Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alpheus Packard writes a book: Lamarck

Longtime readers of the HPL blog know that I have two Lovecraft quirks - one to uncover exactly what the relationships and espionage of Houdini with Eddy, and Lovecraft (together) were in the 1924-1926 era, and to link Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr to the Beast in the Cave, HPL's 1904-1905 weird short story.

No smoking guns on either of these, to date, but Chrispy did uncover this little gem from 23 November 1901. This means the book circulated a good 2-1/2 years before HPL came across the notion of Mammoth Cave, and the phenomenon of devolution. Of course, today, devolution is completely discredited, but not so in 1900. Biologists were puzzled by the loss of what they believed to be higher traits - blind crawfish in caves being one of these. HPL was already trying to fathom why his sophisticated and noble Providence was being overwhelmed by swarthy skinned immigrants. (Speaking of being ripped from today's headlines? Are we so "evolved" in the 21st century?)

Back on track, here is an article pericope from the New York Tribune of 23 November 1901 speaking of Packard's new book. The writer of the book is Alpheus Spring Packard, Jr. noted biologist and senior professor at Brown University. His father, Apheus Spring Packard was well known and lauded as a professor of ancient languages. Sadly, after their deaths their memories completely faded from the record, although the late Stephen Jay Gould did mention Packard, Jr in his magnum opus of evolution.

Packard was a neo-Lamarkian, as is obvious from the book he wrote. It was an eclectic group, primarily in New England, and were holdouts of believing fully in Darwinism. It's also obvious who won that academic battle, as neo-Lamarkianism has been erased from everything except from Lovecraft's writngs which still circulate.

Later, Lovecraft was fascinated by writers such as Haeckel that assisted his - sorry to say this - racist points of view on first the Nordic-type, and later Aryan thoughts.

So, did a chance meeting or lecture by Packard lead 13 year old Lovecraft to race to the library and study harder than he had to that point in order to attempt to master a new theory? Of the hundreds of caves in new England - including the one in Foster, RI, why did he reach out to write about Mammoth Cave in far off Kentucky? Stay tuned, maybe we will uncover more on this mystery.


"organic evolution": Lamarck in 1801, proposed organic evolution as the explanation for the physical similarity among groups of organisms, and proposed a mechanism for adaptive change based on the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

He wrote of the giraffe:
"We know that this animal, the tallest of mammals, dwells in the interior of Africa, in places where the soil, almost always arid and without herbage, obliges it to browse on trees and to strain itself continuously to reach them. This habit sustained for long, has had the result in all members of its race that the forelegs have grown longer than the hind legs and that its neck has become so stretched, that the giraffe, without standing on its hind legs, lifts its head to a height of six meters."

Thus, acquired characteristics force evolved changes.

Contra Darwin who believed that survival of the fittest, those who have the characteristics most adaptive survive, and therefore all others begin to appear similar to those most adaptive. It is genetic driven, not adaptive driven.

The point may seem subtle, but it is profound. Only in fiction could Lovecraft's Rats in the Walls conclusion, or Beast in the Cave conclusion appear.

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