Neil deGrasse Tyson and his Lovecraftian “Disturbing Thought”

I love science, especially astronomy and astrophysics, and I read and learn about it as much as I have time for.  Recently, I was watching a video on Youtube where Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about what he lies awake at night worrying about.  He reminds us that the chimpanzee is the closest living genetic relative to humans, but that the difference in DNA is less than 2%.  In other words, we are over 98% exactly like chimpanzees; that 2% accounts for our differences in looks, but most importantly, in intelligence.

Chimpanzees can’t play the piano, speak, write books, study physics, or read.  Humans can.  But the reason why we can and they can’t is because of that less than 2% difference.

Think about that.

Now think about the possibility of other life in the universe.  There are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on every beach in the world.  So, yes, there’s probably life out there.  But imagine that alien intelligence as being only 2% more “improved” than us, just like we are 2% more “improved” than chimpanzees.

To them, the smartest human being on Earth would be like a chimpanzee is to us.

Now imagine the improvement being 5%.  10%.  50%?  Forget about having a conversation with us — they would think less of us than we do of ants.  And that is one of the major themes behind H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction — that we are not alone, and that the alien intelligences we share the universe with care nothing at all for us, they can obliterate us without any effort at all — or, best-case scenario, use us for food.

Now that’s a disturbing thought.  That’s real horror.

Lovecraft was certainly a writer and thinker who was ahead of his time.  75 years after his death, science is showing us just how right he may have been about the way things really are.

Your thoughts?

10 responses to “Neil deGrasse Tyson and his Lovecraftian “Disturbing Thought”

  1. That 2% makes all the difference. Chimpanzees don’t have monotheistic religions where followers are taught from birth to hate non believers, etc, or to spend millions of hours thinking up new ways to kill each other. Will the aliens return to modify the Chimpanzee genes after the human experiment ends in abject failure and near total destruction of the planet?


  2. I, like all the people here because (ego trip coming) we’re all smart people who can think about things in a comprehensive way, or at least try to, like NDT. Every Lovecraft fan is like that (in my experience, people either get Lovecraft and love it, or don’t get it and wonder what there is to love. On the plus side he doesn’t seem to get many haters), and I would strongly suggest that we all go out and buy NDT’s new book because I think, in it, he’s really pinpointed what’s wrong with America right now.

    But I think a big difference in temperament seperates HPL and NDT. HDL thought science, as the gateway to these terrifying beings, was something to be avoided so we could all say in our dark little corner and remain ignorant since we couldn’t handle what we’d find. Ignorance is safety. NDT finds these things scary and still goes out and does them in the hopes of finding some good and helping the human race progress. Dicotimous reactions.

    And I have to say I’m with NDT on this one. We may be like ants to these other aliens, but, really what does that have to do with anything? How many ants go through their lives without seeing or being squished by a human? Most of the them, I would imagine. The discussion, I think, is due to something else in that 2% that makes us different from chimps: hubris. We can be stymied by fear that we’re not at the top of the food chain, or we can accept it and keep going forward.


    • Happy Ghoul –
      With respect, I think you mistake HPL’s literary “beliefs” for his real world-view (or, cosmos-view, really). HPL was farrrrr more in line with present Cosmology, as stated by NDT. HPL was a massive fan of, and advocate for cutting edge science – he really gobbled it up.
      In Providence there is a remarkably well-preserved 1890s observatory run by Brown University that Lovecraft practically lived in for most of his youth. He even pub’d an amateur astronomer’s journal for some years.

      Make no mistake, Lovecraft would have listened and read what NDT now says, and nodded his head and clapped his hands with complete approbation…
      Tho’, it does make one wonder how HPL’s inherent racism would have sustained the shock of seeing a black man being so remarkable intelligent and erudite.

      By the way…
      We’re hoping to raise the funds, separate from the convention, to bring NDT to NecronomiCon this August, for this very reason.
      His speaking fees are waaaay beyond our means, but we are looking for some backers who’d particularly be interested in funding this one aspect.

      Wish us luck!


      • If HPL was indeed so knowledgeable about the science of his day it may have been exactly that which was responsible for his misguided views on race. Myself, I’m not well versed in what science of the early 20th stated about race but maybe it hadn’t reached the conclusions we now realize are obvious. Quite possibly, HPL would have embraced current realizations upon seeing the scientific basis.


  3. I’m not being trite or humorous when I suggest that much of human behavior would not seem “intelligent” to an extraterrestrial observer, regardless of it’s intelligence. So much of the human race’s activity is governed by tribal instinct, hormones, and superstition.


  4. This is not to argue with NDT, but rather to refine his point. We’ve realized over the last decade or so that the 2% difference isn’t the only thing that separates us from Chimpanzees, but it is that plus the ability for genes to express or not express themselves during our development. Like a switch, to turn on and off. Adding to the horror of small differences making a huge morphologic change is the hidden ability of our coding to bring out the traits we thought long lost by evolution. Dagon anyone?


    • Spot on, Jim! Very good points. NDT does play a bit fast and loose with some of the details sometimes, but I think it’s all in the name of popularizing concepts that have remained seemingly unapproachable, stale and/or daunting since Carl Sagan passed away.

      Science needs far more effective spokespeople! Thank goodness for this guy for being ONE (of few) loud voices for reason.


  5. Neil Degrasse Tyson is just the best. A current-day Carl Sagan. Clearly stating what needs to be said. I love this guy. It would be interesting to get him interviewed by a Lovecraftian.


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