What horrible truth about reality would drive YOU insane?

The Thirteenth Floor

The Thirteenth Floor

A common theme in H.P. Lovecraft’s stories is the seeker after knowledge who goes insane when he discovers the terrible truth.  What that truth is differs from tale to tale, but the common denominator is that whatever it is, it’s so horrible, so awful, that the protagonist wishes he’d never gone searching in the first place.

Which begs the question: What truth would drive you suicidal or insane?

What if, for example, you discovered incontrovertible evidence that our universe isn’t real — that it’s a computer simulation, and that you yourself are a creation of the programmer(s)?  This strikes me as a 21st century version of a Lovecraftian “terrible truth”.

What if you then discovered that the programmers were going to pull the plug soon?  Would that make it even worse?

(Note that I’m not saying this is true, just asking a hypothetical question.)

From a recent Wired article:

According to the theory, which an academic from Oxford and a scientist from Nasa have put forth separately, there’s an almost mathematical certainty that we’re toiling inside an intricate simulation created by beings existing anywhere from 30 years to five million years from now. In essence, we’re just some future being’s hobby…

And:

Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University and director of its Future of Humanity Institute, calls it the “Simulation Argument”. An adherent is astronomer Rich Terrile, director of the Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They don’t wear tinfoil hats, wander around city parks and spout sci-fi-worthy conspiracy theories. Their views are shaped by maths, science and history.

Read more here.

Whether this is true or not, it’s interesting to think about.  More to the point for Lovecraft fans, it seems like a great idea for a Lovecraftian story.

With that in mind, I’d like to devote a future issue of The Lovecraft eZine to this idea.  So writers: If this intrigues you, please send me a story with this theme.  The usual submission guidelines apply.  Please put “Simulation Argument” and the name of the story in the subject of the email.

Send your story to lovecraftezine@gmail.com , and be sure to review the submission guidelines.

Everyone else: What are your thoughts on this?  Comment below!

(By the way: If you’d like to watch an excellent movie that explores these themes, check out The Thirteenth Floor.  You thought I was going to say The Matrix, didn’t you?  Naw… The Thirteenth Floor is much better.)

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16 responses to “What horrible truth about reality would drive YOU insane?

  1. I think that’s really difficult for a ‘rational’ being to answer. If we can think of it, we conceptualize it. If we ‘cognize’ the proposition, then being confronted by it would be a rational ‘re-cognition’ of the concept. We might be startled, even shocked, but we would eventually rationalize it into our frame of reference, our ‘cognitive schema.’ I think that anything so shocking as to drive us insane by it’s mere contact would have to be something outside of our ‘rationality.’

  2. I would have to agree with you on that one. That’s the same way I like to imagine what lovecraftian beings would be like if you came into contact with one. They would be so alien to our perception that our mind couldn’t deal with not being able to find a frame of reference for it. It would be like seeing a fourth dimensional object in our three dimensional world. It just wouldn’t make sense to us.

  3. I think the worst would be to find out that my being had absorbed by a Great Old One, and that a lifetime of eternal torment for that Old One’s pleasure was in store for me

  4. The idea of the universe being a computer simulation doesn’t really phase me. It’d alter my outlook somewhat, but to a much less degree than some shifts in worldview I’ve already undergone.
    The one scenario I’ve encountered in fiction that would unnerve me enough, were it true, to possibly drive me to suicide or insanity would be the one presented in this very short story I stumbled upon online some time ago:
    http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/An_Egg
    It still disturbs me if I really think about it long enough. In fact, I always imagined it as being close to the vague terrible truth that was alluded to in Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out.”

    • I found the story interesting, if somewhat solipsistic. I think the idea that the entire universe is populated by different manifestations of one being, and that the purpose of all reality is to help one being to apotheosis to be a bit self-centered. The unfortunate thing with a scenario like this (the larger question) is that all answers are (and must be) simultaneously right and wrong. Schrodinger’s Tentacle – if you will. ^(;.:)^

  5. What would drive me insane? Finding out that the religious worldview (of almost any religion) is absolutely, literally correct. Because that would mean: (a) Hell is real, and I’m going there, forever! or (b) Heaven is real, and if I end up there I’ll be stuck with the company of people I might prefer not to have, forever! plus probably (c): All those things you want no one to know passed through your brain? They’ll all know all of it!

    • I pretty much have to agree with this. Just as any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to someone who doesn’t understand it, the same would hold true for simulations. In the last decade we have gone from a computer server always being its own machine to having dozens of virtual servers running on one heavy duty server, and often having rooms full of those machines. The technological question is can a self-aware artificial intelligence be created? Once that happens, all you need is hardware capable of creating a world so complete that those AIs can’t recognize that they are in a simulation.

      Discovering that I was such an AI would not phase me so much. After all, isn’t that just a variant of living in a world created by some deity? I know of a lot of Christians who believe that that their god created the universe mostly as it is now, 6,000 years ago, and created humanity as we are to serve its will. The idea that how well I serve that sort of being will determine whether I spent eternity bored to tears, or tormented by demons, now that would drive me insane.

    • I don’t know about that. There’s a reassuring feeling that comes from repetition. It brings proficiency and reassurance. Even within repetition, the individual always controls how they will react to any given situation. Think of “Groundhog Day.” Even though the main character (Phil) was caught in the repeating loop of the same day over again and again, he was able to control his thinking, his reactions – and ultimately his actions. Once he was able to do that – he was able to turn a very negative day into a very positive one – not only for himself, but for all those around him.

  6. I find myself occasionally terrified that I am a fictitious background or filler character existing solely in the unconscious world of a coma patient’s mind whose doctors are on the verge of waking up… and then I have a cup of strong coffee and accept my belief that such an ending to my existence would be instantaneous and painless. I find it a little comforting…

  7. If you discovered a horrible truth and became hysterical as a result I don’t think you would actually be insane. People around you would perceive you as insane but you would remain a rational individual who happens to have a clearer perspective on the nature of existence.

  8. I think the idea that we’re all in a computer program, carrying out assigned roles, not only with no free will but for the entertainment of whatever programmed the computer might send me gibbering into the night.

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