Tag Archives: ghouls

Supporting Evidence of M-Theory on the Nature of the Multiverse in Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter

warren_meets_his_doom_by_pickmans_model                     Warren meets his Doom by Frohickey (www.deviantart.com)

When Harley Warren entered the under-ground crypt in that forgot graveyard in the Big Cypress Swamp, he discovered something that cost him his life.  He had an idea something aberrant was lurking in that tomb, which is why he would not let his friend Randolph Carter go down with him. However, what Warren thought was down there and what was revealed to be there were probably two very different things. To analyze exactly what was down in that under-ground tomb, I want to discuss H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” from both a macro-scale and a micro-scale.

From a macro-scale perspective, Warren may have stumbled into a portal in that tomb that connects our Space-Time to another Universe. There are a unique sub-group of Lovecraft’s tales that hint at the possibility that our Universe is some connected or super-positioned onto another one. Stories such as “The White Ship,” “Pickman’s Model,” “The Nameless City,” “The Festival,” and “Celephais” all provide evidence for the existence of another Universe and the possibility for entities from one Universe visiting the other. The portal or bridge between the two Universe could be a specific location in our Space-Time, the use of some type of alien technology or methodology, or simply dreams. The under-ground tomb in that Floridian swamp may have been one of these portals and Warren may have found this out through the book he was carrying, written in alien characters. It has been questioned whether or not this book is perhaps at least a partial translation of the Necronomicon (Joshi, 1999; Klinger, 2014).  Similar to Walter Gilman in “Dreams in the Witch-House,” Warren may have found a formula or methodology that could be used to access higher dimensions to open a portal to another Universe.  If indeed Warren opened a portal and peered into it, it would help explain some of this statements to Carter such as “God! If you could seed what I am seeing!”, “Carter, it’s terrible – monstrous – unbelievable!”, and “It’s too utterly beyond thought – I dare not tell you – no man could know it and live – Great God! I never dreamed of this.” Are these statements Warrens attempt to understand what he was seeing – a portal that opened up from one Universe (or brane) to another and what was on the other side?

warren 1_SaraBardi_www.dreamquestofunknownkadath.com                                                                                                    Harley Warren by Sara Bardi (www.dreamquestofunknownkadath.com)

Modern cosmology is not considered the pseudoscience it was in the past and current hypotheses on the nature of reality may help to explain what Warren experienced.  Super String theory (also known as String theory) is an attempt to describe a unified field theory (a theory for everything) that would unite all four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force), based on tiny, micro-atomic strings vibrating in 10 or 11-dimensional Space-Time. A strong point of String theory is that it integrates gravity, where other theories cannot. A weak point of String theory is that it cannot provide solutions for every aspect of its model. Thus, a number of solutions are being investigated for M-Theory (essentially an extension of String theory) that include super-symmetry as well as the possibility of adding another dimension into the calculations (www.mkaku.org). For the sake of this discussion, Warren may have opened a portal from our Space-Time brane to another brane (potentially the Dreamlands). Additionally, our brane and the Dreamlands brane may be a series of branes that are single parts of a complex Multiverse that extends into our Space-Time as well as into higher dimensions.

040400sci-universal-theory_A_SteveDuenes_NewYorkTimes Proposed ideas of M-theory and the Multiverse (illustration by Steve Duenes of the New York Times)

From a micro-scale perspective, we have very little information on what the “things” or entities were that Warren encounters in the under-ground tomb. Two hypotheses are proposed.  First, they may be the individuals that were somehow brought back to life through some unknown mechanisms but possibly similar to Dr. Herbert West’s serum in “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Possibly the unique environmental conditions under-ground and/or being adjacent to the portable to the Dreamlands brane, reanimates the dead. This would explain the statement “…why certain corpses never decay, but rest firm and fat in their tombs for a thousand years.” Of course a recently dead individual would probably understand how to use a telephone and speak English so the chilling response Carter gets at the end of the tale would be understandable.

the_statement_of_randolph_carter_by_cheesecake_weasel-d6lmu64 The Statement of Randolph Carter by Cheesecake Weasel (www.deviantart.com)

An alternative hypothesis is the entities are not reanimated dead but instead ghouls, creatures that may be an extreme variation of human genetic / evolution and/or the result of some type of genetic disease (possibly triggered by a virus or prion). Under a certain set of circumstances humans can visit the Dreamlands brane but ghouls seem to accomplish this with a higher degree of ease and frequency relative to humans. Indeed, ghouls may take advantage of this ability as a means of traveling largely unseen from graveyard to graveyard. Whether this ability is largely based on an intrinsic, genetic ability of the ghouls or of knowledge / technology on how to utilize dreams and access portals to move between the branes is largely unknown.

ghoulsgraveyard1_MarkFoster_hplovecraftart.blogspot.com Ghoul’s Graveyard by Mark Foster (www.hplovecraftart.blogspot.com)

If the ghoul hypothesis is correct, the idea of certain corpses that never decay and appear to be firm and fat may be ghouls posing as the dead to avoid being discovered. If this is the case, then Harley Warren did more just examine dead bodies in the tomb. Maybe Warren knew this under-ground tomb in Florida was one of the points where our Space-Time’s brane connected to another (the Dreamlands brane?) and he somehow accessed or opened this connection. This would have easily upset the ghouls, either posing as the dead or possibly coming from the other brane entering ours to find Warren. To keep their existence, as well as the ability to travel to other universes a secret, it is not surprising that the ghouls would kill Warren and tell Carter that “…Warren is Dead!” Using superstition to keep knowledge on the nature and structure of Space-Time, reality and the Multiverse a secret is a re-occurring theme in many of Lovecraft’s writings.

tle_081_www.littleempire.blogspot.com

The climatic scene from Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” as shown in Lego format (www.littleempire.blogspot.com)

Next time more evidence of the M-theory in Lovecraft’s writings will be presented in a discussion of his tale “The White Ship.” Thank you – Fred.

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Practical Applications of Ghoul Physiology

 

Ghoul_lonelygym.blogspot.com

A ghoul feeding (www.lonelygym.blogspot.com)

The last article on ghouls focused on their biology and ecological role.  Specifically, the ghoul was categorized as being necrophagous – that is, exclusively feeding on dead material (Lincoln, Boxshell and Clark, 1988).  This article will review a few potential practical applications of the ghoul’s unique physiology.

The use of maggots, another group of necrophagous organisms, to disinfect or remove dead tissue from a wound raises the possibility of using ghouls in such a capacity.  Could ghouls also provide such a biological function, cleaning infested or damaged tissue?  Humans allowing ghouls access to the wounded and injured to clean necrotic or infested tissue may seem like a promising, symbiotic relationship.  The humans get medical attention while the ghouls get to feed; however, there may be several logistical / biological problems.

First when maggots are used to clean dead or injured tissue they have been raised in a sterile environment.  Ghouls are far from sterile, they are known to harbor a wide variety of microbial life both on their skin and within their bodies.  Thus, their feeding, while cleaning up dead tissue may end up infecting healthy tissue with some nasty disease such as cholera or TB.  Second, it is not known if a ghoul would have enough “restraint” to stop feeding on tissue once the damage or infected parts are consumed.  Would the ghoul be in such a hunger-lust and continue feeding on healthy tissue once the injured tissue is consumed?  How does one stop a ghoul from feeding?  Third, the politics associated with such an endeavor may be a little too complex to successfully execute.  Do ghouls want to participate in such a relationship?  Who among a pack of ghouls gets to be a “cleaner?”  This may be far more complicated to actually implement than to theoretically consider.  Physically restraining, cleaning-up and forcing a ghoul to clean injured infected wounds would clearly be a violation of ghoul’s rights.  Some may have no problem in utilizing ghouls in such a manner; however, they are sentient beings that are at a minimum closely related to Homo sapiens.  While such questions and considerations are worthy of a detailed discussion within the realm of bioethics, it seems very unlikely that the services of ghouls would be employed in such a matter.

 

 

Ghoul_Feeding_Senecal_dev

Ghoul Feeding by Senecal (www.deviantart.com)

A less intrusive means of capitalizing on some of the biological benefits of ghoul physiology is possibly sampling their skin or tissues.  For example, there have been a number of instances in HPL’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath where ghouls are associated with having mould on their bodies or scraps of clothing.  Since ghouls can freely travel between Earth and the Dreamlands (more on that in a future article) they may be bring species of mould and other organisms endemic to the Dreamlands to Earth (and visa-versa).

Invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, zebra mussels or snakehead fish, entering a new ecosystem can have devastating impacts on local economies and natural resources.  However, microorganisms tend to be somewhat more cosmopolitan and the risk of negative impacts, while certainly not negligible, is considerably lower when compared to new species of plants or animals invading an Earth-based ecosystem.  In addition, the fact that humans and ghouls have been interacting for decades, if not centuries, indicates that there is not particular disease that one group has that may have a virulent impact on the other.  However, who knows if ghouls have contributed to some of the major outbreaks of the past, such as the Black Plague, or if they have merely taken advantage of such circumstances.

Pickman__s___Ghoul_Feeding___by_SamInabinet

Pickman’s Ghouls Feeding by Sam Inabinet

Getting back to the mould associated with ghouls, it is possible that some new antibiotics may be identified from these species of fungi.  The discovery of the production of a group of antibiotics by the Ascomycota fungi Penicillium (older text put Penicillium in the phylum Deuteromycota but newer sources place it in the Ascomycota) was one of the biggest medical discoveries in HPL’s time.  Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of substrate produced by Penicillium in 1928; however, mass production of this substrate – penicillin – did not occur until the early 1940s.  While penicillin and other antibiotics have been very effective at combating bacterial infections, they have also contributed toward selectively favoring more antibiotic-resisting strains, thus reducing their effectiveness.  Over time, this has resulted in super-strains of bacteria that are highly resistant to practically all types of antibiotics including penicillin.  For example, as recently as February 2015 the “super-bug” carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has been reported to plague hospitals.

penicillium_culture_www.lookfordiagnosis.com

A culture of the fungus Penicillium (www.lookfordiagnosis.com)

Called “the nightmare bacteria” CRE is resistant to almost all known antibiotics and approximately half the patients who contract this bacteria die.  Given the issues with antibiotic resistant bacteria, scientists are always looking for new, naturally producing substances that can be used to combat infectious bacteria, particularly those that are fairly common such as Staphylococcus and Escherichia coli.  Is it possible that species of mould growing on ghouls, endemic to the Dreamlands, may produce a new suite of antibiotics that can be used to combat these “super bugs?”

Ghoul physiology may have other potential applications such as the genetics associated with their particularly strong immune system; their high resistance against almost all diseases may aid in the production of vaccines or gene therapy against many of the diseases that continue to plague mankind.  Such biological resources may also contribute toward future strategies in cancer treatment.

ladynorthstar.tumblr.com_ghoul

A Ghoul (www.ladynorthstar.tumblr.com)

While the ghoul’s biological resources may have a variety of applications to benefit humanity, it is very unlikely that they would be willing to contribute to such endeavors.  Ghouls are either solitary or organized in loose packs or tribes.  Very little is known about their societal or political structure and what is known tends to more associated with ghouls in the Dreamlands rather than on Earth.  In addition, to be blunt, what is in it for the ghoul to help humanity?  They appear to be doing fine as a species (or sub-species) and in spite of increasing rates of embalming and cremation around the globe.  There never seems to be a depletion of carrion for the ghoul.  As one person cited on the comments (I believe it was Phil Smith) ghouls appear to be attracted to war zones, areas of civil unrest and communities suffering from wide-spread disease, where there is a high number of dead.  Unfortunately, I think ghouls will always have a fresh supply of food due to the actions of humanity.

Next time we will initiate a discussion on the Dunwich Horror.   Thank you – Fred.

ghoul_RyanLovelock_www.ryanlovelock.blogspot.com

A Ghoul by Ryan Lovelock (www.ryanlovelock.blogspot.com)

Ecological Function of the Ghoul

Antkaj arbu_imgkid.com_origin_Mazliet-pabaidisimies-4

Ghouls opening a tomb by  Mohlocco (Carlos Garcia Rivera)

In the previous article I described HPL’s ghouls as being detritivores; that is, they feed on dead bodies.  After a little more research I feel this ecological description is inaccurate.  However, before that is explored further I do want to briefly review cannibalism and the ghoul.  Cannibalism is a form of predation among individuals within the same species.  Even if ghouls are essentially considered to be a sub-species of Homo sapiens, their mode of feeding is not cannibalism.  Cannibals, focus solely on humans, typically kill their prey and eat or prepare the meat fairly quickly – either preserving it or cooking it for consumption.  The key to cannibalism is that the meat is fresh, whether eaten raw or cooked.  In contrast the ghoul needs the meat to putrefy or decompose for a period of time before it is palatable.

As previously described a better description of cannibalism by HPL is in “The Picture in the House” or in “The Rats in the Walls.”  Here we have individuals or communities that are largely isolated from society and civilization that resort to cannibalism to sustain their existence.

Originally, I described ghouls as being detritivores; that is, they may or may not be eating the same species but the key is that they are feeding on biomass that has been dead for a considerable period of time.  The formal, ecological definition of a detritivore is an organism that feeds on fragmented, particulate organic matter (A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics by R.J. Lincoln, G.A. Boxshell and P.F. Clark; Cambridge University Press, 1988).  Examples of common detritivores are earthworms, pill bugs and crabs (see below).

Earthworm_wiki

Earthworm (www.wikipedia.com)

woodlouse_www.amentsoc.org

Pill bug (www.amentsoc.org)

Dungenesscrab_LeoShaw_www.eopugetsound.org

Dungeness crab, photo by Leo Shaw (www.eopugetsound.org)

While detritivores are common throughout all Terran ecosystems, I am particularly familiar with them in freshwater ecosystems such as ponds and streams.  Shown below is a simplified food web for a stream ecosystem.  Please note that macroinvertebrates (essentially aquatic insects and other invertebrates you can see without the need of a microscope) are described as shredders, collectors, scarpers and predators.  The predators feed on the other invertebrates, while the collectors collect organic particulates (algae, bacteria organic particles) flowing through the stream.  The scrapers feed off the algae, bacteria and organic matter attached onto rocks or plants (some of this may be dead material).  However, the shredders are full time detritivores.  This group of organisms takes large organic material, like the leaf litter that falls into the streams, and grinds / tears the larger particles into smaller particles.  These smaller, partially digested particles can then be decomposed at substantially faster rates by bacteria and fungi than they could if the material remained as large leaves.  Thus, detritivores are an important link between the large pieces of organic matter and smaller pieces that can then be further decomposed on a microbial level, releasing nutrients that can be used by plants and algae.  Again, the key is that detritivores grind large particles into small particles for the decomposers.  However, the material they feed on can be leaf litter (macroinvertebrates), soil (earthworms) or the corpse of a whale (crabs and hagfish).

Figure_8_2_7_1Asimplifiedview04_www.nile.riverawarenesskit.org

Simplified view of a stream food web (www.nile.riverawarenesskit.org)

Given this broad definition of a detritivore and their ecological role in making big particles (a large part of which can be plant material) into smaller particles to increase the rate of decomposition, I feel this does not accurately describe the ecological function of the ghoul.  Looking into it further, I think the ghoul is best described as necrophagous – that is, exclusively feeding on dead material (Lincoln, Boxshell and Clark, 1988).  The most well-known necrophagous animals are fly (Order: Diptera) larvae, known as maggots.  Maggots feed almost exclusively on dead animal matter.  In fact, maggots are so good at feeding only on dead tissue and biomass that some species are used in maggot theory.  That is, these maggots raised under sterile conditions can be used to disinfect or remove dead tissue from a wound.  In addition, it has been demonstrated that through the release of specific lysozymes (a specific set of enzymes that are known to damage bacterial cells) the feeding of these maggots on injured / dead tissue can also help to reduce the potential for bacterial infections.

Maggots_wiki

Maggot therapy (www.wikipedia.com)

I propose that ghouls are necrophagous; they feed specifically off the dead or dead animal biomass in general.  They are not predators, which attack, kill and consume their prey immediately.  While in desperate times in the absence of food ghouls may attack and kill to produce food, they will not consume this food immediately.  The food must partially decompose to be palatable to the ghoul.  As I previously mentioned, there is probably some biochemical or physiological reason why ghouls cannot eat fresh meat.  Perhaps they do not have the enzymes needed to digest and assimilate the largely in-tact proteins.  In addition, I am sure they do not have the microfauna in their intestines to digest and break apart cellulose and other plant matter to obtain energy as an herbivore.

I hypothesize that the ghoul is essentially a necrophagous being, feeding off dead animals, primarily mammals, including humans.  While this is a detritivorous mode of feeding, it is a very specialized form similar to the larvae of flies.  Both forms of life feed on the dead by breaking up the biomass into smaller pieces with higher amounts of surface areas that allow bacteria and fungi to decompose this material at accelerated rates.  However, in both cases the biomass they consume must be dead for a period of time before they can be assimilated.

watchful_ghouls_by_mrzarono-d5sieos

Watchful Ghouls by Mr. Zarono (www.deviantart.com)

Thus, ghouls may provide a valuable ecosystem benefit in contributing toward the decomposition of organic matter and the recycling of nutrients and energy back into the global food web.  As some of the readers of this blog have cited in the comments, such ecosystems benefits may be particularly useful in times of war or plagues when the amount of dead is substantially higher.  Next time we will discuss possible practical applications of the ghoul’s biology.

Finally, I do want to thank everyone who has supported and contributed toward the Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1), which currently has less than 14 hours to go.  We made our original threshold as well as two additional thresholds.  Once again, thank you!  Fred.

feeding_ghouls_by_lmerlo72-d8ltetz

Feeding Ghouls by Imerlo72 (www.deviantart.com)

Origins of the Ghoul

The earliest documentation of the ghoul comes from the Mesopotamian civilization, where these creatures were originally called “Gallu” and described as some type of demon (The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture by Ahmed Al-Rawi; Cultural Analysis, Volume 8, 2009). One of the earliest, pre-Islamic origin stories of ghouls is that when devils tried to eavesdrop on Heaven, God threw meteors at them; the meteors that hit the ground changed into ghouls (Al-Rawi, 2009). This is one of many pre-Islamic stories of ghoul but frequently the Pre-Islamic ghoul is a female devil creature who is a shape changer and is intent on abusing or harming travelers. In most cases the only way of kill this type of ghoul was to strike it once with a sword.

After Islam spread through the Middle-East, Arabic scholars of the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries compiled various Bedouin (descendants from nomadic Arabs who historically lived in the desert) folktales about the ghul (Arabic). Many of these talks found their way into “The Thousand and One Nights,” which was translated into various languages and eventually ended up in Europe by the 18th century (Ancient History of the Ghouls by Robert Lamb; http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/strange-creatures/ghoul.htm). Thus, the “ghoul” was born.

Amine_Discovered_with_the_Goule

“Amine Discovered with the Goule” from the story of Sidi Nouman, of the One Thousand and One Nights (www.wikipedia.com)

HPL was enamored by these Arabic tales. When he was five he received a copy of “The Arabian Nights Entertainments”, selected and edited by Andrew Lang from his mother for Christmas. Based on S.T. Joshi this was not the edition that HPL read. Instead it was one of three possible translations (I Am Providence, the Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi, 2013). However, as Joshi notes the exact translation that HPL read is not as important as the impact these stories had on his young imagination.

In these tales of “Arabian Nights” ghouls were documented as being vile tricksters and ravenous flesh eaters. Sometimes they took on the form of a beautiful woman and lured lustful men to their doom. Originally, ghouls were sometimes associated with scavenging hyenas and cannibalism, but Arabic texts did not describe them as body snatchers or eaters of the dead. Those attributes appear to emerge with the translation of many of these tales into French by Antoine Galland in the early 18th century (Robert Lamb).

Ghoul_of_Lovecraft_by_verreaux

Ghoul of Lovecraft by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

Based on Thomas R. Campbell’s analysis in The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia (1903), in the classification of various forms of malignant spirits, there is a demon that is described as a pariah dog that hides in dark caves, ruins and deserted buildings. It lies in wait for unwary victims, rushing out of its hiding place to attack. This half human, half devil may be one of the earliest descriptions of a “modern” ghoul (Campbell, 1903).

Later in his analysis Campbell explicitly describes this creature as a ghoul – a creature that dwells in the desert, appearing as a friendly person to travelers, only to pounce when their guard is down. Ghouls have also been called Hag-demons or robber-sprites whose body is covered with “sickness” (Campbell, 1903). Ghouls are frequently associated with plagues or sickness, possibly linking their feeding of the dead as being the ultimate goal of their desire to spread disease, particularly in cities where the population density is high. However, they have also been associated with aliments such as heart disease, headaches, tooth aches and “heartache” (Campbell, 1903).

ghoul_1000p_by_eclectixx-d7wp5bt

Ghoul by Eclectixx (www.deviantart.com)

It is interesting to note that supernatural encounters with strange entities are fairly rare in the tales of the Arabian Nights (Joshi, 2013) so the concept of the ghoul, originally described in Arabic culture and then later refined to incorporate many of the traits and behavior of European ghouls, was certainly something that stuck in HPL’s young mind when he read The Arabian Nights. Additionally, the dog-like facial features and the ghoul’s association with hyenas was something that was described prior to Lovecraft’s documentation of these creatures. In contrast, the ghoul’s detritivore-mode of feeding (feeding on the dead) appears to be a trait of ghoul biology more formally identified with European sources. Again, early historical accounts describe the ghouls has been more of a malignant spirit who attacks unwary travelers or spreads disease. A primarily detritivore-based diet does appear in these earlier accounts.

To wrap this discussion up, there are varying hypotheses on how ghouls are created. This subject is obviously open to further research; however, these secretive and elusive creatures would make such studies extremely difficult. The first and most obvious hypothesis it that they breed like most animal species; that is, the male and female reproductive sexually to create offspring. There is evidence to support this, largely as anecdotal information that ghouls would occasionally steal human babies and replace them with one of their own – a changeling. HPL describes this in “Pickman’s Model” where one of Pickman’s paintings, “The Lesson,” shows ghouls teaching a small human child how to feed on the dead. In addition, HPL also describes in “Pickman’s Model” an account where family portraits will sometimes show one family member who has the ghoul-like traits conveyed by Pickman’s art, while the rest of the family do not. The need to occasionally introduce fresh human genetic stock into a population of ghouls can easily give rise to another set of specific hypotheses; however, the basic idea is that the ghouls need to infuse their genetic stock with human genes for a specific evolutionary reason.

The_Lesson_Senecal_dev

An interpretation of Pickman’s “The Lesson” by Senecal (www.deviantart.com)

Another hypothesis on the creation of ghouls includes “ghoulism” being a disease (possibly a virus or prion), being transferred from one individual to another through biological fluids, with the most likely candidate being blood. A third hypothesis is that ghouls are another “offshoot” or part of the human genome. In this case the ghoul is essentially a complex set of polygenetic traits that are occasionally manifested an isolated population of detritivore-feeding individuals. Thus, a sub-set of humanity would arise when a very specific set of recessive genes are realized in a homozygous state. The unusually high frequency of recessive genes and their associated phenotypic traits is quite common in small, isolated communities, where genetic drift can be as important as natural selection.

To conclude, the creation of ghouls is more than likely a complex evolutionary state that may involve more than one of the hypotheses cited above. For example, while ghouls may be able to reproduce on their own, they may be genetically weak due to the dominance of the recessive genes. This may result in the need to occasionally infuse their genetic stock with more healthy human genes to increase genetic diversity and reduce the possible genetic diseases that are associated with being a ghoul.

Lovecraft_ghoul_by_Pickmans_Model_www.deivantart.com

Lovecraft Ghoul by Pickmans Model (www.deviantart.com)

Next time we will discuss the ecological role of the ghoul. Also, if you are interested there is less than a week to go on the Journal of Lovecraftian Science Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1081353216/journal-of-lovecraftian-science-volume-1). Please check it out if you are interested. 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.