At the Mountains of Madness

Well, I don’t know whether it is some sort of Hallowe’en skit or what, but the estimable arXiv has certainly served up something unusual today, in the form of a paper by one Benjamin K. Tippett with the intriguing title Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific. Here is the abstract:

In 1928, the late Francis Wayland Thurston published a scandalous manuscript in purport of warning the world of a global conspiracy of occultists. Among the documents he gathered to support his thesis was the personal account of a sailor by the name of Gustaf Johansen, describing an encounter with an extraordinary island. Johansen`s descriptions of his adventures upon the island are fantastic, and are often considered the most enigmatic (and therefore the highlight) of Thurston`s collection of documents.

We contend that all of the credible phenomena which Johansen described may be explained as being the observable consequences of a localized bubble of spacetime curvature. Many of his most incomprehensible statements (involving the geometry of the architecture, and variability of the location of the horizon) can therefore be said to have a unified underlying cause.

We propose a simplified example of such a geometry, and show using numerical computation that Johansen`s descriptions were, for the most part, not simply the ravings of a lunatic. Rather, they are the nontechnical observations of an intelligent man who did not understand how to describe what he was seeing. Conversely, it seems to us improbable that Johansen should have unwittingly given such a precise description of the consequences of spacetime curvature, if the details of this story were merely the dregs of some half remembered fever dream.

We calculate the type of matter which would be required to generate such exotic spacetime curvature. Unfortunately, we determine that the required matter is quite unphysical, and possess a nature which is entirely alien to all of the experiences of human science. Indeed, any civilization with mastery over such matter would be able to construct warp drives, cloaking devices, and other exotic geometries required to conveniently travel through the cosmos.

Despite the unusual subject matter, it certainly doesn’t read like a skit, which means that if that’s what it is then it’s a very good one. Alternatively, it could just be that Dr Tippett might be taking it all a bit too literally. However, the paper is full of names that will ring a bell to anyone familiar with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, especially those relating to Cthulhu. Anyway, sounds like an ideal topic for further investigation. Time to put my grant-writing hat on!

P.S. The title of this post is taken from ref. [2] in the aforementioned arXiv paper.


9 Responses to “At the Mountains of Madness”

  1. I was going to make a wisecrack about doing similar work for my Master’s thesis at Miskatonic University but damn, the paper author beat me to *that* as well.

  2. Steve Warren Says:

    Multiple-image mirages, akin to gravitational lenses, would be familiar to many sailors. Mirages were responsible for some serious mapping errors in the early exploration of the Antarctic. I once saw some spectacular examples off Victoria Island, Canada, of tankers being triply imaged normal-inverted-normal.

  3. George Jones Says:


    I don’t really know Ben Tippett, but, a few years ago, I did meet him at a GR mini-conference and concluding party.

  4. Take care with that research grant or Capital Laundry Services may want to talk to you.

  5. Nick Cross Says:

    Given the amount of discussion about this paper, it seems like an ingenious way of increasing the author’s standing in the REF.

  6. […] At the Mountains of Madness ( […]

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