Tag Archives: Einstein

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.

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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.

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H.P. Lovecraft and Time Travel, Part 2

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Einstein’s theories of relativity combined the three dimensions of space with time to create four-dimensional Space-Time. As part of the special theory of relativity, the closer you reach the speed of light, the slower the rate of time so if you could travel at the speed of light you could travel into the future relative to everyone else.

While traveling into the future is possible within the confines of Einstein’s relativistic Space-Time, assuming one could achieve at least almost fast as the speed of light travel, traveling into the past does not seem feasible, particularly due to the paradoxes than can be generated when thinking of time as linear flow that has only one pathway.  For example, the “grandfather paradox” is an example of if you could travel into the past and prevent your grandfather from meeting your grandmother.  In such conditions, one of your parents would not be born and therefore you would not exist.  Another example is the “free lunch paradox” where you invent a new technology – say a time traveling machine – go back in the past and give the plans to your younger self. If you give your younger self the plans to the time machine did you even design / invent it in the first place?

In a more deterministic Universe of Einstein’s Relativity such paradoxes are perplexing.  However, as described in the previous article, additional work on Einstein’s equations by others, coupled with additional insights provided by quantum mechanics, have indicated that time is more like a meandering river than an arrow shot into the air.  Small inlets that easily break off the main stem of the river and can even flow back into the river further upstream.

lightconebig                                                    A two-dimensional lightcone diagram showing space and time (www.einstein.stanford.edu)

Taking the river analogy a little further, a small inlet that separates from the main stem may be another parallel universe with its own Space-Time. Thus, in the case of the grandfather paradox both occur – there is a Universe where you accomplished your goal and you were never born and there is another where you failed and you were born and there is probably another where you did not even build the time machine in the first place.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, time was generally perceived as always moving forward and in one specific, linear direction.  Traveling into the past or future was generally thought of the stuff of science fiction popularized by H.G. Wells in his influential novel The Time Machine, which Lovecraft called “thoroughly entertaining in every detail” (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (by S.T. Joshi; 2013).  In the novel the narrator can travel into the distant past or future with the aid of a machine or vehicle as it’s called in the novel. Well’s stated in the novel that time is the fourth dimension, which means one would need a timeship to move through it as one would need a spaceship (or plane) to travel the three spatial dimensions. The use of a timeship was a fairly common troupe in science fiction literature in the early 20th century; however, for Lovecraft traveling through time and even space did not require a vehicle.

wells_maxresdefault George Pal in the 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells The Time Machine.

A frequent method of Space-Time travel used by Lovecraft was the exchange of consciousnesses between two entities as demonstrated in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and extremely effectively in The Shadow Out of Time. Essentially, the consciousness of an individual is a huge amount of information that is downloaded into the body of another. The Yithians appeared to master this on a species level, where they would avoid destruction by transferring their collective minds into another species from a distant world as well as from a distant time (past or future). In the case of The Shadow Out of Time the Yithians transferred their collective minds into the Cone-Shaped Beings who resided on Earth in the distant past, becoming what was then known as The Great Race.

great-race_AJ_Jankins_hatesnack.com.jpg A member of the Great Race by AJ Jankins (www.hatesnack.com)

By having the consciousness and not the material body travel through time Lovecraft avoids the compilations of removing matter from one time-stream and dumping into another. Essentially, information and not matter travels through time. As has been discussed in previous articles on The Shadow Out of Time such technology may be a possible way for humans to travel through interstellar space and possibly become immortal (The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku; 2014).

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This form of time travel, particularly on a species level, avoids the need for the physical transport of an individual or individuals from one time to another, thus avoiding paradoxes with meeting oneself from a different time. This concept of time traveling and avoiding the paradox of meeting one’s self will be further reviewed in next week’s discussion of “The Silver Key.” Thank you – Fred.

 

H.P. Lovecraft and Time Travel

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“I think I am probably the only living person to whom the ancient 18th century idiom is actually a prose and poetic mother-tongue.”

“-leaving the sunny downstairs 19th century flat, and boring my way back through the decades into the late 17th, 18th and early 19th century by means of innumerable crumbling and long-s’d tomes of every size and nature – “

“I am certainly a relic of the 18th century both in prose and in verse.”

Based on these quotes, taken from S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (2013), H.P. Lovecraft felt trapped in the future. He frequently talked about “the supremely rational 18th century” when great strides in physics, astronomy, chemistry and biology were made. A large part of Lovecraft’s own philosophy of life was based on Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot’s Modern Science and Materialism (originally published in 1919), which in turn is largely based on the rational thought and science of the latter half of the 18th century and 19th century.

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By the end of the 19th century, it was thought that the Laws of Nature and Life were fully understood. This is why Einstein’s Theories of Relativity were initially distressing to some scientists as well as Lovecraft. While Lovecraft did eventually resolve his view of the Universe with Einstein’s theories, as can actually be seen in the evolution of his stories, he experienced this same concern over his view of the cosmos with quantum theory. While Lovecraft’s view of the cosmos was indifferent and uncaring relative to humanity and all life, it was based on the cosmos functioning under well-established rules and laws of nature (Newton’s Laws of Gravitation, Darwin and Wallace’s Theory of Evolution, etc.) like a large machine. The Theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics shook this up and thus Lovecraft’s philosophy. Such “strange science,” coupled with his preference for the literature of the previously centuries (see above), made Lovecraft pine to live in the 17th, 18th or early 19th century.

finlay_lovecraft H.P. Lovecraft as an 18th century poet by the great Virgil Finlay.

Given Lovecraft’s wish to live in a simpler time, it is not surprising that time travel would periodically show up in his stories. As previously discussed, tales such as “The White Ship” and The Shadow Out of Time, are examples of moving out of our perceived linear, Newtonian flow of time. Einstein essentially linked Space with Time, which means that if a stable and large enough wormhole could be created, time travel may be possible. Suddenly, time was not simply linear.

yith-2014 The Great Race were expert time travelers (illustration by Steve Maschuck)

To Newton and the physicists that followed, Time was thought of as an arrow; once shot it can’t change its course and moves linearly in one direction. With Einstein’s Space-Time as described in his Theory of General Relativity, space (and therefore time) could be warped. Thus, instead of Time being thought of as an arrow, it was more like a meandering river; gently speeding up in riffles and slowing down in pools with small eddies of backflow (Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku; 2005).

This concept of Time having backflows, whirlpools or forks did worry Einstein, particularly when one of his contemporaries, W. J. Van Stockum, in 1937 found a solution to Einstein’s equations that permitted for the possibility of time travel (Michio Kaku, 2005). Other mathematicians and physicists, for example Kurt Gödel in 1949 and Kip Thorne in 1985, identified various solutions to Einstein’s equations and potential ways to travel in time. Beyond the equations, the methodologies to achieve time travel vary from traveling around an infinitely long cylinder close to the speed of light to traveling around the circumference of the known universe a little faster than its rotating, to the creation of two wormholes traveling at the speed of light, connected with a “bridge” of negative energy. Matter can be thought of as positive energy, gravity can be thought of as negative energy (Michio Kaku, 2005).

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Based on these mathematical calculations, using Einstein’s equations, General Relativity does allow for the possibility of time travel. However, in all cases the problem is one of energy. The amount of energy needed to bend, twist or warp time (Space-Time) is so high that Einstein’s equations actually break down and quantum theory takes over (Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time-wraps and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku, 1995). Thus, while on paper time travel is possible, it’s the engineering that limits its development.

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In many of the potential scenarios for time travel, such as using the gravitation forces of a black hole for the needed energy, the forces / energies would surely destroy us before any time travel occurred. However, many of Lovecraft’s entities are either from Universes with a different set of natural forces and laws or possibly from outside the known multiverse altogether. Thus, the Old Ones may have the ability to harness these forces and energies and use them to travel multiple Space-Times. However, as I have previously hypothesized the “weakness of the Old Ones” is the fact that they cannot form a stable and consistent form of matter in our Space-Time. This is why I believe the Old Ones have not yet dominated our Universe and why they even have any dealings with humanity. We need to provide them with something within our Space-Time, whether its “opening a door” on this side of reality or providing a part of us (e.g. DNA); both of these scenarios are exemplified in “The Dunwich Horror.” However, the one story that I believe best supports the “weakness of the Old Ones” hypothesis is “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”

Walter Gilman, a student at Miskatonic University, is working on some multidimensional mathematics and quantum mechanics for his graduate work. Indeed, for time travel since General Relativity begins to break down into the quantum level, both need to be united in higher dimensions – in fact up to 10 or 11 dimensions; our four dimensions plus six to seven others folded and tucked out of our reality. Accessing these higher dimensions may be a way of entering hyperspace, a means to travel vast distances and times. Indeed, this is what both Walter Gilman and the witch Keziah Mason succeed at doing. However, the vast amount of energy needed to open these higher dimensions are not available to us so how do they do this?  Essentially, the available energy is provided by Nyarlathotep. Thus, using math or magic (to the Old Ones probably the same thing), one gains access or the attention of the Old Ones. The Old Ones provide the energy needed for this hyperspace travel and get something in return. Signing Nyarlathotep’s book in blood may be providing a sample of DNA the Old Ones need to attempt to enter and remain in our Space-Time. Of course the question remains – if we truly want to time travel, is it only achievable if we establish some sort of pact or agreement with the Old Ones? Will we as a species be able to harness, control and utilize the enormous forces and energies needed for interdimensional, interstellar and inter-time travel?

the-dreams-in-the-witch-house-jhc-by-h_-p_-lovecraft-2-2120-p The Dreams in the Witch-House, illustrated by Pete Von Sholly

I would like to conclude with a quote from Michio Kaku (1995) that every much sounds like Lovecraft:

“Einstein’s equations, in some sense, were like a Trojan horse. On the surface, the horse looks like a perfectly acceptable gift, giving us the observed bending of starlight under gravity and a compelling explanation of the origin of the universe. However, inside lurk all sorts of strange demons and goblins, which allow for the possibility of interstellar travel through wormholes and time travel. The price we had to pay for peering into the darkest secrets of the universe was the potential downfall of some of our most commonly held beliefs about our world – that its space is simply connected and its history is unalterable.”

 

I believe Lovecraft would absolutely agree with this – we are finding out the universal machine does not necessarily operate the way we think it does. Next time we will talk about time paradoxes and how Lovecraft handled them in his stories. Thank you – Fred.

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.”

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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.

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft and the Pseudoscientific Study of Racism

HPLovecraft_by_LeeMoyer_www.strangehorizons.com                                                                                   H.P. Lovecraft by Lee Moyer (www.strangehorizons.com)

I have always been appreciated how H.P. Lovecraft introduced the most up-to-date scientific developments into his fiction and cosmic philosophy. Additionally, he was more than willing to adjust his viewpoint, perspective and even philosophy on science based on the latest scientific findings. Time and again he exhibited this whether it was the confirmation that Antarctica is composed of one, not two land masses or the discovery of Yuggoth (known to many as Pluto). Another example of this is Lovecraft’s changing attitudes toward Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

einstein_360x450_www.laphamsquarterly.orgAlbert Einstein (www.laphamsquarterly.org)

Like many astronomers of the time Lovecraft was very skeptical of the Theory of General Relativity. However, with the accumulation of evidence over the years, by 1923 Lovecraft acknowledged that relativity was a valid and tested theory. As a materialist Lovecraft’s initial attitude was one of dismay, saying the theory “…removes the last hold which reality or the universe can have on the independent mind. All is change, accident, and ephemeral illusion…” Lovecraft went on to say, “All the cosmos is a jest, and one thing is as true as another. I believe everything and nothing—for all is chaos, always had been, and always will be.” However, Lovecraft’s pessimistic attitude on how relativity impacted his philosophy was eventually replaced with a more harmonized perspective, incorporating Einstein’s ideas into his materialistic view of the cosmos (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by Joshi, 2014). Again this is another example of how Lovecraft’s perspective, and even philosophy, of reality and the universe would change based on accumulating evidence. However, the one component of science where Lovecraft’s attitude would remain unchanged, even in the light and consideration of accumulating scientific evidence, is that of the study of anthropology and race.

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As cited by Joshi, in spite of all of the accumulating evidence, H.P. Lovecraft still believed in the biological inferiority of certain races of humanity (Joshi, 2014). Indeed, such abhorrent attitudes were by no means unusual in the early 20th century whatever the accumulating scientific data revealed; in the 1920’s many leading scientists warned that interracial mixing of the races could lead to biological abnormalities (Joshi, 2014). However, through the 20th century the “scientific” justification for racism was demonstrated to be false. In spite of this, such concepts would appear in several of Lovecraft’s earlier stories such as “the Lurking Fear.”

As cited by Joshi (2014), Lovecraft held his racist attitudes in spite of the most up-to-date findings on the study of humanity and race in the fields of biology and anthropology. All of the “scientific” studies that provided evidence for a hierarchy of races with Caucasians and the top and Australian aborigines at the bottom, were largely discredited as pseudoscience by the early 20th century. Indeed, as early the 19th century studies that have attempted to correlate “race-based” size and shape of the skull to some type of racial hierarchy were considered highly unscientific and preposterous (Joshi, 2014). By the early 1930’s any scientific justification for such racism was largely discredited by the scientific community; such efforts were led by the anthropologist Franz Boas.

FranzBoas                                                               Frank Boas (www.wikipedia.org)

Born in Germany, Franz Boas had a doctorate in physics and studied geography; however, once he emigrated to the U.S. he became a professor of anthropology at Columbia University. He had a distinguished career at Columbia, being called “the Father of American Anthropology.” One of the key components Boas used in identifying the nonsensical perspective in scientifically justifying racism was to show that the cranial index (the ratio of the maximum width of one’s head multiplied by 100 and then divided by its maximum length of the head from front to back) varies widely both among adults within a single group as well as within the life of an individual (The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould, revised and expanded edition, 1996). Even more important Boas identified significant differences between immigrant parents and their American-born children. The fact that such a change can be significantly measured within a single generation indicated that changes in environment (diet, health, surroundings, etc.) is as important or even more so than one’s race (better described as genetics) in dictating the cranial index (Gould, 1996).

theartofseanpillips.blogspot.comH.P. Lovecraft by Sean Phillips (www.theartofseanphillips.com)

While Joshi found no evidence of Lovecraft reading or being familiar with any of Boas’s work, Lovecraft had to frequently defend his racist views to his younger correspondents such as Frank Belknap Long and J. Vernon Shea. Why the augments of these younger acquaintances did not convince Lovecraft to, at least from a scientific basis, examine some of the more modern developments in anthropology and reconsider his thoughts on the pseudoscience of scientific racism is unknown (Joshi, 2014). Lovecraft’s “scientific” racist views were largely based on the writings of some 19th century scientists such as Ernst Haeckel. However, psychologically Lovecraft’s view was firmly rooted in his fear of the “other” or those who did not originate from his beloved New England and/or fit into his world-view. One wonders if Lovecraft lived longer and observed the scientific and cultural changes in attitudes toward race, would his have changed as well, particularly after World War II.

Lovecraft’s pseudoscientific understanding of race was certainly explored in many of his tales, particularly in his earlier ones. One of note, “The Lurking Fear”, discusses the evolutionary degeneration of a family due to out-of-class breeding and subsequent incest (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Dee, 2014). While in this case the “horror” associated with this is based on breeding out-of-class, this can also be associated with the implication that one is also breeding out-of-race, with the result being mammalian degeneration. Again, most of the horror associated with this tale is not based on science but pseudoscience, which will be discussed in detail in an upcoming article.

h_p__lovecraft_s_the_lurking_fear_by_cheesecake_weasel-d624gkrH.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear by Cheesecake Weasel (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to Lovecraft’s “selective” view of race from a scientific perspective, his review of race also generates an inherent conflict in his cosmic and materialistic philosophy. If we are all just composed of a complex of physical and biochemical reactions, housed within a foundation of honeycombed cells filled with water and associated protoplasm, the color of our skin or hair should be absolutely trivial. While Lovecraft was not familiar with Boas, he did read Modern Science and Materialism by Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot (originally published in 1919), which Joshi clearly documents had a profound influence on the development of Lovecraft’s cosmic / materialist view of the universe (Joshi, 2014). This influence, both on Lovecraft’s philosophy and attitudes toward race, will be the topic of conversation in the next article.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Kickstarter for the “Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 2.” We made our goal and I will add a stretch goal sometime next week. If you are interested in supporting this project, please check the site out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-two. Again, thank you to all how have contributed! Fred.

The Hypothetical Planet Vulcan

Newton’s work in both calculus and the universal Law of Gravitation in the late seventeenth century, provided a means of predicting the movement of all of the planets around the sun.  However, more refined observations and calculations in the mid-eighteenth century revealed a discrepancy between predicted and observed trajectory of Mercury around the sun.  Specifically, the perihelion (the point in the orbit of a celestial body where it is closest to the sun) of Mercury’s orbit was shifting very slightly over time, relative to what Newtonian mechanics would predict (The Planets by Dava Sobel, 2005).

Sir Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727) from Wikimedia.org

Based on this discrepancy between the observed and predicted orbit of Mercury, the astronomer Urbain J.J. Leverrier suspected that another planet or group of small bodies were the cause, being located somewhere between the sun and Mercury.  Under this proposed scenario Mercury would not longer be the planet closest to the sun.  Leverrier called this unknown planet Vulcan.

Urbain J.J. Leverrier (from wikimdia.org)

Leverrier announced in September 1859 that Vulcan would explain this discrepancy in the orbit of Mercury and that it would be about the same size as Mercury but at half the distance from the sun (The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Hoskin; 2003).  From 1859 and on the hunt was on to find Vulcan.  For over 50 years various astronomers, both professional and amateur, claimed to have identified Vulcan but such observations were never confirmed by the scientific community.  Serous attempts to identify Vulcan during solar eclipses in 1860 and 1869 were made but with no success (The Planets by Dava Sobel, 2005).

A proposed view of what the surface of the planet Vulcan would look like (by Nethskie)

HPL mentioned the search for and unlikely existence of Vulcan in a number of his astronomical articles.  In a short article, Does “Vulcan” Exist?, HPL presented both sides of the augment for the existence of Vulcan but comes to the conclusion that more than likely Mercury is still closest to the sun (Collected Essays: Science, Volume 3 by S.T. Joshi; 2005).

In another article, originally written for the Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner in October 1906, HPL mentioned that several professors from Ann Arbor, Michigan claimed to have identified Vulcan and another “intra-Mercurial body” during an eclipse in 1878.  However, as HPL points out, both bodies turned out to be well-known stars (Collected Essays: Science, Volume 3 by S.T. Joshi; 2005).

The hypothetical world of Vulcan (www.famousscientists.org)

What put the debate on the existence of Vulcan to an end was Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.  Essentially, Einstein stated that space itself is warped by gravity so the larger the gravitational field, the larger the warp.  Turns out, applying General Relativity to the orbit of Mercury explains the observed deviation from Newtonian mechanics.  Even Einstein was pleasantly surprised over these results.  In a letter to a colleague he wrote, “Can you imagine my joy, that the equations of the perihelion movement of Mercury prove correct?  I was speechless for several days with excitement.” (The Planets by Dava Sobel, 2005).

I am sure HPL knew of Einstein’s work and how it contributed to disproving the existence of Vulcan since he did not mention planet in his fiction or any of his scientific essays after 1906, other than a passing reference of it not existing.  Thus, around 1915, the idea of the planet Vulcan blipped out of existence much like the planet Vulcan did in J.J. Abrams’s movie Star Trek (2009) when a black hole was created inside of that world.

Next time we will be talking about a world that does exist – the planet Venus.  HPL referred to Venus quite a bit and in fact one of his stories occurs on that planet.  Thank you.  Fred.

The destruction of the planet Vulcan in J.J. Abrams’s movie Star Trek (2009; en.memory-alpha.org)

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft and Albert Einstein, Part 4 – HPL’s Application of Einstein’s Theories

This article continues and concludes a review of where in his fiction H. P. Lovecraft cites Einstein or his theories.  After the novella At the Mountains of Madness, the next time HPL mentions Einstein in his fiction is in the collaboration between HPL and Henry S. Whitehead – The Trap.

The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions by HPL (revised; Arkham House, 1989).  This revised collection included the story The Trap.

Essentially, the story is about a mirror that was created by a sorcerer / glass blower who was conducting investigations into the 4th dimension.  Through his work, he developed a means of creating a stable space (in hyperspace?)with the aid of the unique mirror he constructed.  Within this mirror space, one does not age and “consciousness would go on virtually forever, provided the mirror could be preserved indefinitely from breakage or deterioration.”

As mentioned above, this sorcerer (Holm) was conducting a serious study of the 4th dimension and was far from beginning with Einstein’s work in our own era.  Thus, Holm’s work on the 4th dimension was beyond anything that Einstein worked on; however, is it possible that this point of not aging within the mirror space is an outcome of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?  Is the mirror space somehow traveling close to or even faster than the speed of light in another dimension, which results in the incredibly slow rate of aging?

After The Trap, the next story where HPL mentions Einstein is The Dreams in the Witch House.  A number of pervious articles were exclusively devoted to this story so here we only identify where Einstein was cited.

Dreams in the Witch House by Ronan McC

Einstein was cited twice in The Dreams in the Witch House.  In the first instance it is recognized that Keziah Mason, a 17th century witch has the mathematical insight that was beyond the “delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and deSitter.”  I will review each of these other physicists in future articles.

Later in the story while Gilman is in class at Miskatonic University, there is a discussion about the “freakish curvatures in space” and how there may be parts of reality – cosmic units as HPL called them – beyond the whole Einsteinian space-time continuum.  Once again, HPL cites Einstein’s theories as an acceptable interpretation of our universe and that anything that does not follow his theories is “outside” or beyond our reality.

The last time HPL specifically cites Einstein is in his novelette The Shadow Out of Time.  Future articles will focus on this story so again, here I will only discuss where Einstein is cited in the story.

A Yithian (by Zippo4k) from The Shadow Out of Time

Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee was a professor at Miskatonic University and suffered from an extended bout of amnesia from 1908 to 1913.  Again, future articles will discuss The Shadow Out of Time in more detail but when Peaslee regained his “self” he suffered from strange dreams and impressions.  When he conveyed some of these ideas to the professors of mathematics and physics at the university, they cited Einstein’s work on relativity and how he [Einstein] “was rapidly reducing time to the status of a mere dimension.”

A conceptual illustration of integrating time into the three dimension of space (from the article  Distance Learning in Einstein’s Fourth Dimension by Robin Thorne; in Nonpartisan Education Review, Essays: Volume 3; Number 1)

In this last reference to Einstein in HPL’s work, he just doesn’t talk about ideas or things outside of Einsteinian space-time but here he is referencing Einstein’s work on Special Relativity that makes time the fourth dimension.  By this time in HPL’s life he clearly recognized Einstein as making substantial contributions to physics, science and humanity as a whole.  If HPL lived longer who knows where this may have lead in this writings.  Would HPL have been as obsessed in a Unified Field Theory the way Einstein was?  And what about Einstein’s work that led the way to developing nuclear weapons?  I’m sure such ideas would have fueled HPL’s cautious fascination with science.

Next time, we will be talking about the science behind HPL’s story From Beyond.  Thank you – Fred