Monster of the Week: Dr. Edward Pretorius

Meet Dr. Pretorius. Image courtesy Mark Shostrom

In the film "From Beyond" (watch it on Hulu here), Dr. Edward Pretorius pioneered use of the Resonator, a device that expands human perceptions of reality via wave manipulation of the pineal gland.

As the photos illustrate, things didn't work out all that well. Pretorius lost his corporal form and crossed over into an alternate dimension of amorphous hedonism. Mistakes were made. Brains were eaten. Things got a bit sticky.

The Science

Pretorius mutated substantially during the course of his studies, but the most telling mutation affected his pineal gland.

Typically, this pine cone shaped organ grows no longer than a .8 centimeters and remains buried in the skull on the brain's midline. Here, it produces several important hormones, including melatonin in response to environmental lighting. That's why we sometimes call the pineal a "third eye" -- and in lower vertebrates such as fish and lizards it actually stems into a parietal eye.

Parietal eyes typically appear as a grey oval on the foreheads of certain burrowing lizards (among other creatures). While the animal doesn't quite see out of this structure, the parietal eye is photosensitive and influences circadian rhythm.

Pretorius' mutated pineal gland (or perhaps a true parietal eye) actually bursts from his forehead. It even wiggles about. What a charmer! The purpose of this mutation, however, seems to have little to do with circadian rhythm. Instead, we turn our attention to the pineal gland's possible role as "a potential biological locus for spiritual experiences."

That quote comes from Rick Strassman MD, who researched the hypothetical -- and as yet unproven -- connection between the pineal gland and the production of N,N-Dimethyltryptamine or DMT. A University of New Mexico a psychiatrist, Strassman supervised more than 400 DMT sessions between 1990 and 1995. As author John Horgan relates in this Scientific American article, Strassman's test subjects dissolved into light, met God-like beings and sometimes freaked out in the presence of alien lizards.

Strassman shut down his studies in '95 out of concern for these "bad trips," but in his book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," he entertains the notion that DMT actually affects the brain's ability to RECEIVE information -- not just interpret or generate it -- allowing us to perceive dark matter and parallel universes otherwise hidden to us.

As you might imagine, mainstream science isn't quite behind the whole invisible realms theory. Dr. Edward Pretorius, however, was totally on board. He utilized his Resonator to supercharge his pineal gland, crank up his DMT production and glimpsed all the squishy, gross-out stuff happening beyond the veil of human perception.

So there you have it! The science behind yet another monster. If you want to learn more about the real science of DMT, be sure to check out next week's episodes of Stuff to Blow Your Mind: "The Scientist and the Shaman: My Egoic Mind" and "The Scientist and the Shaman: Hallucinations."

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.