What Made the Old Man Terrible in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Terrible Old Man?”

57128-rpwpirhncloakanddaggergames                                               The Terrible Old Man (by Cloak and Dagger Games)

In one of Lovecraft’s shortest tales “The Terrible Old Man” three thieves decide to rob a very old and seemly feeble man who lives in Kingsport, Massachusetts. The old man appears to be very eccentric; he is observed talking to a set of bottles, each one  with a small piece of lead in it suspended from a string. As the old man speaks to the bottles, the pieces of lead appear to move or vibrate as if in communication with him. During the night of the attempted burglary, two of the three thieves go into the house, screams are heard but they don’t come out. The third man is afraid they had to kill the old man. When the third man, Mr. Czanek, heard someone leaving the house he assumed it was his partners. It turned out to be the terrible old man “leaning quietly on his knotted cane and smiling hideously.” Later, three unidentifiable bodies, horribly slashed, were washed in with the tide.

king1 Kingsport (www.mundotentacular.blogspot.com)

First, it should be noted that the story takes place in Kingsport, a place we discussed earlier with “The Festival.” It is hypothesized that Kingsport may be one of those placed in our Universe that is a portal or door to a parallel or alternate Universe. “The Terrible Old Man” noted that the three thieves were not of Kingsport blood – this may be a reference to the strange beings, possibly highly evolved, sentient forms of annelid worm (ringed or segmented worms such as earthworms or leeches). Those of Kingsport blood may be related to these extra-dimensional worm entities. Indeed, the unusually long-life and strength of such a “feeble” old man may be due to his unique genetic heritage.

In addition to the potential connection to “The Festival,” the fact that the Terrible Old Man talks to the lead fragments in the bottles and they seem to respond as if in conversation, as well as the names written on the bottles, indicates that the lead fragments may be a means either of storing the consciousness of the named victims and/or serve as a conduit for communication to wherever the victims exist. Is it possible that “Scar-Face,” “Long Tom,” “Spanish Joe,” and the others named, including the three new victims who attempted to rob the old man, are in the other universe referred to at the end of “The Festival?”

the_terrible_old_man_by_pixx_73 The Terrible Old Man by Pixx 73 (www.deivantart.com)

Finally, it is particularly interesting that the fragments suspended in the bottles are specifically noted to be lead. Lead is one of the first metals ever utilized by humans.  The oldest known use of lead is a lead figurine from Egypt that dates to 4,000 B.C. The ancient Romans used lead in the construction of water pipes and lining baths. In the environment lead is typically absorbed onto sediment particles and it generally not a toxic problem under most natural conditions.  However, like many heavy metals as the pH becomes acidic and there is an increase in hydrogen ions, this increases the mobilization of heavy metals including lead. It is when the lead is mobilized or in a dissolved state that it can be assimilated by organisms and result in physiological damage.

inside-flint-pipes-min-tang-and-kelsey-pieper Corrosion of pipes and the mobilization of lead has led to negative health impacts on the residents of Flint, Michigan, with a particularly strong impact on the children.

The mobilization of lead in water can have a devastating impact on aquatic life as well as that of humans. This last point was clearly demonstrated in Flint, Michigan, where river water (Flint River) was used instead of lake water (Lake Huron) as a source of potable water for the residents of Flint. The river water is 19 times more corrosive than the lake water and no anti-corrosive agent was being used to treat the water. Thus, the more corrosive river water mobilized the lead in the aging service lines to the homes of the community, where almost 42% of the residents live below the poverty line (www.cnn.com). Such negligence has a direct and negative impact on health of these residents.

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Lead can have devastating impacts on human health, particularly children. The metabolism of lead is similar to that of calcium so excess lead can be deposited in the bone, where it can remain for years. Inorganic lead poisoning can produce fatigue, sleep disturbance and anemia. Severe lead exposure by children, primarily through ingestion, can lead to encephalopathy and mental retardation. Finally, organic lead (lead attached onto a carbon molecule) has an affinity for the brain and can result in insomnia and restlessness and in higher levels of exposure result in delirium, hallucinations, convulsions, coma and even death (A Textbook of Modern Toxicology by Ernest Hodgson and Patricia E. Levi, 1987).the_terrible_old_man_by_monicagarciaart-d6kbodh The Terrible Old Man by Monica Garcia art (www.deivantart.com)

In addition to the documented toxicological impacts of lead, a study has recently come out from some researchers at Harvard University and U.C. Berkeley that rates of violent crime, in particular homicide, considerably increased between 1921 and 1936 in cities where lead service pipes were installed in the late 19th century (Feigenbaum and Muller, 2016; Lead Exposure and Violent Crime in the Early Twentieth Century). The study does admit that if lead exposure does increase crime, it is only one of several factors that include, but are not necessarily limited to, local crime as well as economic and sociological circumstances. However, the studies did use several different methodologies to arrive at the same conclusion.

Was the terrible old man’s violent nature at least partially attributed to his exposure to high amounts of lead, associated with him handling the lead fragments? Were his conversations with the lead fragments in the named bottles communications with his victims from another universe or was this behavior a result of a combination of delirium and hallucinations as result of his exposure to organic forms of lead? If people have actually witnessed the lead fragments vibrating in response to the old man’s discussions there may be more to this; however, some degree of lead poisoning may also account for the old man’s terrible and violent nature.

the_terrible_old_man_by_snoopymd-d9gppc1 The Terrible Old Man by Snoopymd (www.deviantart.com)

Next time we will initiate a series of discussions on “Through the Gate of the Silver Key” co-written by H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price. 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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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The Shadow from the Steeple is Released

the_haunter_of_the_dark_by_gianmac The Haunter of the Dark by Gianmac (www.deivantart.com)

Toward the end of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark,” it is casually mentioned that a Doctor Dexter threw the strange box and Shining Trapezohedron into the deepest channel of Narragansett Bay. Based on information provided by the University of Rhode Island and US EPA, the mean depth of the Bay is 26 feet, while the deepest part of it is in the East Passage where it is 184 feet. One might wonder why the Doctor threw the box and stone into the deepest part of Narragansett Bay if darkness summons the Haunter.  However, there are two things to keep in mind. First, as we discussed in previous articles, the Shining Trapezohedron appears to remain “dormant,” even in complete darkness, unless first observed by a sentient entity. This two-step progress involves someone looking into the Trapezohedron and then placing it in complete darkness, as Robert Blake did in the Haunter the Dark. Remember when Blake first discovered the Trapezohedron in the Church steeple it was in complete darkness and it was not until he looked into the stone and then closed the box that the Haunter was summoned.

Second, while the deepest part of Narragansett Bay is 184 feet, it is possible that enough photons of light could still reach the Shining Trapezohedron to prevent the Haunter from entering our Space-Time.  Light can actually be detected in the ocean as far down as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet), although significant amounts of light are only detected at depths of 200 meters (660 feet) or less (www.noaa.gov). In the case of the Bay, particularly in the early 20th century, water clarity was probably considerably less than the open ocean. Estuary ecosystems tend to be far more productive than the open ocean, meaning there is more phytoplankton in the water reducing water clarity.  Additionally, in the early 20th century there was minimal treatment of point or non-point source pollution, which also increased the amount of turbidity in the waters of the Bay. For the sake of this discussion, if we assume that due to natural turbidity and pollution, the water clarity of Narragansett Bay was only 10% of the open ocean, then significant amounts of light could only be detected down to a depth of about 20 meters (66 feet).  Thus, the Shining Trapezohedron may indeed have been in complete darkness at the bottom of the Bay.

bay-map-small                                                                                                                Narragansett Bay – not the East Passage is just south of Prudence Island (www.nbnerr.org)

Based on the end of “The Haunter of the Dark” it was assumed that the doctor did not stare into the Shining Trapezohedron before he threw the thing into the Bay. However, according to Robert Bloch’s “The Shadow from the Steeple,” which is the third in the “Haunter Trilogy,” this was not the case. According to that tale Doctor Ambrose Dexter did stare into the Shining Trapezohedron before depositing it into the depths of the Narragansett. More than likely once the stone was in complete darkness the Haunter once again had access to our Space-Time. In “The Haunter of the Dark” the creature attempted to somehow merge with Robert Blake and failed, possibly due to the light associated with a flash of lightning banishing it back to its own reality before it could complete this task. However, unfortunately the stress of actually seeing the Haunter coming after him was too much for Blake and he died or heart failure or some other associated cause. In the case of Dr. Dexter, it appears the transfer was successful.

Based on the investigations of Edmund Fiske, the protagonist of “The Shadow from the Steeple,” Dr. Dexter was a true avatar to Nyarlathotep. Comparing Dexter to the other documented instances or encounters with the Haunter, Robert Blake appeared to be a failed attempt to become an avatar. In this case the flash of lightning probably neutralized the Haunter before the “merging” could be completed. The case of Nephren-Ka is a little more complex.

In the case of the Black Pharaoh there appeared to be an exchange of some sort between Nephren-Ka and the Haunter but not a merging. Nephren-Ka would gain the power to foresee the future for the 100+ people sacrificed to the Haunter and Nyarlathotep. There is no evidence that Nephren-Ka became an avatar since he was trapped in his tomb, doomed to record the future history of humanity on the crypt walls. Maybe this was a failed experiment on Nyarlathotep’s part to become stable enough to exist in our Space-Time on a more permanent basis and the “discarded by-product” of this failed experiment was the half-crazed Nephren-Ka trapped in his own tomb documenting Earth’s future history.

cover-nile01 Nile – Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka (www.leastworstoption.com) 

In any event, in these last two cases the Haunter appears to be a “carrier” for Nyarlathotep, the way a mosquito is for a parasite such as the parasitic protist Plasmodium that is the cause of Malaria or the virus from the family Flaviviridae that is the cause of West Nile Disease. Thus, the Haunter is essentially the mosquito, while Nyarlathotep is the parasite that secures itself in its host. This may be an effective means of overcoming the problem of existing in our Space-Time. Indeed, in the “The Shadow from the Steeple” after years of investigation and finally confronting Dr. Dexter Fiske states that:

“There is no Dr. Dexter. There hasn’t been any such person for many years now. There only the outer shell, possessed by an entity older than the world…” and

“The Trapezohedron was thrown into the Bay, and soon from the sea came this noxious birth – your birth, or incarnation in the body of Dr. Dexter.”

Apparently, existing as some sort of inter-dimensional parasite was fairly successful for Nyarlathotep. Based on Fiske’s documentation, once Nyarlathotep occupied Dr. Dexter’s body his interests turned from medicine to high energy particle physics. Within a short amount of time the Dr. Dexter became a known expert in nuclear physics and directly involved in working with the team of scientists developing the H-bomb. The H-bomb or hydrogen bomb is a thermonuclear weapon that uses energy from a nuclear fission reaction (atoms are split into small parts, releasing high energy neutrons and gamma photos) to trigger nuclear fusion (two or more atomic nuclei come close enough to form different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles) reaction. Such two-stage nuclear weapons generate substantially larger amounts of explosive power.  Typically, isotopes of hydrogen are what is being fused, thus the name hydrogen bomb or H-bomb.

hbomb The hydrogen bomb that exploded as part of a test codenamed “Castle Bravo,” above, was the largest nuclear device ever detonated by the United States. Photograph courtesy U.S. Department of Energy. (wwwnatgeo.com).

It should be noted that nuclear fusion generates substantially larger amounts of energy relative to nuclear fission. In fact, nuclear fusion is the power the generates the energy, power and light in most stars. Thus, while man may have created atomic weapons, based on Fiske’s account, Nyarlathotep may have had a hand in guiding humanity toward the utilization of the power of the Cosmos – essentially the engine of the stars – in the creation of weapons of mass destruction.nucelar                                                                Difference between nuclear fusion and fission; note fusion generates more energy than fission (www.butane.chem.uiuc.edu).

Unfortunately, there is no account of Dr. Dexter since Fiske’s documentation, as recorded by Robert Bloch in “The Shadow from the Steeple.” Maybe the parasitic mode of life for Nyarlathotep was limited to a period of years and it eventually left the host. Or, maybe once the knowledge of the H-bomb was given to humanity, Nyarlathotep recognized its task was complete. However, why give such knowledge to humanity? Is it to “clear the Earth” as Wilbur Whateley once stated in “The Dunwich Horror?” Or is it to generate enough energy to open a stable door or “wormhole” to either allow the Earth to enter the Space-Time of the Old Ones or allow them to come to ours? Until any additional information is found on Dr. Dexter we may never know. Hopefully we as a species will not help Nyarlathotep accomplish his task whatever it is.

nyarlathotep1                                                      Marvel comics interpretation of Edmund Fiske confronting Dr. Dexter, avatar to Nyarlathotep (marvunapp.com)

For the next few weeks I will be posting smaller articles on-line so Steve and I can focus on and wrap up the Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 2. For 2017 we will be discussing other Lovecraftian subjects with an emphasis on The Dreamlands. Thank you – Fred.

The Haunter’s Three-Lobed Eye

While we are moving onto Robert Bloch’s “The Shadow in the Steeple” to conclude the Haunter Trilogy, I did want to spend a little time discussing the Haunter’s three-lobed eye. Just before Blake’s encounter with the Haunter at the end of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark,” he was furiously writing notes in his journal, which would end up being his last recorded entries. The very last statement in Blake’s journal was:

“I see it – coming here – hell-wind – titan blur – black wing – Yog Sothoth save me – the three-lobed burning eye…”

the_haunter_of_the_dark_by_marcsimonetti The Haunter of the Dark by Marc Simonetti

We know that the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (EM-spectrum) weakens or neutralizes the Haunter but does not necessarily destroy it. Yet Blake specifically mentions it’s three-lobed burning eye. Assuming this “eye” is used as some sort of organ for perception, it more than likely does not see it the visible portion of the EM-spectrum as we do.

Electromagnetic waves are produced by a vibrating electric charge and so consist of both an electric and a magnetic component. Electromagnetic waves exist with an enormous range of frequencies. This continuous range of frequencies is known as the EM-spectrum. The entire range of the spectrum is often broken into specific regions. The subdividing of the entire spectrum into smaller spectra is done mostly on the basis of how each region of electromagnetic waves interacts with matter. The diagram below depicts the electromagnetic spectrum and its various regions. The longer wavelength, lower frequency regions are located on the far left of the spectrum and the shorter wavelength, higher frequency regions are on the far right (www.physicsclassroom.com).

wavelength_figure_www-science-edu-larc-nasa-gov                                                              The EM-spectrum (www.science-edu.larc.nasa.gov)

As mentioned in the past article, the EM spectrum can be divided into non-ionizing and ionizing radiation, where non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to ionize (remove an electron) atoms or molecules. This type of radiation is only strong enough to excite the election to a higher state and not remove it. From higher to lower frequencies, non-ionizing radiation includes light, infrared, microwaves, radio wave and extremely low frequency waves.

The portion of the EM-spectrum that is visible to us, known as light, consists of a spectrum of wavelengths that range from approximately 700 nanometers (abbreviated nm) to approximately 400 nm. Wavelengths larger than 700 nm move into infrared radiation (IR), while wavelength shorter than 400 nm move into ultraviolet radiation (UV).

the_haunter_of_the_dark___nyarlathotep_by_herrtevik-d6wgtjw The Haunter of the Dark, Nyarlathotep by Herrtevik (S. Tent) (www.deivantart.com)

Any star, including our sun, is essentially a gigantic sphere of gas, or better defined as plasma (a gas but with an electrical charged – an ionized gas).  Our sun generates energy in its core via a type of nuclear reaction known as nuclear fusion. Basically, the tremendous heat and pressure at the heart of the Sun causes the nuclei of several hydrogen atoms to fuse together to form helium atoms. When this happens, a relatively small portion (less than 1%) of the mass of the atoms is converted into energy.  The nuclear actions within the sun generate EM-radiation across most of the EM-spectrum, generating high energy photons (packets of light or EM-radiation called photons). By the time these photons reach the surface of the sun and travel into space they become lower in energy so the Sun does not produce and eminent the highest energy EM-radiation like gamma rays. However, the Sun does produce X-rays, UV, light, IR and radio waves.

emfromsun Relative amounts of EM radiation from our Sun (www.windows2universe.org)

Since the peak of our Sun’s energy output is in the portion of visible light within the EM-spectrum (www.windows2universe.org), the largest amount of EM-radiation that reaches the Earth is visible light. Thus, it is not surprising that life on Earth evolved to “see” light waves. However, not all life on Earth can see the same portion of the EM-spectrum. For example, bees can’t see red wavelengths but can “see” UV light, which is another form of EM-wavelengths that the Sun generates in fairly high levels of irradiance.

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The “hotter” a star is, the more bluish-white it be while the “cooler” a star is, the more it will appear red. For example, something like a brown dwarf, which is a dim, cool object too massive to be a planet but not massive enough to be a star, emits more IR than visible light. In contrast, a white dwarf is a hot, dying star that has burned up all of the hydrogen in its core and emits mostly UV-radiation.  Thus, a more exotic or “alien” star, or possibly a star in another Universe where the Universal Laws and slightly different, may generate varying portions of EM-radiation relative to our Sun. Another example are pulsars, which are a type of neutron star – a star near the end of its life, which generate large amounts of gamma radiation.

Thus, getting back to the Haunter and its three-lobed eye, this organ may be adapted to “see” other portions of the EM-spectrum. One hypothesis is that if visible light functions as ionizing radiation to the Haunter then maybe it can “see” IR or even radio waves (does it come from a Universe where most of the stars are similar to brown dwarfs?). An alternative hypothesis is that each lobe functions to “see” a specific portion of the EM-spectrum or have slightly varying functions as do the cone and rod cells in our eyes (cone cells are used for color vision and work best in bright light, while rod cells are more effective in lower light levels).

three_lobed_burning_eye_by_pickmans_model The Three-Lobed Burning Eye by Pickmans Model

Still, since the Haunter is more than likely not a resident of our Universe, the three-lobed eye may not be used in the same manner as our eyes are. Lovecraft understood that they may be other means of perception beyond our known five senses, a concept based largely on his reading of Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot’s Modern Science and Materialism. Elliot claimed that our Universe would be perceived by us very differently if we had more than five senses; imagine what reality would look like if we could “see” the entire EM-spectrum. We frequently convert EM data of celestial bodies into color so we can see them. For example, Jupiter generates huge amounts of natural radio waves that are easily picked up on simple antennas and short-wave receivers (www.spacetoday.org). Shown below is what Jupiter “looks like” through radio waves. But does the Haunter’s three-lobed eye allow it to see other things beyond our EM-spectrum?  Can it “see” dark matter or dark energy? Can it “see” antimatter or the cosmic background radiation? Or is it see something else, something From Beyond?

jupiterradioimage13cm                                                                                             A radio image of Jupiter (www.spacetoday.org)

Next time we will definitely discuss Robert Bloch’s “The Shadow in the Steeple.” Thank you – Fred.

hofthed_rachelm5_dev The Haunter of the Dark by Rachelm5 (wwwdeviantart.com)