Tag Archives: S.T. Joshi

Lovecraftian Scientists: Hugh S.R. Elliot, the mentor of Crawford Tillinghast

resonator_done The Resonator by Steve Maschuck

In tales like “From Beyond” Lovecraft tried to convey that how we see and experience our world and universe is only a small portion of the true nature of reality. In the tale Crawford Tillinghast explains that are perception of reality is limited by our five senses and that even the senses we have are severely limited in their capacity. The best example of this is sight. Humans can “see” only a small portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum, which is a continuum of EM waves of varying energy arranged according to frequency and wavelength. More energetic waves have shorter wavelengths but higher frequencies. The EM spectrum ranges from 100 meters (radio waves) to 1 x 10-12 meters (gamma rays). Out of this huge EM continuum humans can only see wavelengths between infrared and ultraviolet, which is the visible light portion of the spectrum, varying in wavelength between 4.00 x 10-7 meters and 7.00 x 10-7 meters (400 – 700 nanometers).

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From Beyond by Michael Lyddon

From an Earth-based perspective, it makes sense that humans, in fact most Earth organisms, can see primarily within the visible light portion of the EM spectrum, since the majority of the sun’s rays that reach the surface of the Earth are primarily composed of light rays. However, there are some variations to this. For example, while bees cannot see the color red, they can see ultraviolet light (UV-light). However, imagine if we could see not only UV-light but the entire EM spectrum! This idea of opening up our senses to all of reality is what Lovecraft was conveying in “From Beyond.”

4Eyes_www.beeculture.com www.beeculture.com

The idea of expanding the limits of our existing senses or having more than simply our known five was something that certainly stimulated Lovecraft’s imagination when he read Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot’s book Modern Science and Materialism (published in 1919). In S.T. Joshi’s essay “The Sources for “The Beyond,”” found in his book Primal Sources: Essays on H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2015), he compares a number of Crawford Tillinghast’s quotes to passages found Elliot’s book. For example, Tillinghast’s discussions on how we have only five senses and how they limit our ability to perceive reality from a holistic perceptive, are very similar to some detailed passages found in Elliot’s book. There are also discussions, both in “From Beyond” and Elliot’s book, on how a large portion of an atom is composed of empty space as well as how human sight is limited to the light waves of the EM spectrum and how typically we cannot see UV-light. So, who was this mentor of Crawford Tillinghast’s?

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Hugh Samuel Roger Elliot, better known as Hugh S.R. Elliot, was a writer of science and well known for his favorable view of scientific materialism and his criticism of metaphysical speculation. Elliot established three main principles of scientific materialism that included:

The Uniformity of Law – the sequence of cause and effect is constant throughout the universe.

The Denial of Teleology – the denial that the cosmos as a whole is progressing in some direction from a religious, metaphysical perspective.

The Denial of Any Form of Existence that cannot be described in terms of matter and motion – this denial states that under the laws of physics and chemistry every type of existence can be described.

As S.T. Joshi has cited, mechanistic materialism was originally described under Pre-Socrates, Greek philosophy (S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providences: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013). However, Elliot developed a modern view of mechanistic materialism, from an early 20th century perspective, through his three principles. In spite of this mechanistic view of having the potential to understand how everything in the universe operates, Elliot freely admitted that our limited capacity for detecting everything in our reality with our five senses severely limits our ability to truly understanding the universe.

tillinghast_hutchinson1860 Crawford Tillinghast by D. Hutchinson

This 20th century view of mechanistic materialism is at the heart of Lovecraft’s philosophical cosmic view as well as the development of many of the cosmic horrors in his tales. The Mi-Go and Cthulhu are beings from “outside” of our known reality, so many of the physical and chemical rules of our universe do not apply to them. Thus, by being outside of our universe these beings have a supernatural aspect to them. However, Lovecraft’s scientific, materialistic view states that these beings are not supernatural. Instead, it’s just that we don’t understand (and maybe we never will) the rules of those other universes that have different sets of physical and chemical rules. Relative to “From Beyond,” by generating specific fields of waves, Tillinghast is awakening dormant sense organs (e.g. the pineal gland) that can sense or perceive things that exist but we cannot detect with our operating senses. The result is a scientific effort to describe something that would otherwise be described as supernatural. Thus, in a sense, Hugh S.R. Elliot was the mentor of Crawford Tillinghast, establishing the principles that Tillinghast needed to bend to see into the Beyond.

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Lovecraft has utilized the three principles of Hugh S.R. Elliot ‘s mechanistic materialism in other stories and we will be covering one of these in the next article. Specifically, we will be looking at one of Lovecraft’s most celebrated and notorious scientists – Dr. Herbert West. Thank you – Fred.

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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.

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“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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Shub-Niggurath: biological highway to other dimensions

I am going to temporarily divert the discussion away from “The Ralls in the Walls” to spend some time discussing Shub-Niggurath.  One of the reasons for this is that the Lovecraftian entity of the month on the Lovecraft Eternal Facebook page is Shub-Niggurath .

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Shub-Niggurath by Muzski (www.deivantart.com)

As the great Robert M. Price identifies in his introductory comments in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle: Tales of the Black Goat with a Thousand Young (Chaosium, 1994), Shub-Niggurath is one of HPL’s most interesting trans-dimensional entities.  She (more on that later) first appears in “The Last Test,” co-written with Adolphe de Castro, which is one of HPL’s revision mythos stories.  However, unlike some of the other revision mythos entities Shub-Niggurath freely crossed over into HPL’s main mythos stories.  While she does not make an actual appearance in any of his stories, she is frequently referred to in a number of HPL’s stories such as “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”

So what is Shub-Niggurath?  Based on a letter to Willis Conover dated 1 September 1936 HPL states that she was a “hellish cloud-like entity” (“On the Natures of Nug and Yeb by Robert M. Price, in Dissecting Cthulhu: Essays on the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2011).  Shub-Niggurath is frequently referred to as the Black Goat of the Wood with a Thousand Young.  As with any of the Old One entities, we are limited by our human senses on how to interpret the appearance and motives (if any) of these entities.  For example, Cthulhu is perceived by humans to be a combination of an anthropomorphic octopus with large bat-like wings; as we have previously discussed we can not “see” Cthulhu’s true nature or appearance due to our limited five senses since its a being from another dimension.   In the case of Shub-Niggurath, she is frequently seen as a cloud-like being with the horns and/or hooves of a goat (for examples see below).

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Shub-Niggurath by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

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Shub-Niggurath, Goat with a 1,000 Young by King Ov Rats (www.deviantart.com)

As with Cthulhu, actual encounters with Shub-Niggurath (or her “dark young” – more on that later) are perceived through the limited perceptions of the human senses.  In this case, the prevailing themes with Shub-Niggurath are having a cloud-like body (similar to Cthulhu who was described as being plasma-like in nature) and having horns and/or hooves.  However, while Shub-Niggurath is not as well described as Cthulhu may appear, her worship by human, pre-human, extraterrestrial and extra-dimensional species appears to be far more common.  Reasons for this may be two-fold.  First, Shub-Niggurath is associated with fecundity and birth something that all entities, particularly those species who reproduce sexually (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos by Bobby Derie, 2014) are concerned with.  Second, Shub-Niggurath or her avatars / progeny may have had more direct interactions with the species of our existing space-time and beyond.

I believe the key to understanding Shub-Niggurath can be found in the “Genealogy of the Elder Races” found in Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014), Appendix 4.  This was originally drawn from a letter to James F. Morton dated 1933.  I have cited this chart in pervious articles but for convenience it is provided below:

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Looking at the chart above it is interesting to note that Azathoth gave rise to Nyarlathotep, The Nameless Mist and Darkness. This may be the origin of the hypothesis that Azathoth is and was essentially the Big Bang of our universe. As one moves down the chart the majority of the creation of new entities appears to be largely asexual in nature, either as a biological process (fragmentation, budding or spore development) or as a transfer of consciousness from one physical body to another. As described in Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014), such asexual means of reproduction are quite common in HPL’s tales. Thus, it is not surprising to see that the majority of the alien, inter-dimensional modes of reproduction / creation are largely asexual.

However, it should be noted that there are two instances in which some type of sexual reproduction may be identified. Specifically, the fact that Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath “joined” or mated and gave rise to Nug and Yeb, which in turn gave rise to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, respectively.

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Shub-Niggurath by Mr. Zarono (www.deviantart.com)

From an evolutionary standpoint sex is basically referring to the production of new genomes by the recombination of preexisting genomes (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, 2009). Think of it as having two separate decks of 52 cards, shuffling them together as one large deck and then separating them out as two separate decks (each with a new combination of 52 cards). This biological invention provides an increased amount of variation within a species that provides the raw materials for natural selection (mutations are obviously another source of potential variation). While bacteria and some viruses can conduct a limited amount of sexual reproduction, this evolutionary strategy is largely a function of eukaryotic organisms (animals, plants, fungi, protists). Thus, is sexual reproduction a natural but unintentional outcome of the creation of more complex cells through endosymbiosis or was sexual reproduction “engineered” into Earth life by the Elder Things? Another future topic for discussion.

Getting back Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath, this sexual union may have generated offspring, such as Cthulhu and Tsathoggua that are more conducive to living in our space-time. Evidence of this is provided simply by the general appearance of Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath in comparison to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua. The general physical descriptions of Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath are frequently somewhat nebulous (e.g. cloud-like entity; iridescent collection of spheres or bubbles) when compared to Cthulhu and Tsathoggua (large, sloth-like, bat creature). In addition, this sexual union between Yog-Sothoth and Shub-Niggurath and their birth from Azathoth itself may provide valuable information into the structure of our space-time and beyond, which will be the next topic of discussion in the next article. Thank you – Fred.

 

 

The Call of Cthulhu – Perchance to Dream

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Bas-relief of Cthulhu by Jason McKittrick (deviantart.org)

How would two completely alien civilizations communicate if they have never had any pervious contact?  Frequently mathematics is one of the more common answers.  This makes sense since mathematics is a form of deductive reasoning, which is arriving at a conclusion based on a set of facts.  In mathematics this means that a conclusion can be reached thorough a series of   steps that give rise to a “proof.”  The net result is that the conclusions arrived at in mathematics is the same everywhere in the known universe.

In the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) a combination of musical tones and hand signs were used to communicate with an alien civilization.  Music can be understood in the language of mathematics so using music as a form of communication makes sense.  However, this assumes that both species can process and understand sound waves in a somewhat similar manner.

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Commination with extraterrestrial life through musical tones in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

On a side note, in some ways, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is very similar to “The Call of Cthulhu.”  In both stories, a sub-set of the global population is experiencing something beyond our normal daily lives.  In the case of HPL’s story the experience is primarily through dreams with some small sets of humanity actually worshipping this “other.”  In the case of Close Encounters of the Third Kind the experiences are more complex – visions, artist inspirations, experiences involving lights or music from the sky and even abductions.  In both cases, these experiences impact a sub-set of the global population and are leading to a specific event, at a specific location and time, which involves direct contact with something completely alien.  The outcomes are obviously different but idea of using a non-language based means to communicate resonates in both stories.

Back to the subject at hand, what if two distinctly species did not even have a means of communicating such basic concepts such as 1 + 1 = 2 or the difference between a high and low pitch?  What if the two species did not just evolve on separate planets but what if they evolved in separate corners of the universe, in separate dimensions or even in separate universes?  How do they communicate?  Possibly the easiest means of overcoming these barriers is to communicate through a basic process or action conducted by all members of a particular species.  For humanity, such day-to-day actions involve perceiving and interacting with the world around us with our five senses and include rudimentary processes such as breathing, eating, drinking, mating, physical movement and sleep.  Of these basic evolutionary actions sleep has a possible mode communication and that is through dreams.

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Henry Anthony Wilcox describing one of his disturbing dreams in the 2005 film The Call of Cthulhu (The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society)

The science associated with dreams is in its infancy, yet some major strives have been made in recent years.  Within the last decade, scientists have been making progress on actually photographing and videotaping dreams with MRI machines.  For the first time in 2011 scientists have used MRI and EEG sensors to actually measure dream content and may even one day make direct contact with a dreaming person (The Future of the Mind:  The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku, 2014).  Imagine if we could have recorded  Henry Anthony Wilcox’s dreams while he was being contacted by Cthulhu.

Additional research into dreams have revealed that they are important for the health of humans as well as many other animals.  On average we spend 5 to 20 minutes a night dreaming and about 6 years dreaming over a lifetime.  Dreams are universal across race, cultures, civilizations and religions.  People dream essentially the same things – personal experiences from the pervious day or week are frequently incorporated into our dreams. The dream state appears to function as a means of digesting or processing “new” information in the brain’s neural network; organizing memories in a more coherent and orderly way and consolidating useful information (Kaku, 2014).  More than likely Cthulhu takes advantage of this neural network in contacting the human race as well as others.

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A view of the neural network in the human brain (www.willamette.edu)

While we are awake EEG scans indicate that the brain is emitting a steady stream of electromagnetic waves. However, the frequency of the EEG signals changes as we fall asleep. When we dream, waves of electrical energy move from the brain stem and surge up into the cortical areas of the brain, particularly the visual cortex. This is one of the reasons why visual images are an important part of dream. In turn, the senses of smell, taste and touch are largely shut down (Kaku, 2014).

The hippocampus is active when we dream, suggesting that dreams draw on memories. Dreams are directly linked to high levels of emotion, often involving fear. Other sections of the brain – those that involve fact-checking, spatial awareness / coordination and logic – are shut down. Thus, emotional levels are up and rational control is reduced (Kaku, 2014).  Thus, the predominance of visual stimulation over the other senses, coupled with the high levels of emotion, primarily fear, and low capacity for rational thought, at least partially explains our reactions to Cthulhu.  Since Cthulhu communicates through dreams, we respond in our dream-like state.
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Cthulhu Idol by Jason McKittrick (www.deviantart.org) 

As has been identified by both S.T. Joshi (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, 1999) and Leslie S. Klinger (The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, 2014), the name” Cthulhu” itself is a feeble attempt for human vocal cords and language to pronounce the actual name of the entity.  As HPL himself states “the word is suppose to represent a fumbling human attempt to catch the phonetics of an absolutely non-human word.”  Thus, if we do not even have the physiology and anatomical organs to properly commutate with Cthulhu, direct communication through dreams – where sights and shapes can be processed into  images that we can somewhat understand – makes sense.  Of course the “baggage” associated with this innovative means of communication, results in an interpretation of this incoming information with a high level of fear and low level of rational thought.  From an evolutionary response this makes complete sense!

Next time we will talk about the entities associated with Cthulhu but reside within the wooded swamplands of southern New Orleans.  Thank you – Fred.

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Dead Cthulhu Waits Dreaming by Greg Stevens (www.deivantart.org)

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

 

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

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

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

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“Shadow Over Innsmouth” by the great artist Allen Koszowski

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

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

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

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

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

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Ronald Aylmer Fisher (www.blackwellpublishing.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materialism and a Scientific Philosophy in a Lovecraftian Universe

Cosmic Horror (from 2.bp.blogspot.com)

The death of H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather Whipple Phillips, along with the loss of the family fortune and the need to move from his birthplace, drove HPL to consider suicide when he was 13 years old.  As S.T. Joshi cites in his extensive biography of HPL I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, 2013), this was apparently the only time HPL considered suicide.  After riding his bike to the Barrington River and contemplating throwing hims into the weedy-waters, he decided against it.  It was not his remaining family ties, religious beliefs or his desire to be a writer, that prevented him from killing himself.  It was scientific curiosity that prevented H.P. Lovecraft from committing suicide in 1904.

Barrington River, Rhode Island (Wikipedia.org)

HPL admitted in a letter, cited by S.T. Joshi, that it was scientific curiosity and a sense of world drama that prevent him from killing himself. The scientific curiosity is self-explanatory; the word drama appears to refer to both world geography and history. Some of the questions that “baffled” HPL included how sediment stratification eventually leads to granite peaks, exactly what the upcoming Antarctic expeditions would find, when did people stop speaking Latin and start speaking other languages, and what occurred in other parts of the world, other than Britain and France, during the Middle Ages. HPL asked larger questions in this letter such as “What of the vast gulfs of space outside all familiar lands – desert reaches hinted of by Sir John Mandeville & Marco Polo…Tartary, Thibet…What of unknown Africa?” (Joshi, 2013).

So intellectual curiosity, with a large part of this curiosity based on science, was what prevented HPL from  killing himself in the summer of 1904.  This is an important point when reading HPL’s stories and understanding his philosophy of life.  Many people see HPL fearing or detesting science, particularly due to his opening paragraph in “The Call of Cthulhu” that includes the line:

“…but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

Cthulhu rise on R’lyeh (by Ash3ray)

While many of HPL’s stories are cautionary – that delving into forbidden lore will only result in horrible outcomes – he had a love and fascination for science, having a healthy streak of optimistic skepticism that most scientists have.  This love and respect for science always came into view in his stories, where he was known to actually change the text of a story as new scientific information was presented to the public.  I have cited a number of these instances in previous articles.   While HPL had a love for pure science, science for the sake of learning and discovering new things about our planet and the universe, he did have an aversion to new technology and progress and this is where the old gent pined for life in the 18th century.

In terms of HPL’s view of the universe, he had a very mechanistic, materialistic philosophy, which was fundamentally based on the scientific approach.  Many authors, writers and philosophers  impacted HPL throughout his life including Haeckel and Schopenhauer; however, it appears that Hugh Elliot’s (1881-1930) principles of mechanistic materialism, outlined in his book Modern Science and Materialism, lays the groundwater for HPL’s view of the cosmos and reality (S.T. Joshi, 2013).  These of the three principles are briefly reviewed below, relative to HPL.

The first was the uniformity of law, which states that the sequence of cause and effect is constant throughout the universe.  While the emerging science of quantum mechanics appeared to violate this principle, such ideas could still be explained from the perspective of probabilities and stochastic models, in contrast to the simple deterministic models so well developed in previously endeavors, such as the Newtonian physics.  Also, there may be a complete set of laws to the cosmos but it doesn’t mean we understand them or will ever completely understand them.

The second was the denial of teleology, which is the idea that the cosmos is moving in a specific direction under the direction of a deity.  It is obvious from HPL’s stories and writing in general that he certainly denied any teleological view of the cosmos.  HPL thought of the universe as a giant machine operating but with not goal or purpose.  A machine that would eventually run down.

The third principle was the denial of any existence beyond that envisioned by physics and chemistry.  While many religious thinkers agreed wit this – that the soul or spirit can not be quantified –  HPL took this to mean exactly what Elliot was getting at; that there was no non-corporal after-life or existence.  Again, we may not completely understand or even perceive all of the laws of the cosmos; there may be other dimensions and realities; there may be other forms of life and look nothing like us or may not even be considered as biological life under our definitions, but all would be governed by the basic laws of physics and chemistry.

Joshi cites a statement made by Elliot that, “We cannot assumed that the Universe has only five qualities because we have only five senses.  We must assume, on the contrary, that the number of its qualities may be infinite, and that the more senses we had, the more we should discover about it.” (cited in S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft).  This concept obviously made it way into a number of HPL’s stories such as “From Beyond” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.”

Another of HPL’s stories that incorporates such ideas will be discussed in the next article – “The Music of Erich Zann.”  Thank you – Fed.

 

 

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 5 – Traveling through Space

Comic book version of Beyond the Wall of Sleep (mycomicshop.com)

In this last article on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” the astronomical references in the story are explored.  As S.T. Joshi notes in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL came across two articles that stimulated his imagination to write Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  The first was  an article in the New York Tribune, which mentions some inhabitants of the Catskill Mountains and refers to a family named the Slaters or Slahters.  The second is an article written by Garrett Putnam Serviss (1851 – 1929) who wrote articles about astronomy, science in general and early science fiction stories.

Garrett P. Serviss, journalist, astronomer, author of early works of science fiction (from Wikipedia.org)

As Joshi cites (2001) HPL was a fan of Serviss’s work and in his book Astronomy with the Naked Eye (1908) Serviss mentions that Dr. Anderson of Edinburgh found a new star fairly close to Algol (the Daemon-Star) in February 1901.  Within 24-hours this new star became fairly bright but within a week or two it had visibly faded and in  a few months it was hardly visible with the naked eye.  The star was actually a nova and was given the name Nova Persei.  This was actually the second nova discovered by Dr. Anderson, the first one being identified in 1891 and named Nova Aurigae.

The flash and then disappearance of Nova Persei near a star called the Daemon-Star obviously had a significant impact on HPL as he wrote Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  In the story the luminescent entity who talks through Joe Slater mentions that its enemy – the oppressor – is the “blinking” star known on Earth as Algol, the Daemon-Star.  As the entity prepares to leave the dying body of Joe Slater, he tells the intern to watch the sky close to Algol.  Again, Joshi provides some valuable information about Algol.  The reason why it is called the Daemon-Star is that it is actually a double star, or binary, system in the constellation of Perseus.  Thus, as the stars orbit one another, the visible magnitude of the “star” substantially changes.  These large changes in visibility have resulted in naming the star Algol, which is an Arabic phrase meaning “demon” or “mischief-maker.” (Joshi, 2001).  Thus, the luminescent entity was off to do battle with its enemy Algol, the Daemon-Star.


Algol, the brightest “star” in the constellation of Perseus is actually a binary star system (EarthSky.org)

Was it Algol that imprisoned the luminescent entity  within the physical body of Joe Slater for more than four decades?  Was this why the luminescent entity was seeking revenge against Algol?  While we may never know the motive behind the hatred for Algol, HPL documented the outcome of the battle through the article on Dr. Anderson’s discovery of Nova Persei.  That is, the entity must have confronted and battled with Algol only to be defeated.  The luminescent entity flared up, only to be snuffed out of existence by Algol.  Thus, the nova appeared, shined brightly but was gone in a matter of weeks; this must represent the entity’s defeat, for the binary star Algol still shines in the heavens.

To conclude this discussion, I want to briefly mention some of the locations the  luminescent entity cites where it could meet the intern sometime in the future.  One is the “shining mists of Orion’s Sword.”  This is a reference to the Orion Nebula, which looks like fuzzy spot or area in Orion’s Sword (the constellation).  The pink glowing color is actually hydrogen gas (asterisk.apod.com).

The Orion Nebula or, as described by HPL, the shining mists of Orion’s Sword (asterisk.apod.com).

Other times or places where they may meet include “a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia.”  Is this possibly the first reference to Leng by HPL?  Others include unremembered dreams (is this a reference to the Dreamlands?) or in the far distance future when the solar system will be swept away.  This would be approximately 5 billion years in the future when the Sun will cool and expand.

Appearnetly the luminescent entity can easily travel through time as well as space, since before it left to do battle with Algol, it said that next year it may be dwelling in ancient Egypt or in the Tsan Chan empire 3,000 years in the future.  The entity and the intern apparently “drifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturus, and dwelt in the bodies of the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.”  As we discussed in a previous article on the moons of Jupiter, this was more than likely in reference to the moon Callisto.

insectphil_4moonofJup

An insect-philosopher from the fourth moon of Jupiter (from the talented artist Michael Bukowski; yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

To conclude, in spite of all of its powers and near-omnipidence, the luminescent entity could not defeat its sworn enemy, the binary star system of Algol.  Next time we will talk about HPL’s materialism philosophy and how it influenced his attitudes toward science and the latest scientific discoveries of the day.  Later we will delve into more of his stories, interpreting them within a scientific context, including “The Music of Erich Zann,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”  Thank you – Fred