Hypnosis and Higher Math

The narrator in “From Beyond,” comes to wish that he could believe his doctors.

I did not tell very much of what I had seen, for I feared the coroner would be skeptical; but from the evasive outline I did give, the doctor told me that I had undoubtedly been hypnotized by the vindictive and homicidal madman.
I wish I could believe that doctor. It would help my shaky nerves if I could dismiss what I now have to think of the air and the sky about and above me. I never feel alone and comfortable […]

It’s critical that he should “never feel […] comfortable” because that’s a key part of the Gothic project that Lovecraft pursues. The Gothic, among other things, attempts to undermine the things and ideas that give us comfort. Ghosts, for example, fulfill this purpose in at least three ways:

  • Dead things are not supposed to have agency at all, let along malevolent agency
  • We prefer to think of our dead loved ones as benevolent
  • The presence of dangerous ghosts means that these souls did not go to Heaven – what if there is no such place?

In “From Beyond” this Gothic project is expressed explicitly in the narrator’s wish that he could believe his experience to have been induced hypnotically, which would relegate the extradimensional monsters to the realm of dreams. The alternative, which he feels obliged to believe, is that these creatures are real, and constantly around us, and that only their (and to a lesser extent our) inability to perceive beyond certain geometrical/geographical dimensions prevents them from making us their helpless prey.

Consequently, the alternatives are

  1. We share our waking world with unimaginable horrors, and we must be very cautious not to learn too much mathematics lest we accidentally expose ourselves to their influence, or
  2. The dream world, which in “Polaris” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” have been viewed as better than the waking world, is in fact the home of these unimaginable horrors, so we must be careful about sleeping.

Notice how these options undermine OTHER concepts in which we take comfort: knowledge and its pursuit should lead to progress, not peril; sleep should be rejuvenating, not dangerous.

It gets even worse, though. In “The Dreams in the Witch House,” the extradimensional space that hosts the horrors is directly associated with dreaming, so we are denied even the illusion of alternatives.


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