Monster of the Week: The Haunter of the Dark

Blake nears the Church of the Starry Wisdom. Art by Pete Amachree

"I see it-- coming here-- hell-wind-- titan-blur-- black wings-- Yog-Sothoth save me-- the three-lobed burning eye..."

It's one thing to contemplate the science of monsters, but what about monstrous gods?

The Haunter

Nyarlathotep has many terrible forms and embodies various avatars when representing the interests of the dark Outer Gods. For the most part, each one is as maddening and otherworldly as the last.

The form encountered by Robert Blake in the dark steeple of the Chruch of Starry Wisdom is that of a semi-material winged and tentacled creature of smokey darkness.

If we were to behold its form in full, it might well resemble the illustration to the right.

The Haunter's very touch burns and dissolves flesh, but its most fascinating ability involves properties of the universe that science only dimly understands.

Lovecraftian Quantum Entanglement

To understand this strange being, let's turn to the writings of H.P. Lovcraft, specifically his 1936 short story about the Haunter:

"Blake choked and turned away from the stone, conscious of some formless alien presence close to him and watching him with horrible intentness. He felt entangled with something-something which was not in the stone, but which had looked through it at him-something which would ceaselessly follow him with a cognition that was not physical sight."

Note the mention of entanglement, which instantly summons thoughts of quantum entanglement or, as Albert Einstein would dub it in 1947, "spooky action at a distance." Blake clearly finds himself linked to the Haunter, both in body and mind. Eventually the strange entity manipulates him from afar, using his sleeping body to arrange its escape from the ruined church.

To find the roots of quantum entanglement, we have to turn to the EPR paradox, proposed in a 1935 paper by Albert Einstein, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen. The actual term "entanglement," however, came later that year in a paper by Austrian Erwin Schrödinger. Here's a what he had to say:

"If two separated bodies, about which, individually, we have maximal knowledge, come into a situation in which they influence one another and then again separate themselves, then there regularly arises that which I just called entanglement (Verschränkung ) of our knowledge of the two bodies."

Entanglement and the Shining Trapezohedron

Quantum entanglement can prove a difficult concept to unpack, but it's best explained in terms of spinning particles. According to quantum physics, the state of an unobserved photon exists in all possible states at once (a quantum state). It's only when we observe or measure it that it exhibits a single state.

When two photons are entangled, a strange link forms between the two -- a link that remains across even vast distances. Observe the spin on one of the entangled particles and you'll instantly know the opposite spin of its quantum twin.

To produce this effect, scientists fire a laser beam through a crystal (such as a nonlinear crystal of beta-barium borate), causing individual photons to split into pairs of entangled photons. It's worth noting that Robert Blake and the Haunter of the Dark become entangled via the passage of light through an otherworldly crystal known as the Shining Trapezohedron.

Here in the natural world, scientists have successfully entangled photons, electrons, molecules and small diamonds. Back in 2011, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats even devised a quantum marriage, in which two human lovers are bombarded with freshly entangled photons. Without doubt, a similar form of entanglement binds Blake to the avatar of hoary Nyarlathotep.

The Science of Lovecraft

Now perhaps you're wondering if Lovecraft himself made this connection. Certainly, the legendary writer kept abreast of emerging science news and expressed his thoughts on relativity and quantum physics both in his fiction and his letters. For instance, consider this passage from "Dreams in the Witch House," published in 1933:

"Non- Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension."

As Lovecraft scholar S.T Joshi points out in "I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft," the author certainly ruminated on the philosophical ramifications of quantum theory -- and had difficulty coming to terms with it. Still, the science crept into his later supernatural works. Outside of artistic expression, however, the atheistic Lovecraft was rather opposed to the use of quantum theory to push "neomysticism" on the world.

We'll never be sure of a link between the Haunter and quantum entanglement, but we can't help but observe a certain "spooky action at a distance," now can we?

The Haunter in the Dark and the Shining Trapezohedron
Art by Steve Purcell

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. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

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.