Tag Archives: Alien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

206a7b5d6249395f70cefa5c953e625f                                               Peter Cushing at Dr. Frankenstein

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

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

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

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

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Necronomcion Convention talk – Biology of the Old Ones, Part 25 – Hybridized Deep Ones, Part 2

In the previous article we discussed in detail the concept of hybridization.  This article will also cover hybridization but specifically relative to the Deep Ones.  In The Shadow of Innsmouth HPL was very clear that the Deep Ones could mate with humans to give rise to hybrids.  These hybrids were different than both humans and Deep Ones in that they started out looking human and eventually turned into Deep Ones (see below).

From S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters: A Field Observer’s Handbook of Preternatural Entities (figure is called the Four Stages of Degeneration [for a Deep One]).

What is interesting about the hybridized Deep Ones is that they are not a mix or “blending” of the two species as most hybrids are (e.g. crossing the horse with the donkey, producing the mule).  Instead, the hybridization is a form of “metamorphosis”, where the “larval” stage is human and the mature “adult” stage is the Deep One.

A similar hybridized offspring transmutation was on display in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly (1986).  In that movie, Seth Brundle invents a transporter device and tries it on himself.  Unknown to him a fly gets into the same “telepod”.  While the transporter was successful, it integrated his genome (entire set of an organism’s genes) with that of the fly’s.  The net result was his transporter became a “gene-splicing machine”.  Initially, Seth looks fine but slowly begins to go through a metamorphosis to eventually become a human-fly hybrid (a Brundle-fly was the term used in the movie).  The stages of this metamorphosis are shown below.

Metamorphosis from human to human-fly hybrid from David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly from 1986 (source: the BlogSpot Voz En Off-7)

Another example of the “integration” of  two sets of genomes from district species is seen in the Alien movies.  While the human / alien (xenomorph) interaction may first appear to be a simple host / parasitoid  or prey / predator relationship, the genetic relationships are far more complex.

Alien Xenomorph (from David Fincher’s Alien 3)

The facehugger implants an embryo into the human, which then hatches and kills the host.  However, it has been noted in all of the Alien and AVP movies (including Prometheus) that the xenomorph does inherit some of the genetic material of its host.  This is why the xenomorph in Alien 3 ran on all fours (since it’s host was an ox or dog depending on what version of the movie you watch) as opposed to the bipedal forms that arise from humans.  So are Deep Ones the product of true hybridization or is there some type of “parasitic” usage of the human genome like the xenomorph?

To achieve such dramatic but gradual metamorphosis, say from a tadpole to a frog, a complex array of genes must be switched “on and off” at keys times and in a specific sequence.  Any disruption (e.g. pollution) in this sequence can result in mutations.  This is one of the reasons why amphibians, frogs in particular, are such effective environmental indicators.  Similar genetic mechanisms must be in effect with hybridized Deep Ones.

With everything that is known about the Deep Ones, there are still a lot of unanswered questions from a biological perspective.  For example, can hybridized Deep Ones reproduce?  Can they reproduce in both their “larval” (human) and adult (Deep One) stages?  If they are fertile, can they only reproduce with other hybrids or can the hybrids also reproduce with humans as well as “pure” Deep Ones.  In addition, is there a distinction (either in phenotype or genotype) between hybrid Deep Ones and pure Deep Ones?  Next time, we will discuss genetic variability in both the human and Deep One genomes and how they interact.  Thank you – Fred

Innsmouth Troublemaker  by Matt Dixon (from The Art of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos; edited by Pat Harrigan and Brian Wood)