This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
“At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfxxkxrs in the jungle…” (1).
Was Stephen King given to literary exaggeration when he described humanity?
Or did King, like H.P. Lovecraft, see the evolutionary potential of mankind in a different light than Darwin’s glowing optimism?
“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (2).
At the heart of several Lovecraft’s stories, there exists a fictional view of the next step in human evolution.
Or perhaps I should say, what a misstep in evolution might bring.
The premise: human beings may, given the right conditions, take one or more evolutionary steps backwards, becoming some “…sort of monster bound down the toboggan of reverse evolution” (3).
I would like to survey four tales that featured a variation on that theme. They are:
1) The Beast in the Cave (1905).
2) Pickman’s Model (1926).
3) The Lurking Fear (1922).
4) The Rats in the Wall (1923).
Then, I will relate HPL’s premises to recent discoveries.
Do modern scientific studies support HPL’s fictional propositions? Is Hannibal Lector a forerunner of Darwinian changes yet to come?
Some Lovecraftian Tales of Devolution:
Before we begin, an important fact should be remembered.
Lovecraft wrote fiction, not scientific treatises.
Lovecraft infused many of his tales with references to the latest scientific theories. Those inclusions increased the plausibility of his stories. When he set his fantastic artifices beside actual facts, the reader’s mind was conditioned by the one to accept the reality of the other.
Lovecraft’s scientific allusions laid the groundwork for the fantastic elements of a tale’s weird atmosphere.
However, if you look for Lovecraft’s stories to touch upon every facet of a theory, that level of detail is lacking.
So, as we review Lovecraft’s selected stories, we will look for hints why some human beings – whether individually or collectively – degenerated.
I plan to exclude any extra-species breeding factors, such as those featured in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
Also, the analysis of cannibalism in some of Lovecraft’s tales is purely for the purpose of discussion. I am in no way condoning or advocating such practices.
Case Study #1 – The Beast in the Cave:
The first variation is step-back in evolution occurs with an individual.
In one of Lovecraft’s earliest tales, The Beast in the Cave (1905), HPL began his exploration of evolutionary missteps.
The story’s protagonist becomes lost in the extended depths of Mammoth Cave. As he loses hope of rescue, the darkness and isolation stirs up his deepest fears. Out of the shadows, a dim presence stalks him, intending to make the shuddering man its next victim.
Lessons drawn from The Beast in the Cave:
The evolutionary twist to the story is the “creature” was once a human being. After being lost in the cave system for an unspecified time, a Homo sapien reverts into an albino ape-like beast, who scavenges for food.
We can only guess at the genetic mechanisms that isolation, darkness, and diet set into motion. The juvenile Lovecraft only suggests why the change occurred.
Lovecraft’s seminal tale is not a fictional retelling of the tragedy that surrounded the Donner Party of 1847. In that story, some migrants resorted to cannibalism in order to survive a winter of snowbound isolation. There, a change in dietary delicacies did not lead to definable apishness.
So, early on, Lovecraft toyed with the idea that, given the right conditions, human beings might revert to one of their primate progenitors.
Case Study #2 – Pickman’s Model:
In another of his yarns, Pickman’s Model (1926), HPL continues his recounting of evolutionary missteps.
Again, the evolutionary twist is a subplot, involves an individual.
You know the story. A perennial favorite, Pickman’s Model was once adapted by Rod Serling for his famous “Night Gallery” series.
Richard Upton Pickman is a Boston-based artist who’s brilliant but bizarre paintings gain him aficionados among art lovers and adversaries among the art establishment. Thurber, an ardent admirer, both enthralled and repelled by Pickman’s horrific images, seeks to learn more about the man behind the macabre masterpieces.
Thurber finds terror in a subterranean studio. The paintings arise not from a sane stylist toying with occult symbols to terrify the public. To Thurber’s horror, Pickman’s art imitates life – a shambling stream of cadaver-chewing carnivores exists just beyond the prosaic world. From the noxious horde, related to mankind, Pickman drew not only his terrible prototypes, but also his twisted parentage.
Inferences drawn from Pickman’s Model:
Was Pickman’s descent into a ravenous ghoul caused by diet? We know the end of the transmutation; later, Pickman is pictured as a slavering ghoul in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926).
Lovecraft uses a derisive tone when he addresses that idea in the narrative:
“…Reid…had…taken up comparative pathology, and was full of pompous ‘inside stuff’ about the biological or evolutionary significance of this or that mental or physical symptom. He said Pickman repelled him more…every day, and almost frightened him towards the last- that the fellow’s features and expression were slowly developing…in a way that wasn’t human. He had a lot of talk about diet, and said Pickman must be abnormal and eccentric to the last degree…” (4).
Or, was Pickman a changeling – a young ghoul placed in the care of a human family at birth? Lovecraft paces back and forth in Thurber’s mind, as a sane man tries to fathom out the insanity that abounds before his eyes:
“…Pickman was showing what happens to those stolen babes – how they grow up – and then I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution. The dog-things were developed from mortals!” (5).
Clearly, an axiom of Lovecraft’s fictional truth is, “The genes of ghouls reside beside the genes of genius in human beings.”
Which factors cause the gestation of the genes? What stirred up the genetic pot?
It is unclear from the narrative whether Richard Upton Pickman was a changeling, or whether an abnormal diet stimulated the change.
From a horror and atmosphere standpoint, such systematic exactitudes are unneeded. Lovecraft engaged the reader’s mind with all the hints he dropped.
Case Study #3 – The Lurking Fear:
In the third Lovecraftian tale we will survey, The Lurking Fear (1922), HPL investigates a step-back in evolution that affects a group rather than an individual.
The Lurking Fear was one of the first of Lovecraft’s stories to fire my imagination. The tale surrounds the long-dead Martense family, their deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain, and the death that stalks whole communities, whenever thunderstorms strike.
An anonymous sleuth follows a trail of demons and dismemberments. The journey leads to a system of subterranean burrows radiating out from the haunted ruins of the Martense Estate. There amid a lashing downpour, crashing thunder, and flashing lightning, a gunshot reveals the truth behind the death and devils.
Amid the matted hair, yellowed teeth, and gorilla-like outlines of the dying beast – one of an unnumbered clot of unhallowed burrowers – stands out a hereditary abnormality of the Martense Clan. The blue and brown-eyed Dutch family has degenerated into a tunneling horde of ex-humans whose feeding frenzies sweep away human and inhuman alike.
Conclusions drawn from The Lurking Fear:
What fictional factors were responsible for the Martense’s dramatic transmutations? What breadcrumbs did Lovecraft leave to tantalize our own cannibalistic tastebuds?
One, was the change due to time?
A mere 146 years elapse, from the date the Martense Mansion was built in 1670, until the lights of those who dwelt their disappear in 1816.
Hardly enough time transpires, per the evolutionary mechanism of generational mutations, for such a cataclysmic cascading series of transmutations to appear, take hold, and gain ascendance in a population.
Besides the dates given in the text, Lovecraft remains silent on whether time was one of the culprits that precipitated the evolutionary meltdown. On the face of things, Darwinism’s factor of time, which underlay HPL’s worldview, was not given a voice in the tale.
Two, was the transmutation due to a poor gene pool?
The Martense family was the cream of Dutch civilization. With the Old Dutch, cleanliness was almost a hereditary and religious quality, since so many people lived in such a small country. Also, the Dutch were part of that line of races – Anglo Saxon, Danes, Franks, Scandinavians, and Norse – that Lovecraft thought purest among all mankind.
How could the highly-civilized Dutch so quickly lose all traces of that “racial” heritage? How could the religiously clean, the hereditary spic-and-span nobles fall so far, so fast?
I am using quotes around terms like “racial,” because we have to look at this issue through Lovecraft’s eyes, and according to his prevailing racist views.
How could the clean so quickly become unclean?
Some members of the Martense family intermarried with the local rabble. In time, the results of those unions became the pitiful squatters who became prey for the Lurking Fear.
Lovecraft may have had a low opinion of the “trash,” that populated mountain ranges, such as the Appalachians. For example, remember his description of Joe Slater in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1919):
“Joe Slater, or Slaader, and his appearance was that of the typical denizen of the Catskill Mountain region; one of those strange, repellent scions of a primitive colonial peasant stock whose isolation for nearly three centuries in the hilly fastnesses of a little-travelled countryside has caused them to sink to a kind of barbaric degeneracy, rather than advance with their more fortunately placed brethren of the thickly settled districts. Among these odd folk, who correspond exactly to the decadent element of ‘white trash’ in the South, law and morals are non-existent; and their general mental status is probably below that of any other section of the native American people.” (6).
Yet, such lowlifes, given access to a gene cesspool like the one encountered by the Martense Family, did not routinely revert to apish albino carnivores.
Here the evolutionary step-back began with races that were nearer and dearer to Lovecraft’s heart than others. When it came to the evolutionary missteps in The Lurking Fear, Lovecraft saw the random chance of Darwin’s selective (survival of the fittest) evolutionary mechanism applied to equally to all spectrums of the rainbow.
So, at least in this story, it took more than intermarrying with an isolated mongrel population to produce cannibalistic primates.
There are always exceptions, especially in the literary universe. For instance, Lovecraft never set out to pen a consistent universe or pantheon of cosmic gods and godlings in every tale his authored. That fact has driven many Lovecraft aficionados to distraction, when they try to write systematic theologies around the Cthulhu Mythos.
In another tale, The Picture in the House, Lovecraft recounted a situation where isolated backwoods individuals might adopt cannibalism as a lifestyle, without an attendant change in physiology.
Note how HPL describes the peculiarities of nurture and nature that can lead someone to the poaching of his or her primate brethren:
“…Most horrible of all sights are the little unpainted wooden houses remote from travelled ways…Two hundred years and more they have leaned or squatted there…In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions…flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilisation, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folk were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed…” (7).
Here, the predisposition to cannibalism is described as, “…dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage…” For one substrata of humanity, those that originated in the northern climes, cannibalism was a heritage, passed down from the dawn of time.
Three, was the evolutionary step-back due to diet?
Lovecraft hinted in Pickman’s Model that diet might be a fictional factor in the downward regression from human beings to slavering ghouls.
Though the dog-like ghouls of Boston are not the ape-like burrowers from the Catskills, Lovecraft carries the diet factor one-step further. Full on, in the list of what caused the transmogrification of the once noble members of the Martense family, diet is clearly blamed.
Notice the prominence of diet (italics added) in some of the final words of the story:
“…I remember that nameless secret of the lurking fear. The thing will haunt me, for who can say the extermination is complete, and that analogous phenomena do not exist all over the world? Who can, with my knowledge, think of the earth’s unknown caverns without a nightmare dread of future possibilities? What I saw in the glow of flashlight after I shot the unspeakable straggling object was so simple that almost a minute elapsed before I understood and went delirious. The object…the ultimate product of mammalian degeneration; the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground; the embodiment of all the snarling and chaos and grinning fear that lurk behind life…” (8).
Once more, Lovecraft writes not to explain the change as a scientific treatise might. He leaves shocking clues for his horrified readers to sift through and draw their own staggering conclusions.
To Lovecraft, atmosphere is everything.
Case Study #4: The Rats in the Wall:
In the final Lovecraftian tale of our survey, The Rats in the Wall (1923), HPL explores the themes of how ancestral memories and latent madness, centered around hundreds of years of cannibalism, manifests itself in a descendant several generations removed from the abhorred practice.
I included the story, because it reflects how easily a modern, rational individual can quickly turn to such an uncivilized practice. He exhibits the behavior of the dog-like Ghouls and the ape-like Lurkers, without the bodily transformations reported in the other surveyed Lovecraft stories.
Let me refresh your memory with a brief outline of the story.
The last of the Massachusetts Delapores, bereft of his only son by war, and no longer comforted by his wealth, seeks solace for his remaining years in distant England. As he rebuilds Exham Priory, the ancient home of his ancestors, he faces isolation and ostracization from the locals. The villagers believe the reconstruction of the Delapore estate will bring a revival of the ancient evils that for generations, the Delapores practiced against others.
Delapore shrugs off the rumors as the superstitions of simpletons, until a campaign to eradicate a major rat-infestation in the mansion’s walls, leads to a series of startling discoveries about his ancestors beneath the estate. There he finds subterranean evidence that for generations, the Delapores used their feudal powers to practices cannibalism on an unheard of scale. The Delapores cannibalism extended so far back in time that corralled members of their human herd, under the wretched conditions of captivity, degenerated into swine-like caricatures of humanity.
As he explores the vast necropolis with a band of multi-disciplinary investigators, the mental tension provoked by the vast pens and butchering houses used by his Delapore ancestors to process their prey pushes the last scion of the hellish Clan over the edge.
Separated from the main party by darkness, and surrounded by heaps of gnawed human bones, the last Delapore attacks and partially consumes one of his companions.
Conjectures drawn from The Rats in the Wall:
I would like to briefly touch on three fictional truths suggested by Lovecraft in The Rats in the Wall.
First, cannibalism may be deeply rooted in the racial, ancestral, or genetic memory of the species. Lovecraft does not have to use those exact terms, to express the concept.
We carry within our persons the genetic predispositions to specific behaviors. Instinct may not be as dominate in man as it is the animals. Yet the evolutionary imprints that have guided hominids for untold thousands of years are tremendously strong, when they are triggered.
For instance, the drive to procreate and the impulsive behaviors that follow defy reason.
The last Delapore was several years and thousands of miles removed from the cannibalism practiced by his ancestors.
For example, according to the text, 298 years has elapsed since a Delapore last inhabited Exham Priory. The family estate was last inhabited during the reign of James I, whose rule ended in 1625. The rebuilding of the estate was completed in 1923.
Yet given the right circumstances, Mr. Delapore was scant moments away from indulging in the heinous legacy of his forebears.
In fact, Delapore’s cannibalism entirely bypasses his logical, conscious mind. As soon as it is lights out, he is caught in the act. One unconscious impulse wipes out all reason.
Second at the dawn of time, dominate hominids may have harvested relic hominids for food.
Did HPL intend to craft in fiction a common occurrence in fact?
Many modern horror stories pose vampires as the predators and humanity, as the herd of prey. That series of plot variations, based on vampiric folklore, might have a basis in humanity’s evolutionary timeline.
Perhaps that is why there is such a fascination with vampire tales.
As modern readers enter the fictional world, and their imagination toys with the objectification of humanity from a vampire’s perspective, they briefly experience the hereditary thrill our Homo sapien ancestors’ felt while butchering a Neanderthal for feasting.
Third, some unidentified psychic, psychological, or environmental factor can trigger or reawaken the dormant urge to cannibalism.
For generations, the Delapore’s gave full expression of that dormant predisposition in humankind to cannibalism. So long was the practice among the kin, that the human beings they kept for slaughter, themselves devolved into sub-humans, akin to swine in appearance.
It was George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), where the dominate pig Napoleon, as others of his kind, longed to be human – two legs good, four legs bad – but in reverse.
Also interestingly, in the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, human flesh was called “long pig” (9). I wonder whether the well-read Lovecraft was aware of that fact when he described the fenced in primate herd.
The urge to participate in cannibalism was near the psychic surface of the last Delapore, not as conveniently submerged in the racial memory of other human beings. The inner Primal Predator stood posed, ready for release, given the proper moment, or a predominate mood in its surroundings.
Some would classify the Delapore’s cannibalism as an example of the “family curse” in a typical Gothic tale. However, if cannibalism is latent in all mankind, is it not a curse of the species and not just a function of a literary style?
Three Recent Scientific Studies and the Degradation of Homo Sapiens:
So, in a smattering of Lovecraft’s tales, HPL introduces a series of fictional ideas, a set of circumstances that could lead to human beings either degenerating into animalistic cannibals or simply becoming cannibals.
To recap, those conditions include:
1) Physical isolation underground.
2) Continued cannibalistic diet.
3) Genetic isolation of a breeding population.
4) Generational practice of cannibalism.
The difference between 2) and 4) surrounds time. In The Lurking Fear, the advent of cannibalism occurs in a span of 146 years. In The Rats in the Wall, the practice of cannibalism spans several centuries.
Again, Lovecraft layered the hints at what caused the transmutation of human being into dog-like, ape-like, or simply human-like cannibals.
He did so for the weird, eerie, macabre atmosphere to be imbibed by his readers.
Yet, could the fictional “toboggan of reverse evolution,” in the four selected Lovecraft tales, actually take place?
I would like to present three recent scientific studies that, when combined, suggests humanity might devolve into actual relic primates, to whom cannibalism is an instinctive act, not an egregious-error.
Those independent studies briefly suggest:
1) Over the past ten thousand years, mankind’s brain has withered rather than enlarged.
2) Cannibalism among hominids – the ancestors of humanity – first appeared 800,000 years ago. Soon in terms of geologic time, given the present rate of brain shrinkage, modern man’s brain will mimic the size of their earliest cannibalistic ancestor.
3) Ancestral memory – where the behaviors of one generation influence the behavioral predispositions and attendant brain structures in subsequent generations – has an actual basis in genetic fact.
Do we carry, in our genetic (or DNA) memory, the predisposition to cannibalism inaugurated by the behavior of our earlier ancestors? How submerged in humanity’s collective unconscious are those latent tendencies?
We will address those findings in greater detail, during the remains of the article.
Deep Time Lost is Brain Lost:
I want to introduce this part of our discussion as it relates to the common stroke.
Recent advances in immediate care can reduce the disability and death caused by strokes. The key factor is immediate intervention. The longer it takes to treat a patient experiencing the symptoms of stroke – sudden numbness, sudden confusion, trouble speaking, seeing, hearing, or walking – the more brain cells potentially perish.
The American Stroke Association codified the message into terms most people can understand.
Time Lost is Brain Lost (10).
Until recently, that medical axiom ran contrary to humanity’s assumed evolutionary progress.
For example, a popular belief held that the longer hominids – the earliest line of identified human ancestors – had time to evolve, the larger the brain capacity each Darwinian link would develop.
However, current research indicates that in the last ten thousand years – a mere nanosecond in deep time – brain mass has actually shrunk. Brain size has decreased, from a high in Cro-Magnon man of 1500 cc to an average of 1350 cc in the Homo sapien sapien of today. The findings are consistent, irrespective of race or gender (11).
Given the same rate of shrinkage, in another ten thousand years, Homo Sapien Sapien’s brain will wilt to a mere 1100cc, the same brain size as Homo Erectus.
For comparison, both a chimpanzee and orangutan has a brain size of 400 cc, while a macaque has a brain of 100 cc.
The article is based on a Chinese study that surveyed over 500 endocasts from the past 7,000 years (12). Endocasts are molds of brains formed from imprints on the inside of a skull. By comparing human ancestors from a Neolithic site and modern day humans, the scientists observed that human brains are shriveling.
Against the backdrop of geologic ages, the more time that passes, the more our descendants’ brain cases shrink.
In other words, to apply the stroke axiom to this phenomenon – time lost is brain lost.
The Size of Hominid Brains when Cannibalism First Appears:
At what evolutionary juncture in the past – marked by brain size for our purposes – did mankind begin to practice cannibalism?
Cannibalism first appeared among human beings, with Homo antecessor around 800,000 years ago (13). The average size of Homo antecessor’s brain was between 1,000–1,150 cc in volume (14).
In recent centuries, those who participated in the profane practice did so for different reasons. Some suggested by Dinner with a Cannibal, The Complete History of Mankind’s Oldest Taboo include:
1) “Exocannibalism” refers to the eating of one’s enemies. For instance, warriors ate their enemy to acquire their martial prowess.
2) “Religious” cannibalism relates to the actual or simulated partaking of human flesh as part of a religious rite. For example, the Aztecs practiced cannibalism in the belief that the rite kept the sun from dying.
3) “Medicinal” cannibalism results from the ingestion of physician-prescribed medicines made from human cadavers.
4) “Survival” cannibalism is brought on by starvation and the threat of imminent death. The previously-mentioned Donner Party of 1847 is a shining example of how the unthinkable became unavoidable.
5) “Endocannibalism” or “funerary” cannibalism refers to the ingestion of dead relatives. The living family ate the dearly departed to help ensure that their souls went completely to the other side.
6) “Criminal” or “Psychotic” motivated cannibalism was practiced by mass-murders such as Jeffrey Dahmer or the fictionalized Hannibal Lector from, Silence of the Lambs.
7) “Gastronomic” cannibalism occurs when human flesh is dealt with and eaten without ceremony (other than culinary), in the same manner as the flesh of any other animal. The Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness treated Lake’s party in a slaughterhouse fashion, devoid of any sentient considerations in the herd (15).
Homo antecessor routinely prepared its own kind as in item 7), not because of conflict, but as any other food source. Their primate prey was butchered in a manner similar to deer and other food mammals. The victims were not consumed when food was scarce, but regularly over an extended time, perhaps amounting to centuries.
Behavior, Brain Changes, and Ancestral Memory:
Recently, science has found evidence that genetic memory exists, that behavior in one generation can influence the behavior and related brain structure in subsequent generations.
“The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations…” (16).
While the study focused on the roots of phobias, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders from one generation to the next, the findings can be extrapolated to other behaviors, traits, and neuropsychiatric disorders.
The study may mark a precursor into the scientific examination of genetic basis of Carl Jung’s Collective Unconscious. The Collective Unconscious is said to:
“…represent a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain. It is distinct from the personal unconscious, which arises from the experience of the individual. According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains archetypes, or universal primordial images and ideas” (17).
If several of our hominid ancestors practiced cannibalism, then have those ancestral memories, latent behaviors and brain structure, been passed on genetically to Homo sapiens?
If the brains of modern human beings shrink to the size of their cannibalistic ancestors, an event that is predicted to happen soon on the geologic calendar, will modern man remain civilized? Or will peeling back evolutionary gains in brain size, result in a return to a pre-civilized state and cannibalism?
Does Size Count with Mental Prowess?
Given our discussion, was Darwin a misguided optimist? Or was Stephen King, alongside Howard Philips Lovecraft, too pessimistic about humanity’s future?
Some argue that smaller brains do not equal diminished mental prowess.
As human beings moved from mega-hostile environments to mega-malled suburbias, from fields of hunting to fields of harvest, the portions of the brain that once protected us – such as the visual cortex – would atrophy or diminish. The process is hypothesized to be like fish that live in cave lakes, who lose their eyesight over succeeding generations.
The shrinkage research did not bear out that line of reasoning. Instead of one or more areas used by ancient hominids for protection against predators withering, the whole of humanity’s brain structure has shrunk.
Improper or poor nutrition might be argued by a few diehards, as the reason for changes in brain mass. Yet, that contention lies in direct contradiction to the data. If our modern diet were superior to that of Cro-Magnon man, would not our brains be larger than our predecessors?
On the contrary, even though Cro-Magnon man’s nutritional needs were subject to the sufficiency/starvation cycle of hunter-gathers, the agricultural base and consistent food supply from which civilization arose, did not equate to a larger brain in Homo sapiens.
Some say, contrary to Lovecraft’s fiction, genetic isolation – such as occurred with the Martense Family – may not produce a new and distinct species.
For example, despite up to 30,000 years of partial isolation among populations in Australia and Papua New Guinea, human speciation did not occur (18). Perhaps Lovecraft was thinking of the inbreeding that occurred in Egyptian Dynasties, where members of the royal family often married siblings, to keep power in the family.
Akhenaten, the father of King Tut, was said to suffer from several genetic abnormalities that resulted from royal inbreeding.
Prelude to an Evolutionary Apocalypse?
Still others say that there is no genetic information lost in adaption.
Useful genes and the traits they produce remain active. Obsolete genes are not lost; evolution merely turns them off. Should humanity again find itself in an uber-hostile environment, given the necessary time, would the dormant genes and their caveman traits reassert themselves?
That hypothesis is harder to research. We do not have in the line of hominid development, an era when enough years elapsed on the deep time chronometer, where a mass of human beings went from civilized-order to primitive chaos.
Maybe an external incident or series of events will set evolution in reverse and start the Darwinian toboggan rolling downhill.
For instance, some in the human community do not consider nuclear war an unthinkable act.
The balance of terror, which seesawed back and forth between the United States and the old Soviet Union, means nothing to them. To those who possess certain religio-political ideologies, Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD is not an annihilation to be feared, but a reality to be invoked.
Some, by use of the nuclear option, may turn back the clock of civilization, from the scientific heights of today to an apocalyptic yesteryear, reminiscent of the Mad Max movies.
Or maybe an original Planet of the Apes scenario will happen, with humans devolving and apes evolving.
Perhaps the step-back in evolution will occur as a government conspiracy, to better manage the masses.
Is the recent, 1) mass appeal to emotion over reason, and 2) valuation of mob-rule and group-think over independent thought, evidence that decreasing brain size in the general populace equals a decline in mental functioning?
Does that increase in raving-emotionalism and straitjacket conformity signal the beginning of the evolutionary end of mankind?
The future equivalent to the fictional Khan Noonien Singh – the Alpha Male among Star Trek’s genetically-enhanced augments –may decide inferiors are best basted in vast vats, before they are processed into mouthwatering wafers of Soylent Green.
At this point, Lovecraft might be heard to say, “Bon appetite.”
(1) Cell, by Stephen King, 2006.
(2) The Origin of the Species, by Charles Darwin, 1859.
(3) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(6) Beyond the Wall of Sleep, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1919.
(7) The Picture in the House, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1920.
(8) The Lurking Fear, H.P. Lovecraft, 1922.
(9) “Early Modern Era,” Cannibalism, Wikipedia.
(10) “Stroke: Time Lost is Brain Lost,” by Gail Carlson MPH, PhD, Health Feature Articles, MissouriFamilies.org, October 3, 2014.
(11) “Scientists are alarmed by shrinking of the human brain,” by April Holloway, Ancient Origins: Reconstructing the Story of Humanity’s Past, http://www.ancient – origins.net, March 14, 2014.
(12) “Increasing breadth of the frontal lobe but decreasing height of the human brain between two Chinese samples from a Neolithic site and from living humans,” by Chao Liu Et Al, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, January 28, 2014.
(13) “Early Cannibalism Tied to Territorial Defense?” by Erin Wayman, Smithsonian.com, September 5, 2012.
(14) “Physiology,” Homo Antecessor, Wikipedia.
(15)“Introduction,” Dinner with a Cannibal, The Complete History of Mankind’s Oldest Taboo, by Carole A. Travis-Henikoff, March 14, 2008.
(16) “’Memories’ pass between generations,” by James Gallagher, BBC News, December 1, 2013.
(17) “Collective Unconscious,” http://www.britannica.com, 2014.
(18) “FUTURE HUMANS: Four Ways We May, or May Not, Evolve”, by James Owen, National Geographic News, November 24, 2009.
John DeLaughter is a Data Security Analyst who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi, daughters Kirsten and Kaitlyn, granddaughters Riley and Annabelle, two dogs and two cats. He devoured Lovecraft, beginning with At the Mountains of Madness in high school.
Reblogged this on Netherworld.
Thank you Vic!
I enjoyed reading this. Don’t forget to add in H.G. Wells and his novel The Time Machine. The traveler hopes for a glorious future, but finds that Mankind has devolved into an underground race, the Morlochs, who come out at night to prey upon a more helpless group of humans.
Speaking of the real world and human history, we probably have had cannibals from the start, it’s just that it’s been small-scale and practiced by small groups. Under the right conditions even “civilized” man will fall into this practice…look up accounts of World War II in New Guinea. It was a hellish place to start with, and when conditions got really bad for the occupying Japanese troops they borrowed a note from their headhunter guides and some of them dined on human flesh. So when writers use the theme of human devolution and descent caused by apocalypse, it’s not as far-fetched as most of us believe.
“Morlocks”, not morlochs. Poor eyesight strikes again.
Thanks Steven for checking out the article, and commenting on it! Yes, humanity’s descent into cannibalism isn’t “unthinkable barbarism” given circumstances where one’s survival depended on it. Lovecraft and other often reserved the consumption of human beings to some type of sub-human beastie – as does the modern fascination with zombies. We find it harder to grasp when the cannibal is the mild-mannered Hannibal next door. I remember seeing a film version of H.G. Wells “Time Machine” when I was younger. Yes, not exactly the Utopia many optimists predict for Humanity’s future.
There can be no misstep in evolution. Traits favorable to current conditions are passed on. Period.
I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on the essay. Yes, favorable traits are passed on. It’s interesting to speculate on which direction the may take.