Lovecraft’s “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” – Part 2, what of the Piltdown Man?

In the early 20th century Gregor Mendel’s 19th century work on pea plants and subsequent development of the Principles of Inheritance were being re-discovered and integrated with Darwin’s evolution through natural selection. With Mendel’s work, R. Fisher, Jr. B.S. Haldane and S. Wright were developing the foundation for population genetics between the 1910s and 1930s. Additionally, it was not until the 1960s when Crick and Watson discovered that RNA and DNA were the keys to the transference of inherited traits from one generation to the next that a gene-based view of evolution was developed.

Gregor_Mendel_with_cross                                                                Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics

The rediscovery of Mendel’s work, uncovering additional fossil evidence, and the revelation that RNA and DNA were the keys to translating coded inherited information into the operating physiology of an organism (e.g. the production of proteins and associated enzymes), collectively lead to the modern synthesis of evolution. Now evolution can be studies and analyzed from the molecular level to populations to extremely long periods of time with the use of the fossil record. I always say the strength of the theory of evolution is the fact that whole new disciplines of sciences have been developed (e.g. genetics, biochemistry) that complete support and do not contradict evolution through natural selection. However, in Lovecraft’s time the concept of Mendelian inheritances from parent to offspring were just being re-discovered by the scientific community.  I can find not reference to Mendel’s work in any of Lovecraft’s fiction, which is not surprising.  Additionally, the discovery of RNA and DNA would not occur for another 30 to 40 years. As with any fiction, Lovecraft’s tales were written the early 20th century and are therefore a product of its time. Thus, within a scientific context some of Lovecraft’s ideas and tales sound to us as naïve or downright ignorant.

In 1907 a jaw bone of a hominid (family of primates that includes humans and at least some of the great apes) was discovered in a sand mine in Germany; the species was named Homo heidelbergensis, was estimated to be 200,000 to 600,000 years old and is generally recognized as probably being a common ancestor to both modern humans and Neandertals (Michael Price, 9th August 2016, “Study reveals culprit behind Piltdown Man, one of science’s most famous hoaxes”; www.sciencemag.org). With tension between Germany and the United Kingdom high, which eventually led to World War I, U.K. naturalists were under pressure to find their “missing link.” To them it was obvious – the origins of humanity must have come from England not Germany! Thus, in 1912 a big-brained, ape-jawed fossil specimen was discovered in a gravel pit outside of a small U.K. village, placing England on the map as a special site for human evolution. Lovecraft obviously knew of the Piltdown man and its “importance” to the study of human evolution. Thus, as S.T. Joshi has stated, “Indeed, the mention of the Piltdown man – “discovered” as recently as 1912 – foreshadows what would become a hallmark of Lovecraft’s fiction: its scientific contemporaneous. We will find that he would on occasion revise a story at the last moment in order to be as up to date on the scientific veracity of his tale as he could be.” – from I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi (2013).

cc_Piltdown_gang_16x9 Examination of the Piltdown skull

It is interesting to note that Lovecraft does give a passing reference to the Piltdown man in “Dagon” (written in 1917) and “The Rats in the Walls (written in 1923), but not in “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” (hereafter referred to as “Arthur Jermyn”) which was written in 1920. S.T. Joshi states in his essay “Topical References in Lovecraft” (Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essay on H.P. Lovecraft, S.T. Joshi; 2014) that Lovecraft mentions the Piltdown man in both “The Tomb” (written in 1917) and the “The Rats in the Wall.” However, I found no reference to the Piltdown man in “The Tomb” so this is probably just a slight error is Joshi’s article.

Ultimately, the Piltdown man turned out to be a hoax; probably one of the biggest scientific hoaxes of the 20th century. However, this hoax was not discovered and confirmed until the 1950s and in Lovecraft’s day, while controversial, the Piltdown man was generally accepted as fact and cutting-edge science. Thus, why did Lovecraft mention it in a number of his stories but not “Arthur Jermyn?” My guess is that since this tale focuses on Africa, Lovecraft wanted to keep the emphasis on that continent and not discuss proposed missing links from other parts of the world. Still, it is odd given Lovecraft’s love for everything English that the Piltdown man was not even referenced in passing in “Arthur Jermyn” as it is in “Dagon.”

cc_piltdown_crop                                 The gravel pit where the Piltdown man was “discovered”

While Lovecraft died before the Piltdown man was discredited as a fraud, he must have appreciated and supported the idea that an important missing link between humans and apes was found in the United Kingdom. As an atheist and mechanistic materialist, Lovecraft firmly embraced Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. As an anglophile, it must have pleased him that such an important component of the story of human evolution was found in England. The Piltdown man provided “scientific” support for Lovecraft’s misled justification for his racist views. As with several of Darwin’s contemporaries like Huxley and Haeckel, Lovecraft saw a “ranking” of human races, with white Anglo-Saxons at the pinnacle of this misleading tree of life. However, as molecular biology and genetics have revealed, the concept of race means very little relative to human evolution.

Today we know that genetics and fossil evidence confirm that Homo sapiens originated from Africa sometime between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. Yet in the early 20th century the Piltdown man led the scientific community down the wrong path, searching the English countryside for more evidence for the missing link. Thus, important fossil findings in South Africa were largely ignored for decades due to the Piltdown man. Indeed, a lot of time and effort was dedicated over the Piltdown man and its validity. It is estimated at more than 250 scientific papers have been written on the topic. However, scientific scrutiny and new technologies emerged that finally revealed the truth about the Piltdown man. Science is supposed to be a self-correcting process; however, the foundation of this process is the collection and use of valid, non-tampered data. In the case of the Piltdown man, it was ultimately discovered that skull was human but the jawbone was that of a female orangutan.

NGS Picture Id:2176229 An orangutan (National Geographic)

Next time we wrap up our review of “Arthur Jermyn” with a discussion of Lovecraft’s “white ape” civilization in Africa. Thank you – Fred.

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The Reanimation of some past articles for Halloween!

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Hey everyone – picked up a new, illustrated version of Herbert West Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft at the NecronomiCon in August 2017.  This version is published by Necronomicon Press and beautifully illustrated by Robert H. Knox.  We reviewed the science of reanimation back in October of 2015 – the first article can be found here if you are interested.

https://lovecraftianscience.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/the-science-of-reanimation-part-1/

Lovecraft’s “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” – Part 1, the Horrors of Evolution

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One of my presentations at the NecronomiCon in August 2017 was on H.P. Lovecraft’s use and misunderstanding of evolution in his tales. One of the tales cited in the presentation was “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (for the rest of this and subsequent articles to be referred to as “Arthur Jermyn”). Written in 1920 and first published in 1921, the opening paragraph can be thought of as a precursor to one of Lovecraft’s most famous fiction-based quotes on science from “The Call of Cthulhu” written in 1926 and published in 1928.  The opening paragraph in “The Call of Cthulhu” states:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its 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 deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

The opening paragraph of “Arthur Jermyn” states:

“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night.”

The structure and themes of these opening paragraphs are very similar.  I am certainly not the first to notice this; S.T. Joshi notes the similarity between these two passages in his article “What Happens in Arthur Jermyn,” which can be found in Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (2014).

51ikHdWNCFL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_                                                                                     Essentially both paragraphs cited above state that science will reveal things about the Universe or ourselves that will result in humanity going mad, falling into a new dark age or killing ourselves.  However, in the paragraph from “Arthur Jermyn” the phrase “-if separate species we be-“ is supposed to invoke a feeling of horror and dread since it is presenting the fear and anxiety associated with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Even though Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species was first published over 60 years prior to Lovecraft’s “Arthur Jermyn”, Lovecraft understood the fear and concern over Darwin’s Theory in his day and age. This was not based on scientific skepticism associated the theory. Instead, for the layperson questions over the validity of evolution were associated with two main issues. First, how can evolution be correct in the light of the biblical stories of creation? Second, species were thought to be distinctly separate populations, discrete categories of life. A wombat is very different than a scorpion or a pine tree, just like a hammer is very different than a screwdriver or wrench. Darwin’s theory revealed that such categorization of life is convenient for the taxonomist but it does not provide a complete and holistic view of how natural selection operates.

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Back in Lovecraft’s day, and still for many people today, Darwin’s idea muddied our position on the Earth and in the Cosmos. Humans were no longer the divine product of an omnipotent deity. Instead, we were relinquished to the role of just another by-product of the forces of natural selection. Yes, humans had culture, technology, society and sentient understanding; however, we were produced by the same biological forces and produced sand fleas and slime molds. To many people this upsets their religious and philosophical view of the Cosmos and our position in it. Lovecraft was tapping into this fear in “Arthur Jermyn” the way many body horror movies / books tap into our fear of cancer.

While Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection does not state that humans directly came from apes (as many people today think), it does state that humans and apes share a common ancestor. For example, recent studies indicate that the last common ancestor of all living apes and humans might have been a fruit-eating, slow-climbing primate that was similar in appearance to a baby gibbon. A 13-million-year-old infant skull of an extinct ape named Nyanzapithecus alesi (nicknamed Alesi) was found in Kenya in 2014 and is thought to be this common ancestor between apes and humans (www.livescience.com; contributor Charles Q. Choi; 10 August 2017). Indeed, the diversification or increased speciation of the hominoids (gibbons, great apes and humans) occurred during the Miocene Epoch approximately 23 to 5 million years ago and the last common ancestor that humans had with chimpanzees existed between 7 and 6 million years ago (www.livescience.com).

skull_livescience This skull belongs to a 16-month-old ape, now called Nyanzapithecus alesi, that died about 13 million years ago (photo credit: Fred Spoor; http://www.livescience.com)

Essentially, Lovecraft was tapping into this fear and resentment associated with the Theory of Evolution.  Such fear and skepticism was quite common in the early 20th century, particularly in the United States, which led it culminating in the initiation of the Scopes Trial on the 21st of July 1925. Indeed, ever they atheist, Lovecraft would frequently use Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as his augment for refuting that humans have souls.  “…if human beings have a soul and animals do not, exactly where along the course of our evolution from apes to human beings did we acquire this mysterious element?” from S.T. Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (2014). Lovecraft saw how people reacted to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and used it as an effective means of tapping to the fear they have that we may simply be bags of meat, produced through the materialistic and mechanical laws of physics and chemistry, which in turn gave rise to the natural selection.

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Next time we will go into more detail on the exact definition of a species and how this relates to Lovecraft’s “white apes.” Thank you – Fred.

Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods,” Part 2: The Role of the Eclipse

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This article concludes the discussion on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” with an assessment of the role of the eclipse in this tale.  While the story is fairly short, an eclipse is mentioned four times in the text. The first time it is mentioned is when villagers tell how Barzai the Wise “…went up a mountain on the night of the strange eclipse.” The fact that the eclipse is mentioned to occur at night indicates that it must be a lunar eclipse and not a solar eclipse. As previously described, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color and so are sometimes called a blood moon.  This is due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

lunar_eclipse_fb A Lunar Eclipse

Later in the tale it is said, “The moon is dark, and the gods dance in the night; there is terror in the sky, for upon the moon hath sunk an eclipse foretold in no books of men or of earth’s gods…” This statement is particularly strange for two reasons. First, it states that the moon was dark. Lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full; in contrast, solar eclipses occur only during the day when the moon is new and thus would be dark. We know that the events in “The Other Gods” occurs at night and we know the moon is visible so I hypothesis that the moon was still full and thus visible (if it was not visible why would it be mentioned). However, the term “dark” may refer to the moon not being as bright as it typically is during a full moon.

The second odd point in the statement above was that the eclipse was not predicted or foretold in any books. Once you understand that relationship between the sun, Earth and moon and know that an eclipse can only occur when the sun is close to a node in the moon’s orbit, such events can be predicted. In ancient times on Earth the appearance of an eclipse was an indication of apocalyptic events since they were not understood and could not be predicted (similar to comets; celestial events that appear to be initially chaotic compared to the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets). Even if the arrangement of the Dreamlands sun, Earth and moon is slightly different in the Dreamlands multiverse compared to ours, the fact that it states that this eclipse was not foretold indicates that this was a unique event and that eclipses are typically predicted by astronomers in the Dreamlands.

2012-02-13-dreammap-color-small A map of the Dreamlands by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

Barzai and Atal travel to the peaks of Hatheg-Kla to observe the Earth Gods dance. Barzai must have had some very secretive information to be able to know when to go to Hatheg-Kla to see the Earth Gods since the eclipse was not predicted. Toward the end of the story when Barzai bears witness to the Other Gods this appears to occur during the eclipse. It is during the eclipse that Barzai falls up into the sky, probably being abducted by the Other Gods.

After the Other Gods take Barzai, the moon comes out of the eclipse and Atal is found on the lower snows of the mountain. Clouds are associated with the strange eclipse in this passage so it may have been caused by the cloud ships of the Earth Gods who visit the mountaintop to dance and observe the Other Gods themselves. However, I hypothesize that the eclipse was actually caused by the Other Gods themselves coming into our universe through an inter-dimensional portal. In fact, the strange, dark, unpredicted eclipse may have been how the Other Gods entered the Dreamlands Universe. While the Earth Gods stayed back and secure in their cloud ships, foolish Barzai the “Wise” actually made himself known to the Other Gods and paid the price.

2015-03-18-theothergods The Other Gods by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)

At the end of the story it is said that “…to this day the people of Ulthar and Nir and Hatheg fear eclipses, and pray by night when pale vapors hide the mountain-top on Hatheg-Kla…”, I think the fear is of unpredictable eclipses, not of all eclipses. Additionally, if an unpredictable eclipse does open a portal from one universe to another, it would be wise for the residents of the Dreamlands to stay away from the peaks of Hatheg-Kla.

TheOtherGods_JbLee The Other Gods by Jb Lee

Next time we will discuss Lovecraft’s understanding and misuse of the theory of evolution in his tale “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Much of this information will be based on a presentation I gave on Lovecraft and evolution at the NecronomiCon in August 2017. Thank you – Fred.

Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods,” Part 1: Earth Gods and Other Gods

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As previously mentioned data collected during the 29th of May 1919 eclipse was used to empirically confirm Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and this had a substantial impact on Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos. In turn, this provided the foundation for the development of his unique view of cosmic horror.  While eclipses are frequently discussed by Lovecraft in his astronomical writings, in fact he wrote an entire article on eclipses for the Asheville [N.C.] Gazette-News, published 2 March 1915 (Joshi, 2004), eclipses are typically not an important component of his fiction. The exception to this was his short story “The Other Gods,” written in 1921 and first published in in The Fantasy Fan in November 1933.

In the tale Barzai the Wise wants to visit one of the tallest earth peaks, Hatheg-Kla, to witness the Earth Gods dance under a clear moon. Barzai was very knowledgeable on the lore of Earth’s Gods and he thought this knowledge would protect him from their wrath if he was in in their presence. Thus, Barzai decided to travel to the top of Hatheg-Kla on the night of a strange eclipse.  Barzai was accompanied by his young disciple and assistance Atal.

capbarzai                                                                    Barzai the wise on his journey to encounter the Earth Gods

It is said the Gods of Earth visit Hatheg-Kla in their ship of clouds. Lovecraft references this a number of times in “The Other Gods.” For example, in one passage Lovecraft states, “Often the gods of earth visit Hatheg-Kla in their ships of clouds, casting pale vapors over the slopes as they dance reminiscently on the summit under a clear moon.” When I was a graduate student doing research on the sub-alpine lakes in northern California, lenticular clouds frequently appeared over Mount Shasta. These lenticular clouds are essentially stationary, lend-shaped clouds that are typically perpendicularly aligned to the direction of the wind. However, many local residents of the local areas thought of these clouds formations as being “cloud ships” of beings from other worlds or dimensions, frequently called Lemurians. Are the Gods of Earth in Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” actually extra-dimensional beings who visit the “Dreamlands” world? Are Lovecraft’s Gods of the Earth Lemurians?

Mt. Shasta_CrystallineCitiesofLight_AmorahQuanYin                            Mount Shasta, CA with lenticular clouds; could these be the cloud ships described by Lovecraft? Photo titled Crystalline Cites of Light by Amorah Quan Yin

While Barzai climbed to the very top of Hatheg-Kla, Atal stayed just below the summit, refusing to observe and encounter the Gods of Earth. Barzai did see the Earth Gods dance and howl in the moonlight and actually thought the Gods were afraid him and his wisdom. However, “Whilst Barzai was shouting these things Atal felt a spectral change in all the air, as if the laws of earth were bowing to greater laws…”. Such observed conditions may be indicative of an inter-dimensional breach or portal opening. At a minimum, it may be a weakening of the barrier between two universes.

As Michio Kaku has suggested along with others (Kaku, 1994 and Kaku, 2005), the structure of reality may be an incalculable number of ten-dimensional, soap bubble universes. While space-time would exist within each soap bubble, natural laws would cease to exist outside of these bubble universes. In addition, the natural laws of one universe may be slightly or substantially different than the natural laws of another universe. It is hypothesized that for the majority of these universes life (at least life as we know it) could not exist. For example, if gravity is slightly stronger than in our universe, all matter may be coalesced into one, large universal lump. In contrast, if the electromagnetic repulsion is slightly stronger that the strong nuclear force, atoms may never form. However, slight variations in the natural laws (e.g. a “weaker” weak nuclear force) could still produce a universe that could harbor life. Additionally, with slightly different natural laws the manipulation of matter and energy could be very different in one universe relative to another.

sopabubble                                                                                                           Illustration of a connection between two “soap bubble” Universes.

Of course, the large reveal in the tale is that the Earth Gods are not frightened of Barzai but of the Other Gods. In fact, while frightened, the Earth Gods mockingly laugh at Barzai’s encounter with the Other Gods. Atal’s statement “…a spectral change in all the air, as if the laws of earth were bowing to greater laws…”, may be a hint that while the Earth Gods are part of the Dreamlands Universe, the Other Gods are not. The Other Gods can wield matter and energy in a different manner as the dwellers of the Dreamlands. This would also explain how Barzai ends up “falling into the sky.” The Other Gods have the ability to manipulate matter and energy in a very different manner.

untitled                    An encounter with the Other Gods on the peak of Hatheg-Kla

In conclusion, the Other Gods may be beings from outside of the Dreamlands Universe and under a specific set of circumstances can enter the Dreamlands Universe through an inter-dimensional portal that connects it with their Universe. At least one of these connections or bridges between the two universes may be on the peak of Hatheg-Kla. While the Earth Gods may be aliens from another Dreamlands world, the Other Gods are extra-universal beings that are very different from all of the residences of the Dreamland Universe. Do the Earth Gods worship the Other Gods? Almost nothing is known of this relationship.

lenticularclouds_MtShata Another view of Mt. Shasta with lenticular clouds

Next time we will wrap up our analysis of “The Other Gods” with a discussion of the role of eclipses in the tale. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and the Influence Eclipses Had on Him

solar-eclipse-www.nj.com               The 21st August 2017 solar eclipse (www.nj.com)T

Last month’s total solar eclipse occurred on the 21st of August 2017, one day after H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.  The last total solar eclipse through the continental United States before this year was 26 February 1979; before that the last total solar eclipse was on 8 June 1918.  Surprisingly I could find no reference to it in Lovecraft’s essays on astronomy. However, by 1918 Lovecraft was shifting the majority of his writing from astronomical observations to fiction. Lovecraft did note partial or total solar eclipses in April 1903, June 1908, June 1909, January 1916 and January 1917. He also noted a solar eclipse that was observed as a partial one in the northeastern part of the United States on 21st August 1914 (Joshi, 2004), 103 years before the one we just observed last month.

The last time Lovecraft reported on upcoming eclipses in his astronomical articles was in the 1 December 1917 edition of the Evening News.  In the article Lovecraft states, “Two eclipses will occur this month, an annular eclipse of the sun and total eclipse of the moon. The solar eclipse, which occurs on the 14th, will be invisible at Providence, but visible in the Antarctic regions and the southern parts of the American and Australian continents. The lunar eclipse falls on the 28th and will be generally visible here, except for the final emergence of the moon from the earth’s penumbra, which will take place after our satellite has set in the morning” (Joshi, 2004).

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Just for clarification, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color, sometimes called a blood moon, due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.

Luna-roja A lunar eclipse

In contrast, a solar eclipse such as the one that occurred last month, is when the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with the moon between the sun and the Earth. For a solar eclipse, this conjunction of the three bodies can only occur during a new moon, which is the first phase of the moon where it and the sun have the same elliptical longitude.

Solar_lunar_eclipse_diagram

While Lovecraft did not appear to officially document any more eclipses in astronomical articles after the end of 1917, he did note a time when he traveled to Boston to spend time with W. Paul Cook in late August 1932. They then went to Newburyport to see a total solar eclipse.  Lovecraft noted “The landscape did not change in tone until the solar crescent was rather small, & then a kind of sunset vividness became apparent. When the crescent waned to extreme thinness, the scene grew strange & spectral – an almost deathlike quality inhering in the sickly yellowish light” (Joshi, 2014).

It should be noted a particular solar eclipse did contribute toward a major change in Lovecraft’s view of the Cosmos, specifically in reference to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Isaacs Newton and physicists since him have described gravity as a force – and this concept works well when describing the motions of planets and other “large” bodies. However, Einstein said gravity was the result of a distortion in space-time, created by the presence of mass (Farndon, 2007). Thus, the larger the mass of the object, the greater the distortion.

BLOG_www.solar-eclipse.earth_einstein_1140w483_300dpi-min_1Gravity being the result of distortions in space-time due to mass (www.solar-eclipse.earth) 

When Einstein initially proposed this idea most of the scientific community did not think much of the hypothesis. Like many of Einstein’s ideas, it was very strange and his calculations were difficult to follow. A key point to Einstein’s idea was that everything would be impacted by these distortions, even light. Einstein knew that no one would take his idea seriously if it could not be empirically tested and validated. In the spring of 1919, the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington took photographs during a solar eclipse – which is the only time that stars can be seen during the day. His results confirmed that the light of a star did indeed shift or “bend” when it passed close to the Sun. This shift was almost exactly as Einstein predicted.

Negative_photo_of_the_1919_solar_eclipse_medium                                                                                          Negative photo of the 1919 solar eclipse, which confirmed Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

The confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity through the collection of empirical data during a solar eclipse had a profound impact on Lovecraft’s philosophical view of the Cosmos. For example, in a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft stated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity throws our world and perception of reality into chaos, making the cosmos a jest or as he put it: “All the cosmos is a jest, and fit to be treated only as a jest, and one thing is as true as another” (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence:  The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft from Hippocampus Press, 2013).

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While initially Lovecraft actually appears a little distressed over the confirmation of the Theory of General Relativity, he did eventually come to terms with its concepts as demonstrated in his fiction. While some have been critical of Lovecraft’s use or distorted use of Einstein’s Theories in his fiction, it was still innovative story writing at the time – using cutting edge physics and science in horror fiction. Some of the most interesting “connections” recognized by Lovecraft and incorporated into this cosmic fiction included the importance of non-Euclidean geometry and math in a “curved space-time” Einsteinian universe. Thus, of all of the solar eclipses Lovecraft documented in his life, the one off the west coast of Africa on 29th of May 1919 probably had the largest impact on him as a writer.

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Next time we will discuss the one story of Lovecraft’s where an eclipse was an important component of the tale – The Other Gods. Thank you – Fred.

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 3, Beyond the Mountains of Madness

Hubble shears a "woolly" galaxy A previously unidentified “woolly galaxy” found by the Hubble Telescope (www.nasa.gov).

As we previously discussed, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” may have been the “keystone” tale in which the Universe expanded from one island galaxy into one including hundreds of millions, if not billions, of galaxies. This expanded view of the Universe largely stems from Edwin Hubble’s confirmation that many observed gaseous nebulae are actually entire galaxies, as well as his discovery that the Universe is expanding at an accelerated rate. While “The Whisperer in Darkness” (written in early 1930) have been the tale where Lovecraft first introduced this expanding view of the Universe, largely through the perspective of the Mi-Go, the idea of multiple galaxies was firmly established by the time he wrote At the Mountains of Madness in early 1931.

As Dyer and Danforth were examining the bas-reliefs of the Elder Things they found a section that represented “…the preterrestrial life of the star-headed beings on other planets, in other galaxies, and in other universes…”. Thus, not only is a universe filled with galaxies but the concept of a multiverse was also identified by Lovecraft. It is interesting to note that At the Mountains of Madness was not the first reference Lovecraft made to more than one universe in his stories. This is not particularly surprising since as we previously stated before Hubble’s discoveries, the Milky Way Galaxy was considered the Universe; thus, one could easily extrapolate and consider the presence of more than only galaxy-universe. However, the concept of the multiverse and how Lovecraft understood it will be discussed in future articles.

lovecraft elder2 Elder Thing by Steve Maschuck

In “The Dreams in the Witch-House” Walter Gilman talks about how with the use of higher mathematics one can travel through Space-Time by finding a passage out of our 3-dimensional space-sphere and then re-entering at another point within our space-sphere. While the travel itself would not kill the traveler, one would have to make sure that the point of re-entry is favorable conditions for life (e.g. enough oxygen to breath, minimal amount of radiation, temperature concerns, etc.). Following this Gilman hypothesized that “Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others – even planets belonging to other galaxies or to similar dimensional phases of other space-time continua…”. Again, Lovecraft clearly embraces the idea of many galaxies in our universe.

the-dreams-in-the-witch-house-jhc-by-h_-p_-lovecraft-2-2120-p

In “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” co-written with E. Hoffmann Price, Randolph Carter is attempting to understand how there can be other forms of his “self” – human and non-human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable. He goes on to say, “And more, there were “Caters” having nothing in common with earthly life, but moving outrageously amidst backgrounds of other planets, systems and galaxies and cosmic continua.” Later, when Carter’s mind enters a Yaddithian wizard’s body, he has access to light-beam envelope technology that can transport him through space-time to other worlds spread throughout the 28 galaxies accessible to the light-beam. It is not yet understood if this limitation to 28 galaxies is simply a spatial limitation or if the Yaddithian technology to allow the light-beams to be transmitted is only found in these 28 galaxies.

lovecraft___zkauba__yaddithian_ii_by_kingovrats-d9sn1hl                    The Yaddithian wizard Zkauba by KingOvRats (www.deviantart.com)

In The Shadow Out of Time, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee attempted to understand the information provided to him on how the Earth was once inhibited by entities far more advanced than humans, millions of years ago. Some came from the stars while others evolved on Earth from the eukaryotic cell lines bioengineered by the Elder Things. Some of these life forms existed for thousands of millions of years and had linkages to other galaxies and universes. By the time Lovecraft wrote “Collapsing Cosmos” with R.H. Barlow, there were a reported total of 37 galaxies in our immediate universe.

Finally, in one of Lovecraft’s last tales, “The Haunter of the Dark,” at the end of that tale when Robert Blake is recording his last thoughts will waiting for the Haunter to visit him during the black-out he writes, “Trouble with memory. I see things. I never knew before. Other worlds and other galaxies… Dark… The lightning seems dark and the darkness seems light…”. For Robert Blake, staring into the shining trapezohedron provided a more realistic perspective of the Cosmos.

haunter_RachaelMayo The Haunter by Rachael Mayo

While Edwin Hubble discovered that our universe is not limited to the Milky Way and that other galaxies exist, I believe both he and Lovecraft would be amazed to know that just a few years ago the Hubble Space Telescope estimated that there are nearly 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. However, just last year Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field survey revealed that volumes of space once thought empty are literally teeming with galaxies. Thus, while the most recent observations estimate that the observable Universe contains approximately 200 billion galaxies, studies from 2016 indicate that this estimate is at least 10 times too low. Thus, even Lovecraft’s 28 to 37 local cluster of galaxies may be an infinitesimally tiny fraction of the true structure of the Universe.

p1639ay-goodss-160930 Areas of space once thought empty have been revealed to be filled with galaxies by the Hubble surveys (www.nasa.gov).

Next time we will discuss eclipses in Lovecraft’s astronomical writings and his stories. Thank you – Fred.