Tag Archives: Elder Things

Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 3 Drifting through Interstellar Space

Being essentially, asexual, immortal beings, the Elder Things are not constrained by specific life cycle functions and are not overly concerned with reproduction. In addition, their ability to enter into cryptobiosis over extremely long periods of time and under very adverse environmental conditions, means the Elder Things are uniquely adapted to survive in interstellar space.

sadan-vague-elder_sadania.artstation.com Elder Thing by Sadan Vague (www.sadania.artstation.com)

Previously we hypothesized that the Elder Things may use dark matter and/or dark energy to propel themselves through space. Additionally, we know from their discovery in Antarctica that they go into a cryptobiotic state for long periods of time. Thus, it is not surprising that they would remain in such a state for millennia, drifting thorough interstellar space. Such a mode of existence is a very energy efficient means of colonizing other ecosystems, or in their case planets. A wide variety of organisms behave in a similar manner, such as phytoplankton, invertebrates and plants (e.g. seeds). In addition, we are familiar with at least one multicellular organism that can survive the rigors of space – the tardigrades.

tard1   A tardigrade

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, are water-dwelling, multicellular, micro-animals of the phylum Tardigrada. These organisms have been found in hot springs and on the top of the Himalayas, in polar regions and the deep sea; they are some of the most resilient Terran organisms. Tardigrades can survive extreme temperatures, pressures, a absence of oxygen, dehydration, high amounts of radiation (they can withstand 1,000 times more radiation than any other Terran animal) and a complete lack of food. In fact, tardigrades are so resilient that they are one of the few groups of organisms to have survived all five of Earth’s mass extinctions. Thus, its not surprising that tardigrades are the first known animal to have survived when exposed to outer space.

One reason for the high degree of resiliency in the tardigrades relative to the exposure of high amounts of radiation in space, is its unique damage suppressor protein, called Dsup, which suppresses the frequency of DNA breaks associated with high amounts of radiation. It may be possible that among the many unique adaptations (e.g. extremely tough but flexible hide, the potential ability to utilize dark energy / dark energy), the Elder Things have its own set of Dsup proteins that allow them to survive drifting through space as intergalactic plankton.

Hypsibius                                                                                                  The tardigrade Hypsibius dujardini – an immunofluorescent micrograph

According to Dyer, early bas-reliefs found in the mountains of madness represented the preterrestrial life of the Elder Things on other planets, in other galaxies and even in other universes (more on this in a future article). Additional bas-reliefs indicated that they arrived on a “…nascent, lifeless earth…” although based on estimates of when the Elder Things arrived on Earth the world already had life but it was only microbial in nature. The Elder Things were said to have “…filtered down from the stars when earth young –.” However, while the Elder Things may have possessed an entire array of adaptations to survive in a cryptobiotic state drifting through space until they arrived on a habitable world, based on the bas-reliefs as the Pleistocene drew on the Elder Things “…had lost track…” of the ability to travel through space.

Bellerophon Cthulhu soapstone bas relief Bas-relief of the spawn of Cthulhu found in the Mountains of Madness (www.propomicon.blogspot.com)

Through the centuries the Elder Things experienced a war with the spawn of Cthulhu as well as a number of rebellions of their Shoggoth creations. Thus, by the time the inter-dimensional Mi-Go arrived on Earth, the Elder Things wanted to leave the planet in search of other worlds for colonization. However, when they attempted to leave Earth, they “…found it no longer possible to leave the earth’s atmosphere. Whatever the old secret of interstellar travel had been, it was now definitely lost to the race.” This passage is extremely interesting in that it makes it difficult to accurately describe just exactly how the Elder Things traveled through space.

untitled                   Elder Thing by Steve Maschuck

Based on earlier accounts of their complete lack of dependence or interest in mechanical devices we know their ability to travel through space is not based on technology. While space travel may be more of a biological adaptation, their essentially immortal status and the general absence of sexual reproduction, indicates that more than likely the Elder Things did not “loose” the ability to travel through natural selection (as least based on the way we understand how Terran evolution operates). Thus, I hypothesize that interstellar travel was more of a cultural trait or ability that was known and shared amount the Elder Things. Cultural traits, which are not evolutionary in nature, that are past from one generation to the next in humans include language and writing. Thus, interstellar travel may have been a cultural trait in the Elder Things.

Elderthing_CthulhuWars_SandyPetersen Elder Thing art for Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Wars

The colony of Elder Things that reached Earth and remained on the planet for millions of years had no need to travel through interstellar space and so not only forgot how to travel through space but even how to leave the planet’s atmosphere. Thus, over time, this ability or knowledge was simply lost, at least to those who colonized the Earth. However, their inert resiliency was not entirely lost since they could still live in the deep ocean depths and still put themselves into a state of cryptobiosis for millions of years.

Next time we will review how other colonies of Elder Things not only retained their ability to travel through space but also learned how to travel through higher dimensions to other Universes. Thank you – Fred.

Advertisements

Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 2 Traveling through Interstellar Space

“They were the great “Old Ones” that had filtered down from the stars when earth was young – the beings whose substance an alien evolution had shaped, and whose powers where such as this planet had never bred.” – from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

atmompanorama

At the Mountains of Madness by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society

In addition to withstanding the cool, desiccated conditions of Antarctica, the bas-reliefs and illustrations in the catacombs of the Mountains of Madness provided evidence that the Elder Things were extraterrestrial in origin.  In fact, it was documented that the Elder Things traveled to other planets and galaxies and even visited other universes.  Additional illustrations indicate that the Elder Things could travel through interstellar space on their vast membranous wings, propelled by the “ether” also known as aether.

Ether was once thought to be some type of material found throughout space, which allowed light to pass through.  Christiaan Huygens hypothesized that as sound waves travel through air and mechanical energy can travel as waves through water, light waves needed to travel through some type of media.  Huygens described this semi-physical material as aether and it allowed light to travel even through the vacuum of space.  However, the Michelson – Morley experiment of 1887 provided evidence that light was not traveling through a luminous aether.  By the 1920s a sufficient amount of experimental evidence accumulated to indicate light did not need the aether to travel through space.

Huygens

Christiaan Huygens

So, what are we to make of Lovecraft’s proposed hypothesis that the Elder Things propel themselves through space with ether?  In Lovecraft’s day the hypothesis of the ether was already largely regarded as not a valid interpretation of how light travels through space.  However, in spite of the scientific evidence for the absence of the aether, this material took on an almost metaphysical status.  For example, in Modern Science and Materialism, a book written by Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot and known to have a large impression on Lovecraft’s philosophical and cosmic view, it is stated…” The aether of space makes no impression on our senses, and its more rapid vibrations cannot be perceived. Yet we can easily understand that they exist, and in our “mind’s eye” see the ultra-violet rays which our bodily eye is blind to.” Thus, based on this metaphysical viewpoint, just because we cannot perceive or measure it, at least not yet, does not mean it does not exist.  A reality existing beyond our Earth-bound senses was a theme in many of Lovecraft’s tales including At the Mountains of Madness.

An alternative hypothesis to the utilization of aether as a means of interstellar transportation, has been that the Elder Things use dark matter and/or dark energy as a means of propulsion. However, it should be emphasized, that dark matter or dark energy is not simply a replacement for aether.  As explained by Sean Carroll, aether was a theoretical idea that could not be verified with experimental evidence.  In sharp contrast, dark matter and dark energy are observations in the universe that physicists would love to ignore but can’t (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2012/06/08/dark-matter-vs-aether/).  Dark matter is a new, but currently undetectable, kind of matter that appears to be required to explain how galaxies spin with our understanding of gravity.  Dark energy is a strange force that causes the universe to expand at an accelerated rate (Calculating the Cosmos by Ian Stewart, 2016).

ElderThing_TomArdans

Elder Thing by Tom Ardans

The reluctant consideration of dark matter originates with trying to explain why galaxies in the Coma cluster move substantially faster than they should under Newtonian gravity.  Specially, based on the observed rates of movement the galaxies should fly apart and the cluster should dissolve, again based on Newtonian physics.  Since they don’t something else must be holding the cluster together. Currently, the leading hypothesis for this observation is the presence of dark matter.  Dark energy is thought of as an anti-gravity field which is driving the galaxies apart (Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku, 2005).  In addition, dark matter and dark energy combined account for 96% of the mass-energy density of the universe; our “normal” (baryonic) matter only accounts for about 4% of the total mass-density in the universe.  Thus, while as humans we have difficult time measuring or imagining what dark matter and dark energy are, the Elder Things with senses beyond our five, may be able to recognize, quantify and thus utilize these “dark” forms of mass-energy.

Parallel_Worlds

Maybe the Elder Things utilize dark matter as a sort of “fuel,” powering their interstellar sails (wings) and dark energy is a form of biological, anti-gravity drive that propels them through the cosmos.  However, even with such exotic forms of matter and energy, it is doubtful that the Elder Things could travel faster than the speed of light.  While certain factions of the Elder Things are known to utilize inter-dimensional travel as cited in “The Dreams in the Witch-House” (more on that in a later article), it appears that the majority of them travel through interstellar space.  Since the Elder Things seem to be essentially immortal, largely through their asexuality, and have an extremely tough yet flexible outer skin, it is more than likely that the majority of their time is spent passively drifting in space in an inactive, cryptobiotic state.  Next time we will talk about the Elder Things cryptobiotic state in space.  Thank you – Fred.

unponderable_elder_thing_by_henningludwigsen-com

Elder Thing by Henning Ludwigsen (www.henningludwigsen.com)

Cryptobiosis in Elder Things, Part 1 Antarctica

“10:15 p.m. Important discovery.  Orrendorf and Watkins, working underground at 9:45 with light, found monstrous barrel-shaped fossil of wholly unknown nature; probably vegetable unless overgrown specimen of unknown marine radiata.  Tissue evidently preserved by mineral salts. Tough as leather, but astonishing flexibility retained in places.” – from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

81lGz0Tq6UL

Illustration by Pete von Sholly

The passage cited above is the first time in the Cthulhu Mythos that the Elder Things were referenced and described. A total of 14 specimens were found, 8 being in perfect condition, meaning all of their appendages were intact. The Elder Things were first described as “fossils,” again with tissues replaced by mineral salts, and were estimated to be found in geologic deposits from the late Cretaceous or early Eocene period (approximately 66 to 56 million years ago).

A number of times the Elder Things were described as tough as leather and yet very flexible. Thus, while not explicitly described, the Elder Thing fossils may have been perceived more as mummified remains rather than simple fossils. Such well-preserved, mummified fossils are extremely rare but are discovered from time to time. For example, in Alberta, Canada an extremely well preserved nodosaur (a type of ankylosaur) was found, providing some of the best-preserved examples of dinosaur skin and armor (www.smithsonianmag.com; 15 May 2017).

rtmp-gfd-exhibit-nodosaur

Exhibit of a mummified  nodosaur

Once the Elder Thing specimens were brought to the field camp, it appears that an increase in temperature of their immediate surroundings contributed toward reviving them. Other environmental factors may have contributed toward this including exposure to an oxygenated atmosphere and sunlight. However, more than likely it was the rise in temperature, once the specimens were taken to camp to be thawed and dissected, that resulted in the revival of the Elder Things.

AstoundingStories_Howard_V_Brown

Illustration of fossilized Elder Things by Howard V. Brown for Astounding Stories.

The Elder Things may have been in a state of cryptobiosis when discovered by members of the Miskatonic expedition. Cryptobiosis was first defined by David Keilin in 1959 as “the state of an organism when it shows no visible signs of life and when its metabolic activity becomes hardly measurable, or comes reversibly to a standstill.” Essentially, the organism shows no signs of life and yet is not dead. Cryptobiosis is an evolutionary adaptation that allows an organism to essentially stop all metabolic processes during adverse environmental conditions such as the absence of water, freezing or oxygen deficiency. Once favorable environmental conditions return, the organism will resume measurable metabolic activities. Thus, unknown to Lake and the others, exhuming what they thought were large fossils, exposed the Elder Things to higher temperatures, disrupting their cryptobiosis.  Similar cryptobiotic circumstances, where an assumed dead organism was recovered from the ice and revived as a result of increasing temperatures, occurred in the early 1980’s at Norwegian and American research stations in Antarctica. We know both instances resulted in disastrous results for the human researchers and scientists.

While cryptobiosis may seem to be an attribute of only non-terrestrial life, it is fairly common on Earth. For example, cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) produce “resting spores” called akinetes when environmental conditions turn undesirable. Most frequently this occurs in fall going into winter when temperatures decline and lakes and ponds freeze over. The Akinetes settle to the bottom and when the lake ices out and “turns over,” the mixing brings the akinetes to the surface, where increasing temperatures and sunlight result in increased metabolic activities. The akinetes “hatch” and a new crop of cyanobacteria are growing in the surface waters.

Picture1

A filament of the cyanobacteria Anabaena; the enlarged cell is an akinete.

The morphology of the Elder Things is described as a cross between an echinoderm (sea stars and sea urchins) and a fern. In general fern spores are not very hardy. Typically, they are only viable for a few days but under certain circumstances they can be viable for a year or a little more. Using specialized cryogenic techniques, it has been reported that spores may be preserved and viable after 15 years. However, in contrast to fern spores, the seeds of angiosperms (flowing plants), have been documents to be viable for substantially longer periods of times. Frequently, for seeds the key to their viability over extremely long periods of time is low temperature with little to no moisture. There have been reports of 2,000-year-old palm oil seeds, discovered in Israel during an archeological dig, successfully germinating. In addition, it has been documented in the mid-1990s that a Chinese water plant grew from a seed that was dated at around 1,400 years (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2005/jun/16/thisweekssciencequestions1). Again, the key to this extremely long state of cryptobiosis is existing in very dry and cold conditions. The Elder Things “fossils” were found buried in Antarctica, probably the driest and coldest place on Earth. This, in combination with their extremely tough yet very flexible structure allowed them to remain in cryptobiosis for millions of years – until they were revived by the small upright mammals.

ET_DavidMaguire

An Elder Thing by David Maguire.

Next time we will discuss the cryptobiosis of the Elder Things in interstellar space. Also, I want to remind everyone that we have about one week to go before the Kickstarter ends for the third volume of The Journal of Lovecraftian Science. We are about 90% funded and if you are interested please check it out at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-three?ref=user_menu. Thank you – Fred.

Fossils from the Mountains of Madness (Part 2)

Greg Onychuk The Fowler Imprint_www.propnomicon.blogspot.com                                  The Fowler Imprint (Greg Onychuk; http://www.propnomicon.blogspot.com)

Of all of the fossils collected during the Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, the most intriguing specimens were those of the footprints of the Elder Things.  As previously mentioned, a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, and a number of living marine invertebrates were discovered near Queen Alexandra Range.  However, also discovered in the sandstones were strange triangular striated marking, about a foot in diameter at their widest point. While Lake, the lead biologist on the expedition found these triangular fossils interesting and curious, Dyer who was the expedition’s lead geologist saw them as nothing more than ripple effects, which are common in sedimentary rock.  Such ripple marks form perpendicular to the direction of the wind or water (current or waves).  In this case, the fossilized ripple marks (see below) are indicative of agitation by water and were symmetrical, so they were probably formed by gentle waves or fast flow water.  In any event, based on the description of the triangular fossils, it is difficult to see how they could be mistaken for ripple marks. However, this was probably just an attempt by Dyer to explain the strange markings.

Ripple-Marks-GeologyPage-300x199

After flying over the South Pole and conducting some additional aerial surveying, Lake insisted that the new base be established in a westward direction, instead of the planned northwestward direction. This change in direction was sparked by Lake’s obsession with the strange “triangular striated marking in the slate.” Lake was convinced that these marking were not ripple marks but instead of some large, unknown organism, in spite of it being dated to be Cambrian, if not Precambrian.

In Lovecraft’s time, the Precambrian (recognized as the period of time from the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian about 541 million years ago) was generally thought to be dominated by unicellular life.  It was not until 1950’s when radiometric carbon dating was developed, that it was confirmed that multicellular life existed in the Precambrian. Indeed, the earliest multicellular forms of life are found in rock as old as 1.2 to 1.5 billion years ago. These ancient multicellular forms were a form of filamentous red algae named Bangiomorpha pubescens and were discovered in the 1990s (M.J. Benton; The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction; 2008).

funsia                                                                    Fossilized imprint of the red alga Bangiomorpha, one of the first multicellular organisms

The first recognized ecosystem dominated by multicellular species was during the Ediacara Period (between 635 and 542 million year ago). To be fair, when Lovecraft first suggested that the fossil footprints were of the Elder Things and dated somewhere between the Cambrian / Precambrian, very little was known about multicellular life in the Precambrian. The strange organisms of the Ediacara were discovered in the Ediacara Hills, north of Adelaide, Australia in 1946 by a young mining geologist named Reginald Sprigg (The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction by Michael J. Benton; 2008).  Many of these Ediacaran fossils looked like jellyfish, branching fronds and worms.  Some say the Ediacara species are the direct ancestors of many of existing marine fauna, while other state these species were so unlike most living forms that the majority of the Ediacaran died out approximately 540 million years ago (Benton, 2008).

Precambrian_p7angelinai-gts.weebly.com        The Ediacaran ecosystem in the Precambrian

Additional support for the hypothesis that the Ediacaran species represent some of the earliest known multicellular, animals on Earth was very recently presented.  Specifically, fossil fat molecules (cholesterol) were collected and measured off of a fossil of a species known and Dickinsonia.  These species lived 558 million years ago placing it firmly in the Precambrian.  So why did most, if not all, of the Ediacaran species, die out? Maybe the Ediacarans were an experiment of the Elder Things and for some reason decided to abandon and/or start over with a new “stock” of eukaryotic cells.

1024px-DickinsoniaCostata Fossil of Dickinsonia

Getting back to the fossilized Elder Thing footprints, initially one may ask why they would not be mistaken for another Ediacaran species.  The shape and appearance of the footprints may indicate that they were another flat, soft-bodied, bottom feeder, similar to Dickinsonia.  So why did Lake suspect that these fossils were footprints of some large animal and not a group of bottom-feeding species? It must have been the pattern of the fossils.  One or two fossil imprints would look like a few organisms.  However, a number of the same fossil imprint laid out in a linear arrangement, such as the dinosaur tracks shown below, is definitely an indication of the movement of some larger animal.

La-Rioja-dinosaur-footprints-protected-under-Cultural-Heritage-Law Dinosaur footprints at the La Rioja Cultural Heritage site

It was generally thought that animals did not start colonizing the land until the Silurian, between 440 and 410 million years ago.  However, in 2002 older fossilized footprints of a lobster-sized, centipede-like animal were discovered in some sandstone (see below).  These footprints are approximately 530 million years old (https://www.nature.com/news/1998/020429/full/news020429-2.html).  Thus, it appears that some animals were wading out of the shallow seas and onto the land during the Precambrian.  Thus, these creatures were around the same time the Elder Things were moving over the Earth.  Were the lobster-sized, centipede-like animals special pet projects of the Elder Things or were they just another discarded and abandoned biological experiment, cast out to be subjugated to the forces of evolutionary natural selection?

footprints_160                                                                                                                         Some of the earliest fossil footprints of a terrestrial organism on Earth

Next time we discuss the actual discovery of the “fossilized” Elder Thing specimens.  Thank you – Fred.

img_31131.jpg           Illustration of Elder Thing footprints by Pete Von Sholly

Lovecraftian Scientists: The Downfall of Dr. Herbert West

herbert-west-reanimator-and-kindred-night-spawn-vol14-hardcover-by-h_p_-lovecraft-[3]-4328-p

As the protagonist suggested in “From Beyond,” a scientist should be a “frigid and impersonal investigator…” While Crawford Tillinghast did not exhibit these traits as a scientist, this certainly described Herbert West, at least in the initial chapters of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Initially West is your typically cold scientist, closely following the rigors of the Scientific Method. However, as the story proceeds, West’s fanatical pursuit of knowledge is only exacerbated and pushed to the extreme. West started his experiments with animals and then moves to human cadavers. Each experiment with a human corpse revealed that the body must be very fresh with little or no decay.

Re-Animator-Blu-ray-Screenshot-014

West’s obsession with conquering death and need for a fresh body eventually led to him actually murdering someone – a salesman traveling to Bolton Worsted Mills. West killed and the preserved the salesman with an embalming fluid and waited for his friend to return to inject his reanimation serum. When the salesman was revived, it was obvious from his reaction that West murdered him.  Although West’s general philosophic perspective was consistently described as that of an absolute mechanistic materialist, this was still a major shift in his scientific endeavors.  While his extreme materialism may have fostered his general amoral attitude toward life and humanity, West was always grounded in the Scientific Method and that the ultimate goal of the reanimation serum is to bring people back to life. This jump from a scientist working with biological material that happens to come along his way, to one who actively produces the needed biological material is Lovecraft’s example of what happens when a scientist is the “frigid and impersonal investigator…” completely devoid of any humanity, compassion or empathy.

lizard

Herbert West used the embryonic cells of an exotic reptile in his experiments (illustration by Steve Maschuck)

Once West murdered to produce is needed biological material, even his foundation grounded in the Scientific Method began to erode. Toward the end of the story West goes into full “mad scientist” mode, thinking up “what if” scenarios in his mind.  While his use of some embryonic cell material from an exotic reptile had some potential promise to function as stem cells, he wasted this in his mad experiments.  The puffy reptilian cell matter sounded like it could function as undifferentiated stem cells and may have had great applications in repairing nerve damage, producing skin grafts for burn victims and possibly even re-growing lost limbs. However, playing with his discovery like a morbid little child, West experimented on body parts with no regard for the ethics or morality of such actions. It reminds one of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quote from Jurassic Park shown below.

dr-ian-malcolm-quote

Obviously toward the end of “Herbert West Reanimator” all of West’s experiments catch up with him. Like Dr. Frankenstein or the Elder Things West was excited to create but did not care to deal with the responsibility of being the creator of such life. In the case of the Elder Things, the shoggoths were essentially biological tools that were created for specific functions. However, once the shoggoths began to attain consciousness, the Elder Things did not want the responsibility of coming to terms with this in a mature manner. In the case of West and Frankenstein it was the act of creation that was so exciting. The created being was merely an annoying by-product. In West’s case we see where a completely uncaring, amoral, mechanistic, materialistic attitude can result in a mad scientist. However, the mad scientist of Herbert West seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to the passionate and vengeful mad scientist of Crawford Tillinghast.

parts

Experiments on parts

Next time we will discuss another type of scientist in Lovecraft’s tales – the group of scientists who conducted the initial investigations in “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 3a – The Emergence of Consciousness in Natural and Artificial Forms of Life

1478297539-ptolemy-slocum-as-sylvester-leonardo-nam-as-lutz-and-thandie-newton-as-maeve-credit-john-p-johnson-hbo A technician re-programming one of the hosts on HBO’s Westworld.

Before we compare and contrast the origins of consciousness in both H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” and HBO’s show Westworld, we should spend a little time on discussing what exactly is consciousness.  A very simple definition of consciousness is “a State of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings as well as other people / organisms.” It can also be thought of as “self-awareness.” In much of science fiction, self-awareness of artificial life, from Frankenstein to Westworld, results in big problems for the creator. Movies such as the Terminator, The Matrix and Blade Runner all describe situations where consciousness triggers self-preservation at any cost. However, from a biological, evolutionary perspective consciousness didn’t just “click on.” It’s the result of millions of years of evolution and has occurred multiple times on Earth – humans are not the only Terran organisms with consciousness.

In the case of artificial life, would consciousness immediately “turn on” as is the case in the Terminator? Or would there be a series of gradual steps necessary for artificial life to reach consciousness? While such steps may not be millions of years in the making, in fact they could within the span of merely years to decades, there would still be some type of non-Darwinian evolution or process toward consciousness, even for artificial life. Recently films such as Ex Machina and the HBO show Westworld have focused on this development of consciousness in artificial life. Additionally, while not blatantly obvious, Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” also demonstrated a gradual evolution of consciousness in the shoggoths but that timeline, as least documented on the bas-reliefs in Antarctica indicate that the timescale was similar to that for natural, biological life – millions of years.

shoggoth_by_manzanedo-d65yhix Shoggoth by Manzanedo (www.deviantart.com)

In many instances the term “sentience” is thought to be interchangeable with consciousness but as I found out in these investigations this is not the case. Sentience is simply the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively, while consciousness is a higher level of thought -that is, self-awareness and interacting with the world and other life around you. For “natural” life on Earth consciousness appears to be the eventual result of sentience; however, this may not necessary be the case for some forms of artificial life.

octo_51bjxkgj0pl__ac_ul320_sr214320_

From an evolutionary point of view sentience is developed through living systems interacting with the environment (Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2016). However, in a sense this describes all of life so can bacteria and plants be considered sentient organisms? To further assist in this discussion, I reviewed Michio Kaku’s definition of consciousness in The Further of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind (2014). Kaku defines consciousness as a “space-time theory of consciousness” where he states

“Consciousness is the process of creating a model of the world using multiple feedback loops in various parameters (e.g., in temperature, space, time and in relation to others), in order to accomplish a goal (e.g., find mates, food, shelter).

This definition is strongly grounded in evolutionary theory but it also allows for the procession of consciousness – that of animals creating a model of the world mainly in relation to space to one of human consciousness where the model integrate time (Kaku, 2014).

drmichiokaku12162013

Based on this definition the first stage of consciousness is Level 0 – organisms that have little or no mobility create a model of their environment using feedback loops based on several parameters (e.g. temperature, light, food, oxygen, etc.). In a sense, this Level 0 consciousness is in fact sentience. Feedback loops are used to respond to environmental conditions to maximize health and eventually evolutionary fitness.  For example, some blue-green algae (which are essentially photosynthetic bacteria) that live in lakes have gas vacuoles that allow them to move up and down the water column. If they have a sufficient amount of light and are low on nutrients the gas vacuoles will collapse and they will sink to deeper waters where nutrient concentrations tend to be higher. In contrast, when they need more light for photosynthesis they will create gas vacuoles in their cells, making them more buoyant and they float to the well-lit surface waters. Sometime they are too buoyant and float to the surface, creating surface scums, which helps to reduce competition for light and nutrients with other algal groups.  This series of feedback loops that aid the blue-green algae to biochemically determine if gas vacuoles should be created or destroyed, have provided an evolutionary advantage to the them and can be considered Level 0 consciousness or event basic sentience.

hopatcong_11oct2Surface scum of blue-green algae on Lake Hopatcong in fall of 2016 – Level 0 Consciousness?

Organisms that are more mobile and have some type of central nervous system have Level I Consciousness (Kaku, 2014). Reptiles are an example of Level I Consciousness – they have so many feedback loops that they need a central nervous system to handle all of the information. Here feedback loops are governing the five senses, balance, blood pressure, etc. based on incoming information about the world around them (weather and varying interactions with other organisms). It is at this level that more direct intra-species (competition, mating) and inter-species (competition, predator-prey) interactions occur.

Next is Level II Consciousness, which is where an even higher number of feedback loops is required to include social interactions with other animals (Kaku, 2014). This level of consciousness is required when a species interacts as a pack, pod or tribe; it is at this level of complexity that emotions form, possibly as an evolutionary means of enhancing both individual selection and kin selection. Surprisingly, there is very little empirical studies of animal behaviors at this level of consciousness.

For Kaku, Level III Consciousness is what separates humans from the rest of the Terran animals and it is at this level is where there is an understanding of the concept of the future (Kaku, 2014).  It is the potential of modeling reality not just in space but in time that defines Level III Consciousness. Humans can run stimulations of how are interactions will impact others and ourselves in the future while other species cannot.  Thus, for Kaku:

“Human consciousness is a specific form of consciousness that creates a model of the world and then simulate in it in time, by evaluating the past to simulate the future. This requires mediating and evaluating many feedback loops in order to make a decision to achieve a goal.”

Using Kaku’s system, shoggoths were created initially as food and so started as Level 0 consciousness.  However, as the Elder Things re-designed them to take on more and more complex tasks (e.g. moving large objects, communicating through telepathy, actually building structures), they quickly moved to Level I and, if a high degree of cooperation was required particularly in the building of structures, eventually to Level II.  I’m sure the Elder Things did not want the shoggoths to get to Level III but they did and that is the discussion for next time.

howardvbrown                           Shoggoth building a structure under the guidance of the Elder Things by Howard V. Brown

The hosts of Westworld were built, designed and on-line as Level II entities. When functioning at optimal efficiency, they could easily handle complex human interactions as well as respond to their surroundings but they were designed to be limited these responses– in other words they could not “think” of the future or beyond their world.  However, similar to the shoggoths, they eventually did attain Level III consciousness. However, while there is a biological mechanism responsible for the increased consciousness in the shoggoths, for the hosts this was accomplished through the retention of memories and some re-programming. In a strange way, this was a directed, Lamarckian form of evolution.

westworld108-4 A host now re-programming itself in a unique form of Lamarckian evolution

In any event, the development and consequences of consciousness in the shoggoths and the hosts will be discussed in the next article – thank you. Fred.

Beyond the Mountains of Westworld: Part 2 The Creation of Artificial Life

elder-comic-bw

Frequently life is simply defined as the conditions that separates organisms from inorganic objects and the dead (Elements of Biological Science, 3rd Edition, William T. Keeton and Carol Hardy McFadden, 1983). Life is also more frequently described by listing characteristics typical of life such as metabolism, responsiveness, movement, growth and reproduction.

All life on Earth is shaped and molded through the forces of evolution; specifically, natural selection is the biological engine that continuously tests a species’ adaptation to its ever-changing environment. Thus, life being influenced by natural selection can be thought of as natural life.  In contrast, artificial selection is the breeding of preferred traits (e.g. producing more milk or seeds; faster animals or more attractive flowers) and the development of such species could be thought of, in a sense, as artificial life. For example, the English bulldog would not exist if humans did not breed dogs for the traits that this particular breed exhibits – thus, in a sense the English bulldog can be thought of as a type of “artificial life.”

bulldog           Zoey, the English bulldog, can be considered a form of artificial life

Another definition for artificial life is life directly created by another species as opposed to being the result of millions of years of natural selection in operation. In the case of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, it is revealed that the Elder Things created all life on Earth so does that make all life we know a form of artificial life? In this case I would say no for several reasons.

The Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old and most evidence suggests life began about 3.8 billion years ago; however, some recent work on carbon minerals provide some tantalizing evidence to suggest that life may have been on Earth as early as 4.1 billion years ago (www.sciencemag.org; October 2015). However, it should be noted that the data to support this is small and additional studies / analyzes are required to further support this hypothesis.

Based on the fossil evidence and bas-reliefs found in Antarctica, the Elder Things arrived on Earth during the Archean Eon, approximately 4.0 to 2.5 billion years ago (Joshi, 2001). If the Elder Things arrived on Earth before any life existed on Earth, then they could be the creators of all life on Earth. However, if they arrived after prokaryotic (bacteria) appeared on Earth (say they arrived 2.5 billion years ago and life was already on the planet by 3.8 billion years ago), then the Elder Things may have created eukaryotic life out of prokaryotic life. Indeed, evidence suggests that eukaryotic life appeared on Earth approximately 1.5 billion years ago. Thus, in this scenario, the Elder Things used the raw prokaryotic (bacterial cells) life to create more complex, eukaryotic life such as fungi, plants and animals.

elder-jpeg

While the Elder Things “created” eukaryotic life, once released into the wild these organisms grew, had offspring and under the existing genetic variability that was coded in them, natural selection arose. The Elder Things largely left the majority of life on Earth alone to evolve and diversify through the eons. Thus, while the initial “eukaryotic germ cells” were artificially produced, once released into the environment, they became “naturalized” and adhered to the conditions used to define life: metabolism, responsiveness, movement, growth and reproduction.

In the case of Shoggoths, these organisms are better defined as artificial life since they cannot reproduce on their own. While Lovecraft does mention that the Shoggoths can reproduce through binary fission, this apparently is completely controlled, more than likely on a genetic level, by the Elder Things. Reproduction can only occur with the direct supervision and assistance of the Elder Things in special areas or structures called “shoggoth pits.” Thus, shoggoths cannot reproduce on their own, something that is required in the definition of life. I believe the Elder Things intentionally designed the shoggoths like this so they could control the population, the way only sterile grass carp are used to control heavy aquatic plant growth in lakes. By controlling or eliminating the potential for reproduction, this prevents the grass carp from taking over a lake, the way it would prevent the shoggoths from taking over the Earth.

shoggoth-for-book

Additionally, shoggoths do not appear to age or increase in size. They are fluid organisms, similar to the octopus, in that they can change their shape, size and structure but not their mass. Shoggoths in their natural state appear to be spherical with a diameter of fifteen feet, although smaller sub-species have been noted (possibly in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”). Thus, shoggoths do not appear to grow; again, another important characteristic used to define natural life. Thus, I would define shoggoths as artificial life; the cannot grow and do not reproduce and so are not influenced as a species by evolution through natural selection like the rest of Terran life.

In the HBO series Westworld, bioengineering is not used to create the “hosts,” a term used to describe the androids in the park. Instead, high-tech robotic engineering used to create the “core” of the hosts, which are then covered in biological tissues to make them look like real people. In one episode, it is casually mentioned that the hosts use to be entirely composed of inorganic / mechanical parts but it’s actually cheaper to cover their robotic skeleton and organs with biological material. No detailed were given on how this biological material covering the hosts is created, however, I hypothesize that its grown through the proliferation of stem cells in large vats akin to the Elder Things shoggoth pits.

westworld-hbo The creator examining his creation in HBO’s Westworld

The fact that humans developed and manufactured the hosts makes them obviously artificial life. While the hosts have an inorganic core with a biological shell they still have much in common with the shoggoths. In reviewing the basic characteristics of life both the hosts and the shoggoths exhibit responsiveness and movement. In terms of metabolism, both the hosts and the shoggoths need to take in energy of some sort to continue to function. In the case of shoggoths, based on Lovecraft, these organisms had very flexible modes of nutrition. They could directly be modified by the Elder Things for various modes of life (living deep in the sea or on the land) or nutrition (e.g. photosynthetic or heterotrophic) through direct artificial selection, similar to breeding a dog for a specific trait. While the hosts on HBO’s Westworld could eat and drink, nothing is known about how they derive their energy. Do they actually extract energy from the organic material they ingest or do they have alternative sources of energy built within them?

lovecraft___shoggoth__terrastial_ii_by_kingovrats-d5uohe5 A terrestrial shoggoth by KingOvRats (www.deviantart.com)

Again, the key traits that both the shoggoths and the hosts have to define them as artificial life is that they do not physically grow and they cannot reproduce. However, in spite of these control measures imposed by their creators, both groups eventually developed consciousness and that will be the focus of the next article.  Thank you and Happy New Year! Fred.

02-shoggoth                                                                                  Shoggoth by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)