Tag Archives: Darwin

The Hounds of Tindalos, Part 1: Long’s Philosophy of Science

 

HofT_KeglevichVonBuzin_dev.jpg                               The Hounds of Tindalos by Keglevich Von Buzin (www.deviantart.com)

I originally thought of conducting a scientific assessment of Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” back in 2014. However, after I re-read the tale (first time in over 10 years) I was overwhelmed by the amount of material stuffed into that short story. It reminds me of Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” – a lot of scientific ideas and concepts crammed into such a short passage of words. Thus, while I started the assessment back in 2014 I never finished it. Now I thought it was time has come to conduct a scientific analysis of “The Hounds of Tindalos” but to this do will require multiple articles. This first article covers Long’s philosophy of science.

As cited by Dr. Robert M. Price in his notes in The Tindalos Cycle (edited by Robert M. Price; 2010), Halpin Chalmers’s investigations into the Hounds was different than those of many of the investigators documented by H.P. Lovecraft. Specifically, Chalmers is more of a mystic than a scientist; however, at the same time he has some very strong opinions on the philosophy of science. Chalmers scoffs at modern science and scientific dogmatism and states, “…old alchemists and sorcerers were two-thirds right, and that your modern biologist and materialist is nine-tenths wrong.”

300px-TindalosCycle

Chalmers repudiates the conclusion of biologists and says he distrusts the scientific positivism of Haeckel and Darwin. So what is scientific positivism? Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) was a French philosopher who developed sociology and the doctrine of positivism, which was one of the first modern philosophical assessments of science. Essentially, positivism is the view that the world and universe is governed by natural laws and if someone could discover all of these laws, such as Newtonian mechanics, he would be able to predict all natural phenomenon. Comte was inspired by Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection and was convinced that all was predetermined by natural laws, as discovered by science, and there could not be a higher power (www.scienceleadership.org).

Positivism may sound a lot Hugh Elliot’s mechanistic materialism, a philosophical view Lovecraft thought highly of, which states that the universe is a large “machine” operating under the laws of physics and chemistry. However, unlike positivism, mechanistic materialism states that with our five senses we are fairly limited in truly understanding and exploring the mechanisms of the Universe and so we will never completely understand how it operates. Such concepts have obviously made their way into many Lovecraftian tales such as “From Beyond” as well as Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos.”

hound_of_tindalos_by_manzanedo-d5m0fhq.jpg The Hounds of Tindalos by Manzanedo (www.deviantart.com)

Chalmers distrusts the positivism of Haeckel and Darwin; however, neither of these scientists were responsible for positivism. Again, Comte used the concepts and ideas of natural selection, which were developed by others, to support his idea of positivism so Chalmers wrongly accuses Haeckel and Darwin to promote this philosophy. Additionally, I believe Darwin would have been the first to admit in his lifetime that his Theory of Evolution could not predict all in the natural world. In Darwin’s time the exact mechanism associated with passing traits from parents to offspring was largely unknown (at least those who were not yet familiar with the work of Gregory Mendel). Ironically, by the 1950’s the discovery of DNA and its role in genetically transferring traits from parents to offspring provided additional support for Comte’s positivism (www.scienceleadership.org).

In sharp contrast to the distrusting biologist, Chalmers had a very different view of the physicist Einstein.  He called Einstein “a priest of transcendental mathematics,” a mystic and explorer who at least partially understood the true nature of time through his mathematics. However, according to Chalmers a more complete understanding of time could only be achieved through insight and this insight could only be acquired with the use of drugs.

In contrast, Chalmers claims biologists scoff at time. I do not understand this statement since biologists, particularly those who study evolution are fully aware of time. As I have mentioned several times, evolution is essentially, “change over time” so if any group of scientists is well aware of how important time is, its biologists and evolutionary scientists. However, this apparent disdain Chalmers has for biologists does become  more apparent in the concluding paragraphs of “The Hounds of Tindalos.”

hound_of_tindalos_by_verreaux-d64c1is The Hounds of Tindalos by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

As far as Einstein was concerned, he stated “I am not a Positivist. Positivism states that what cannot be observed does not exist. This conception is scientifically indefensible, for it is impossible to make valid affirmations of what people ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ observe. One would have to say ‘only what we observe exists,’ which is obviously false.” (The Quotable Einstein, edited by Alice Calaprice, 2005). Given what Darwin knew or understood about hereditary at the time, I am sure he would also claimed that he too was not a Positivist.

Next time we will discuss the hypothesis that the “Hounds” may be manifestations of residual life from a previous Universe. Thank you – Fred.

 

 

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Lovecraft’s Use of Evolution, Part 4 The Shadow Out of Time

A member of “The Great Race” by Steve Maschuck

Since “The Shadow Out of Time” has been extensively discussed in pervious articles on this site, this current article will be relatively short.  While “At the Mountains of Madness” is HPL’s origin story and interpretation of Darwinian evolution, “The Shadow Out of Time” is HPL’s example of a dramatic and radical example of natural selection.  As has been previously discussed the Great Race is a fusion of two entities or species – the Cone-Shaped Beings (CSBs) who are natives of Earth and the Yithians whose minds travel time and space, “jumping” from one corporeal species into another.

Based on HPL’s writings the CSBs are Terran in origin and not alien.  In fact the CSBs may actually be another “by-product” (similar to humans) of the Elder Things tinkering with the creation of multi-cellular, eukaryotic life on Earth.  Pervious discussions focused on whether the CSBs are some type of complex mollusk, possibly a member of the Gastropod (snails, slugs) or Cephalopod (octopus, squid) class, an unknown class of mollusk, an unknown phylum of animal life or possibly even an elaborate form of fungi.  Whatever the classification of the CSBs, it is hypothesized that like all multicellular life on Earth, Darwinian evolution gave rise to these creatures.  However, did the merging of the CSBs with the Yithian minds, thus creating the Great Race, alter their course of evolution?

pic_of_mollusk_evolution

The major types of mollusks.  Are the Cone Shaped Beings a member of this phylum of life or something completely different?  (Sharon-taxonomy2010-p2.wikispaces.com).

Very little is known about the CSBs before their merging with the Yithian minds.  Were they simple, mindless, passive fungi, exuding exoenzymes into the environment to break down and accelerate the rate of decomposition of organic matter as a source of food and energy?  Or were they fairly intelligent mollusks with the curiosity and cognitive abilities of an octopus?  We may never know.  However, once the Yithians started to occupy the CSBs – thus creating the Great Race – this “new” symbiotic species was sentient and immediately developed technology and a civilization.  Such a punctuated form of evolution has never before been documented in the history of live on Earth.

From a Darwinian point of view this creation of a new symbiotic species was like either inserting a set of beneficial genes into the species or drastically changing the environment, either one driving natural selection into another direction.  An example of this later idea can be found in the peppered moth (Biston betularia).

The peppered moth is a nocturnal moth found in England.  Prior to the industrial revolution, the majority of the peppered moths in England had light-colored wing patterns so they resembled the trees and lichens.  This form of camouflage was effective to avoid being eaten by birds.  However, after the industrial revolution was in full swing, many of the lichens died and the trees were covered with black soot.  This resulted in a shift in the gene frequency from light color pigmentation to darker colors.  Thus, over time the moth population was dominated by darker individuals since they were better adapted to be camouflaged against predators on the soot-lined trees (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse & Joseph Travis, 2009).  A similar dramatic shift in the course of evolution may have occurred when the Yithian minds merged with the CSB bodies.

peppered%20moth

Peppered moths (Biston betularia) on light and dark colored trees (www.truthinscience.org.uk)

While the merging with the Yithian minds was an “internal” change in the CSBs, it does not appear to include a direct change or modification in the CSB genome.  Thus, this change operates more as a change in the environment than a change in the species genome.  However, if the merging of the Yithian minds only occurred with a sub-set of the CSB population, it may be possible that this symbiosis does end up being selective on a genetic level.  To answer this question, it needs to be known if all CSBs merged with Yithian minds or if there was some degree of selection with this symbiotic merger.

Once the CSBs had the advantage of immediately acquired intelligence, it “freed” them in a sense from many of the previous selective pressures such as competition for resources and possibly predation / parasitism.  At a minimum the creation of the Great Race substantially reduced these selective pressures.  However, new, selective pressures came into place such as the creation of communities and a civilization that interacted, and at times clashed, with others species on Earth.  Indeed, such a relatively quick change in the course of their evolution and the development of their civilization / technology must have perplexed the Elder Things.

Mike-Bukowski-yithian

Yithian by the talented artist Mike Bukowski (www.lastchanceillustration.com)

Next time we will be moving into a series of formal discussions on HPL’s “The Call of Cthulhu.”  Thank you – Fred.

 

 

Lovecraft’s Use of Evolution, Part 2 The Shadow Over Innsmouth

 

charles-darwin-biography_amillionlives.net

Charles Darwin (from http://www.amillionlives.net)

In the pervious article we discussed how evolution was integrated into HPL’s early stories.  This article focuses on the use of evolution in his later tales.  Evolutionary-based themes can be detected in HPL’s earlier tales and two were particularly common.  First, since the Earth, and in fact the solar system, will not be in existence for all of eternity and will eventually be swept away, means the process and outcome of evolution is a relatively minor component of the “cosmic machine.”  Second, and more obvious, is the internal horror’s of one’s past or ancestry.  While HPL probably knew very little about the science of genetics and the role of DNA in the transfer of traits from parent to offspring, the fear of how such hidden genotypic traits may arise and manifest themselves in one’s phenotype was apparent in many of his early stories.

In contrast, HPL’s later stories moved from the horror’s of one’s past to larger themes of cosmic and evolutionary horror.  Examples of this are provided through brief discussions on three of HPL’s later stories:  “The Shadow Out of Innsmouth”, “The Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”  Since I have covered these stories to varying degrees in previous articles I will focus primarily on how HPL used evolution in these stories.  While “The Shadow Out of Time” was covered in detail over a series of past articles, the other two stories were not.  “The Shadow Out of Innsmouth” and “The Mountains of Madness” were only covered in past articles relative to the biology of the entities featured in those stories, so I will return to them sometime in the future.  Thus, for this article the specific focus is on the use of evolution on one of these later stories – “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”  However, before we do this, I would like to briefly review what was known about genetics and its role in evolution in HPL’s time.  A forthcoming  article will discuss  “The Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”

IMG_2714

“Shadow Over Innsmouth” by the great artist Allen Koszowski

While Darwin’s idea of natural selection was presented as the driving force of evolution, in his day very little was known of the mechanisms behind the transfer of the traits or characteristics from parent to offspring. It was casually thought that offspring were a “blending” of traits from each parent but there was little empirical data that supported this idea. In his heart Darwin knew this was not the case, particularly due to his work on artificial selection; that is, the breeding of domesticated plants and animals. However, around the same time Darwin was developing his notes and ideas to publish The Origins of Species, an Augustinian monk was performing hybridization experiments on the garden pea that would represent the birth of modern genetics and provide a plausible hypothesis in the transfer of an organism’s traits to its offspring.

Gregor Johann Mendel was born in 1822 in Czechoslovakia. He was a monk but was also a teacher and scientist with interests in both physics and botany. From 1854 to 1868 Mendel preformed a series of detailed and meticulous experiments that developed into the concept of units of inheritance. Offspring were not a blending of the parents. Instead, discreet units were transmitted to offspring, some dominant and some recessive, which dictated the traits the offspring received. These units are called genes (Concepts of Genetics by William S. Klug and Michael R. Cummings; 1983).

mendel_n_peas

Gregor Mendel with a display of one of this genetic experiments with garden peas (www.undsci.berkeley.edu)

In spite of his incredible findings, Mendel’s work was largely forgotten until the early 20th century.  However, an integration of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian natural selection was to come to fruition in HPL’s day thanks to a talented mathematian / biologist named Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962).

Fisher was one of the first individuals to suggest that statistics can be used to reduce / analyze data and published a book in 1925, Statistical Methods for Research Workers, that outlined and discussed methods in the design and evaluation of experiments (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009).  In addition, he published a seminal paper in 1922 on the mathematical synthesis of Darwinian natural selection with the recently rediscovered laws of Mendelian heredity.  Subsequent to this, his book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930) was published.  This book along with the work of others in the field reconciled Darwinian natural selection with Mendelian heredity (Michael Fuse & Joseph Travis, 2009), which contributed toward the birth of quantitative genetics.  While much of this work was being developed and published in the 1920 – 1930’s there is no indication in HPL’s stories or in S.T. Joshi’s biography (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013), that HPL was familiar with, or even exposed to, the emerging science of genetics.  With that said, it is impressive how HPL used concepts that mirrored many of the ideas that were being developed through quantitative generics.  This was particularly the case with “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

fisher

Ronald Aylmer Fisher (www.blackwellpublishing.com)

By the time he was working on the “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” HPL had a fairly decent understanding that evolution works on the level of the population and not the individual.  In stories such as “The Beast in the Cave” and “Pickman’s Model” evolution appeared to be working on the level of the individual.  By “The Lurking Fear” HPL identified that the population was the level at which natural selection operates even though most of the changes were completely internal – an isolated community where inbreeding is high.  However, by “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” HPL expanded on this by integrating external forces and environmental factors in the operation of natural selection.

From a genetics and evolutionary standpoint “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is about the hybridization of two closely related species.  Given the fact that Deep Ones can breed with humans and produce viable offspring indicates that they are closely related species, which is why I suggested that Deep Ones and humans should be placed in the genus, Homo aquatium and Homo sapiens, respectively.  Of all of the hypotheses I have suggested on Lovecraftianscience.wordpress.com, the origin of the Deep Ones generated the highest level of debate.  In fact, I suggested four hypotheses:

1.  The Deep Ones are part of the “spawn of Cthulhu” and thus are truly alien.

2.  The Deep Ones were bioengineered by the Elder Things – like humans – but as a separate line of speciation.

3.  The Deep Ones and humans share a common ancestor the way humans and the Great Apes do.

4.  Humans are simply the part of the Deep Ones Life Cycle, the way tadpoles are the larval stage for frogs.

Deep One Hybrid Skull Evolution (by Vonmeer-d5vnle3 from deviantart.net)

Of these hypotheses, I suggest that most of the existing evidence points to hypothesis #3, we share a common ancestor.  While many people feel the Deep Ones are truly alien and are part of the spawn of Cthulhu, I disagree.  The fact that Deep Ones and humans can breed and produce “viable” offspring means that from a genetic and evolutionary perspective, they must be closely related.  To support that hypothesis it would need to be determined if indeed the hybridized Deep Ones (the ones that are born human and become Deep Ones) can reproduce.  Also, it is also not known if the Deep Ones that do breed with humans are “pure” Deep Ones or originating from being hybrids themselves.  If these breeding Deep Ones are “pure” then that would support hypothesis #3; however, if the breeding Deep Ones start out as hybrids themselves, then that would support hypothesis #4.

In any event, to lend support to any of the four hypotheses listed above, genetic studies(e.g. gene sequencing and phylogenetic comparisons) of some Deep Ones would be required.  Preferably such screening would include both fully developed Deep Ones as well as hybrids that have yet to go through Deep One metamorphosis.  Also, it needs to be confirmed if there is genetic difference between “pure” Deep Ones and the hybrids and, if so, can the hybrids breed?  Such studies would have been extremely intriguing to both Gregor Mendel and R.A. Fisher, although the actual implementation and “on the ground” research itself would have indeed horrified them.

Day of the Deep Ones (by Cryptcrawler on deviantart.com)

Next time we will discuss the role of evolution in “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Shadow Out of Time.”  Thank you – Fred.

Lovecraft’s Use of Evolution, Part 1 the Early Tales

Combination of human evolution and the future food chain for the planet (from Lovecraft eZine; http://www.alanbao.tumblr.com)

Evolution is frequently an important factor in many of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  At times he display’s astonishing insight into the mechanisms of evolution, at least how it was understood at the time.  In other instances his use of evolution is not close to being a reasonably accurate interpretation of this biological process.  However, the misuse of evolution in fiction is extremely common and even today the basic concept and operation of evolution through natural selection is misunderstood.

Some of these points I have discussed in a previous article (The Mismeasure of Lovecraft – the “scientific” origins of his racism) so I will not dwell on them too long.  First, simply put, evolution is change over time.  In addition, the terms “primitive” and “advanced” should only be used within the context of time and not for interrelationships among organisms.  While we may think we humans are more “advanced” than jellyfish, a jellyfish living today is just as “advanced” as a human living today.  However, a jellyfish of today is more advanced than a jellyfish living 100 million years ago.  While they may look exactly alike, genetically, the jellyfish living 100 million years ago is more primitive than a jellyfish living today.  What we can say is that humans are a more complex organism with more differentiated cells relative to jellyfish.


A fossilized jellyfish and a living jellyfish.  While morphologically they look very similar, genetically they were probably very different, making the fossilized one “primitive” and the living one “advanced.”  For more details on the genetics of both forms and how the Cambrian environment gave rise to more complex organisms please see the article by  John Timmer, Misperceptions meet state of the art in evolution research at http://www.arstechnica.com.

Another important point to make is that unlike Haeckel’s idea of the Tree of Life, moving ever upward with humans as the pinnacle of evolution, Darwin did not see the progression of evolution as one moving onward and upward to “better” organisms.  Thus, just because humans are on top now does not mean that they will be in the distinct future.  For example, dinosaurs were on Earth for approximately 160 million years (Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction by David Norman, 2005), while Homo sapiens have been around for under a million years.  This is why Darwin drew his “tree of life” more like a shrub.  HPL had a fairly good understating of this, particularly in his later stories where he talked about humanity eventually being replaced as the dominant organism on Earth by a race of beetles.  In this case the future of Earth is not a super-intelligent form of humanity colonizing the stars.  Instead it is the extinction of one life form and replaced by another, just like the mammals expanded in dominance after the dinosaurs when extinct, most likely due to a meteor that hit the Earth approximately 65 million years ago.


A member of the beetle race by King Ovrats (www.deviantart.com)

In many of HPL’s earlier works the concern was one’s own genetics coming back to “haunt” ones’ self. In “The Rats in the Walls” once de la Poer realizes his ancestors were a strange tribe of cannibalistic creatures, he becomes one himself.  In “From Beyond” all of humanity has a dormant organ, the pineal gland; when exposed to a particular type of radiation this gland triggers a series of mutations, switching some genes on and some genes off, in a spectacular form of human metamorphosis.  In HPL’s juvenile story “The Beast in the Cave” a strange blind creature living in Mammoth Cave turns out to be a man. In each of these cases, among others not mentioned (e.g. “The Lurking Fear” – to be discussed at a later date) the genetic variation within in the individual is large enough to produce substantial alterations from what we perceive as human, triggered by a particular set of environmental or other external forces.

In “Pickman’s Model” or more appropriately cited in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” Richard Upton Pickman reverts or becomes a ghoul. Such instances may be thought of as evolution, however, natural selection does not occur within the individual. Evolution occurs over generations of breeding populations with an inherent amount of genetic variability that is occasionally impacted through mutations. Thus, does Pickman “evolve” into a ghoul? No, the potential of being a ghoul was already in his genetic “catalog” and it took a specific external stimulus or factor to bring it to the surface. In these early stories that is the horror conveyed by HPL. No matter whom you are, your status in life or where you live, you cannot run away from your genetic destiny.

Something called “Modeling for Mr. Pickman” found in an article “Our Ghouls Are Creepier” on tvtropes.org

The previous photograph of a fossilized and living jellyfish was obtained from an article, Misperceptions meet state of the art in evolution research, written by John Timmer (www.arstechnica.com, February 2008).  In that article it mentions studies that have identified genes responsible for the development of complex, bilateral animals in organisms that are not complex, bilateral animals such as Cnidarians (which includes jellyfish).  In other words the genes for a bilateral body plan predates the bilateral animals themselves!  Thus, it was only when specific environmental changes  occurred in the Cambrian that opportunities arose for these genes to be selectively advantageous and be manifested in the phenotype (appearance) of the organisms.

Are similar genetic changes triggered when the pineal gland is exposed to the resonator or when humans convort with ghouls?  Possibly, but such changes can not be thought of as Darwinian evolution – at least for now – since it is not known if such traits can be pasted from one generation to the next.  However, if a recessive “ghoul” gene exists, then maybe this is a portion of human evolution that has not be actively explored.

Next time we will discuss how the concepts of both terrestrial and extraterrestrial evolution play an important part in the later tales of HPL.  Thank you – Fred.

The Spawn of Cthulhu, part 2 – Made of Different Stuff

Both the Mi-Go and the spawn of Cthulhu are identified by HPL as being from outside of our known universe.  In addition, it is recognized that these entities are made of different matter than us.  But how different is different?  Relative to Lovecraftian entities this is a fairly important question, particularly since there appears to be an inverse relationship that the more “different” an entity is from us, the less we understand them or their motivations.  In addition, this difference is not simply based on appearance and morphology.  This article will briefly review this topic.

Back in August as part of my presentation on the Old Ones at the Necronomicon, I used the analogy of trees in understanding the differences among various forms of life.  This is by no means an innovative idea; Charles Darwin famously coined the term “Tree of Life”, based at least partially on a scribble he did in one of his notebooks (see below).

Darwin’s Tree of Life

As described in a previous article on this blog site, Darwin’s Tree of Life now a days can be thought of more as a shrub rather than a tree (thanks primarily to the knowledge we have gained on genetics and microbial evolution over the last 150 years).  Thus, all life on Earth can be thought of to be on the same shrub, with each twig or tip representing a distinct species (keeping complicating microbial processes factors such as horizontal gene transfer out of the picture for now).

Humans are eukaryotic organisms; our cells are endosymbiotic “experiments” where simpler forms of life (bacteria) are merged together to form more complex forms of life such as animals, plants, fungi and protozoa.  These experiments were run by the Elder Ones.  Another outcome of their experiments with native prokaryotic Earth life was the development of the “super-eukaryote” – the Shoggoth.  While incredibly adaptable to varying environments and means of obtaining energy (food), the Elder Ones intentionally bioengineered the shoggoths to be incapable of reproducing, unless facilitated by their masters in the “shoggoth pits”.

Since prokaryotic Earth life was used to create the shoggoths, these organisms would technically be another branch on Earth’s shrub of life.  Although a more distant and distinct branch, the shoggoths would still be a branch on Earth’s shrub.  This is in sharp contrast to the Elder Ones, which are presumed to be truly alien; that is, they originated and evolved on another world before coming to Earth.  Thus, to use the shrub analogy, while the Shoggoths are on our Shrub of Life, the Elder Ones would be on another entirely different shrub, representing another world’s evolutionary machine.  This means while the shoggoths are our cousins, the Elder Ones are more “different” relative to humans.

Shoggoth and an Elder One by the talented artist Ian Miller (for the cover of HPL’s At the Mountains of Madness – Panther Horror Edition)

In contrast to the Elder Ones, the Mi-Go are said to have to have come from “outside” of our known universe and thus are very different than humans, Shoggoths or Elder Ones.  Thus, not only do the Mi-Go from a different shrub, but their shrub is from an entirely different “forest”.

Evidence for this “difference” is provided by the fact that the MiGo can’t be photographed by standard photographic equipment and how clumsy they are both in walking and flying in our atmosphere and in our gravity.  However, while they are very different from the residents of our universe, something is known of their motivation in their dealings with our world.  They need some metal or material on Earth that is somewhat rare in our universe and so they conduct mining operations.  Thus they interact with the “natives” of Earth, form strange alliances with certain people and have an excellent knowledge of human physiology and anatomy.

Incredible drawing of a M-Go by Nathan Rosario

While the spawn of Cthulhu are also from “outside” they appear to originate from a more distance “outside”.  Thus, to continue on the analogy, the spawn come from a more distant forest relative to the Mi-Go

Like the Mi-Go, their matter is very different from us; however, the spawn can easily change shape and size, which is very different than even the Mi-Go.  Although the Mi-Go can alter their shape and size, this typically done through surgery or other medical procedures.  In contrast, it appears that the spawn (like their Master) can change their shape and size at will although they do have a preferred morphology.

Fantastic drawing of a spawn of Cthulhu by KingOvRats

In addition to their shape changing, the exact motivation of why the spawn and their Master came to Earth is fairly ambiguous compared to the Mi-Go’s need for Earth’s raw resources.  Earth already had the Elder Ones ; why come to Earth where competition for space and resources was already high?  Additionally, it is not known how or why their city of R’lyeh sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and why they are all dormant and asleep.

Thus, while both the Mi-Go and the spawn are very different to us, the spawn seem to be even more “different” with their shape changing abilities and unknown motives.  In addition, there are other Lovecraftian entities we will discuss in future that are even more “different” than the spawn.  Next time we will wrap up the discussion on the spawn of Cthulhu and move into the New Year with discussions on the Deep Ones.  Thank you – Fred

Necronomicon Convention talk on Biology of the Old Ones, Part I – taxonomic description of Life on Earth

A number of people have asked if I was going to publish the talk I gave at the Necronomicon convention last month.  I was planning to put it out there simply as a PDF but I thought it would be better to put it on this blog so I could provide more information and elaborate on some of the ideas I presented.  Thus, I will provide the presentation in a series of episodes.  This, obviously, is Part I.  I hope you enjoy it.

Also, I do want to once again thank Niels Hobbs for inviting me to give the talk.  The convention was incredible and it looked like everyone (including me) had a great time.

The talk was formally called “Human Interpretations on the Biology and Evolution of the Old Ones”

The outline for the presentation is as follows:

1.  Review of current taxonomic description of life on Earth

2.  Previous “taxonomic” description of the Old Ones

3.  Lovecraft’s biological extraterrestrial discoveres

4.  Shoggoths and Elder Things

5.  Deep Ones

6.  Mi-Go

7.  The “Colour” out of Space

8.  A proposed “classification spectrum” and conclusions

So for Part I, I am talking about current taxonomic descriptions of life on Earth.  In turn, this will be linked to a proposed “classification spectrum” for Lovecraftian entities in a subsequent part of the presentation.

As a child, you basically think of life on Earth as being made up of plants and animals and this is how life was basically categorized by Carl Lennaeus who established the binomial nomenclature (Genus, species) for modern taxonomy. Thus, two Kingdoms were recognized; the Kingdom of Plants and the Kingdom of Animals. However, a third Kingdom was proposed to include the microorganisms that were revealed through the use of the microscope. Richard Owen and Ernst Haeckel proposed the Kingdom Protista.

When I was in college, five Kingdoms were recognized, separating the fungi from the plants and the bacteria from other microorganisms (such as the many forms of algae and protists like amoeba). Currently, an additional ranking of life on Earth is placed above the level of Kingdom and its called the Domain.  There are three recognized Domains and include the Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Eukaryotes (animals, plants, protists and fungi).

So where am I going with this relative to Lovecraftian Horrors?  Well, my point is some of Lovecraft’s creations are Earth-bound entities. In fact, some can be included in Terrain taxonomy, which I why I am introducing these concepts. But before I talk about how Lovecraft’s creations fit (or don’t fit) into Earth life taxonomy, let’s briefly talk about evolution.

In its most basic form, evolution can be described simply as “change of time.” Darwin and Wallace both developed the concept that evolution gives rise to species through the process of natural selection. In Darwin’s mind and concept of evolution, all life is related and life on Earth can be thought of as a great tree, with new species being represented as new branches. Darwin sketched this as shown below.

DarwinSketch_article

Note, Darwin thought of the human species as being one of the many branches on the Terrain Tree of Life.  The concept that humans are not particularly special when compared to other species on Earth is a somewhat Lovecraftian idea.

That humans are equal with all other species in the eyes of evolution put people in the Victorian Era into an uproar (as well as still upsetting many people even today).  Aren’t we as a species special?  Aren’t we “better” than ferns, slime molds, giraffes and squid?  A lot of people have a hard time with this, including many supporters of Darwin and evolution.  The figure below shows an interpretation of the Tree of Life by Ernst Haeckel.

0615treeoflife

Note that here instead of Darwin’s view of the “tree” as being shaped more like a shrub with all branches being equal, the tree is a mighty oak that shoots to the heavens and who is on the top, why humans, of course!   Even the original title of the figure “Pedigree of Man” indicates that all of that hard evolutionary work on Earth strived to achieve or reach that pinnacle of evolution – Man!  However, its all on your point of view.  I just finished  a book on The History of Life by Michael J. Benton and one of his concluding points was that the “pinnacle” of evolution depends on what you are.  So, to a cockroach, the pinnacle of evolution would be – the cockroach.  Or if you are a squid, the pinnacle of evolution is the squid.  This is one of the reasons why Darwin’s scribble is not drawn as a tree but more as a shrub, where branches do not represent a hierarchy but instead the development of species over time.

To conclude this part, I want to show you another “interpretation” of Life on Earth, using the three Domain classification and a specific cellular component that all life possesses.  Specifically, this is ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA).  I won’t go into the details of rRNA but I will say two things.  First, rRNA is a component of ribosomes (an organelle in cells) that is essential for protein synthesis.  Second, since it is found in all of life (bacteria, plants, animals, fungi and protists), it can be used as a “marker” to compare species to one another.  Thus, the more closely related two species or groups are, the closer their branches will be to each other.  In addition, looking at rRNA can also give you a sense of the genetic diversity of Life on Earth.  This puts all organisms on equal footing in a comparison of all life on Earth.  This was Carl Woese’s idea and this is what he came up with:

tree_of_life

Looks more like a shrub than a tree don’t you think?  Based on this view of life on Earth, the vast majority of the genetic diversity is found in the microbial world.  That one branch that says “we are here” does not represent humans, it represents all animal life.  From a genetic perspective humans are a pretty insignificant component of the pool of life on Earth.  Such a revelation is something Lovecraft would have certainly appreciated.

This “rRNA” view of life on Earth correlates well with HPL’s philosophy.  For example, this quote comes from Collected Essays, Volume 3 – Science (edited by S.T. Joshi)…”Man, so far from being the central and supreme object of Nature, is clearly demonstrated to be a mere incident, perhaps an accident, of a natural scheme whose boundless reach relegates him to total insignificance.” – HPL.

Next time I will be talking about Derleth’s taxonomic description of the Old Ones.

Thank you.

Fred