Halloween Haunts: Could Vampires Be Real? by Carole Jahme

Dr Paul D Stewart (http://www.paul-d-stewart.co.uk) is a zoologist and multi award-winning wildlife filmmaker. After reading the new Darwinian vampire novel Worth Their Weight in Blood, by Carole Jahme, Stewart emailed, intrigued to know more about Jahme’s biologically credible vampires.

Subject: from Paul Stewart

Worth Their Weight in Blood is beautifully written, throughout the book you take ‘vampire lore’ and turn it to something more biologically meaningful. I’m not sure that has been done before. How did you come up with the idea?

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

Thank you. Perhaps all children wonder if vampires are real, I certainly had speculated on this notion and I suppose I have been accruing evidence that vampires could be real ever since. The icing on the cake came when I started researching the psychological components of self-reflection and self-awareness in humans and other primates. The diversity in this ability just within the human species is profound and when you add non-human primate self-reflection into the mix you can easily see how a shift in function manifests in new behaviour.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

I liked the idea that the vampires “don’t see themselves”, in a mirror because they have a different form of conscious self-awareness. It even feeds in to the concept of their lacking a ‘soul’.  The “mirror test” has been used to study human autism and social empathy – can someone really be functionally ‘intelligent” and not recognise themselves in this way?

 

Image courtesy P.D. Stewart.

Subject: from Carole Jahme

Yes. We know an autistic person’s self-relatedness is different, in one mirror study young autistic children spent less time looking at their own faces and faces of others and less time using the mirror to be social and instead spent more time looking at the reflection of objects and experimenting with the mirror as an object by moving it. Some autistic adults and those with Asperger’s syndrome with average or above average IQ can function well and can have high powered jobs and earn above average salaries. But they will have distinct difficulties in seeing other points of view and giving empathic understanding when it’s needed. Their experience of social events and their memories of those events will be quite different to non-autistic people’s experience of the time they shared together. Because an autistic person’s social experience doesn’t usually include the experiences of others this may result in autistic people needing less time to sleep, dream and consolidate memories as their social memories are not whole accounts. An autistic person’s default cognition is solipsistic; if time is spent working alone, this isn’t a problem, but if the time is spent in the social realm where the needs of others matter or a recollection of a shared social event is required the autistic person may become angered and troubled. This deficit cuts both ways, those who don’t automatically experience the thoughts and feelings of others are free of intuitive obligation towards them. The non-empathic spectrum also includes psychopaths, socio-paths and narcissists.

The Great ape species show a different social awareness from each other. Gorillas behave differently to chimps, which in turn behave differently to orang utans and to bonobos. Chimpanzee emotional intelligence exceeds the social perception of autistic humans. This important fact helps to drives the campaign to prevent the use of apes in laboratory experiments. Tests on bonobo emotional intelligence indicate they are more empathically sophisticated than chimps.

The Denisovans were a type of archaic human having a different, darker and more robust physique than the white-skinned-red-haired Neanderthal. Both of these archaic hominids died out around 30,000 years ago, but their genes live on in modern man because our ancestors hybridised with them. Geneticists have studied Denisovan DNA from fossilised remains and have found they carried at least three genes associated with autism in modern man.

All of this research guided me in developing vampire cognition.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

The concept of there being another surviving branch of the human evolutionary tree, one that has become a specialised predator of its primate cousins, is a nice one.

As wolves in sheep’s clothing, vampires use their intelligence to move in stealth among its more numerous prey. What examples from nature inspired you?

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

Deceit is rife throughout the natural world and we regularly deceive ourselves with our inflated egos and the placebo effect. Amongst insects there are some gruesomely cunning examples of predatory disguise and if you imagine these little critters human size with human intellect it’s an utterly terrifying concept. For example, the large blue Butterfly caterpillar secretes sweet fluid to attract red ants. The ants carry the caterpillar back to their colony and use their antenna to massage the caterpillar eliciting “honeydew” (derived from its earlier diet of thyme and marjoram flowers) which the ants drink it up. After around twenty days the caterpillar hibernates within the ant nest. But once awakened from hibernation it has changed and the caterpillar is no longer a vegetarian. It now wants meat and uses olfactory disguise and audible mimicry to enable it to creep into the ant nursery where it preys upon the precious eggs and larvae. Sounding and smelling like an ant its murderous subterfuge is undetected and the large blue remains in the ant nest to pupate. At around twenty days later the adult butterfly emerges and a band of ants carefully carry the sticky butterfly out of their nest and to foliage where the ants guard against spiders while the vulnerable butterfly sits on a leaf waiting for its wings to dry. Once safely airborne the ants watch the butterfly leave and then return to the colony.

Photo by P.D. Stewart.

There is something distinctly vampiric about the Large Blue’s ability to seduce, predate and sucker a whole colony of ants.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

It’s fascinating, I’ve never filmed the large blue but I do have a Victorian British specimen of one and a photo if you need one.

Vampires aside, do you believe there are other branches of the human tree that still survive?

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

I am interested in all primates and that includes the cryptic ones. Accounts of satyrs and wild men go back at least to the classical period. The fossil record tells us what it can, but clearly we have not found all the fossils there are to find, thus we don’t know with any certainty how many other hominoid species there have been or when they actually died out, or how much hybridising took place. The discovery of the hobbit, Homo Floresiensis, from Indonesia gives more weight to the claims that the Sumatran orang pendek (a possible archaic australopithecine species) is real and not imagined. Of course humans like to play jokes and deceive but there are some credible accounts of Big Foot. Gigantopithecus was a massive hominoid thought to have died out around 200,000 years ago, but perhaps Big Foot is a relic population…There a many extraordinary accounts from US war veterans of massive gorilla-like creatures in the Vietnam jungle, I don’t think these men are deceivers.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

Do you think there is a truth at the base of our ancient fear and fascination for anthropoid ‘monsters’?

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

King Kong still impresses, people want to see gorillas up-close in zoos to get a sense of their size. Genetics has overturned the out of Africa theory of human evolution, it seems an articulated, multiregional process took place and a bushy tree gave rise to many archaic species of anthropoidal and bipedal apes. Once our direct ancestors started to dominate the planet small, geographically isolated groups of various archaic species would have hung on and been contemporaneous with man. Story telling is one thing we humans do well, I’m suspect when our direct ancestors came across archaic ape-men it was a frightening encounter and our legends of dwarves and giants originate from such experiences.  I don’t think the notion of intelligent “others” would have such mass appeal unless it piqued our primal instincts. Primate species are still being discovered (although usually known to locals), identified in 2012 the “Lesula” a medium sized monkey from the Congo, with the saddest eyes, is a case in point.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

Vampires can infect normal humans in Worth Their Weight in Blood. Indeed the DNA for vampirism could be considered a virus like parasite/symbiont that replicates by inherited and lateral infection and then drives behaviours that ensure its genetic survival. Do you think something like that could really work?

 

Photo by P.D. Stewart.

Subject: from Carole Jahme Yes, as the brain is the control centre, any virus that can re-programme cognition could cause all manner of self-serving behaviours. With the rabies parasite the damage to the host’s nervous system usually results in death, but while declining behaviour is radically altered. The virus grows in the host’s brain and salivary glands and rabid animals are driven to bite thus passing on the rabies virus.

The toxoplasma gondii parasite usually attacks rodents’ brains, nullifying their fear of cats. Once the infected rodent is swallowed the parasite breeds inside the cat, the cat’s faeces contain the parasite, another rodent is affected and the cycle continues. But sometimes the toxoplasma parasite attacks humans, infected people manifest a slower response and are significantly more accident prone.

The zombie (Cordyceps) parasitic fungi is over 48 million years old. Today it usually infects carpenter ants and controls their behaviour causing the ant to leave the nest, climb up foliage and bite into the main vein of a leaf, lock its jaws and die in this position. Later the fungus grows out from the ant’s head and releases its sports to infect more ants.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

A vampire knocks on your door – and with the promise of long life and enhanced senses and skills, asks to be let in. The cost is your human self-reflective soul.  Would you let him in?

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

Yes. Pronounced self-reflective intelligence can entrap and depress, long term dwelling on the past isn’t helpful. It is a high price to pay for insight into others. Ignorance can be bliss, I think vampires could have a lot of fun and suffer no guilt – that plus a long life and advanced ability, yes please, bring it on!

Now I have a question for you: If you were commissioned to make a wildlife series about the types of vampires described in Worth Their Weight in Blood how would you do it? And, as beloved David Attenborough is presenting the series and expecting to go on location shoots with you to give the pubic his usual close-encounter commentary (a la the mountain gorillas) how are you going to keep him safe?

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

One problem I find answering your question is that vampires are ‘people’ with a separate identity. You would probably not make a wildlife documentary about them any more than you would make a wildlife documentary about distinct ethnic groups because wildlife documentaries at core assume that the subject cannot contribute.

I suppose you could make a Human Planet type ethnographic feature but the fact vampires live in normal society would mean that a BBC Horizon science documentary would probably be more like it. Keeping safe also seems more like the sort of security issue that you might face interviewing the head of an organisation known to abduct journalists.

 

Subject: from Carole Jahme

You are off filming soon aren’t you? Where are you going?

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

I’m off to the Falklands, everyone who has been there likes it so am hopeful it will be a fun trip. Hope Falklands not too cold. Maritime climate etc. Probably very wet however….I fly from RAF Brize Norton to the Falklands. Long flight. Not sure how much internet I will have. Elephant seals, penguins and more await me there.

Subject: from Carole Jahme

Sounds good, just keep away from Falkland vampires.

 

Subject: from Paul Stewart

Will do!

 

To read Worth Their Weight in Blood, order it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Worth-Their-Weight-Blood-ebook/dp/B00702Z3IA

 

 

2 Responses to “Halloween Haunts: Could Vampires Be Real? by Carole Jahme”

  1. bn100 says:

    Very interesting post.

  2. Oscar says:

    fascinating read.