Quantum of Lovecraft

October 2, 2009 at 1:36 am (Particle Physics) (, , , )

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.

Sound familiar?

“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?

Pleasant dreams!


  1. H. o'Dagg said,

    Well done, Grasshopper…

  2. Rob Bryanton said,

    Nice blog entry! I’ve had several people suggest that I need to show the relationship between the Imagining the Tenth Dimension approach to visualizing the dimensions and Lovecraft’s work, I’ll just send them to this post now. I’ve put up a link at the Tenth Dimension blog in the Interesting Links section to your entry.

    Coincidentally the blog entry I posted the same day your entry went up was called The Fifth Dimension is Spooky, you might get a kick out of it.


    Rob Bryanton

    • wolfemann said,

      Well, thanks much for the link, and I’ll cheerfully take a look at your blog when I get the chance. 🙂

      If you liked this one, quantum theory is likely to come up in at least one of my later posts this month (and not even counting the Mad Science article I’ve got for later in the month.) Not sure if you’ll be interested or not, but you might want to stick around.

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