So, you thought you’d get off that easy? Hah! No such luck – there’s one Friday left in October, and I’m gonna use it. And what, pray tell, do you think I’m going to discuss on this, the evening of Halloween?
What else? The spirits crossing between our world and the next… the very origin of the holiday.
Ghosts – those spirits of the dead, our little connection to the hereafter. Now, I’ll be the first to say – I’m a believer. I’ve got too much in the way of family experience with them, and my own experiences at that. When you *see* something pushing down the bed that isn’t actually there, you start believing (for the record – we’re pretty sure it’s one of our cats who passed on.)
Now… do ghosts necessarily mean that we’ve got souls and those sort of things bopping around? Not necessarily. Go back to quantum theory, as discussed in my Quantum of Lovecraft post. Places like Gettysburg were events of massive death and emotional strength… while it is plausible that disembodied spirits exist there, it’s also plausible that some sort of shift in the temporal dimensions may be giving us a vision of the past. For your typical ‘repeating’ haunting, this is a perfectly logical explanation – that we’re somehow seeing a traumatic incident in time, a loop in history that keeps on showing itself off time and again. However, there are other types of ghosts, apparently – ones who think more, who interact with people. On a related topic, you have the ‘demons’ and ‘shadow people,’ supposedly inhuman spirits that have their own purposes for humanity.
Again, quantum theory gives us a possible explanation. Creatures that are capable of crossing over between universes where they brush together, where there’s a little overlap… possibly even creatures that can stay in our universe by sliding themselves into one of us.
Of course, quantum theory isn’t the only possible explanation. There’s the standard supernatural – fallen angels and wandering souls – and there’s also more common physics. By our understanding of physics, it’s not possible for energy – or information – to be truly destroyed; all it can do is change form. By that logic, there’s no reason for consciousness to necessarily be any different, if the force behind it is strong enough. The human body generates a small electromagnetic field, and our thought processes take place on an electronic level. All sorts of signs indicate that human consciousness is an aspect of energy, not physicality. Based on that, while consciousness could convert, it’s also possible that this conversion would simply be to an energy form – passing from a physical life to an energetic one. With that possibility (which covers a lot of different phenomena, like astral projection and psychic phenomena), it becomes plausible that sufficient willpower or purpose would allow a ‘spirit’ to remain in the world until it’s decided to ‘move on.’
So ghosts aren’t that implausible. Are they real? I have no way to prove it. So far, there’s no way to disprove it. There is a lot of evidence of some sort of phenomena though (and I’m not counting television appearances, for the record.) Go out and take a look for it, if you want, make your own decision. But I will say one bit of advice.
Remember that if ghosts are real, all evidence indicates that it takes a huge amount of dedication and emotion to pull it off. And that often it involves negative emotions. Just because you’re dead, it doesn’t mean you’ve become a good person – anybody who believes in ghosts should bear in mind that Casper’s more likely an exception, rather than the rule. Be careful out there, or you might end up like Micah from Paranormal Activity.
So… lemme get this straight. It’s not art. But you’re selling it as art. And you’re pretending to be the original designer so you can claim the cred for being an artist.
A prime example of “let’s just out-money the sucker, then we’ll get what we want.” MPAA tactics in reverse.
Ah, the mad scientist. Where would horror be without Dr. Frankenstein, Jekyll, Sardonicus, and the countless other souls who pushed the bounds of science into God’s domain, only to perish for their efforts? Of course, there aren’t any real mad scientists out there… are there?
Well, Tesla’s neighbors might have argued. Besides his somewhat fanciful claims that he could split the Earth with a few well timed explosions, his experiments in broadcast power resulted in massive Tesla coils, hundreds of feet tall, that drew down lightning on the land around them. Of course, then he told his backer that he was planning on offering electricity to the world for free. Yeah, guess how quickly those checks stopped being signed.
And, of course, one could easily list Oppenheimer and the other men behind the Manhattan Project as mad scientists, albeit rather more successful ones. Oppenheimer even had the necessary flair for the dramatic. “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds,” anyone?
Even the fictional mad scientists aren’t necessarily that out there, in the long run. Dr. Jekyll’s mysterious salts and ethers that warped the physical form and drove men mad? Well, what would you say cocaine and other exotic drugs are? It seems the good doctor accidentally may have created one of the first designer drugs. And even Baron Doctor Victor von Frankenstein, who raised the dead, seems to have had a real-life counterpart.
But, of course, there aren’t any real mad scientists around today. Tesla and the like… they were from an era when science was expanding so rapidly that anything seemed possible. These days, we’ve got a better grasp on things.
And then you hear about DARPA, and their efforts to make cyborg insects, and maybe it’s not so far-fetched after all. The mad scientists just have the government signing their checks now.
Mad science. Is it really a bad thing? Is there a boundary beyond which man wasn’t meant to explore? That’s one of the hardest questions, and one that’s inspired an entire field of study (scientific ethics). Some people have very strong opinions that scientists go too far, too fast – people like Mary Shelley and Michael Crichton. Other people think that science isn’t going far enough fast enough, that it’s being held back unfairly by people’s fears. What’s the answer? Really, it’s rather hard to find one. The only answer everybody seems to agree on is that if something goes wrong, you can blame the scientists.
Is it any wonder that some of them go a little mad?
Speaking of returning unholy, cobbled together bits of the dead and buried to animate mockeries of life, take a look at http://darklylit.wordpress.com, or search for DarklyLit on iTunes and take a listen. It’s a new podcast I’m working on, where I’ll be doing free readings of public domain dark fiction, and discussing it on alternate weeks. I’ve got the permission of Nox Arcana to use their music on the podcast (go listen to them now – www.noxarcana.com – they’re great), and I hope to help bring some of the classics back to the public eye. This week, I pretty well just introduce the podcast. If you’d rather wait until I’m in the thick of things, then tune in next week for my reading of The Tell-Tale Heart.
Just in time for Halloween.
See? He’s on all fours. And he went for the beer, not the jerky.
Okay, something a little bit different for this week… what I call Carpenter’s Thesis, a viewpoint expressed in the original Halloween.
“Every small town has a story like this one.”
What he meant was that every town, every city, every place has its little nightmares. It has a little horror story of its own. I spent most of my life in Watertown, a quiet little town in Wisconsin… that had a major exorcism case in the past, and that’s not even starting on the things I haven’t heard about.
I went to school at UW Whitewater… just a block or two away from a supposedly haunted graveyard, and practically on the property where a woman poisoned her husband, and tried to poison her children, with strychnine in an attempt to hook up with her lover (who, interestingly, was from Watertown… hmm….)
Not all the stories are real ones, of course – for example, I really don’t think there was a coven of witches conducting dark rites around the water tower just to the north of my dorm room. But these stories are still fun – the campfire tales that you know aren’t true, but that you heard enough growing up that… well… just maybe….
So, what are your hometown’s stories? What sort of ghosts, ghouls, and serial slaughterers did you grow up hearing about… real or not? Post them to the comments section – I’d love to hear your stories.
Starting next week (either Friday or Saturday, I’m not quite sure which yet), pay a visit to http://darklylit.wordpress.com. I’ve got a little something special that will be coming there (and something even more special for Halloween itself.)
So, I had a couple requests for some cryptids – specifically, Bigfoot and the Beast of Bray Road. Knowing a little something about them, I figured I’d do this one this week. Bigfoot is one of the best known cryptids out there – an unidentified hominid that roams the wild places of North America. But first, what’s a cryptid?
Cryptids are, put simply, critters that mainstream science doesn’t recognize as existing. These creatures, and the field discussing them (cryptozoology) haven’t been accepted by most scientists, and there’s a great deal of debate over whether or not they even could exist. Famous cryptids include the mountain gorilla, the okapi, the coelocanth, and the platypus – all creatures that science insisted didn’t exist despite sightings by locals in the areas they were reported from. Eventually, somebody brought back a body, and in most cases people accepted that it really was real.
Except the platypus. They needed a live one for that – the assumption was made that it was just stitched together body parts, despite the lack of stitching.
Now, as for Bigfoot… we all know what it is. But, as I’ve been told that some folks haven’t heard any evidence about it that makes it seem more reasonable than Christian Science (AKA Young Earth theory, that sort of thing), I’m going to go into a bit more than that.
I tend to believe that Bigfoot is real – or, more accurately, that Sasquatch is. I don’t agree with the folks out there who hit the lunatic fringe though, like some folks who insist that Bigfoot exist in an extra-dimensional space out of phase with our reality, but occasionally step through to snag a Faygo or something (I wish I were kidding. Really, I do. But I’m not.)
I can’t prove that Bigfott exists, of course – if I could, I wouldn’t be blogging about this. All I can do is shoot down some of the most commonly cited ‘evidence’ against Bigfoot’s existence. So, let’s go to it!
Myth #1: The Bigfoot legend has only been around since the ’50’s – if this thing was real, why wouldn’t we have heard about it before?
Rebuttal: Well… we have. It wasn’t in the mainstream consciousness, but it was there. There are stories from lumber camps about massive hairy men basically busting up the camps. There are stories from the native Americans about them – where do you think the word Sasquatch came from? So this myth doesn’t really fit.
Myth #2: There can’t be a tiny little population of Bigfoots existing in Oregon forest – there wouldn’t be enough of them for a full breeding population.
Rebuttal: This is the most common one I’ve heard. And it’s been thoroughly, thoroughly debunked. Bigfoot sightings might be concentrated in Oregon, but they’ve been seen all throughout North America… almost. You see, some folks went and did an analysis of all the sightings out there, and they actually found that the sightings were concentrated in areas that have a set of common characteristics. The Coastal north-west, northern California, parts of Oklahoma, Georgia, northern Florida… they all have reasonably similar levels of humidity and similar climates. They’re all places that have fairly similar animal life, and all areas that lack one critical ecosystem element… a major apex predator. In places where grizzlies are common, Bigfoot doesn’t show up. In colder areas, Bigfoot doesn’t show up… except for a little bit in Wisconsin/Michigan. But that I suspect is misidentified – more on that later.
Myth #3: The footprints are all obvious fakes.
Rebuttal: If they’re all obvious fakes, I’d love to hear the explanation of why at least one forensic anthropologist – who specified in studying primate footprints – is convinced that many of the footprints he’s examined are proof of an unidentified large primate? I’d also like to know how it is that our hoaxers have made footprints that perfectly fit a natural bellcurve in the size. Now, it could be simple random chance. But you’d think that they’d just tend to get bigger and bigger, as they try to one-up the footprint before, rather than having a natural curve that seems to fit… a natural breeding population. Oops. I’d also like to know why many experts examining the footprints can see evidence of a natural foot movement, complete with a bending foot.
Now, are some of them fake? Undoubtedly. Of course some of them are. But showing that Exhibit A is false doesn’t mean that Exhibit B, C, and D aren’t still valid.
Myth #4: Bigfoot is merely a misidentified black bear.
Rebuttal: More on this later.
I could go on about this much, much longer – books have been written on the subject by far more knowledgeable people. but I’m going to move on for a moment to the Beast of Bray Road.
The Beast of Bray Road is the name that was attached to a wolf-man like creature in the Michigan/Wisconsin region. We actually had a sighting in our area a year or two back, when a man out collecting road kill carcasses for the county saw something tall and black stealing a deer carcass from the bed of his pickup, loping off into the woods carrying the carcass in its arms. More info can be found at wikipedia here, and in several different books (I recommend the Eerie Radio episodes on the topic.)
And this brings us to one of the major issues with both Bigfoot and the Beast of Bray Road.
This isn’t a black bear. Black bears don’t walk – they can stand and stagger, but they don’t walk, they don’t stride. Black bears don’t jump ditches on two legs. And yet, both Bigfoot and the Beast of Bray Road have been cited doing just those things. Black bears don’t have shoulders – and Bigfoot does. The Beast of Bray Road doesn’t have shoulders as much as the more bear-ish sloping of the body but, again, black bears don’t grab things in their arms and walk off with them. They take them in their jaws and drag them away, at least for significant distances. So few creatures are truly bipedal – which both Bigfoot and the Beast seem to be – that its being a misidentified creature we already know about seems highly unlikely, at best.
Can I prove they exist? Nope. But I think the proof is out there that something is there. Something that deserves real, sincere study, rather than laughter from the same scientific establishment that doubts its own first-hand observations if they don’t agree with their own convictions.
So I’m going to post a little oddity from my past, and my friendship with Vorex. This was written early in the morning while I was at college.
> Have you noticed that silence is always said to decend?
> It never comes up out of anything, it always falls down as if from the sky. Evidently silence is more dense than air.
Now you’ve done it. You’ve gotten me thinking. Let it be on your head. 😛
Actually, you’re right – silence is more dense than air, at least in some respects. When a sound is made, the particles through which it passes are excited, the energy of the thermal energy.causing them to vibrate. The increase in cannot be a 100% efficient conversion, and the energy lost in the transfer is expressed as an increase in temperature, or
It is a well-known phenomenon that, as a substance heats, it expands. While this is not very effective on most solids, it is observable with liquids and gasses, where the bonds between particles are weak enough that less energy is required to expand them. When a substance expands, its volume increases, given that it does not have an external boundary. When it does, the pressure will increase instead. But, as free air doesn’t have such a boundary, we can neglect that issue.
As density is determined by taking the mass of a substance and dividing it by the volume, an increase in the volume results in a decrease in the density.
Thus, when somebody heats a substance, the density decreases. As we have established that speaking heats a substance, it is a logical step to conclude that, all other things held equal, noise results in a decrease in density.
Thus, silence, as an absence of noise, is has a higher density than air that has sound waves passing through it. As such, the air higher in an area – being both slightly cooler naturally, and above soundwaves, will be denser than the air sound is being made in.
Thus, it can be logically extrapolated that silence descends.
And, in addition, it can be extrapolated that I *really* shouldn’t be allowed to think before I fully wake up in the morning….
Well, here it is, October… and am I doing a requested topic? Actually, kind of – I mentioned this one to Vorex, and he seemed enthused. So, this week, quantum physics and Lovecraft.
Next week, cryptids, including the Beast of Bray Road and Bigfoot.
Now, quantum physics and Lovecraft… what the blazes do they have to do with each other? In order to understand that, we need a grasp of the basics of quantum physics, particularly a multi-dimensional view of reality.
Now, quantum physics isn’t a new study by any means – Schrodinger was theorizing about his cat back in 1935, shortly before Lovecraft’s death of cancer. Heisenberg, Born, and Jordan were coming up with some of the first major breakthroughs ten years before. So quantum physics were being born right around the time Lovecraft was doing some of his best work. I feel that this helps to explain quite a bit of his work… and that he may have envisioned some of its more important elements before the physicists themselves ever did.
Okay, a basic grasp on quantum physics. We’re all fairly aware of the idea of three-dimensional space, and that time is the fourth dimension. So let’s break dimensions down a bit further.
Think about building things. If you have a surface that only exists in one dimension, it’s like trying to draw on the edge of a sheet of paper. All you can do is define a single line.
Now, if you’re building something on two dimensions, you’ve got the entire sheet of paper – you can draw whatever you want that’s a flat image.
But if you have three dimensions, you’ve got yourself a piece of clay. You can build anything that you can imagine that will be supported by your materials.
So, with three dimensions, we can define all of space. Everything that exists in space is defined with three spacial dimensions. The same principles apply for time though – and that’s where the next dimensions come from.
Time is our next set of dimensions – four through six. Apply the same principles as we have with space. A single temporal dimension allows you to define precisely one moment in time. Everything in all of space (the first three) that exists at 3:52:54.00000000001 in the afternoon on May third, 2010. As ridiculous as that might seem, this is the world we exist and perceive things in – a precise moment that streams out as rapidly as we can perceive. We don’t perceive multiple moments at once.
That would be what would happen if we perceived things on a five dimensions. Adding the second temporal dimension allows you to define a single timestream. Five-dimensional perception (three spacial, two temporal) would let you see everything that has been, is, and will be in your spacial range.
The sixth dimension is when Schrodinger kicks in. As you might remember, his little kitty had a fifty-fifty chance of dying, or of surviving. There’s no way to know which happened until you look. Well, actually, quantum theory suggests that both happen – you have a divergent timestream for the cat. In one version of reality, the cat lives. In the other, poor puss perishes.
That’s where you start looking at six dimensions – in the third temporal dimension, you not only define a point in time, not only define a timestream, but you’ve defined alternate timelines.
If we could move through the fifth dimension, we could go back and forth in time, but be unable to change anything. Being able to move through all six, we find that we can go back in time, change things, and possibly change our own future… or at least change our own relative future, since both timelines actually do happen. The only question would be if we could ‘skip the groove’ into the ‘new’ future. Every single moment there exist countless opportunities for timelines to split, so you have functionally infinite timelines.
So – we’ve got all six dimensions here. Everything that exists everywhere, and that ever has happened, will happen, is happening, or could conceivably happen in our universe. So, that’s pretty much it, right?
Well… no. And that’s where Lovecraft comes in.
If we define every possible point in three dimensions, we define a single point on the fourth. If we define every single point in six dimensions, we definte a single point on the seventh – we definte the universe, as it can ever possibly be under our laws of physics.
But what if physics were different? Hypothetically, you could have another point on the seventh dimension where, say, gravity worked in reverse, or where photosynthesis was chemically impossible because the elements behave differently. Another where psychic powers exist, and are as commonplace as physical abilities. Perhaps even one where matter itself cannot exist, but only pure energy.
A single dimensional point defines a single set of physical laws.
Two dimensions on this scale is tricky for me to imagine, so let’s skip to the punchline – three full dimensions, that define everything in every possible universe. This, logically, defines a point on a tenth dimension… and that’s where even most quantum physicists give up, though there are some theories that try to stretch out to 11. We simply can’t comprehend the idea of anything beyond that tenth dimension of “every possible point in space and time under every possible permutation of physical law.”
But we only need to go out to 9, so let’s focus there. In the seventh dimension, logically, there are points outside of our time and space that should have lifeforms. Not ones we’d comprehend, or even necessarily be able to comprehend, but they’d be there.
“Yog-Sothoth is the Gate, Yog-Sothoth is the keeper and the guardian of the keyto the gate, all is one in Yog-Sothoth.”
Yog-Sothoth, an iridescent mass of protoplasmic bubbles, sounds kind of like he might be that tenth dimension, doesn’t he? Existing beyond time, beyond space – he is the essence of all things that are, were, or will be. His mass of bubbles like those countless, boundless universes, all existing and occasionally brushing up against each other when these dimensions – and maybe the stars – align properly.
And take a look at the ‘wizards’ in Lovecraft’s universe. The typical wizard in Lovecraft’s universe is one who wields mathematics, arcane formulae, and charts as much as yaks skulls and pre-LSD. They seek ways to pierce the barriers between dimensions for their unholy power, trying to tap into worlds where their mad goals have been met (and what faster way to go mad, pray tell, than by peering, even shallowly, into a scale of reality where you can see everything?)
Oh, and that pre-LSD?
Take a read of Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” some time. Our ‘hero’ ends up finding and using a drug that lets him peer throughout the fifth dimension, looking back through time… and he ends up attracting the attention of the monsters that exist there, and who come for him… and who, after an earthquake, find a loophole in their own physical laws to come through his new fortress to get him.
References to a quantum universe – and the potential horror of a universe where we might end up brushing against another universe with laws completely inimical to our own – is a core of Lovecraft’s work. It turns up again and again, especially in some of his later works. And, as we gain a further understanding of the cosmos and its workings, I think it’ll be more important to remember those warnings.
Let’s look at one of SciFi’s more beloved ideas, after all – hyperspace. Shifting into a dimension where you can break that pesky light-speed speed limit. Well… how the heck do we know what might be out there?
And whether or not they might show up around here, hungry?
But then, all of this assumes that in all the possible universes out there, somebody’s figured out the way to get between them.
And in functional infinity, what are the odds of that happening, right?