Rats, Mice, and Lovecraft

I completely geeked out when I saw an H.P. Lovecraft story referenced in our reading. I absolutely cannot pass up an opportunity to attempt a blog post with semi-legitimate academic merit that includes as much Lovecraft as I can fit.

Before I dive in, I’d like to put a disclaimer here: I had trouble  finding a topic to really hone in on. Our readings (and please correct me if I’m wrong) don’t seem to render much of an opinion. Ideas and themes are certainly examined, but I couldn’t really find many opinions to contest and disagree with. So I apologize if my post is a little haphazard and meandering; much like the readings, I have things to say, but I really don’t have a serious and defining opinion.

Let’s talk about aliens for a while. I’d like to discuss the theme that’s floated around in the readings that rats are more or less a foil of humanity, or that rats serve some equivalent or base analogy to human nature. And to piggyback on Burt’s Rats in the Walls example, here’s another Lovecraftian story – At the Mountains of Madness. For a quick summary, just think Ancient Aliens. Antarctic explorers discover the ruins of an alien civilization. Through a series of vague murals, the explorers discover that all current species of Earth, particularly humanity, were created as a joke, an afterthought. Humans were exploited by these aliens throughout deep history for labor and experimentation, while also being loathed and treated like vermin.

I’m not entirely sure how this fits in, but I feel there’s something to be said for a broader look at Lovecraft’s rat/human relationship, particularly in light of how Burt interprets such relationship: “It is intriguing to find scientists commenting that rodents will inherit the earth after humans have died out. This feels like the antithesis to Lovecraft’s devolutionary notion that the basest figure is the rat, the bottom of the animal pile as it were.” I would actually argue that science fits right in line with Lovecraft’s thesis. The Madness story continues with the alien creators dying out through foreign attack and self-destruction, and humanity picking up in the realm of factual history – sounds pretty similar to our reading predictions, right? Between Burt and Rader, we can kind of pick up on this idea of the rat being both the pinnacle and base of evolution, success, and morality through the lens of comparison between rats and humans. Lovecraft’s origin story firmly puts humanity in the position of a rodent – through extermination, adaption, and survival.




Moscow Canine Commuters

Hey everyone! I found this great article on the semi-domesticated Moscow dogs that we talked about in class. It’s pretty interesting; the pictures really help convey just how cool this behavior is.


Darwin: A Forward Dude

Wow, Darwin isn’t as nearly stuffy as I thought he’d be. I’m thoroughly impressed with his candor toward the reader, and his commentary and prediction regarding potential reader outrage or disagreement. He still sounds like an academic (read: big words), but the reading was slightly less of a bore than I dreaded.

So I may be interpreting this wrong, but it seems that Darwin uses animal domestication and artificial selection as a guidebook for grouping and categorizing natural genetic differences. On page 264 he writes:

“Organic beings in a state of nature present some varieties, – that their organization is in some slight degree plastic; granting that many animals and plants have varied greatly under domestication, and that man by his power of selection has gone on accumulating such variations until he has made strong marked and firmly inherited races; granting all this, how, it may be asked, have species arisen in a state of nature?”

So domestication can, from a certain viewpoint, be considered natural selection on steroids…right? Darwin’s use of the domestication blueprint aims to discover the signs of similar ancestry between species; fair enough. But we can’t really take the comparison any further, can we? Because the goals of natural and artificial selection can vary wildly. Nature (and if this is wrong, please skewer me for it; I’m not actually referencing a source for this) seems to focus solely on the survival of a species or organism, while humanity’s aims for domestication can vary wildly. So shouldn’t an organism’s current state of domestication also vary wildly than if we had otherwise tampered with it?

This was alluded to in post from last week as well. The question here I think is – how plastic are animals? What are the variables? With enough time, can you completely change a creature’s composition? For example, with enough time and tampering, could we theoretically go from horse to fish? And how much of this will we actually find in nature? Darwin seems to be on a line of thought (although he disregards it in favor of species classification) that says nature will never have the breadth of change that domestication does. The parameters aren’t set. There seems to be a need for ‘total manipulation,’ a requisite for every variable to point in the proper direction to elicit truly drastic changes. This makes sense to me when we compare it to the paleo readings, and the discovery of evolution having varying rates of speed. Hell, this reminds of the chaos theory discussion that permeates Jurassic Park. My math major is showing, but to me, it all comes down to variables.

My conclusion – domestication provides such a greater species variety and difference than nature because the variables are controlled. It’s like psychological reinforcement, strict selection of desirable domesticate traits ‘reinforces’ natural selection (you can tell me that’s a stupid analogy). The better we control the variables, the greater the differences between domesticates and natural creatures, and the more careful we have to be with classifying the two by the same template. Especially if we forget about a certain reproductive amphibian variable that allows dinosaurs to breed and then kill us all.