelle-kotnik.com)
Trilobites are a group of extinct arthropods, making up their own class, the Trilobita. These organisms were some of the most successful early animals, living on Earth for almost 252 million years. They first appear in the fossil record in abundance around in the early Cambrian around 521 million years ago. However, there is some evidence to suggest that trilobites may have existed as far back as 700 million years or even earlier. Once the trilobites appeared in the Cambrian, they rapidly diversified into a number of major orders. Trilobite diversity appeared to be highest in the Cambrian but were still fairly common in the Ordovician. However, through the rest of the Paleozoic Era, trilobite diversity and abundance appeared to decline with a number of near-extinctions. Finally, by the end of the Permian period all trilobites went extinct, leaving no known living, direct descendants. It should be noted that the trilobites were not alone in this. Over 96% of all marine species went extinct during the Permian – Triassic extinction event, which occurred approximately 252 million years ago. This extinction event was the largest of the big five events, where a total of 90% of all species went extinct (Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, 2009; Evolution: The First Four Billion Years).
Ferns are a group of “primitive” plants that have specialized tissues such as trees and flowers but reproduce by spores and not seed or flowers. Ferns first appeared in the late Devonian, approximately 360 million years ago. Thus, if all of these fossil finds of the Miskatonic expedition were from the same geologic time, they must have originated from somewhere between the late Devonian and the end of the Permian.
Seaweed (complex algae) may have been some of the oldest multicellular organisms on Earth, dating back more than 555 million year old, well into the Precambrian (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160322134110.htm). Thus, of all of the fossils organisms identified, the seaweeds are the oldest.
Crinoids, commonly called sea lilies, are a group of marine animals that are in the phylum Echinodermata, also known as echinoderms. With the exception of a few specimens found in the Burgess Shale, the crinoid group (class: Crinoidea) was first well represented in the Ordovician period, between 485 and 443 million years. While this class of echinoderms were fairly abundant and diverse in the past, today they are represented by about 600 living species.
A living Crinoid, also known as a sea lily.
The last set of fossils cited in this passage were “…molluscs including lingulae and gasteropods.” The Mollusca is one of the largest phyla of animal life, second only to the Arthropoda (the insects and their relatives). Mollusks are soft-bodied animals that have some type of internal or external shell and include clams and squid. Gasteropods are a class of mollusks that include the snails and their relatives (L. Margulis and K.V. Schwartz; Five Kingdoms: An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth, 1982). However, the term lingulae probably refers to genus Lingula (lamp shells), which is placed in its own phylum, Brachiopoda. The major difference between the Brachiopods and Mollusks is that Brachiopod shells have upper and lower surfaces in contrast to the left and right arrangement of the mollusks.
A living Brachiopod of the genus Lingula.
From an evolutionary perspective, the mollusks are far more successful than the brachiopods; mollusks have approximately 7,600 living species while brachiopods only have approximately 350 living species. In Darwin’s travels, he found the windswept cliffs of the Falkland Islands full of brachiopod fossils. In contrast to the total number of living species, over 35,000 species of brachiopods have been found in the fossil record. At one point, they were the most abundant group of animals on Earth. Given how specific species can be found in specific rocks, brachiopod fossils can be used to determine the age of the rock where a particular fossil was found. This dating technique agrees well with more modern methods of dating rocks (https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/darwin/a-trip-around-the-world/fossils-and-living-species/ancient-shells/).
I believe Lovecraft including the lingulae with the gasteropods as members of the Mollusca phylum is an error on his part. I can find no evidence that brachiopods were once considered to be another class within the Mollusca phylum. If this is not directly attributed to an error on Lovecraft’s part, then it may have been an error from his reference source, possibly the Encyclopedia Britannia. This is one of those rare instances where Lovecraft’s research for a story was flatly incorrect.
Next time we will continue to move forward in At the Mountains of Madness to discover what other fossils the Miskatonic Expedition found. Thank you – Fred.
With the opening of Jurassic Park: Forbidden Kingdom a few weeks ago I thought I would review Lovecraft’s thoughts on dinosaurs and his use of these ancient organisms in his tales. In S.T. Joshi’s biography of H.P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (2013), Joshi did note that in his diary Lovecraft mentioned that on 6 October 1925 he went to see the film The Lost World, which is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of the same name. The film features some stunning stop motion special effects that were amazing for its time and actually hold up even today. These special effects were achieved through the efforts of Willis O’Brien who also worked on King Kong (1933) and Might Joe Young (1949). O’ Brien was also the mentor to special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. It would have been interesting to hear Lovecraft’s opinion of the film The Lost World. However, Lovecraft did mention seeing King Kong and only stated that it had “good mechanical effects” (Joshi, 2013).
King Kong vs. a T. rex in the original 1933 film.
Additionally, Lovecraft recorded in his Common Place Book in 1919 the statement, “As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird – fall of man before new race.” (Collected Essays: Volume 5: Philosophy, Autobiography and Miscellany – H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi; 2006). In the revision of Zealia Bishop’s tale “The Mound,” Lovecraft cites that an “altered” George E. Lawton emerged from the mound and was muttering a variety of things including, “…always down there, before there were any living things – older than the dinosaurs…” In both instances Lovecraft is using the dinosaurs as some type of indicator organisms to exemplify the extremely large spans of geologic time associated with rise and fall of species or civilizations.
A member of the Great Race with a Velociraptor.
Our species (modern humans), Homo sapiens, is said to be at least 200,000 years old, although some studies that came out in 2017 indicate that, based on fossils recovered in Ethiopia, that modern humans may be as old as 350,000 years old. Our genus, Homo, is estimated to be a little over two million years old. In sharp contrast, dinosaurs are said to have been around from 250 to 65 million years ago (Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction by David Norman, 2005); essentially the Mesozoic Era. Thus, while our genus has been around for a little more than 2 million years, dinosaurs as a group were around for approximately 177 million years ago. While we consider ourselves to be the dominant organism on Earth as this time, from a geologic perspective, dinosaurs were far more successful. No wonder that Lovecraft used the dinosaurs as a sort of “geologic time stamp.”
Lovecraft used dinosaurs as a means of conveying cosmic horror not associated with outer space but with geologic time; in other words, our time being in existence is but a fleeting second in the grand scheme of the history of Earth and the universe. Carl Sagan put this within a context that we could understand – a calendar year. If the history of the Universe was scaled into a calendar year, where the Big Bang occurred on the first second of midnight on the 1st of January and the end of the year was the present, our cosmic insignificance from a temporal perspective is demonstrated. For example, in the history of the Universe all of human history would be limited to within the last minute of the last day of the year, the 31st of December. Again, within the temporal scale of the Cosmos humans are literally just a minor blip.
A graphical view of Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar
To get back to the dinosaurs, Lovecraft continues to use these organism as geologic indicators several times in At the Mountains of Madness, where the Elder Things cities were said to have existed at the time of the dinosaurs, during the Mesozoic Era. Additionally, compared to the Elder Things the dinosaurs were described as “…almost brainless objects…”. Indeed, in Lovecraft’s time dinosaurs were considered large but stupid ancient reptiles. While investigating what was known about dinosaurs in Lovecraft’s time, it was revealed that unlike most fields of science and technology (e.g. integrating genetics with evolution; the theory of relativity; quantum mechanics, etc.) in the early 20th century, paleontology was a fairly stagnant field. Bones and fossils were still being discovered but very little was being done to further this type of science (Norman, 2005). It would not be until the later part of the 20th century (the 1960’s and 1970’s), when paleontology would reveal that instead of being mindless brutes, dinosaurs were highly intelligent, many being social creatures who in a sense are still with us today as birds.
In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time,” while being in the body of a member of the Great Race in the distant past, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee remembers recognizing “…dinosaurs, pterodactyls, ichthyosaurs, labyrinthodonts, plesiosaurs…”. The one group I was not familiar with on this list was the labyrinthodonts, which is an extinct subclass of amphibians that evolved from lobe-finned fishes in the Devonian and is a key ancestor to all extant land-living vertebrates. Again, the reference to dinosaurs and other animals helps to put Lovecraft’s story into the proper perspective relative to geologic time.
A labyrinthodont (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Sidmouth-Devon.htm)
To summarize, while dinosaurs were never the primary focus of any of Lovecraft’s stories, he would occasionally use them as indicator organisms of immense spans of geologic time; unlike labyrinthodonts, dinosaurs are recognized by most people. However, what a dinosaur was thought to be in the Lovecraft’s day, in the early 20th century, is very different than what we know about these extinct organisms today. I’m sure Lovecraft would be absolutely amazed what we know about dinosaurs today. It makes you wonder what humans will know and understand about dinosaurs in 50 to 100 years from now. Will there truly be a Jurassic Park someday?
A scene from Jurassic Park III
Next time I will go back to reviewing some of Stephen Hawking’s ideas on multiple universes. Thank you – Fred.
On the 14th of March 2018 we lost one of the greatest scientists of the late 20th / early 21st century – Stephen Hawking. He was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist and popularizer of science to general audiences, and in spite of being diagnosed and suffering from a slow-progressing form of the motor neuron disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), he led a full and productive life, working on exploring the mysteries of our universe and even beyond. In this article we discuss how some of Hawking’s work was referenced and discussed in past articles here at Lovecraftian Science. A subsequent article will review some of Hawking’s work and how it can be used to better understand the Lovecraftian Cosmos.
In Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” we hypothesized that Zann had somehow made a connection to a parallel Universe with his music. In the book The Grand Design, written by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, the quantum origins of the multiverse, including our Universe, is essentially composed of a Wave Function. This concept is based on Hawking’s idea of applying quantum mechanics to the entire universe or at least at the origins of the universe. Other physicists such as Richard Feynman identified that a particle in motion does not have a specific or unique endpoint (Hawking and Mlodinow, 2012). Thus, the endpoint is not “etched in stone.” Rather, there are varying probabilities of what that endpoint will be and while some endpoints will have substantially higher probabilities over others, all possible endpoints need to be considered. Consider applying this concept to the entire universe and beyond.
Illustration of “The Music of Erich Zann” by Andrew Brosnatch for Weird Tales.
At the sub-atomic level, this haze of quantum probabilities is reality. In contrast, at larger universal scales the quantum reality does not have to be taken into account. However, at the origin of the universe, when it was as small as a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimeter, quantum forces dominated. Stephen Hawking’s Wave Function hypothesis of the Universe examines the birth of the universe from a quantum perspective so that there are an infinite number of all possible universes; we happen live in a universe that had a high probability of being stable enough to support life. More than likely most of these universes do not have the specific “mix” of physical properties to support and sustain life; at least life as we define it.
The proposed set or network of theories that support the multiverse concept is called M-theory. Each theory explains certain physical phenomenon within a given range of scale. When these scales overlap, different theories agree. However, when the scales do not overlap, different theories describe certain phenomenon (e.g. Newtonian mechanics describing the influence of gravity on a planetary scale vs. quantum mechanics describing sub-atomic interactions). Thus, given this proposed network of theories, M-theory allows for the existence of different universes with different laws of nature (e.g. the charge of the electron, the actual strength of gravity).
M-Theory is a set of theory that are inter-linked; the strength of these links are based on the scale being observed.
Linking Hawking’s Wave Function hypothesis with M-theory, if the generation of the multiverse was associated with a quantum reality, then these universes are not separated in the sense of space-time but in a “quantum wave function.” In other words, parallel universes are co-spatial; that is, they are separated by quantum properties rather than space-time properties (The Layman’s Guide to Quantum Reality by J.D. Lovil, 2017). Thus, other universes are not billions of light years away or in the distant past or future. Instead, they exist and are woven into our very existence. The link or connection between or among universes may not be through wormholes or time travel but through weak gravitational interactions among the universes. In turn, gravitational dark matter and/or dark energy may be the key to other universes and the Old Ones.
Illustration of S. Hawking’s Wave Function hypothesis of universe generation.
The music of Erich Zann may have been generating micro-scale gravity waves of a very specific disturbance within space-time to link our universe with another. Or, as Lovecraft’s story suggests, Zann’s music prevented beings from another universe from entering ours. Somehow, sometime in Zann’s life he could have been exposed to a situation where it was revealed to him that others from another universe are attempting to entering ours through gravitational waves. The music he plays may disrupt the wave generation just enough to prevent access. That is an extremely heavy burden on one person; preventing an inter-universal invasion from extra-dimensional beings.
The Music of Erich Zann by Alex Scibilia.
Next time we will discuss in a little more detail how others such as the Old Ones may have access to our universe and why they are so different from us. Thank you – Fred.