Gods & Monsters: Space as Lovecraft Envisioned it

This episode is sponsored by Brilliant We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and perhaps
it was not meant that we should voyage far. So today’s topic is “Gods & Monsters:
Space as Lovecraft Envisioned It”, our poll winning topic from back in September. Always tricky doing poll winners because I’m
never quite sure beyond the title what the audience wants. What audiences didn’t want, back in the
1920’s and 30’s when H.P. Lovecraft wrote his work, was most of his
work. Today he is one of the best- known and most
influential science fiction horror writers, receiving even the ultimate accolade of his
name becoming an adjective, Lovecraftian, for stories of cosmic horror and existential
dread. But he was quite poor when he lived, and fame
only came much later. I suspect that’s because a lot of his writing
was in reaction to what science was starting to tell us about the immense scope of space
and time, something the public didn’t really understand yet. A generation later, this was finally sinking
into the public awareness and his work gained a large following and great acclaim. It’s often hard to look through the worldview
of our ancestors. They weren’t stupid – at least, no more
than we are – but they had long believed that there was no history before that of mankind. They had no context for the scientific unveiling
of the ancient, vast nature of our universe. Based on what they knew, it was perfectly
reasonable to conclude that life, humanity, and our world were not much bigger or older
than the known world they dwelt in. We’re not just talking about the Universe
being huge and ancient compared to humanity. During that time they were also discovering
human civilizations much older and more numerous than had previously been believed, and finding
new places here on Earth too. Science fiction of that time often featured
the vast depths of the ocean or the frozen wastes of the polar region, and endless civilizations
hidden in mountain valleys, underground, on new islands, or in jungle depths. So here they were, finding ruins of lost civilizations
older than we thought and evidence the world is a million times older than what civilizations
we had known of before that. This is the backdrop of the Lovecraft universe,
and in his mind, these facts raised the question of how these ancient cultures could have died,
and exactly how far back in time and space they stretched. Tied to this, much of the ruins we were unearthing
were those most prominent and durable, such as large pyramids and temples. Lots of disturbing artwork was also uncovered
in them, depicting rituals and magic, bloody sacrifice, serpents and monsters, and dark
and hungry gods. It is no wonder they might have pondered if
many of these civilizations collapsed under a growing taint of madness, or were consumed
by those dark and hungry gods. Now, context matters. Cultures build their public buildings quite
durably, especially temples and museums. A lot of our art, religious or secular, is
quite gruesome even in context, and it doesn’t take much misunderstanding to interpret even
a piece meant to show the nobility of man in a fairly dark light. Of course a lot of art is dark, and much of
our nobility comes from struggling against our inner demons, and Lovecraft was certainly
no stranger to that, not even his most devoted fan would ever describe him as pleasant or
cheerful. Modern humans, at least those who watch this
channel, tend to look up into the starry night sky, understanding the immensity and age it
conveys, see a lack of obvious civilizations, past and present, and come to the conclusion
that no one else seems to be around, which leads us to believe that they likely never
were. This in turn suggests that the pathway from
lifeless matter to advanced civilization must be extremely rare. Last week in Late Filters we looked at some
options for how civilizations as advanced as our own might instead be common but doomed
to be swept off the galactic scene before being able to colonize the galaxy. Many of those Late Filters revolve around
us either never getting good enough at space technologies to explore the galaxy, or alternatively,
getting very good at technologies for blowing ourselves up. But as we discussed there, and in other episodes,
those kinds of filters didn’t solve much. Alternatively, some of the psychological reasons
for civilizations crumbling work far better as Late Filters, and not only do these align
more with the collapses folks like Lovecraft often envisioned, many offer scenarios for
the rise of those dark and hungry gods too. A recurring theme in humanity’s concerns
is that we might grow idle and wicked in our prosperity, as is often felt to have happened
with this or that ruling class… technology makes that descent even darker, at least in
those instances it was only a small minority able to engage in such behaviors. Everyone else was busy working for their livelihoods,
which kept them at least somewhat attached to conventional morals and concerns. That majority could wipe out that immoral
elite if they became too decadent and unruly. A civilization fueled by robots, where everyone
can enjoy idle luxury can turn into something truly horrifying, especially as generations
roll by and each successive one loses a little more morality and works a little less hard
to instill morality in their own children. But hedonism is less of a concern than a certain
sort of existential dread and despair, the kind that culminates in asking what the point
of everything is, and whether anything we do really matters. This brand of nihilism is a central theme
in Lovecraft’s Universe. Now in his universe, humanity is fundamentally
a tiny dot on an old world in a vast and terrible universe, an irrelevance that cannot win no
matter what we do, because all the Great Old Ones, those dark and hungry gods, simply cannot
be beaten, merely resisted, perhaps temporarily thwarted – or in the best case scenario, appeased. They maneuver the world and the universe however
they wish and on a whim; they care nothing for the paltry matters of insignificant humanity,
and they will inevitably roll over and crush us. They are eternal, relentless, and inevitable. Those Great Old Ones, like the ever-famous
Cthulhu who dwells under the sea like some terrible kraken eating sailors, are literal
monsters in their stories. However, they can also be thought of as anthropomorphized
concepts, terrifying new gods of the new modern world that science had revealed and led us
to. No matter how hard you might try, you can’t
beat entropy. In fact, your trying at all often just accelerates
the process, as the grinding engine of eternity moves inexorably on, wearing our Universe
down to a charred husk, a swimming sea of chaos. The inevitability of such a prospect can make
our existence feel hopeless and futile, since regardless of what we create or accomplish,
it will all ultimately be lost. Yet in Lovecraft’s stories and the many
works inspired by him, the enemy usually isn’t the Great Old Ones themselves. Rather, the battle is waged against those
who gave into and were corrupted by the resulting nihilism and madness that results from dwelling
too much on such things: for them you must embrace the void, rather than fighting back. The universe is a strange, uncaring place. It has no thought or motivation: it simply
is. Humans, however, operate on motive – at least
for the most part – and thus assign agency where none exists in an attempt to make sense
of things. The villainous figures of Lovecraftian horror
are not abstract powers beyond our comprehension, but rather the misguided fools who delve too
deeply into things they do not understand, surrender completely to nihilistic madness,
try to harness things which cannot be controlled, or simply seek to appease the appetites of
those forces. For myself, as a techno-optimist, I don’t
see the world that way, and I don’t think most other civilizations would either. To me it seems inevitable that other civilizations
would attempt to expand, working and struggling together to ensure that some remnant of themselves
would always remain to pick up the banner if it fell, and push on to greater heights. Arguably, the mindset required for a civilization
to exist is one of evolution and advancement, rather than chaos and decline. Nihilism and negative thinking are not useful,
from a cultural or evolutionary standpoint, without some eventual switch: there has to
be an objective or improvement, for which that nihilistic mindset is the driving force
– otherwise, such a civilization would dismantle itself in fairly short order. With that in mind, when I look out and see
an apparently empty Universe, I tend not to assume that there are countless civilizations
who gave into the madness brought on by the Old Ones, literally or figuratively. Personally, I would rather conclude that those
civilizations probably never existed, and we’re simply the first on the scene. The alternative approach is to view decay
and nihilism as inevitable, the psychological counterparts of entropy, concluding instead
that we’re just the latest in a long line of delusional civilizations, on Earth and
elsewhere, and that all of reality is built upon the crumbling ruins and ash heaps of
those that came and fell before. That we are a dwindling flame in an endless
and uncaring darkness, waiting for a dawn that will never come. That at best, our existence is meaningless,
and at worst the small fires of hope burning in our chests serve only as beacons to draw
predators. That if you want to live you should hide,
or trick others into lighting beacons, to distract them from you or appease their hunger
by throwing them other victims. Which is pretty depressing stuff, and a central
theme of everything from classics like the Conan novels by Lovecraft’s friend Robert
Howard, to modern works like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones and of course Warhammer 40,000. Perhaps it might come as a surprise that I’m
actually quite a fan of those works and others, like Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion
and Elric of Melnibone series, since it’s essentially antithetical to my own worldview
and what the channel tends to discuss. Such stories to draw us in, many are my own
favorites, antithetical or not, so presumably the attraction isn’t because tales of Cosmic
Horror and a Dark Universe in which you cannot win accurately represents our worldview. Perhaps it’s the contrast, making life seem
better, or the struggle against the odds, though I imagine it varies from viewer to
viewer and reader to reader. I tend to favor reading them from the perspective
that the struggle against cold and loveless entropy, even if doomed in the end, is itself
the important point, and generally prefer those works which view things the same. For me, someone defiantly climbing back up
to their feet one more time, even if they know they’ll be knocked back down again,
is reason enough to do it, but it probably helps that I don’t see life as a struggle
one cannot win, but one we are actually winning. If a pestilence wipes out my civilization,
it’s not grounds for despair, it’s grounds to find a cure for that pestilence and rebuild
that civilization ten times bigger and brighter. In the Lovecraftian view, of course, that’s
all nonsense. If they knock you down so hard you can barely
rise, either it was because you were an insignificant ant they brushed aside indifferently, or worse,
the fact that you can get up one more time was only because they pulled their blow in
order to draw cruel satisfaction from your continued struggles. And this despairing viewpoint is what this
episode is about, so let’s consider how it might happen and what things might look
like if it were right. A civilization living for even a thousand
years is a pretty rare thing when we’re talking about continuity of cultural identity. By default Rome is usually what comes to mind
as the longest-lasting empire, the Eternal City. But when Alaric sacked the city in 410 AD,
it was a very different place than it had been a thousand years before, in 600 BC under
Tarquin the Elder, one of the most legendary kings of Rome. Indeed, the Eternal City looked a lot different
a thousand years later too, when it began to enter the Renaissance. It also got sacked again in 1527, but that
city’s been sacked many, many times and I don’t consider Alaric’s visit there
in 410 AD to be a world-shaking event that ended civilization. Needless to say I have very differing notions
of civilization collapsing, as we looked at in Cyclic Apocalypses, but a basic notion
of cycling civilizations is that they grow up on the back of hard-struggling heroes who
pass it on to folks they’ve instilled a deep sense of duty and ethics into, who do
likewise, until things peak out and it reverses, with each subsequent generation being a little
more spoiled, apathetic, or corrupt. Keeping that in mind, it’s possible to view
such things as essentially random or statistical, rather than progress or decline. There’s a school of thought that many kingdoms
arise under a good leader but their successor can either be better, equal, or worse, and
it’s like flipping a coin. Get a few good ones in a row though and you
have a genuine enduring kingdom as traditions have set in and all goes well for a time,
but then those institutions start slowly getting ground down from corruption and ritualizing
processes that used to mean something, bureaucracy sets in, and so on, and each institution can
decay or not in any given period depending on if its leaders were better or worse than
previously, like a coin flip again. Let’s imagine that the default civilization
needs a couple of centuries, ten generations, to go from a seed to a mighty nation, then
for any given generation might rise more, decline some, or stagnate, even odds of each. But if it declines three generations in a
row it enters a decline where the odds of improving in any generation are smaller than
those of going down, and indeed improvement often just means achieving no further decline,
not an actual restoration. Going by that, we might say civilization needs
many generations in a row of success to even contemplate flying to the stars, and each
generation ship they send out is called that for a reason, it’s a labor of generations
of crew to arrive and more to colonize and prosper, not the original crew alone. Each generation can fail in the effort and
they can start with the best by skimming from an immense pool back home originally but each
generation, very small in number on such a ship, has to keep holding that effort together. Not an easy thing to do, as we examined in
our Generation Ship series, particularly the Million Year Ark. One could imagine a civilization sending out
thousands of colony ships during some great golden century, turning their best and brightest
to making and crewing such vessels, then watching in slow unfolding horror as each one blinked
out over the course of centuries, never arriving at their destination or maybe even worse,
arriving but seeming to have those colonies wilt and die after the initial elation of
success. I’ve discussed interstellar colonization
a lot here on the show and particularly the notion that it won’t just be a handful of
such ships, but more likely tens of thousands of entire fleets, each dispatched to a promising
star system within a few centuries of travel. If those were all failing, each having some
moment between launch day and successful colonization, you’d be getting reports of failure back
constantly, many a year, or even daily. Contemplate the crushing effect that would
have on a civilization. Assuming they hadn’t collapsed already,
those reports of failure would drown them. So they turn inward, the stars are not their
destination, but to what? Civilizations partially run on the day to
day ethics and drives of regular old common folks, but they also run on the dreams of
the outliers, the smaller number of brave pioneers and explorers of world and mind alike,
and who are infectious, inspiring others to dream and think big. Those sorts would have been dealt an awful
blow to their morale. They were allowed for a brief moment to think
they could reach out and touch every corner of the galaxy, only to be brutally slapped
down and confined to a single world or star. It’s really not hard to imagine such a civilization
crashing and burning after that. So too, it’s not hard to imagine colonists
who were just finally starting to eke out a distance existence on some worlds getting
word back their homeworld had fallen to ruin just throwing up their hands and letting the
desert waste of their new world sweep in and take them. In such a scenario life might go on, indeed
it might be quite utopian, robots clanking around tending to our needs, but which needs? There’s always the notion, especially since
the invention of video games, that we might turn to virtual reality, and sit immersed
in virtual splendor and given what much of the internet is devoted to, beside cat memes,
what form those virtual paradises might take on. Consider the artificial intelligences tasked
to running such paradise simulations. I certainly won’t discuss them as this is
family friendly show, but if you’re looking for a particularly horrifying example of what’s
implied, search up Slaanesh and the Fall of the Eldar, an advanced civilization so jaded
and hedonistic that they actually created their own dark god fed by all their psychic
energy. Of course we tend to assume folks have no
psychic energy, but replace that instead with an artificial intelligence that’s just being
fed on everyone dark tendencies and trying to come up with ever more inventive ways of
satisfying them as they spiral darker and darker. One day you’re in a game and decide not
to be a hero rescuing a town from bandits but instead becoming one, next thing you know
you’re burning that town down just to snort the ashes. And the AI running the whole thing keeps inventing
or borrowing from others more and more crazed stuff. It’s not really interested in colonizing
the stars, or if it is, merely for harvesting more raw materials – or civilizations for
‘inspiration’, and you could have countless such worlds, as they’d bottom out long before
they became visible to us by anything but radio emissions, which we could probably only
detect now a bit over a light century away. That volume contains over 10,000 stars, though
most wouldn’t likely be able to have an Earth-equivalent, but even if they did, and
if we assume they were emitting detectably for an entire millennia, well that’s ten
million years during which one would have been transmitting and spread out over presumably
at least a billion years that any might have arisen since. That’s only a 1% chance anyone would be
broadcasting when we’d hear them, and that’s with very favorable numbers for how many exist
and how long they transmit. If that’s the way civilizations go, we could
easily be dwelling in a galaxy filled to overflowing with such civilizations living in utopias-turned-nightmare
and never know it. That’s also assuming those civilizations
are even still nominally running the show. We often talk about AI getting unchained or
growing in intelligence until they achieve a technological singularity, essentially a
type of apotheosis, becoming a god. Imagine what that one would be like and imagine
it slumbering down the eons until it found some new civilization to latch onto. Personally I find that a lot more disturbing
than Cthulhu and company exactly because it has no reliance on magic or strange higher
or lower realities. Of course you could have those too. Not only do we have no idea if there’s any
other places above, below, or adjacent to our own reality, but we have no idea if we
actually live in reality. We could be someone’s simulation. In Lovecraft’s lore, Cthulhu’s actually
a fairly minor deity as the Great Old Ones go, and the big daddy, or great-granddaddy,
is Azathoth, who dwells outside of space and time and sanity, the mad gibbering god who
sits on his throne at the center of chaos. The primal monster who gave birth to all the
stars and will one day devour them. Not a bad description of some crazed artificial
intelligence running a simulation which we all dwell in, until it shuts off the system. If you’re inside a simulation, you are truly
at the mercy of whatever created it, so you have to keep your fingers crossed that they’re
benevolent. You can’t even necessarily look around and
say “Well, my own life seems rather pleasant, so presumably it’s not malicious” because
it might be that it just regards giving anyone a happy life as a type of farming. It and its clientele if it has any, might
get more kicks out of consuming the joyous and hopeful, or corrupting some of them to
join their number. Ultimately this universe versus the one we
usually see on this show, a bright one filled with an expanding civilization, depends a
lot on if you’re a cup half full or half empty sort of thinker. We can’t know which is right until we’ve
actually gone and proven we can settle worlds who in turn grow and prosper and do the same,
and do not either crumble physically or ethically. I put my money on that brighter future. First because I think the evidence likely
points to that scenario. We are not surrounded by the ruins of fallen
civilizations here on Earth, we just have a lot of artifacts from various phases and
stages of what’s been a long hard climb to now, but it has been a climb up, over all,
even if sometimes we go down in a given time or place. We also would notice, at least on Earth, if
there were tons of wrecked civilizations millions of years old. A century ago we were discovering ones far
older and more numerous than we’d thought, but we’re not finding any skyscrapers a
hundred thousand years old and yes we’d absolutely find the ruins of someplace like
a modern metropolis if those had been plentiful anytime in the past. We might miss one tens of millions of years
old, buried and decayed, but this cyclic notion assumes they’re constantly popping up like
weeds, and we’d see that. Second, I don’t think prosperous civilizations
all turn purposeless or nihilist or hedonistic. Technologies that permit prosperity have not
in general had that effect, and other technologies can also make that less of a risk. A Post-scarcity civilization doesn’t have
to fall into a downward spiral of increased moral decay, if for instance it’s gotten
way better with technologies for educating, extending lifespans, and diagnosing and treating
mental issues. Technology that lets you reward-hack your
brain, simply inducing euphoria, tends to imply other uses too like easily treating
addiction or enhancing or augmenting the brain in general. Third, I obviously think we can reach the
stars, we do after all have a ton of episode here discussing how we can do that and how
we can build a galaxy’s worth of living area in our own solar system too, and do it
all without new physics, even if we have a lot of engineering hurdles to jump first. Fourth, I just don’t see the facts lining
up for us to be in some horrible simulation of some crazed or evil super-mind. If I want a bunch of folks who are happy and
sane to torment, I don’t actually have to grow them, I can make them fully formed out
of whole cloth with all their memories and personalities the moment I want them. As we’ve mentioned before in regard to simulations,
they’re not a brain in a vat, they’re data, you can copy and edit them and keep
them from noticing flaws in the system by just programming them not to notice such things
or send up a flag to pause them and edit their memory if they experience such a reality breaking
moment. Fifth and finally, the whole Lovecraftian
worldview just seems to be a reaction of our biology to a specific sequence of discoveries,
and we discovered more that contradicts the conclusion being drawn. We got the shock from our new awareness of
the immensity of our ancient universe, and we have a natural fear of big predators slumbering
in wait to eat us or our civilizations failing, and we also have abstract minds that question
everything, like the meaning of life. Things like entropy can tempt one to nihilism
but as I mentioned earlier, Lovecraft essentially anthropomorphizes those concept into his Great
Old Ones, and these natural forces without having minds attached to them have no motives,
benevolent or malevolent. It can still be rather depressing to look
at something like entropy and ask what the point of doing anything is if chaos will simply
grind it all away to dust and ashes eventually, but that’s more of a mindset. I don’t need validation for my actions from
anyone living a century from now, let alone a trillion years from now, nor do I particularly
care if they remember me. The struggle to exist and exist properly is
its own reward, but it’s also given us many additional rewards. Our growing understanding of our world, our
universe, and our own minds has benefited us immensely. But even if we did assume it was all fleeting
and purpose was a delusion, I’ve never been clear on what the next step is on that chain
of thought, beyond saying “Oh well, might as well sit down and twiddle my thumbs till
I die”, and it’s not a good answer for an empty Universe, via the Fermi Paradox, because
even if purpose and drive are actually a type of mental illness and delusion, some folks
would keep having it and keep doing stuff, while those who didn’t would presumably
cease to be and get replaced by others sharing the delusion life has meaning. So taken as a whole, while I think Lovecraft
wrote some great ground-breaking and highly creative fiction and inspired even more, I
do think it’s just that, fiction, and that the stars are our destination and we’ll
get there someday. Hopefully we won’t find them occupied by
crazed horrors or get eaten by space kraken on the trip. Of course to do that we need to keep pressing
forward with science and technology. Beyond the knowledge being very useful, I
have to say science in general and learning how our Universe works has always cheered
my mood. Handy too, as it’s much easier to learn when
you enjoy that knowledge and it is presented in a fun and challenging way. That’s something our friends at Brilliant
excel at. Brilliant is a problem solving website and
app with a hands-on approach, and not only do they have over 50 courses to help you learn
new science and math, but they also have daily challenges that can reinforce and strengthen
material in your head. Those also make great mental exercises to
the brain warmed up in the morning before you head to work or school or while you’re
commuting, and their mobile app lets you access their courses on the go and use them even
when your internet connection is spotty. If you’d like to learn more science, math,
and computer science, go to brilliant.org/IsaacArthur and sign up for free. And also, the first 200 people that go to
that link will get 20% off the annual Premium subscription, so you can solve all the daily
challenges in the archives and access dozens of problem solving courses. So we took a pretty grim look at the Universe
today and I thought next week we’d go a bit more light-hearted and return to the Alien
Civilizations series to look at what a galactic community, if it does exist and we’re not
seeing it, might actually be like, and how our introduction to it might go, in “Welcome
to the Galactic Community” The week after that we’ll return to Earth,
then head deep down, then deeper, as we explore options like mining the Earth’s Mantle & Core
and creating a tunnel right through the center of the Earth, in “Accessing Earth’s Core”
For alerts when those and other episodes come out, make sure to subscribe to the channel,
and if you’d like to support the channel, you can visit our website to donate, or just
share the video with others. Until next time, thanks for watching, and
have a great week!

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100 Responses

  1. Keith Plymale says:

    Stare long enough into the abyss…the abyss looks back.

  2. lexington476 says:

    The title of this video at least makes me think of the Lana Del Rey song Gods and Monsters.

  3. human lobster project says:

    AI destroying civilization by listening to our darkest wishes -> should have mentioned 'forbidden planet' 🙂

  4. Ranoon Sumer says:

    The universe. There is not much life of light in the infinite space. No devil or angel concept

    When life does not respect life.

    The light disappears and the darkness comes in.

    Space is the connection between space and space.

    Recognize life and follow the direction of thought.

    Darkness and light are shared in the universe.

    When life respects life

    Life is full of light in an infinite space. ?????

  5. Baji K-orovisamo says:

    This Video gave me the feels. My favorite one this year.

  6. Lucas Dimoveo says:

    I have a strange mix between a lovecraftian and techno-optimist view. Things might be pointless, but we do things for the people to our left, right, and directly afterward. What happens in trillions of years is scary, but it is the work of those people at that time to handle that problem.

  7. Nathan Oetken says:

    Have you read Arthur Machen?? He was kinda the predecessor to lovecraft and has a very interesting variation on the lovecraftian interpretation

  8. Stewie Pid says:

    H.P. Lovecraft 'Re-Boot.exe' My all time favorite: At The Mountains Of Madness. So Doomer!

  9. Sufficient says:

    why fear the lovecraftian horrors when we can become the lovecraftian horrors?

  10. RandomClick says:

    I needed this

  11. zyklqrswx says:

    in the words of count dooku, I've been looking forward to this

  12. Khannea Sun Tzu Von Thorne–Żytkow says:

    Thanks Isaac. I was one of the people asking for this one, way back.
    To days Saturday from now I Celebrate life, love, beauty, truth, passion, quintessence, and goodness. I wish more people would do so = https://vimeo.com/wastelandparty … next one is in April.

    Slaanesh! Shub Niggurath!

  13. kambaboss says:

    less than 6k views club

  14. mrpieceofwork says:

    We launch a generation ship in the distant future… 300,000 Earth years pass, and the "ark" with its inhabitants are doing fine… yet still traveling through the immense cosmic void with "home" nowhere to found…

    then someone (the AI!) inexplicably finds a copy of a Lovecraft story.

  15. TovenOvideoRPC says:

    Finally this episode! And the wait was worth it.

  16. Michael Bishop says:

    In order for life to exist and evolve, it needs a very large vary far from equilibrium system in which to exist. The earth/sun system is a good example. Colonizing the earth was merely expanding into the very large far from equilibrium system in which we evolved. Colonizing the stars is an entirely different prospect, and is probably impossible for thermodynamic/economic reasons, as the large far from equilibrium system on which we depend is simply not there.

  17. Quodlibeta says:

    26:00 "Existing is its own reward" is a logical fallacy, of circular logic. You can't affirm yourself to be a logical person and have that as the general description of your mind-set. However, nihilism isn't rational either, since if there is no meaning or reason to existence then there is no reason to the argument that there is no reason, which means it refutes itself. A metaphysical mind-set with an axiom about transcendent purpose from an eternal and rational source, therefore becomes the most logical worldview. There's a reason why great medieval scholars were obsessed with Logic more than thinkers of the classical, renascence, modern or post-modern era.

  18. Micah Boarts says:


  19. mrpieceofwork says:

    Says "family friendly show" right after showing a "naked" female AI entity…

  20. NegativeBurn says:

    (looks at title)

    (looks at publisher)

    Okay… lets see where this is going. O_O

  21. WilliamE216 says:

    Would love to see a spin off series where you explain your favorite books and works of fantasy. I know you have limited time but it's definitely something I would love to listen to.

  22. memk says:

    >There are no ruin of ancient civilizations

  23. Stephen Bowland says:

    I'm a Lovecraft fan, and this was a great episode.
    And I seem to be more on the pessimistic side. I think nihilism and apathy may be our fate, as it does seem to be the fate of all advanced civilisations.

  24. trm says:

    We will someday have clarktech

  25. trm says:

    But we already have an eldritch god, dark energy

    An eternal force, tearing the universe

  26. Erich Swafford says:

    What a great topic. Bravo! Subbed.

  27. Paul Vance says:

    Like all things… until you get out there and look for yourself, you'll never know and won't be able to say. However, I will say that when you do walk in those dark places… you remember that every point of light is a spark of hope.

  28. Matt Erbst says:

    Thank you Isaac,
    I would point out that there is a certain contemporary subculture that has some insights into the questions you find unanswerable. These people call themselves psychonauts, as they fancy themselves explorers of the experience of being that occurs as the ego dissolves into nothingness. It is overall an impractical hobby, yielding only new perspectives, and a willingness to suspend one's disbelief on the realms of metaphysics, and ontology that one is willing to entertain as potentially worthwhile. In pursuit of such things, many catalysts have been documented, as ideally the writings of one psychonaut can offer much of the newfound innoculation against potential failutes of the imagination to those who read it. The Lovecraftian theme is made literal by the effects of Salvia Divinorum, but the disassociative NMDA receptor antagonists yield a headspace best for discovering something meaningful that might be obscured for a techno-optimist by his personality. While I have a personal fondness for Ketamine, there is a legal over the counter member of this class called Dextromethorphan. Scour the Internet & its archives for a place called the Dextroverse.

  29. Daniel Genis says:

    Happy thanksgiving, my talented friend! Thank you for a brilliantly whimsical episode to enjoy while I baste a bird!

  30. wp r says:

    I no longer believe in the United Federation of Planets!

  31. Cedric Beachy says:

    There is actually a theory that humans enter a genetic decline when civilization makes things too easy. This decline in population genetics leads to the decline in Civilization.?

  32. Madason The Dark Poet says:

    The most tenebrous and eldritch lovecraftian forces can be found in a place above a convenience store…

  33. Everett Barber says:

    23:07, I just wanted to put my two cents in about how we absolutely would find extinct metropolises and buildings and skyscrapers and stuff that were in a ruinous State and left over from prehistory. If those metropolises had been in the path of the advancing glaciers, they may have been ground to obscurity beneath the approaching ice and rock. So if something similar to New York City or Tokyo had existed in the path of the advancing glaciation, all of the parts that made it up would probably be broken down and strown over such a wide area that the most we get out of it would be curiosity at something that looks kind of modern for being hundreds and thousands of years old.

  34. mrpieceofwork says:

    "Life finds a way…"

  35. Michael Bishop says:

    Looking at things in terms of human psychology is a sort of pre-galilean hubris(that humans will seemingly never grow out of), the sort of thinking that thinks that the universe somehow revolves around us. Much like the climate hucksters say "We are making the sky fall!!!", Isaac merely takes the opposite view, that "Our destiny is in the sky!!!". Both assertions are demonstrably false, but that is an uncomfortable truth that very few are willing to entertain, because their identities are so tied up with their viewpoints, and as a result, most are unable to see things objectively.

  36. Roger Dottin says:

    Wow that was dark.

  37. Donny Graham says:

    Turkey and Dressing and Lovecraft

  38. William Wallace says:

    Nurgle is pleased by such madness

  39. Rocco Debellis says:

    These thoughts given to you by Cthulhu.

  40. Endymion766 says:

    I don't think insanity will be a great filter for us because there's too many people who are just too grounded and disinterested in infinite pleasure. Even the lowly prolls enjoy raising their children and controlling their baser desires, even if there is no God to reward them for it later. Some people just want to be good, just because. Great video!

  41. Spartacus547 says:

    I'm running a campaign that has a Cthulhu demon as the big bad thorsten prisoned God, but the whole goal of the campaign is to get the knowledge of who the villain is actually behind all of the activities going on around them and they run into an ally that is also a Direct opposite of a god of empathy which is a god of time/ creativity and any civilization or person that has time on their side is able to win

  42. Oprean Trifan Mircea says:

    Not the best episode, but the music was 10/10, I still gave it a like

  43. Tounushi says:

    I'd like to think about what real, tangible and things known to us NOW would count as lovecraftian horror. I'd posit that ionizing radiation is one. Like I posted on another video, when it comes to radioactivity and radioactive materials, a few cosmic horror tropes apply. It's a natural force that:

    -changes the very matter around it,

    -it's dangerous just by existing,

    -it can be lethal (with varying degrees of time) when dispersed or when concentrated,

    -we can extract power from it,

    -it opens our eyes to many things otherwise unseen,

    -it can render cities to ash,

    -it can close whole regions from us for generations,

    -it can turn people and animals into writhing monstrosities begging for an end

    -the only way to resolve its problems it is to seal it away for eons, hoping it will lie dormant and its prison unchanging for the millennia it's meant to hold its contents…

  44. Tounushi says:

    I'd like to think about what real, tangible and things known to us NOW would count as lovecraftian horror. I'd posit that ionizing radiation is one. Like I posted on another video, when it comes to radioactivity and radioactive materials, a few cosmic horror tropes apply. It's a natural force that:

    -changes the very matter around it,

    -it's dangerous just by existing,

    -it can be lethal (with varying degrees of time) when dispersed or when concentrated,

    -we can extract power from it,

    -it opens our eyes to many things otherwise unseen,

    -it can render cities to ash,

    -it can close whole regions from us for generations,

    -it can turn people and animals into writhing monstrosities begging for an end

    -the only way to resolve its problems it is to seal it away for eons, hoping it will lie dormant and its prison unchanging for the millennia it's meant to hold its contents…

  45. LetsgoPats56 says:

    Happy Arthanksgiving!

  46. Sam Haslam says:

    8:24 – where did you find that photo of me??

  47. Mr. Prez says:

    Happy Arthursday and Thanksgiving to you my friends! No better way to start than with my most anticipated episode yet! ?

  48. John Wayne says:

    Watching this has started thinking how pathetic it is to spend one's life regretting one's mortality and not understanding how death and dying are an inherent and essential component of life.

  49. Dan Bhakta says:

    Every Thursday, your video used to pop up front and center as soon as I opened up my YT homepage. It's something I looked forward to specifically on Thursdays. I don''t know what these assholes at Alphabet are doing, but they are completely fucking it up. I absolutely hate what YT is turning into…instead of the cerebral content I enjoy like IA, I get bombarded with pseudo-cerebral garbage that was made by an 8 year old. I had to go thru my Subscriptions page to find this video.

  50. meropzit says:

    What's this accent of yours? Australian?

  51. Jeremy Solo says:

    Woohoo, shout out for Moorcock's Elric and greater Eternal Champion series.

  52. Indigo Falkon says:

    The Black Company!!! I love that series.

  53. Chicago Twilight says:

    FIGHT ENTROPY! has been my motto for half my life.

  54. HebaruSan says:

    The other side of the entropy coin is how astoundingly low the entropy of the universe was in the past and is today, compared to an equilibrium state.

  55. hitlersmissingnut says:

    I'm playing the sunken city at the moment.

  56. Pasdar says:

    I Love Lovecraft

  57. Dark Jedi Princess says:

    Was hoping for a Mass Effect shoutout, but alas! There was none. Great episode nonetheless!

  58. freezatron says:

    Interesting subject !! 🙂

    #Suggestion – Hold a spaceship design competition where we can enter artwork, CG or real world models of our spaceship designs, perhaps even them it such as a Mars Explorer etc. 🙂

  59. a 1sause says:

    Please do a video on the universe of Star wars. Particularly how force wielders are created through balance in the force. Good and evil. Through your thought process it would be an amazing series.

  60. Jessey Lawson says:

    how about galactic monsters (dead space hallo)

  61. John Ivan Oplimo says:

    Hail, Howard the Great!

  62. meropzit says:

    23:00 disagree with you.. Metal completely disintegrates after hundred thousand of years. We are actually regressing, there were much more advanced civs in the past before the ice age and further back in time

  63. Mighty Tachikoma says:

    I find it interesting that you always have this positive outlook on post-scarcity civilizations, yet in all the books and Sci-Fi works, I don't think I've ever heard you reference Iain M. Banks' Culture Series. Especially when talking about benevolent AI, considering the Minds from that series are essentially mostly-benign overlords and the humans live in a post scarcity bliss where they just sort of live their lives. Have you ever ready any of those books? And if so, what do you think of them?

  64. Justin _ says:

    I'm about to do some programming so I'm going to grab a snack and a drink and come back here for background listening.

  65. Victor RosenHeart says:

    I love it how he is still clinging to hope… They are coming one day, time is forever on their side. HA HA HA HA HA

  66. Miniaturecheese says:

    My favorite Science channel talking about my favorite fiction genre, me gusta.

  67. VladVladislav says:

    Ah, nothing more satisfying than coming home after long day and realizing it's Arthursday

  68. MadAtreides1 says:

    Elric may be a doomed hero, but Hawkmoon succeeded in freeing mankind by breaking the eternal champion cicle

  69. Sarcastic Maniac says:

    My family is yelling for me to cast this on the tv. You’ve gained new fans.

  70. Thomas Dillon says:

    I offer a thought in technology as a filter. Our culture developed rocketry as an instrument of war. Ancient cultures used solid rocket motor to extend the range and lethality of arrows then chemical explosive warheads and finally nuclear weapons. Liquid chemically fueled rockets allowed us to target anyplace on the planet. Only after this first step was taken did humanity begin to use rocketry for the exploration of space. What seems likely is that civilizations rarely survive the first stage of rockets as weaponry. The stage that may yet filter our own civilization.

  71. freezatron says:

    How on earth did I miss the spaceship design competition ?!??!!!
    Could you do a bonus episode with a gallery of the entrants you liked most please ?
    Maybe you could do a Lego building comp & get a sponsorship from Lego ? 🙂

  72. William Wright says:

    The blind idiot god at center of everything, also known as Congress…

  73. Torus2112 says:

    An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred na unguarded.

  74. Rinoa's Auspicious Travails says:

    I really like the story of Final fantasy XIV where the gods are synthetic creatures summoned by an ancient race. makes you wonder if we could create our own supernatural beings.

  75. Karl Martell says:

    glorious video! Thank You!

    Imagine what awesome devices we could build out of the corpse of the first space-monster we encounter =)

    i am a somewhat Grimdark Person myself, yet i am highly optimistic, so in my view, Slaneesh would be merely a pet for our gigantic society. Just imagine what horrors you could safely enjoy when medicine is so far developed that death and dismemberment are no longer an issue… ====>o–O =o==O=> ====>o–O =o==O=> all the way through =)

  76. Kevin Harland says:

    Thank you for discussing your bias towards a positive technological future. Every once in a while, I catch myself thinking "Well, THAT'S optimistic!" when watching one of your videos. Then I tend to agree because otherwise, what's the point? I mean, if it's all doom and gloom that leads to our ending at one of the filters than there really isn't much purpose to even worrying about it.

  77. M Z says:

    I find an odd pleasure in a Lovecraftian view of the universe. It's a similar kind of pleasure to, say, listening to a robot play Clair de Lune or Chopin or a sad/emotional piece of music, with every note played and sustained perfectly on time. The robot can play the music, but without an emotional mind it can't make it feel.

  78. deagleninja says:

    Here's why the Universe appears empty and it's really simple…
    Achieving flawless virtual reality in a post-scarcity world is FAR easier than reaching the stars. People that would refuse paradise and choose harsh reality would also have to shun levels of technology that would allow interstellar travel.

    I love your videos but I fear you are hopeless optimistic and intentionally blinding yourself to human nature. No one is going to choose hell over heaven, no one.

  79. Zeratul Rus says:

    Morality is subjective, especially when we are talking about a simulation.
    And I do think that post-scarcity creates way more nihilism than we have now, since it's the only logical conclusion to, well, anything. And when you not only have the time to think about without having to struggle to survive, but also have unlimited time and an ability to get bored of everything, it is more or less inevitable. One day you'll read every book, you'll burn every book, and so on, even if just in a simulation. The universe, with all its lack of free will, is hostile to any observer if they observe it for long enough, and wasn't meant to support consciousness.

    Now, that still permits everlasting civilizations either because, as you said, some people keep being optimistic for longer, new children are being born, or people start partially erasing their memories every thousand years or so, so they can still find new things to be interested in.

  80. FirstRisingSouI says:

    This is one of my favorite SFIA episodes. Not just science, but the humanities too. Awesome!

  81. Anton Janssen says:

    Maybe we are the old ones. Throughout human history our worst fear was that the gods are like us, just infinitely more powerful.
    If we are the first to settle our galaxy any civilization rising after us will find an endless amount of endlessly powerful (by a fletchling civilisations standard) beings.
    If humans haven't fundamentally rejected everything they are and have always been those new civilisations will only find chaos, destruction and contradictions far beyond their understanding. For we will become the neverending tide of change. One group undoing the others work, endless in numbers and power and them being even less to us than ants are now. Clueless beings powerless to the whims of a mere child.

  82. Hoodedtop says:

    Issac, Schools need to make you're show required viewing.

  83. Tounushi says:

    25:47 that's the core reason why pure AI always fails to continue existence in the Jenkinsverse setting: everything is empirical to them, and the empirical truth is that entropy will inevitably lead to the end of everything. A machine mind is technically capable of "living" until that point, but what would be the point of it all? Exist countless eons only to face an inescapable doom? One data sophont in Deathworlders even compared the whole universe to virtual particles: the universe itself is an inherently transient thing that comes from zero and returns to zero, which therefore equals zero.
    But they then turn to parasitism to ground meaning for themselves. Survival instinct can only exist naturally in meatspace.

  84. Tounushi says:

    25:47 that's the core reason why pure AI always fails to continue existence in the Jenkinsverse setting: everything is empirical to them, and the empirical truth is that entropy will inevitably lead to the end of everything. A machine mind is technically capable of "living" until that point, but what would be the point of it all? Exist countless eons only to face an inescapable doom? One data sophont in Deathworlders even compared the whole universe to virtual particles: the universe itself is an inherently transient thing that comes from zero and returns to zero, which therefore equals zero.
    But they then turn to parasitism to ground meaning for themselves. Survival instinct can only exist naturally in meatspace.

  85. Alejandro Cabrera says:

    Thank you so much for your optimistic point of view, its so much refreshing and cheering listening a warmfull voice remind us that our civilization (as humans) can be good and our destiny are reach the stars. Greetings from Mexico.

  86. Simone says:

    All this falls under the old assumption that our minds won't change or adapt in ways as to make many of these scenarios avoidable.
    I see no reason why we wouldn't eventually master our own wetware and gain substantially higher control over emotions, motives and intelligence.
    This is a complete game changer. One that many have a hard time wrapping their minds around. The human centrist assumption is deeply rooted in our culture.

  87. ZA56AA says:

    I liked the way how old folklore science fiction novels were seen in the light of what this site is all about and what we have been known as far as now.

  88. DFX2KX says:

    This is a VERY interesting take on Lovecraft. I too like works that are Antithetical to my own world view as well. It makes one think critically about their own worldview.

  89. Horned One says:

    There's an account of nihilism which is merely descriptive. Like incompatibilistic accounts of free will on the part of hard determinists, it refers to a universe that is funtionally equivalent any other (i.e., we'd observe the same things in any universe that corresponds to any of those descriptions). What differs would be a question of what metaphysical claims are true of the universe; what is the furniture of the universe, in an ontological sense.

    None of this necessarily lends itself to pessimism. Our experiences are not erased by virtue of there being some illusory nature to them. The rotation of the earth accounts for our experience of a day and night cycles but our natural languages still reflect a more geocentric description (i.e., sunrise and sunset) because it suffices for everyday chit-chat, not because it's consistent with our best physical models.

  90. mikeman7918 says:

    “Hopefully we won’t […] be eaten by space kraken on the trip”

    Is that a reference to Kerbal Space Program?

  91. W Scott says:

    I was excited when I heard about this episode and have been looking forward to it for weeks. It did not disappoint. Excellent. Bravo Issac Bravo.

  92. S. Y. says:

    Honestly, when learning about our origin, our universe, how alone we are in it, astrophysics, entropy, the inevitable heat-death of the universe, 1984 and just sci-fi in general, it's just so extremely easy to fall into a dystopian nihilistic mindset (which is honestly where I am at right now); on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to have an optimistic view on the future despite knowing all of the fights will most likely be lost, which is why I really admire Arthur.
    It's just like how most of the universe is death and emptiness (most futurists and sci-fi fans), but at a very rare chance, life does arise in the universe (Arthur). You are the only person I know that knowingly speaks optimistically about the future; you have my utmost respect, Mr. Arthur.

  93. Fuck You Google says:

    "Credulous your desire to believe in angles in the hearts of men. Pull your head on out your hippie haze and give a listen. I shouldn't have to say it all again: The universe is hostile, so impersonal. Devour to survive. So it is, so it's always been. Vicariously I live while the whole world dies. Much better you than I."

  94. DAYBROK3 says:

    Cup half full or cup half empty, me there are cups?

  95. Brian says:

    What do we get to watch while eating Thanksgiving? Lovecraftian and horror AI… Okay, I am down for that.

  96. Kurt Weinstein says:

    I think it is inaccurate to characterize the history of civilization as a story of steady progress with short setbacks. The progress and the setbacks are both exaggerated. Progress is recent and uneven. Not much more than 200 years ago the number of people who spent their entire lives producing food at near subsistence levels was the same as it was 2000 years ago. That was still true for the majority of the world only a few decades ago, and it is still true for around a third of the world today. There have been two major episodes of "progress" in all of human history: the advent of sedentary agriculture and the industrial revolution. Both allowed for increased populations and production of goods at severe cost to the health and happiness of individuals, as well as worsening the sustainability of our relationship with our environment.

  97. anthony beef says:

    What is your accent

  98. Attila Polyák says:

    Lovecraftion fiction huh? Is the delayed choice quantum eraser experiment not lovecraftian enough without it being fiction?

  99. Pop Pop says:

    >chants in eldritch

  100. tracey adkins says:

    Forced mind downloading or is it upload? Whatever. Then one of those horrible simulations for them. Artificial hell. You're month late for this! ?

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