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SPOOKY SEASON EXTRAVAGANZAAAHHH!!!!
It is Halloween so I made this for you.
It is Halloween so I made this for you.
All that is abominable is here. One thousand demons are here. May they bore into the back of your skull and nestle there. May they cackle and screech until you claw them out of there.
1. This guy (from Scott Alexander’s “Perpendicular Lives”):
Burkhard Heim is a hard man to describe, but—no, wait, “Nazi super-scientist with claws instead of hands” basically covers it. He is an easy man to describe. Very, very easy.
Heim was born in Germany in 1925. He was drafted into World War II, but soon transferred from the air force to a mad science division. His particular piece of mad science exploded, half-blinding him and destroying both his hands. His doctors performed the rare and controversial Krukenberg procedure, separating the radius and ulna to transform his stumps into claws. The advantage of this procedure is that the claws do still get tactile sensation, making it a good choice for blind double amputees without a lot of sensory options. The disadvantage is that you have claws instead of hands. I don't recommend Google Image searching this.
After the war, Heim studied physics at the University of Gottingen, where he compensated for his blindness by “acquiring an eidetic, acoustic memory”, and “found that intense concentration on the study of Einstein's relativity theory helped him control the pain in his arms mentally and physically”. His dissertation was - ironically - about the physics of the Crab Nebula.
Throughout the 1950s, he took the standard mad scientist career pathway - a little work at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, a stint advising Wernher von Braun, study of “six-dimensional meso-field equations” that permitted interplanetary travel in weeks or shorter - until he was hired by the Martin Company (later to become Lockheed-Martin) for their anti-gravity program. Wait, Lockheed-Martin had an anti-gravity program? Yes—and along with Heim it included Louis Witten (father of Edward Witten) and a person named “Welcome Bender IV”.
He also had links to the Gravity Research Foundation, one of my favorite foundations ever. The story begins with Roger Babson (previously mentioned here), a multimillionaire whose sister tragically fell in a river and drowned. While you or I might be tempted to devote our philanthropic efforts to river safety or local hospitals or something, Babson went straight to the source and declared war on gravity. No gravity, no falling into anything. He wrote an essay called “Gravity—Our Enemy Number One”, and founded the Gravity Research Foundation to pursue his crusade. This foundation may have been a little eccentric—“sometimes, [conference] attendees sat in chairs with their feet higher than their heads, to counterbalance gravity”—but they were basically competent and did good work. And one of the things they did was help publish and support Heim.
He went on in this vein for a while, but his sights were set higher than this: he wanted to create a unified field theory. He published what would become known as Extended Heim Theory in 1977, and for a while it was considered pretty exciting and plausible, though apparently more recent experiments contradict some of his predictions. He passed away in 2001, in his native Germany.
2. This dead rat:
A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.
4. “Addicted to Cool” by Philip Kennicott
Early engineers talked about air conditioning in terms that sound odd today. They didn’t just want to cool interior space but to engineer ‘man-made weather.’ The ambition latent in that phrase connects the technology to the larger, modernist project, which conquered darkness, defied gravity, extended life and put humans on the moon and their proxies beyond. But in the end, the engineers were prescient. They did, indeed, manufacture human-made weather — with longer summers, hotter seas, more ferocious storms, and extremes of drought and flooding. Now we face a disconcerting future, as an indoor species. Mankind made his own weather, and now he must endure it. "So we dream of a new Promethean benefaction, to rescue us from the unintended side effects of his last gift. Perhaps solar power or renewable energy will offset the environmental costs of running a globe full of air conditioning. Perhaps air conditioning can be made more efficient, with new miracle desiccants — chemicals that dry air — reducing energy consumption. Maybe the whole globe can be cooled by pumping sulfuric acid into the stratosphere, to make the planet more reflective of the sun’s energy, thus engineering human-made weather on a planetary scale.
The new dream is an uneasy one and vastly different from the old one. We seek not an escape from bad weather or occasional respite from the long hot summer. We want to live beyond or without weather, because the weather we made is killing us.
This sounds like a job for the
Our Mission: to accelerate the world’s transition to non-being.
Our Vision: Imagine a world that doesn’t exist. That is our commitment.
Who We Are: The twenty-first century is unique in human history. At no other time has our species possessed more numerous and powerful means to end the world as we know it. The previous century gave us nuclear weapons; our own era adds new innovations — breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, nanotech, bioengineering, and other technologies — to the growing number of paths to anthropogenic apocalypse.
At present, it is difficult to estimate the likelihood of a global catastrophe. Researchers who study such scenarios vary in their conclusions. The best estimates place the chances of humanity surviving the present century somewhere between 9% and 50%.
This is an unacceptable level of uncertainty. We can do better.
HORROR FICTION AND A WORD FROM OUR SPONSORS
6. “The Red Tower” by Thomas Ligotti
Despite their ostensibly mad or credulous origins, these testimonies, it seemed to me, deserved more than a cursory hearing.The legendary conflict between the factory and the grayish territory surrounding it may very well have been a fabrication of individuals who were lost in the advanced stages of either physical or psychic deterioration. Nonetheless, it was my theory, and remains so, that the Red Tower was not always that peculiar color for which it ultimately earned its fame. Thus the encrimsoning of the factory was a betrayal, a breaking-off, for it is my postulation that this ancient structure was in long-forgotten days the same pale hue as the world which encompassed it. Furthermore, with an insight born of dispassion to the point of total despair, I envisioned that the Red Tower was never solely devoted to the lowly functions of an ordinary factory.
new favorite word: encrimsoning
“The invincible human moth” by Erik Hoel
When I place the gun in his little hands I feel subtle tremors. Those are new, and I note them to myself as the boy, whose name is Tomas, brushes back the bangs that have grown long during the months we’ve been on the road. His face is pale and his eyes are very wide. He didn’t use to be this nervous when we did this. Months ago he would hold the gun and point it at me in toyish delight, utterly prepared and utterly faithful. He is beginning to suspect the truth. Perhaps he deduced it for himself, or simply read online about my methods.
“A creepy clown manifesto” by Sam Kriss
The forests have been strip-logged and grown back again worse, and the trees are just weeds now, white and narrow, branching out like pale spindly fingers: the rustling of trees outside your window at night is how you know that there’s someone in your house. These woods are all hollow inside, forests too young and splintered to hold anything like folklore, where nature looks like a cheap film set, where the nymphs and sprites would get trapped in Coke cans and starve, where every animal is mud-splattered, pre-butchered, and desperate. Since you stopped leaving pornography out here you have no use for these woods, and they have become a home for the clowns. They suit us fine. Our evil is not ancient; we are depthless and outside of history.
This blog is a labor of hate. I do not charge for any of this sizzling hot content and I never will. Paywalls cannot and should not contain the Bacon; Bacon is for the people, by the people. If you derive any fear or despair from what I post on here, all I ask is that you pass it on: share Secretorum with an enemy.
7. Some previous posts of mine that pair well with spooky season:
Word and Wheel (fiction)
The Eden Project (fiction)
Living and Dying with a Mad God (non-fiction)
Spooky Season ‘22 (last year’s links post, not nearly as spooky)
Thanks for reading Secretorum! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST NOW
Long-term nuclear waste warning messages are communication attempts intended to deter human intrusion at nuclear waste repositories in the far future, within or above the order of magnitude of 10,000 years.
A 1993 report from Sandia National Laboratories recommended that such messages be constructed at several levels of complexity. They suggested that the sites should include forbidding physical features which would immediately convey to future visitors that the site was both man-made and dangerous, as well as providing pictographic information attempting to convey some details of the danger, and written explanations for those able to read it.
A 1993 report from Sandia National Laboratories aimed to communicate a series of messages non-linguistically to any future visitors to a waste site. It gave the following wording as an example of what those messages should evoke:
This place is a message... and part of a system of messages... pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.
What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.
The danger is in a particular location... it increases towards a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.
The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.
The danger is to the body, and it can kill.
The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.
The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.
To determine how to convey long-term nuclear warning messages, the Zeitschrift für Semiotik (Tübingen, Germany) issued a poll in 1982 and 1983 asking how a message might be communicated for a duration of 10,000 years. The poll asked the following question: "How would it be possible to inform our descendants for the next 10,000 years about the storage locations and dangers of radioactive waste?" leading to the following answers:
An atomic priesthood:
The linguist Thomas Sebeok was a member of the Bechtel working group. Building on earlier suggestions made by Alvin Weinberg and Arsen Darnay he proposed the creation of an atomic priesthood, a panel of experts where members would be replaced through nominations by a council. Similar to the Catholic church – which has preserved and authorized its message for almost 2,000 years – the atomic priesthood would have to preserve the knowledge about locations and dangers of radioactive waste by creating rituals and myths. The priesthood would indicate off-limits areas and the consequences of disobedience.
French author Françoise Bastide and the Italian semiotician Paolo Fabbri proposed the breeding of so-called “radiation cats” or “ray cats”. Cats have a long history of cohabitation with humans, and this approach assumes that their domestication will continue indefinitely. These radiation cats would change significantly in color when they came near radioactive emissions and serve as living indicators of danger.
To transport the message, the importance of the cats would need to be set in the collective awareness through fairy tales and myths. Those fairy tales and myths in turn could be transmitted through poetry, music and painting. As a response, the podcast 99% Invisible commissioned musician Emperor X to write a song about ray cats for a 2014 episode about long-term nuclear waste warning messages. The song, called “10,000-Year Earworm to Discourage Settlement Near Nuclear Waste Repositories (Don't Change Color, Kitty)”, was designed to be “so catchy and annoying that it might be handed down from generation to generation over a span of 10,000 years”.
9. Science Magazine: “Crocodiles are alarmingly attuned to the cries of human babies”
Whether they’re in mortal peril or just suffering from indigestion, infants across the animal kingdom cry out to tell their parents they need help. Unfortunately for them, the parents aren’t the only ones attuned to the cries of their vulnerable young. Nile crocodiles are uniquely sensitive to the wails of distressed primate babies, according to a new study—and the more anxious the cry, the more interested the crocs become.
10. Excerpt from “The Immortal”:
Nine doors opened into that cellar- like place; eight led to a maze that returned, deceitfully, to the same chamber; the ninth led through another maze to a second circular chamber identical to the first. I am not certain how many chambers there were; my misery and anxiety multiplied them. The silence was hostile, and virtually perfect; aside from a subterranean wind whose cause I never discovered, within those deep webs of stone there was no sound; even the thin streams of iron-colored water that trickled through crevices in the stone were noiseless. Horribly, I grew used to that dubious world; it began to seem incredible that anything could exist save nine-doored cellars and long, forking subterranean corridors. I know not how long I wandered under the earth; I do know that from time to time, in a confused dream of home, I conflated the horrendous village of the barbarians and the city of my birth, among the clusters of grapes.
The impression of great antiquity was joined by others: the impression of endlessness, the sensation of oppressiveness and horror, the sensation of complex irrationality. I had made my way through a dark maze, but it was the bright City of the Immortals that terrified and repelled me. A maze is a house built purposely to confuse men; its architecture, prodigal in symmetries, is made to serve that purpose. In the palace that I imperfectly explored, the architecture had no purpose. There were corridors that led nowhere, unreachably high windows, grandly dramatic doors that opened onto monklike cells or empty shafts, incredible upside-down staircases with upside-down treads and balustrades. Other staircases, clinging airily to the side of a monumental wall, petered out after two or three landings, in the high gloom of the cupolas, arriving nowhere. I cannot say whether these are literal examples I have given; I do know that for many years they plagued my troubled dreams; I can no longer know whether any given feature is a faithful transcription of reality or one of the shapes unleashed by my nights. This City, I thought, is so horrific that its mere existence, the mere fact of its having endured — even in the middle of a secret desert — pollutes the past and the future and somehow compromises the stars. So long as this City endures, no one in the world can ever be happy or courageous. I do not want to describe it; a chaos of heterogeneous words, the body of a tiger or a bull pullulating with teeth, organs, and heads monstrously yoked together yet hating each other — those might, perhaps, be approximate images.
MISCELLANEOUS PAIN, SADNESS, AND DEATH
11. The Capuchin Crypt:
The Capuchin Crypt is a small space comprising several tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini on the Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini in Rome, Italy. It contains the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars buried by their order. The Catholic order insists that the display is not meant to be macabre, but a silent reminder of the swift passage of life on Earth and our own mortality.
As friars died during the lifetime of the crypt, the longest-buried friar was exhumed to make room for the newly deceased who was buried without a coffin, and the newly reclaimed bones were added to the decorative motifs. Bodies typically spent 30 years decomposing in the soil, before being exhumed.
Olēka: the awareness of how few days are memorable. Intertwined with all that we have missed is the opposite (but also possibly disheartening) feeling of how little we’ve gained. Do you ever recall the weeks leading up to a holiday, or were they just obstacles or empty dates waiting to be crossed out and forgotten? What was the last thing you said to your friend? What did you eat for dinner this day last week?
Achenia: the maddening sense that the world is too complex to even begin to understand, that whenever you try to answer even the most trivial question, it quickly tangles into a thicket of complications and melts into a quicksand of nuance, leaving you flailing for something solid to hold on to, struggling to come up with anything you could say that is definitively 100 percent true.
13. STOP THE PRESSES: “Dying to die: New micro and macro evidence that suicide terrorists are suicidal” (Varaine, 2023)
14. Science Magazine: “Humans will trade pain for useless information”
People often go great lengths to earn a reward—no pain, no gain, as the saying goes. A new study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that many will also go to great lengths for functionally worthless information, showing a willingness to endure physical pain for information about the value of a monetary reward, even when that information won’t affect its value.
(…so what you are doing right now basically)