Ubbo-Sathla, Gray Goo, and The Devouring Mother

Earlier, I had mentioned the fictional Outer God Ubbo-Sathla, a creation of writer Clark Ashton Smith and set in the same Lovecraftian universe as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth. I find Ubbo-Sathla interesting because of a creepy similarity to certain vegetative goddesses of ancient mythology.

Ubbo-Sathla has been described as a great pool of gray protoplasm, seething and bubbling in a subterranean cave. He has very low sentience, if any at all. To touch him is instant death. He continuously sloughs off a flood of amoeba-like “proto-life,” creatures that wriggle away and over millenia perhaps evolve into other creatures such as insects, cats, and humans.

The creepy thing is, Ubbo-Sathla also re-absorbs living creatures. Sometimes he re-absorbs the “proto-life” creatures immediately after they are generated. Sometimes he re-absorbs more highly evolved creatures, like humans, perhaps learning whatever information these creatures might have gained during their lifetime (perhaps this is how he will regain the sentience he once had?). It is said that someday Ubbo-Sathla will re-absorb all life on Earth. The surface of the planet will then be one vast ocean of gray protoplasm.


The idea of an ocean of gray protoplasm taking over the earth brings to mind the hypothetical danger of nanotechnology leading to a Gray Goo scenario.

Maybe Ubbo-Sathla is the result of out-of-control nanotechnology? Eons ago, an alien civilization sent out nanotech spores to seed the universe with life, and Ubbo-Sathla and all earthly life is the result?


Gray Ooze (classic Dungeons and Dragons)


The Gray Ooze That Ate the Indonesian Villages
— Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2006

Ubbo-Sathla already starting to re-absorb all earthly life!


For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end. Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the newmade Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey, formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life . . . And all earthly life, it is told, shall go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla.

— The Book of Eibon (quoted from the beginning of Clark Ashton Smith’s original story)


Ubbo-Sathla reminds me of a 1958 movie called The Blob and its 1988 remake. (Looks like there’s another remake in the works — I must see it.)

But Ubbo-Sathla reminds me especially of a 1985 movie called The Stuff. In this movie, a sinister white goo is found in an underground chamber. It tastes amazingly good, and once you eat it you want to keep eating it — and then it takes over your mind. See the underground scene starting at 4:55 in this YouTube clip. This huge underground pool of white bubbling goo is the spitting image of Ubbo-Sathla!


For an interesting short story involving Ubbo-Sathla, see Omega, by Gary Myers, in his book Dark Wisdom. This book is a collection of Lovecraftian short stories. Other memorable short stories in this collection are What Rough Beast and From Inner Egypt.


I am a big fan of The Teaching Company, which produces college-level courses on CD-ROM and DVD. One of my most favorite Teaching Company courses is Myth in Human History, by Professor Grant L. Voth. The lectures discuss (among other topics) myths about vegetative goddesses who not only create but also consume life; in some of these myths, the goddess is said to actually eat her own children. One example Dr. Voth gives is an Irish goddess named Danu, from whom all life came, and to whom all life must return. Underground temples like the ancient complex Newgrange (which is possibly a temple to Danu, and which is even older than the Egyptian pyramids) are thought to simultaneously represent wombs and tombs (“cradle to grave”). For more on ancient Irish goddesses and Newgrange, see A Womb Not a Tomb, an article by Geraldine Moane.

In his Jung-infused book The Living Labyrinth, Jeremy Taylor mentions the archetype of a mother goddess who gives birth to all life, but in time devours all. As an example, he gives the example of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, who is described as having snapping mouths in all her joints. You can see a rather creepy drawing depicting Tonantzin, Mother and Devourer of All, the One to Whom All Paths Lead, here. Mr. Taylor references another book entitled The Hungry Woman, by John Bierhorst. (The Devouring Mother is a well-known Jungian archetype.)

Another Aztec goddess, similar to Tonantzin, is Coatlicue. Wikipedia says “She represents the devouring mother, in whom both the womb and the grave exist.” I am wondering whether Tonantzin and Coatlicue are two different names for the same goddess.

Online article exploring the origins of the womb-tomb/cradle-to-grave idea: Mother Earth-Mother Death: The Womb and the Tomb

The temples of vegetative Earth goddesses tend to be underground, like Newgrange. Descending into the underworld is simultaneously symbolic of a return to a womb, and of entering a tomb. The underground location is like Ubbo-Sathla’s subterranean location. Ubbo-Sathla thus has a lot more in common with the vegetative Earth goddesses and chthonic deities than, say, with sky gods like Zeus or Thor.

Here’s a broken link that went to a related story; maybe the website is only temporarily down? (I keep the link here in the hope that it might some day be working again.)


Papers on PubMed regarding filial cannabilism (eating one’s own young).


The idea of the cyclicity of life is reminiscent of the Ash Wednesday incantation: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return”, a quote from Genesis 3:19. Also of the idea of reincarnation.


Huge hidden biomass lives deep beneath the oceans — New Scientist, May 23, 2008.

Ubbo-Sathla lives!


The Tower Of The Mighty God Ubbo-Sathla
— photo on Flickr by Midnight-digital


Mother Nothingness (The Triumph Of Ubbo Sathla)
— heavy metal by The Vision Bleak (2010). Listen to the lyrics. It’s interesting that the non-parenthetical portion of the song’s title is “Mother Nothingness” rather than “Father Nothingness,” suggesting the vegetative goddesses and the devouring mother archetype.


Ubbo-Sathla
— electronic music by Flint Glass (2007)


Ubbo-Sathla
— spooky music by Endura (2008)


Review of Mr. Smith’s original tale, by Dr. Hermes:
Why is Ubbo-Sathla particularly heinous?


I think that Clark Ashton Smith knew about the goddesses who devour their own children, so the similarity between Ubbo-Sathla and these mythological figures may not be accidental. At the very beginning of the original story, the protagonist is browsing in a curio shop and finds a magic crystal that leads to his adventures. Right next to this crystal was a figurine of an Aztec god. Although the figurine doesn’t play any role in the story, maybe, just maybe, it is a very tangential reference to Tonantzin/Coatlicue? (OK, that’s a stretch. More likely, the null hypothesis is true, and it was just chance.)

I think it might have been cooler had Mr. Smith made Ubbo-Sathla female rather than male, to leave open the possibility of equation with the ancient goddesses.

For verisimilitude, it also might have been cooler had he given Ubbo-Sathla a name similar to one of these ancient goddesses, as if it were a corruption of the original name, in the same way that he corrupted the names of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu in his quote from The Book of Eibon (see quoted text above). E.g., a name similar to Danu or Coatlicue, like Danugah or Kwat-Lagu. (Yes, the names Danu or Coatlicue may themselves be corruptions of original names.) Well, I’m sure Mr. Smith had a reason for settling on Ubbo-Sathla.


Addendum (11/27/11): Here are a pair of recent MetaFilter posts that seem relevant:
My name is LUCA, I live on the ocean floor
Did Life Begin As A Ocean-Sized Lifeform?

The latter post in particular has two comments that reference Ubbo-Sathla.

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Deer Strike, November 21, 2010

A week ago, Sunday, November 21, 2010, around 6:00 PM, I hit a deer! I had spent the weekend at my sister’s new house out in Loudoun County to help her and her husband with moving and unpacking boxes. That Sunday, I excused myself to attend a 2 PM ragtime piano concert, hosted by the Northern Virginia Ragtime Society, with Perfessor Bill Edwards performing. After the concert, the plan was for me to return to my sister’s house.

I had been driving back to my sister’s new house and was just about to get off Route 7 when I hit the deer. At that point, Route 7 is two lanes going east and two going west, and I had been headed west in the right lane. There was another car in the left lane right next to me, and we were about head-to-head. Suddenly, the deer appeared just to my right, appearing to be moving from left to right. There was no time to react. I clipped it with the right front corner of my CRV; I believed I saw a spray of stuff upon impact, but I’m not sure whether the stuff was plastic material from the car or organic material from the deer. I suspect that the car to my left was lucky, and the deer had gotten out of the left lane into my lane.

For about a second I thought of just driving all the way to my sister’s house and inspecting the damage there, but within a second or two I realized that I didn’t have brakes; when I tried mashing on the brakes, there was strong resistance and no response with the brakes. Then I realized I didn’t have acceleration either! I was just coasting. So the only thing left to do was to maneuver the car to the side of the road before it lost momentum (mass times velocity). I brought the car to a stop at the intersection between West Loudoun Road and Route 7, facing west.

Here’s a street-level view of that intersection; it’s from the perspective of the Google Van in the street, but I was off the road, on the shoulder. Looking up through my windshield, I could see a street sign labeled “W LOUDOUN ST”, which is not seen in Google’s street-level view. Perhaps the street sign is a relatively new addition.

I didn’t see the deer after that; maybe it hobbled off into the woods. I myself was uninjured. No other cars or people were involved, so this was thankfully a relatively simple case.

I used my cell phone to telephone my sister to let her know what had happened. I was then fumbling about with my wallet, looking for my AAA card when the blue flashing lights of a police car show up in my rear view mirror. I would estimate that barely five minutes had elapsed between hitting the deer and the police showing up.

The policeman, a deputy sheriff, took my driver’s license and insurance information, and filed an accident report. He then kindly offered to summon a towing truck for me, explaining that if I did it myself (e.g., perhaps through AAA) it might take longer. I guess towing companies are a little more responsive when the request comes from the sheriff! I took him up on the offer. And indeed, the towing truck appeared extremely promptly, probably within ten minutes. To my amusement, the towing truck’s license plate was REPO GOD. The deputy sheriff then gave me a ride to my sister’s new house; with a chuckle, he said that if it helped me feel any better, I had made it almost all of the way to my destination before hitting the deer. And as he dropped me off, he gave another chuckle — he told me that the neighbors are now wondering about this new family that just moved into town, and that are now having a police car show up on their driveway. (There go the property values!)

Monday morning, I telephoned my insurance company, State Farm, and gave them information regarding the accident, including the accident case number. I also had to give the approval to have the towing company bring my car to Craftsman Auto Body in Purcellville. I could have had them tow it to Arlington so that if/when my car was repaired it would be close by, but I thought that towing my car all the way from the Purcellville area to Arlington wasn’t such a good idea.

Most everything went surprisingly smoothly, from the appearance of the deputy sheriff and the towing truck to State Farm’s handling of the matter. I think it’s because deer collisions are very common in Loudoun County, at this time of year. Indeed, this very timely article appeared in the Loudoun-Times-Mirror on November 24. Maybe if my case weren’t so cut-and-dry, e.g., if a second automobile were involved, things wouldn’t have gone so smoothly.

The only glitch in the whole process, and it is a very minor one, really, was with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I had telephoned them on Monday to reserve a mid-sized car, which I wanted pick up on Tuesday morning. I didn’t want too large a car because the parking spaces at River Place are rather narrow, and because the $900 that my insurance covers towards rental cars might last long with a larger vehicle (which incur a higher daily rate). When I showed up to Enterprise on Tuesday morning, there had been a small error — they thought I had wanted the car on Wednesday morning. The car they assigned to me was a Chevy Impala, which I don’t think is mid-sized; actually, it seems rather full-sized. I suspect that I wasn’t given a true mid-sized car because of the clerical error. Again, this was really a very minor error (in case you’re wondering, I am not being charged the rate of a larger vehicle). In fact, sometimes I enjoy using these minor errors in life to try something different. For example, if the waitress at a restaurant accidentally gives me the wrong dish and it isn’t a totally ridiculous error, I accept the dish anyway use it as an opportunity to try something that I might not otherwise have ordered. Here, I was given the opportunity to try driving a Chevy Impala, and am currently greatly enjoying this car.

Wednesday morning, November 24, I stopped by the auto body shop to get some things out of my CRV, including the parking hang tag for my parking garage, as well as some of my favorite CDs. While there, I took a few photos of the CRV with my cell phone camera.

Poor Fats Waller Has A Black Eye and a Broken Nose


Oblique View of Fats' Black Eye



Green Goop Dribbling Out Of Fat's Broken Nose (Probably Radiator Fluid)


Green Slime! Don’t Touch It! It is Certain Death! Look Out! It’s Dripping!
Green Slime — the movie
Ex-Nickelodeon Stars Relate Horrors Of Green Slime Syndrome

Deer Fur Stuck To Fats' Chin


En Face View of Fats' Broken Nose


Close-Up Of Black Eye


Fats' Profile, from Right


Right Superior Oblique View Of Fats' Forehead


Rental Car, a Chevy Impala

At the time of this writing/typing (Sunday afternoon, November 28, 2010), I haven’t yet heard from State Farm about their assessment of the damages. I think everybody was off on vacation for the Thanksgiving Holiday. So, I think I’ll hear about the damage assessment maybe tomorrow or Tuesday.

A final note on the Chevy Impala. The four previous cars that I have driven, a Mitsubishi Colt, a Nissan Sentra, a Nissan Maxima, and my current Honda CRV, have all been Japanese. All had a techy, perhaps slightly geeky engineerish feel to them. NOT SO with this Impala. In contrast, this car has a very masculine, very American, bold, brash, confident, expansive, romantic, optimistic, adventurous feel to it. It’s the kind of car that a wealthy older retired couple (probably named Marge and Herbie) would take on a cross-country tour, going through the Great Plains and the West and the Grand Canyon. It’s the kind of car that a teen-ager might commandeer without his parents’ approval and go drag racing with, and maybe he’d fool around with his girlfriend in the back seat on prom night. It’s the kind of car that a big fish in a small pond (maybe a small-town judge or a small business owner) might drive. This car is a cowboy! I can imagine a cool twenty-something dude buying such a car second-hand, and souping it up into a muscle car, a la Greased Lightnin’.

(As an aside, ragtime composer Joseph Lamb wrote a piece entitled Greased Lightening [sic].)

While the musical Grease evokes the 1950’s, this Impala evokes nostalgia for the Seventies and the big cars that you’d see on TV shows and movies of that era. Even the fonts on the dashboard (sans serif, italicized) feel 70-ish. It is no accident that the legendary JATO Rocket Car is traditionally said to have been a Chevy Impala. From page 4 of the Rocket Car story:

One aspect of the Rocket Car legend that always tickles me is that no matter how much the story varies, the make, model and year of the car is always specified. Sure this is a nice detail to have on hand, but considering the details left out of the description, it looks… sorta silly. In the Darwin Award version, there’s no mention of which highway the car was on, or even whereabouts in Arizona the story took place. And Arizona is a pretty big place. There’s also no mention of any investigation that took place afterwards. But despite all these oversights, the story did specify that the car was a 1967 Chevy Impala. I think the reason this detail is always supplied is because it’s critical to make the listener think the test pilot at least looked cool when he flew into the cliff. You’ll never hear someone tell a story about a guy in a rocket-powered K-car or a Volkswagen Beetle. It has to be a car that deserves to have a rocket attached to it.


Addendum (11/30/10):
It could have been worse: Road fatalities involving animals (USA Today)


Addendum (12/18/10): Stayed overnight at R. & K.’s. This morning, helped them move boxes from their garage to the basement. Then I drove the rental Impala — which K.C. dubbed “Jerry” — to Craftsman Auto Body, while R. & K. (& S.) followed in their van. I picked up the key for Fats, and then R. and I transfered stuff from Jerry to Fats. Fats looked good as new!

Then I drove Jerry to an Enterprise location very nearby, and again R. & K. followed. I surrendered Jerry’s keys to Enterprise, and discovered that I didn’t have Fats’ key, even though I just had it back at Craftsman. After checking with R., my hunch was that I had accidentally left it in Fats’s trunk along with stuff had transfered there from Jerry. We returned to Fats in Craftsman’s lot and indeed the key was there, in Fats’ trunk!

We then drove to Ford’s Fish Shack in Ashburn and had lunch. I had their root beer float, a cup of New England style clam chowder, and their Ipswich clam dinner. (The New England theme — how about a Dunwich or Innsmouth clam dinner? — and the current Christmas season made me think of this Lovecraft-inspired video.) R. and I also split an order of deviled eggs. From there, R. & K. had to split off to do an errand, while I went home. On my way home, I stopped by a Trader Joe’s in Falls Church and bought their macaroni and cheese (because it was highly rated here), as well as a bottle of cherry juice. Then I stopped by a Dunkin Donuts to pick up a medium coffee, and then stopped at a gas station to refuel Fats.


Addendum (09/03/11): Deer ‘pill’ curbs aggressive mating. “The aggressive mating causes an estimated $1bn (£600m) in damage to property each year and an upsurge in collisions with cars.”

The Wisdom of the Elders

For S.F. and I.K.

I can understand the idea behind wanting younger people, but to be honest I think older people are often more careful and responsible.

… suggests a hubris among younger workers

Totally agree.

The younger workers might know the latest cool whiz-bang stuff, but the older people will understand the big picture, and will be able to efficiently direct talent and energies. The former will know many different trees; the latter will understand the overall lay of the forest and how it all fits together.

It’s like the difference between “intelligence” and “wisdom” in Dungeons and Dragons, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post (yeah, I know that “intelligence” and “wisdom” can be hard to define, hence the scare quotes). Wisdom is not as easy as intelligence to measure. For example, it’s easy to see that somebody has the smarts to program a fancy application in the latest cool whiz-bang computing language, and not so easy to tell whether somebody is careful, responsible, and non-hubristic. So, it’s easy to give wisdom short shrift.

High intelligence and low wisdom is a dangerous combination, because it leads to hubris (I.K.’s word), which in turn leads to human-made disasters like the ones we’ve been hearing about in the news the past year or so. Someone with the opposite problem — low intelligence and high wisdom — would at least be aware of their own limitations.


I am reminded of a paper I read for my statistical consulting course, Barabba, Vincent P. (1991), Through a glass less darkly, Journal of the American Statistical Association, 86, 1-8, but only because that paper in turn referenced another work, Haeckel S.H. (1987), Presentation to the Information Steering Group, Cambridge, MA: Marketing Science Institute.

In Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy (according to Barabba — I don’t have access to Haeckel’s presentation, so I’ll have to trust Barabba on this), raw data is converted (transmuted?) into information. It takes a lot of data to produce one piece of information, in the same way that you need multiple data points to estimate a mean with a low standard error. Information in turn is converted into intelligence, which is converted into knowledge, which is finally converted into wisdom. There is attrition at each stage; e.g., in the same way that it took a lot of raw data to produce one “bit” of information, it takes a lot of information to produce one piece of intelligence, etc.

Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy (adapted from Barabba, 1991)

This is not to say that raw data is unimportant; quite the opposite, in fact, since you need raw data to even begin to ascend Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy. But what seems to be happening these days is an overreliance on the bottom rungs of the Information Hierarchy at the expense of the top.


To measure is to know.

Lord Kelvin

Measuring gives you the raw data at the bottom of Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy, which can lead to knowledge, and ultimately (one hopes) wisdom. But if wisdom itself is difficult to measure, then it will be difficult to obtain knowledge about wisdom.


Here’s a Magic The Gathering card with a delicious flavor text, one of my favorites: Counsel of the Soratami. The flavor text reads:

Wisdom is not the counting of all the drops in a waterfall.
Wisdom is learning why the water seeks the earth.

Counting all the drops of water in a waterfall would count as raw data in Haeckel’s Information Hierarchy.

Colors of Magic, Especially Yellow Magic

For K.C.

According to Chinese medicine, when the five elements (water, wood, fire, metal, wind?) are out of balance, as manifested thru organ dysfunctions, disease results.

Hmm, I’ve heard of something called “five agents theory,” I believe with respect to ancient Chinese folklore. I wonder whether it’s related to the five elements. Maybe it’s the same thing.

In the card game Magic The Gathering (MTG), there are five colors. Maybe there’s a mapping between the five colors and the five elements: blue:water, green:wood, red:fire, black:metal, white:wind? (Speaking of which, if you see the movie Sorcerer’s Apprentice, watch the background for Drake Stone’s Magic The Gathering posters. Apparently, Mr. Stone has his own MTG cards. Also, drake = “dragon”.)


Here is a 1978 paper by H. Nickel (And Behold, A White Horse… Observations on the Colors of the Horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Metropolitan Museum Journal 12:179-183) which mentions the five-color system of ancient China. It would’ve been interesting if Magic The Gathering had used the same five colors as the ancient Chinese system, but alas no: instead of white, blue, black, red, and green, the Chinese had white, blue, black, red, and yellow. The following table shows the mapping from cardinal direction to color in the ancient Chinese color system.

Cardinal Direction Associated Color
South Red
North Black
East Blue
West White
Center Yellow

As you know, in MTG each color is associated with a general theme. White is associated with righteousness, law, and protection; blue with the mind (especially wisdom and intellect), time, and deception; black with death, decay, and greed; red with chaos, impulsivity, fire, and lightning; and green with nature and life. It’s fun to wonder what the theme of yellow magic would have been, if there had ever been such a thing in MTG! (Maybe yellow magic would map onto colorless mana, which is associated with artifacts in MTG?)

(As an aside, in the MTG color pentagram, each color is positioned opposite its two natural antagonistic colors. Thus, e.g., white’s natural antagonists are red and black.)

The ancient Chinese (at least, the emperor Wang Mang in the year 9 A.D.) favored certain colors. H. Nickel writes:

Thus, the emperor seated on his throne faced the south, where the sun was brightest and highest in the heaven. Consequently, the South was considered to be the foremost of the cardinal directions, and therefore the vanguard of the “Generals in Charge of the Enforcement of Imperial Power” was clad in the red of the South direction and mounted on red sorrels.

H. Nickel goes on to write:

In 201 B.C., the Han emperor, Kao, personally led a great campaign against the Hung-no… The finishing touch in this cosmological color scheme was that the center was occupied by the hapless Chinese army with their emperor, whose sacred color was yellow.


It’s fun to wonder what the theme of yellow magic would have been, if there had ever been such a thing in MTG!

Yellow Magic, Inc.

Yellow Magic Orchestra

Yellow Magic Cleaner

The King In Yellow (Victorian gothic horror by Robert W. Chambers, which influenced H.P. Lovecraft)

Yellow Lobster (yummy!)

Yellow Submarine

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker


Addendum (08-01-10): Native Americans also had mappings from the four cardinal directions to colors. I think that the Cherokee color system is particularly interesting (here’s another source):

Cardinal Direction Associated Color
South White
North Blue
East Red
West Black

The reason this is interesting is because it’s very similar to the Chinese color system — only, the colors have been rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. I.e., the two systems are π/4 out of phase, like sine and cosine, and therefore their cross-correlation is zero. (Wow, that was geeky.)


Addendum (08/02/10):

It’s interesting to compare the MTG color pentagram with this color pentagram of the five elements. Here’s another diagram of the Chinese five-element system, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Five Element System

This time, there doesn’t seem to be a pure phase shift, like we saw when we compared the Cherokee vs. the Chinese color system.

Another interesting thing about the five-element pentagram above is the dual cyclicity: there’s a creative cycle as well as a destructive cycle. This dual cyclicity reminds me of the Outer God Ubbo-Sathla, a creation of Clark Ashton Smith. In his creative cycle, Ubbo-Sathla acts as the source of all life on Earth. And he is destined, in his destructive cycle, to someday resorb all life. (I will write more on this intriguing Outer God later.)

The destructive cycle is also reminiscent of a certain game.


Addendum (08/07/10):

The Five Elements… Which One Are You?
(Myself, I’m primarily Water, with Metal a strong second. Definitely NOT Wood.)

The Five Colors of Magic: Which One Are You?
(I’m most definitely blue.)


Addendum (08/08/10): How about… purple magic?!


Addendum (08/08/10):

Wikipedia’s article on the cardinal directions includes a table showing how various cultures mapped colors to the cardinal directions. Apparently, the Turkic system has the same five colors as in Magic The Gathering: black, blue, red, white, and green. (Note that the Wikipedia article’s reference for the Turkic system does not seem to confirm this!)

Hmm, according to this web page, the Cherokee system also included green for the center. So the Cherokee system also maps to the five colors in MTG.


Addendum (08/08/10): See also the “five-factor model” of personality, sometimes called “Big Five.” My understanding is that the “big five” were determined using a multivariate method called factor analysis (not principal components analysis, or independent components analysis?).

According to this, the Big Five have been labeled as: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. How would you map the five personality types to the five colors of MTG?

Take the Big Five test.


Addendum (08/08/10): Above, I had given a link to the old Rock-Paper-Scissors game. I just discovered that this game has been extended to include two new “weapons”: lizard and Spock. Now with five “weapons,” it forms a nice pentagram.

Here’s a diagram showing a 7-weapon version of RPS (although it’s captioned “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock”).

Here’s a 15-weapon version.

And a 101-weapon version!


Addendum (01-15-11): I saw this news story about the world’s foremost expert at vomiting. I wondered what his name would be if he were to be a super-hero. Then I remembered that black dragons in Dungeons and Dragons spit acid. So, his name could be Black Dragon, or perhaps Ancalagon.

Then I remembered that the evil “chromatic” dragons in Dungeons and Dragons came in the following five colors: black, white, red, green, and blue. Just like the colors of magic in Magic The Gathering. Here’s a list of the five chromatic dragons and their breath weapons, along with some other characteristics.

Color Breath Armor Class Hit Dice Damage / Attack Size Alignment
Black Acid 3 6-8 1-4 / 1-4 / 3-18 30′ Long Chaotic Evil
Blue Lightning 2 8-10 1-6 / 1-6 / 3-24 42′ Long Lawful Evil
Green Chlorine Gas 2 7-9 1-6 / 1-6 / 2-20 36′ Long Lawful Evil
Red Fire -1 9-11 1-8 / 1-8 / 3-30 48′ Long Chaotic Evil
White Cold / Frost 3 5-7 1-4 / 1-4 / 2-16 24′ Long Chaotic Evil

Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath

For S.J.F.:

From Wikipedia:

“Despite his notoriety, Cthulhu is not the most powerful of the deities, nor is he the theological center of the mythos. Instead, this position is held by the demon-god Azathoth, an Outer God, ruling from his cosmically centered court.”

Another Lovecraftian entity that I mentioned last night was
Shub-Niggurath, a.,.a. “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” (For some reason, I remember the name being slightly different, Shub-ish-Niggurath, but that seems to be incorrect.)

According to my copy of Deities & Demigods (James M. Ward with Robert J. Kuntz; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Games, Inc., 1980), Cthulhu has 400 hit points, is armor class 2, has 30 attacks per melee round, doing 1-10 HP damage (times 30!), is 100′ tall, and is chaotic evil. And he also has the powers of a 20th-level magic-user/illusionist.

See also: A Lovecraftian Bestiary.

Here’s a Lovecraftian MTG card: Cosmic Horror.

Published in: on 25 January 2009 at 6:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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Soul vs. Spirit and the Duality of Consciousness

I once read a very interesting book entitled The Lost Secret of Death: Our Divided Souls and the Afterlife, by Peter Novak. The thesis was that in ancient times, people made a distinction between soul and spirit, but that in modern times we have forgotten the difference. In a nutshell, spirit is a sort of spark or particle of consciousness or life, whereas soul is some sort of psychic capacitor which accumulates one’s thoughts and life experiences, good and bad. According to this system, human beings are made up of three things: a soul, a spirit, and a body.

Mr. Novak claims that if you do a careful reading of the Bible, you’ll find that this subtle distinction is maintained. He also listed many cultures which make the soul-vs-spirit distinction, which I summarize in the table below. I’ve also included in the table parallel distinctions that Mr. Novak makes between two types of ghosts and between two kinds of afterlife.

If I recall correctly, according to some ancient belief systems, if a person’s soul and spirit remained “attached” after death, then that person’s consciousness would survive death. Otherwise, that person’s consciousness would be lost forever. With special training (special prayers to the gods? meditation exercises? mastery of lucid dreaming?), one could increase the chances that one’s soul and spirit would remain attached after death, in which case one’s consciousness would survive in the afterlife.

A disembodied spirit without an associated soul results in a poltergeist; a disembodied soul without an associated spirit results in a haunt. I suppose that a spirit attached to a body without benefit of a soul may result in a Philosophical Zombie; perhaps a soul is required for qualia.

In the November 17, 2008 issue of the New York Times, an article appeared entitled Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul . In there, the Egyptian distinction between ba and ka is mentioned. So, Mr. Novak wasn’t making it up!

I have also read a book on lucid dreaming (a topic of great interest to me) entitled Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams: A Guide to Awakening Consciousness During Dream Sleep, written by Charles McPhee (a Princeton alumnus), a.k.a. The Dream Doctor. Mr. McPhee writes:

“When I worked in sleep research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, I once asked sleep researcher Dr. Wallace Mendelson to define human consciousness for me. Much to my surprise, my existential question did not cause Dr. Mendelson to blink an eye. “Consciousness is easy,” he explained. “Consciousness is a duality. It is the seemingly paradoxical ability of being able to experience sensation and, at the same time, of being able to experience oneself experiencing that sensation.

“When Dr. Mendelson first gave me this definition of consciousness, I was unsure of what I had my hands on. Over the years, however, my appreciation of this definition has grown steadily. It is the best understanding of consciousness I have ever encountered.”

I must admit that I very much like Dr. Mendelson’s definition, too. Sometimes when people are talking about consciousness, I get the impression that they are really talking about one or the other of Dr. Mendelson’s two components of consciousness. I like the recursive aspect of the second component, that of “being able to experience oneself experiencing a sensation.” I believe that Douglas Hofstadter had a similar idea about the underlying etiology of consciousness.

I wonder whether Dr. Mendelson has written anything on consciousness. When I go to PubMed and do a search on

mendelson w [au] AND consciousness [tiab]

I find only this paper.

Another very interesting book that touches upon similar topics is Human Devolution: a Vedic alternative to Darwin’s theory, by Michael Cremo. Deliciously intriguing, and very… unorthodox, shall we say. See this paper to learn more about ancient Sanskrit metaphysical teachings on consciousness. Fascinating!

OK, here’s a table listing the words, ghosts, afterlives, and consciousness components as they relate to soul and spirit. I have added a few of my own ideas.

Ancient Christianity (?) Soul Spirit
Greece Psuche Thumos
Egypt Ba Ka
Israel Nephesh Ruwach
Persia Urvan Daena
Islam Ruh Nafs
India Jiva Atman
China Hun Po
Haiti Bon Ange Ti Bon Ange
Hawaii Uhane Unihipili
Dakota Indians Nagi Niya
Academic Fields of Study Arts and Humanities Science and Engineering
Peter Novak’s descriptions of soul and spirit Subjective, dependent, fertile, emotional, nonverbal, recessive,
passive, responsive, in possession and control of the memory. Emphasizes unity with the external.
Objective, independent, logical, verbal, dominant, active, possessing independent free will. Emphasizes distinction and separateness from the external.
Ghosts Haunts
(stereotypically, a ghost tied to a specific locale, moaning about his past life, and clanking chains like Marley’s Ghost)
Poltergeists
(pure motive force, no emotional content, throwing things around)
Afterlife Eternal Bliss or Suffering
(Heaven and Hell; acyclic)
Reincarnation (cyclic)
Split Brain Right Brain Left Brain
Freud Unconscious Mind Conscious Mind
Dr. Wallace Mendelson’s definition of consciousness as a duality. Ability to experience sensation. Ability to experience oneself experiencing sensation.
Dungeons and Dragons Wisdom (clerics) Intelligence (magic users)

It was with great interest that I discovered that many psychic readings of Edgar Cayce (pronounced “kay-see”), “The Sleeping Prophet” (I wonder whether he experienced lucid dreams), have been gathered into a single book entitled Soul and Spirit. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to make much sense of the readings! They are raw and largely unedited (the editors didn’t want them to be colored by someone else’s interpretations), and are very challenging to read. You can try reading a sample here; maybe you’ll do better than me.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that there are three parts to the “soul”: reason, will, and desire. This isn’t quite the same as the spirit-soul-body triad, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention in this post.


Addendum (07/18/09): I just found a series of articles from 1913 entitled Spirit, Soul, and Flesh, by Ernest D. Burton, published in The American Journal of Theology. Here are the references (if you do not have a JSTOR account, these links may not work):

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: I. Am J Theol, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Oct., 1913), pp. 563-598.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: II. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1914), pp. 59-80.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: III. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jul., 1914), pp. 395-414.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: III. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Oct., 1914), pp. 571-599 [yes, for some reason ‘III’ was repeated; this was probably an error]

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: IV. Am J Theol, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jul., 1916), pp. 390-413.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: V. Am J Theol, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Oct., 1916), pp. 563-596

Akashic Records

For E.N.

The term Akashic Records refers to a sort of non-physical (metaphysical?) record of all human knowledge and experience; I guess that since it’s non-physical, some people now call it the Akashic Field, suggesting that it is all around us and permeates the very vacuum of space. It is a very New Age idea. One of America’s most famous psychics, Edgar Cayce (pronounced kay-see), the “Sleeping Prophet”, claimed to be accessing these records when he went into one of his trances. Although the idea of the Akashic Records may have pre-dated Cayce, I think (not 100% sure) he’s the one who introduced the notion to the public at large.

Dan SimmonsHyperion SF series had something like the Akashic Records. In the Hyperion universe, evil artificial intelligences have seduced the human race with the promise of immortality. But this denial of death comes at a cost: it is destroying the non-physical store of human knowledge and experience (if I recall correctly, Simmons doesn’t actually call it “the Akashic Records”, but that’s essentially what it is). Catholics might not like this series, since the RCC has been co opted by the evil artificial intelligences in the story; but I don’t think Mr. Simmons intended this to be an attack on the RCC. The Hyperion series has a lot of Christian allegory, complete with a half-human half-divine savior of the human race, the crucifixion of this savior, and redemption via her blood. It may also be a metaphor for the dangers of subordinating wisdom (human race) to science (evil artificial intelligences). (Reminds me of the very interesting distinction that Dungeons and Dragons makes between Intelligence and Wisdom.)

The topic of the Akashic Records makes me think of the fabled (very most likely fictional) Hall of Records, which is supposed to be a physical store of ancient knowledge buried beneath the Sphinx. Unfortunately, the entrance to the chamber containing the Records is lost, and is now waiting for some adventurous archaeologist to rediscover it. This could be the basis of an Indiana Jones movie. (And lost stores of knowledge reminds me of the Library of Alexandria!)

Welcome, Rodney, to the Dungeons of Derinkuyu!

This underground city is cool. Beware Durin’s Bane!!

Twenty levels have been discovered. Unfortunately, only high-level archaeologists and anthropologists are allowed past the first eight levels. Just too dangerous.

Love the round stone doors, and the underground river. Also evokes the Morlocks.

At the lowest level, you find the Amulet of Yendor, which allows you to go back up and exit the dungeon. (Without the Amulet, you can go only down staircases.)

Published in: on 16 December 2008 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Centaur vs. Two-Handed Sword

For B.M.

According to the Monster Manual, 3rd ed. (Gary Gygax; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1978), p. 14, centaurs are armor class 5 (leaders are AC 4) and have 4 hit dice. (For the record, they also have 2 attacks per melee round, doing 1-6 damage with their hooves with one attack and a variable amount of damage with the other attack, depending on the human weapon they’re wielding.) Importantly, the size is listed as Large.

So the expected value of the number of hit points of a centaur is E{HP} = E{4*1D8} = 4*E{1D8} = 4*4.5 = 18.

According to the Player’s Handbook (Gary Gygax; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1978), p. 38, a non-magical two-handed sword does 3-18 hit points of damage against large creatures, meaning the expected value (conditional on your having actually hit) is E{3*1D6} = 3*E{1D6} = 3*3.5 = 10.5. So on average you’d need to connect with a two-handed sword about twice before the average centaur buys it.

However, you’re not guaranteed to connect every time you swing. So let’s estimate how many times you’d need to swing that sword to defeat the centaur. On page 38 of the Player’s Handbook, it says that two-handed swords have a +2 Armor Class Adjustment against both AC 4 and 5. And on page 74 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (Gary Gygax; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1979), it says that a first-level fighter needs a 15 (16) to hit AC 5 (4). With the +2 Armor Class Adjustment of the two-handed sword against AC 5 (4), this means that he/she’d need “only” a 13 (14). So every time he/she swings that sword, the expected damage against AC 5 is ((20-13+1)/20)*10.5 = 4.2 (3.675 for AC 4). This means that, on average, a first-level fighter would need to swing 18 / 4.2 ~ 4 times to kill an average non-leader centaur (and about 5 times for an average leader centaur).

But maybe it’s not fair to have a 1st-level fighter (“Veteran”) take on a centaur. Perhaps we should instead match a 4th-level fighter (“Hero”) against the centaur. OK, going through the same computations for a 4th-level fighter, I compute that the expected damage against AC 5 every time he/she swings that two-handed sword is ((20-11+1)/20)*10.5 = 5.25 (4.725 for AC 4), meaning he/she’d need to swing about 3 times (okay, 3.43) before an average non-leader centaur bites the dust (3.81, closer to 4 times for an average centaur leader).

Now, I don’t remember centaurs being quite this tough in Rogue. In Rogue, I thought that one or two hits would do. I think the rules were different in Rogue.

If I’ve made any mistakes in my computations, please let me know. But I have used the power of MATLAB (v. 7.4.0 R2007a, Student Version) to do these calculations, so they must be correct. 🙂

I knew there was a reason I’m studying to get a Master’s degree in biostatistics. If you studied statistics, you too could estimate fairly precisely whether you could take on that centaur. (Wait a sec, that word “precisely” bothers me. Maybe I should compute 95% confidence intervals…) You’d need to take your Panasonic Toughbook with you on your dungeon campaign, and be sure you’ve got MATLAB installed.

Future project: write a program that takes player character attributes (race, class, level, weapon, etc.) and monster attributes (hit dice, armor class, number of attacks, damage per attack, etc.) as input, and gives as output estimates for the outcome of combat (whether you’d win/lose, how many turns melee would last, damage dealt, etc.), with confidence intervals as appropriate. Actually, I bet somebody has already written this program.

I know. This was another really geeky post.

Published in: on 14 December 2008 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  
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Recessional: Toxic Wife Syndrome

Yikes!

Not all toxic wives are trophy wives, and not all trophy wives are toxic wives. But I suspect that the intersection between the two sets is very high. It has a high Dice Similarity Coefficient value.

Recessional

Shrew

Virago

Siren

Harpy

Sheesh, those last four words suggest a misogynistic culture! Are there analogous words for males?

Odysseus heard the song of the siren, but lived to tell the tale.

If a siren fought a harpy, who would win? Which has more hit points? Better armor class? Does more damage? I think both can fly. Maybe they’re the same thing? Maybe they’re distinct species, but evolved from some common ancestor. I’ll have to break out my Monster Manual and check.

OK, let’s see here, according to the Monster Manual, 3rd ed. (Gary Gygax; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1978), p. 51, harpies are armor class 7, have 3 hit dice, have 3 attacks per melee round, doing 1-3/1-3/1-6 damage, can fly, and have special abilities of singing and charm.

Sirens aren’t mentioned in the Monster Manual, 3rd ed. But in the Monster Manual II (Gary Gygax; Lake Geneva, WI:TSR Hobbies, Inc., 1983), a creature called a sirine appears on p. 109. Sirines have armor class 3 or less, have 4-7 hit dice, have 1 attack per melee round, damage done is by weapon type, can fly, and have special abilities of charm, polymorph self, fog cloud, and improved invisibility. They’ve got 20% magic resistance. No indication that they can fly.

All in all, in a one-on-one cage match, I think a well-armed sirine would beat a harpy.

Neither the Monster Manual nor the Monster Manual II list a shrew or a virago.

Finally, just in case you didn’t know (but surely you knew already?!), Gary Gygax died earlier this year. And Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition is now on the scene.

(My goodness this was a geeky post.)