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Author Topic: The Puppet Masters  (Read 2450 times)

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Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

The Puppet Masters
« on: July 06, 2008, 06:47:25 PM »
If creepy-crawlies gross you out, please read no further.

(If whale penises gross you out, on the other hand, please don't visit this thread.)

The Puppet Masters is a novel written by Robert Heinlein.  In the novel, a species of parasitic slugs from Titan invade Earth.  The slugs are capable of altering the behavior of their hosts.  Fortunately -- well, fortunately for the creatures of Earth, anyway -- humanity is able to fight off the invaders, and soon its biggest and brightest are heading to Titan on a battleship.

The novel is fiction, of course, but the notion of parasitic mind control is very real.  Here are some examples of parasites that are able to alter their hosts' behavior:


Ampulex compressa

When she's ready to mate, the female jewel wasp injects a specific venom into a cockroach's brain.  This has the effect of nullifying the cockroach's escape reflex (apparently, anyway -- research is still underway).  The jewel wasp then leads the cockroach by one of its antennae to her burrow; upon arrival she lays an egg on the belly of the cockroach.  When the egg hatches, the larva burrows into the cockroach, eats its organs, weaves a cocoon, and finally breaks out as an adult.

[youtube=425,355][/youtube]
Zombie cockroaches revived by brain shot

[youtube=425,355][/youtube]
Congratulations, it's a boy!

And here are some articles about Ampulex compressa:

Zombie cockroaches revived by brain shot

The Wisdom of Parasites


Cordyceps unilateralis

Cordyceps is a large genus of parasitic fungi.  One species, Cordyceps unilateralis, uses ants to reproduce.  After an ant breathes in its spores, the fungus extends mycelia into the ant's brain and apparently causes it to perceive pheromones differently.  As a result, the ant climbs to the top of a nearby plant and digs in its jaws.  Finally the fungus consumes the ant's brain and sprouts out of the ant's head.  From this vantage point it will release its spores.

[youtube=425,355][/youtube]
Cordyceps Fungus

Would you like to read an article about Cordyceps unilateralis?  Awesome.  Please try:

Brainwashed by a parasite


Dicrocoelium dendriticum

At one stage in its rather complicated cycle of reproduction, the lancet fluke infects an ant.  This compels the ant to wander away from its colony after sundown, at which point it will climb to the top of a blade of grass and wait to be eaten by a sheep, a goat, or another mammal.  If it's not eaten, it returns to the colony at dawn, because both the fluke and the ant would die if they were exposed to the direct heat of the sun.  Although it passes the day in a normal fashion, at sundown it heads out again...

You can find some more about the lancet fluke here.


Glyptapanteles

The female of this parasitic wasp lays her eggs in the body of a geometrid caterpillar.  The eggs soon hatch.  At first the larvae feed on the caterpillar's bodily fluids, but soon they exit through the caterpillar's skin, attach themselves to a nearby surface, and cocoon themselves.  Rather than try to escape at this point, however, the caterpillar sticks around and evidently tries to protect the cocoons.  When the adult wasps hatch, the caterpillar dies.

[youtube=425,355][/youtube]
Zombie caterpillar controlled by voodoo wasps

And here's the article associated with the above video:

Zombie caterpillars controlled by voodoo wasps


Sacculina

Sacculina is a genus of barnacle.  When the female Sacculina larva finds a suitable crab, she slips into its body and infests it with tendrils.  The crab is rendered infertile and now treats the Sacculina's eggs as its own.  And if the crab is a male, it begins to take on the physical and behavioral characteristics of a female crab.

You can read more about Sacculina here.


Spinochordodes tellinii

Spinochordodes tellinii is a hairworm that infects grasshoppers and crickets.  When the hairworm has reached adulthood, its host is somehow driven to find water and to jump into it.  The hairworm then squirms out of the host's body; the host generally drowns.

[youtube=425,355][/youtube]
Worm Suicide

Here's an article that discusses Spinochordodes tellinii:

Parasites brainwash grasshoppers into death dive


Toxoplasma gondii

Toxoplasma gondii is a type of protozoa.  Although it can live in most warm-blooded animals, it reproduces in cats.  Does it alter the behavior of cats?  I don't know.  Apparently, though, it can alter the behavior of rodents.  If a rodent has been infected, the parasite can cause said rodent to become less frightened of cats and, indeed, to even seek them out.  Needless to say, this is bad for the rodent but good for cats -- and, naturally, good for the parasite, who just might end up inside a cat once more and get the chance to reproduce.  It's interesting to note that the parasite doesn't affect the rodent's other fears.

More controversially, some individuals believe that Toxoplasma gondii can affect the behavior of humans.  Considering the fact that an estimated one-third of the world's population is infected, this could be a big deal.  Certain scientists, for example, have asserted that Toxoplasma gondii makes men antisocial, jealous, promiscuous, stupid, boring, and generally less attractive.  Others have asserted that it actually makes men more intelligent.  (As a lifelong cat owner who's likely to be infected, I'm obviously hoping for the latter rather than the former.)  The ladies fare a bit better.  Although scientists suggest that women do become more promiscuous, which some people might regard as problematic, these same women also become kinder and more attractive.

Here's a radio segment about Toxoplasma gondii on National Public Radio:

Sneaky Parasite Attracts Rats to Cats

And here are some articles discussing Toxoplasma gondii:

Can a parasite carried by cats change your personality?

The Culture-Shaping Parasite

Parasite 'turns women into sex kittens'

A Nation of Neurotics?  Blame the Puppet Masters?



Some people are frightened by the notion of mind control.  Some people are angered by the notion of mind control.  Some people are turned on by the notion of mind control.  (If the thought of being controlled does turn you on, please visit this site.)  What are your feelings about mind control, parasitic or otherwise?  Do you find the above information frightening?  Disgusting?  Interesting?  Which parasite do you find most frightening / disgusting / interesting?  Would you play a roleplaying scenario based around the concept of mind-controlling parasites?  Might you yourself be infected with a mind-controlling parasite?

Spel

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2008, 07:47:31 PM »
Would you play a roleplaying scenario based around the concept of mind-controlling parasites?  Might you yourself be infected with a mind-controlling parasite?

Uh-oh ... is there a developing post from Spel in players wanted? *smiles*

Clearly you just need to do a once-over to see if you're all infected and whatnot. Are you antisocial? Jealous? Promiscuous? Stupid? Or boring? :) I think not.

Nifty stuff as usual, Spel. Thanks for putting all that together.  :-*

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2008, 05:16:31 AM »
Nifty stuff as usual, Spel. Thanks for putting all that together.  :-*

I thought that Elliquiy's resident 'sex kitten' would enjoy it! ;D

Seriously, I'm pleased that you found it worthwhile.  Thanks very much for the kind words! :)

Uh-oh ... is there a developing post from Spel in players wanted? *smiles*

Heh!  Would that I could, but my schedule precludes me from running anything right now.  I can't pretend that I didn't momentarily consider it, though; it's an interesting concept and one well-suited to Elliquiy.  I thought that it might actually be possible to have two players playing each character -- one playing the human, the other playing the parasite -- kind of like good ol' Everyone is John.  Alternatively, players could play the parasites, trying to manipulate the humans into doing all sorts of nasty things.  Oh, golly, I don't know... so many possibilities...

Anyway... yeah.  I'm very glad that you enjoyed the post.  Thanks again! :)

Spel

Offline King_Furby

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2008, 01:52:03 AM »
Bugs can be rather interesting, especially ants. There are so many types of ants that have all sorts specilized addaptions to their invironment.

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2008, 05:37:33 PM »
Bugs can be rather interesting, especially ants. There are so many types of ants that have all sorts specilized addaptions to their invironment.

Ants are indeed pretty cool.  Do you remember that ant supercolony which stretches 3,700 miles?  Although socially I lean toward a sort of cooperative individualism -- I'm not likely to follow the example set down in Hellstrom's Hive -- I really admire ants' capacity for loyalty and united diligence.  Ants are clever and creative, too!

Perhaps I'll start an ant thread at some point...

Spel

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2008, 05:41:36 PM »
I'm actually stalking Spel's posts. Shh, don't tell him.

Quote from: Supercolony Article
And evolution would then have reinforced this superiority because nests devoid of internal strife would have had time and resources to fight off their enemies.

I think we should assemble a report and bring it to the world leaders. The title should be "Can't We All Just Get Along?".

It should be subtitled "Defensive Preparations for Imminent Extraterrestrial Attack".

I totally think we have something here.

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2008, 05:35:41 AM »
Strange... I can't help but feel that somebody's watching me.  I should probably turn off this 'erotic' video... and put away this 'sensual' magazine... and hide these 'Swedish novelty items,' too... and return the lotion to the cabinet, I suppose... as for the trapeze...


I think we should assemble a report and bring it to the world leaders. The title should be "Can't We All Just Get Along?".

It should be subtitled "Defensive Preparations for Imminent Extraterrestrial Attack".

I totally think we have something here.

By the time it reached the United Nations Security Council, sadly, it most likely would've mutated into a resolution to eradicate ants around the globe.  "These bastards work together better than we do!  They're dangerous!  Get the pesticide, quick!"

Spel

Offline Mathim

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2008, 02:44:32 PM »
But none of these insect creatures have the brain capacity we do, not to mention size. I mean, it's pretty much impossible for something like that to happen, the brain is so sensitive we wouldn't be able to really control ourselves, let alone have them control us. We'd probably just be brain dead if they tried to control us.

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2008, 06:08:31 PM »
Brain size is not everything. You only need to look up evolutionary history of humans to know that (seriously, go compare the brain sizes of a. afarensis - aka Lucy - with a modern-day chimp, or that of a Neanderthal with a modern-day human... and then wonder why the chimps and the Neanderthals don't reign over us as primate kings of the world) a lot more factors are at work.

Also, considering how much a tiny little pill can change behaviour (for better or worse) and how intricate our brain chemistry is... then you're looking at brain capacity and brain size both possibly being blown away by the production or injection of a simple enzyme or horomone.

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2008, 05:22:27 PM »
But none of these insect creatures have the brain capacity we do, not to mention size. I mean, it's pretty much impossible for something like that to happen, the brain is so sensitive we wouldn't be able to really control ourselves, let alone have them control us. We'd probably just be brain dead if they tried to control us.

Granted, there's probably no parasite out there which could make me want to watch Star Trek V: The Final Frontier while massaging my knees with mango chutney.  I mean, any more than I already do.  As Trieste says, however, apparent brain complexity isn't everything; likewise, even relatively complex behavioral chains can be altered with simple compounds.

(For example, bacteria exhibit behaviors in spite of the fact that they possess only cytoskeletal filaments for nervous systems.  And slime molds can evidently find their way through a maze.  Because organisms as clever as ants can be affected by mind-controlling parasites, therefore -- and, let's face it, we're closer to ants in complexity than ants are to bacteria -- I for one wouldn't be surprised if Heinlein got the last laugh.  While he sat nude, of course.)

Whether or not humans are genuinely susceptible to parasitic mind control -- honestly, I don't know -- some scientists certainly believe that they are.  For this reason I mentioned Toxoplasma gondii above.

One thing that I'm curious about: Can a parasite initiate behavioral chains significantly more complex than its own?  Although it seems possible, I haven't seen it stated anywhere.

Thanks for the replies, Mathim and Trieste!  (And King_Furby, too!) :)

Spel

Offline Greenthorn

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2008, 05:42:32 PM »
Just read last night on some site that my google reader is suscribed to...that Toxoplasma gondii also can cause schizophrenia and people who are infected seem to get into automobile accidents more so than an uninfected person.

So...parasites...well what about plant parasites?  Ohhh and good ole tapeworm!  I remember watching Discovery about the man who was on the toilet when he discovered a tapeworm.

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2008, 06:12:21 PM »
Granted, there's probably no parasite out there which could make me want to watch Star Trek V: The Final Frontier while massaging my knees with mango chutney.  I mean, any more than I already do.

Ahahaha. *falls out of her chair* I love chutney and will now never be able to look at it the saaaame. Oh god. *tries to breathe*

As for
One thing that I'm curious about: Can a parasite initiate behavioral chains significantly more complex than its own?  Although it seems possible, I haven't seen it stated anywhere.

What about ergot? I just did a quick Wiki search (lazy today; it's cold) to make sure I'm thinking of the right symptoms, and while the behaviours aren't necessarily positive for the animal who's ingested the fungus, it does change behaviour. Perhaps it could be seen as an evolutionary Big Stick to punish whatever organism was so brazen as to ingest the ergot. Since ergot doesn't rely on the digestive tracts of other organisms to reproduce or carry it to newer, greener pastures - and, in fact, it relies on the reproductive system of the organism it's infected, which means consumption would be doubly bad - it would stand to reason that the fungus would develop a means of deterring consumption.

As a means of deterring consumption, it causes severe pain, miscarriages (I'm inferring from the Wiki article, here, which lists uterine contractions as a side effect - which would result in a possible early labour at best, and a miscarriage at worst) and various other undesireable effects. It's like a big giant biological "Don't eat me" sign. You pull Pavlov into the equation and blammo - behaviour modification via negative reinforcement, delivered by chemical means, which are arguably more complex than the fungus itself is capable of.

Or am I taking it too far? *ponder*

Offline Kalen

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2008, 06:57:27 AM »
I am reminded of an amazing episode of House, where this woman could not feel pain... and had the most MASSIVE tapeworm living in her stomach.  This thing was... just... wrong. 

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2008, 10:15:12 AM »
What's wrong is the supposed tapeworm diet... which I still haven't been able to disprove, and apparently neither has Snopes.

Offline Kalen

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2008, 10:25:07 AM »
That's so... wrong!

Offline Greenthorn

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #15 on: August 07, 2008, 10:28:06 AM »
The tapeworm diet did exist...I don't even need to read T's link *grins* (errr yeah this is where I out myself as random fact dork).  Tapeworms were sold in a jar and used as a diet aid...they figured it was safe until they realized that the tapeworm was also destroying the intestinal tract *smiles*.  It was followed by such silly things as the vibrating chair, the cane barbell, and magnets!  Oh yes, those magnets which they -still- sell to "cleanse" your system were first used for people who wanted to lose weight.

Offline Kalen

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #16 on: August 07, 2008, 10:29:12 AM »
And then they discovered OTHER uses for the vibrating chair. 

Greenthorn would know.  She has one as her computer chair.   ;D

Offline Trieste

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Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #17 on: August 07, 2008, 10:30:49 AM »
Well, doesn't everyone?  ::)

Offline Kalen

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #18 on: August 07, 2008, 10:31:23 AM »
Not me.  I use a Sybian for my office chair.

Offline Greenthorn

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #19 on: August 07, 2008, 10:42:34 AM »
And then they discovered OTHER uses for the vibrating chair. 

Greenthorn would know.  She has one as her computer chair.   ;D

Omg Kalen why would you go and tell my private business like that!

(and you forgot to mention you bought it and sent it to my house)

Offline Kalen

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #20 on: August 07, 2008, 10:48:48 AM »
Omg Kalen why would you go and tell my private business like that!

(and you forgot to mention you bought it and sent it to my house)

And installed it.

And tested it.

I've been walking funny ever since.

Offline Spookie MonsterTopic starter

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #21 on: August 09, 2008, 05:23:24 PM »
What about ergot?

Mmm, you're almost certainly right about that; although its tropisms are pretty simple, it engenders intense symptoms in many organisms which in turn cause those organisms to exhibit pretty elaborate behaviors.  Unfortunately, however, I didn't express myself too well when I posed the question.  I was thinking of parasites which themselves would possess simple behaviors but which would be required to cause complex behaviors in other organisms in order to ensure their own survival.  Imagine, for example, a species of protist which could only reproduce by compelling humans to dance the Lambada at a specific disco in Latvia; the protist couldn't exhibit such a complex behavioral chain itself, but it could cause it.  If that makes sense!

That said, I do like your ideas about ergot's connection to negative reinforcement and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

I remember watching Discovery about the man who was on the toilet when he discovered a tapeworm.

When I first read that, I thought, "Wow, now that guy is a scientist!  Making discoveries while on the toilet!"  Then I understood.

Ahahaha. *falls out of her chair* I love chutney and will now never be able to look at it the saaaame. Oh god. *tries to breathe*

Although I'm pleased that you got a laugh out of it, I'm starting to wonder whether I should apologize...

By the way, some of you might want to check out Coming Soon: Your Own Personal Sex Machines.  You know who you are.

Spel

Offline NightBird

Re: The Puppet Masters
« Reply #22 on: August 09, 2008, 11:50:35 PM »
It's weirdly scary to consider such insidious ways that the 'self' can be dethroned, but so much of what passes for our concept of the individuated 'self' is, in fact, neurochemistry, and it's not so hard to imagine a parasite affecting chemicals.

This is the sort of stuff that we're just beginning to notice, let alone understand.