Friday, September 10, 2010

10 Concerning Vampires, Pt. 2 Longevity and hunting

Vampires are predators and differ from werewolves in that they are not pack hunters. The distinction is important.

Within any given environment only a finite number of predators may hunt with success. Once the predator population reaches a certain level the prey begin to dwindle and the number of predators reduces until the prey increase and the cycle continues. A kind of fragile homeostasis exists where environmental factors come into play. A bitter harsh winter finds the deer population reduced in the spring and by autumn the critters that feed on the deer have either departed, died or switched to other prey.

This always happens.

But with vampires we have something else to consider, their alleged immortality. How will that, if true, effect the hunter-prey balance?

But first let me tell you a story.

Europeans stumbled upon the islands east and south of North America a bit over over 500 years ago and a soon began to visit Isle de Florida (they believed Florida was an island) and in the north founded the military base that soon became St. Augustine. What we seem to forget, ignore or perhaps just shovel aside are the people who lived there before the Europeans came to visit and stayed.

The Europeans found Florida hot, humid and prone to autumnal visits from hurricanes. But they also employed steel armor and woolen clothing - and a lot of it. The locals probably assumed these new folk nutters. We can’t be sure, since none of the locals survived, but given the ease with which the Europeans (Spanish, French, English, Dutch, Portuguese and the occasional Italian) seized the coast of North America the locals treated these new visitors as guests and not as invaders - the indigenous people could have tossed most of the first wave of Europeans without any particular difficulty (muskets might make a loud bang, but once one realized it takes 5 or 6 minutes to reload… well, let us just say that a good bowman could place a dozen or more arrows into a musketeer in a minute or so…. Rate of fire makes a difference!).

But I digress. A community of locals lived around St. Augustine when the first Europeans arrived. Described as tall peaceful fisherman and farmers (as were most of the coastal dwellers at that time), they also had a reputation for, if not immortality, then at least extreme longevity. The average Spaniard at that time lived some 40 years. If one of the native people lived to 80 and was born in the year of the first visitors, then by the time she died, the grandchildren of the guests might have already died…. One might credit this extreme difference in life expectancy as the original source of Ponce de Leon’s spring of regeneration or fountain of youth. But it probably was not water quality (although good clean water might have helped…) but a combination of good diet, good genetics and a peaceful, contented lifestyle that brought about the differences.

— So, do vampires live forever (if not actually killed by one contrivance or another)? Or does it just seem so from our limited perspective?

Another story…. Years ago I read somewhere that a researcher decided to estimate how long an immortal might survive. He established a couple of perimeters. Death could not occur through illness or other ‘natural’ occurrence. The creature could only die through accident or deliberate destruction by self or other - by suicide or murder. To determine this the researcher tracked the ‘lifespan’ of a batch of water glasses.

Remember that water glasses are essentially immortal - if it doesn’t break it won’t spontaneously ‘die.’

At some point (and sooner than you might think!) we reach the 50% point - the moment when only half of the original water glasses/ vampires still exist; then a quarter remain and finally, some day, only one.

Anne Rice implies this in her novel Blood and Gold. The ‘hero’ Marius is not the oldest vampire - and in Anne’s world the vampires are definitely immortal - but few of those he knew some 2000 years earlier still exist. Over the centuries most have been destroyed.

My own researches suggest that vampires have at best only a quasi-immortality. They are resistant to most diseases (no heart disease, no cancer no - or glacially slow - deterioration from aging), but it becomes clear that age related changes do occur. There is the translucent quality of the skin that Anne Rice and others mention - a quality that some mistake for a vapid paleness - and an indifferent lethargy that seems to occur as the centuries pass - these are the symptoms one sees most often. The series V goes so far as to suggest that damage (from the sun usually) that occurs to a vampire never heals. And so a slow, almost inevitably deterioration progresses. But they do not die. And so we reach the horrid notion of a 2000 year old vampire existing in a quasi-living state, always in agony and without hope of release….

— But, still, do vampires die?

Yes, all the sources suggest that the vampire can die.

— Can the vampire commit suicide?

Most likely, although this seems never (or rarely) to occur. For whatever reason the drive for continued existence seems strong in vampires. But one must always allow for the glamorization of the vampire in the 20th century.

— How does a vampire die?

The power of religious icons seems weak - although if the vampire herself believes in the power of the icon it might create fear. Vampires simply dislike (and are burned by) garlic. There is no evidence that garlic is necessary. Cutting the head off works, but then so does a stake (or a .44 magnum bullet - wooden or otherwise) through the heart. These things work because the utterly destroy key organs (brain and heart). Keep in mind that if vampires can heal they heal slowly but effectively, by which I mean that vampires seem to be able to survive with damage to (but not total destruction of) vital organs - kidneys, liver, stomach, intestines. These organs regenerate if not destroyed.

Vampires are strong, quick and have a vigorous metabolic system. Blow out a vampires liver and he will still likely escape into the night! But how long will he survive without his liver? Not long….

— But, OK, hold on a minute, a vampire isn’t alive….

I didn’t say that. They are in fact proto-human predators. Most likely we share many biological and even genetic characteristics with vampires.

— So, hmm, does the bite of the vampire create another vampire?

Ah, here we have the beginning of another topic which we will consider another day….

Jim FitzPatrick 2010 09-10

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