Tag Archives: peppered moth

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

A member of “The Great Race” by Steve Maschuck

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

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

pic_of_mollusk_evolution

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

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

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

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

peppered%20moth

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

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

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

Mike-Bukowski-yithian

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

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