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In The Dust Of This Planet

Monday, September 08, 2014 - 03:34 PM

Horror, fashion, and the end of the world … things get weird as we explore the undercurrents of thought that link nihilists, beard-stroking philosophers, Jay-Z, and True Detective.

Today on Radiolab, a puzzle. Jad’s brother-in-law wrote a book called 'In The Dust of This Planet'.

It’s an academic treatise about the horror humanity feels as we realize that we are nothing but a speck in the universe. For a few years nobody read it. But then …



Then in a fashion magazine.


And then on Jay-Z's back. How?


We talk nihilism with Eugene Thacker & Simon Critchley, leather jackets with June Ambrose, climate change with David Victor, and hope with the father of Transcendental Black Metal - Hunter Hunt Hendrix of the band Liturgy. Special thanks to Thrill Jockey for use of the Liturgy song 'Generation'. It's from their album Aesthetica, out now, which is highly recommended listening for the end times.

You can find Eugene Thacker's 'In The Dust Of the Planet' at Zero Books

Correction: An earlier version of this piece mistakenly identified Nic Pizzolatto as the director of True Detective, when he is in fact the creator, writer, and executive producer of the series. The audio has been adjusted to reflect this fact. Cary Fukunaga (brilliantly) directed season one of True Detective. 


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Comments [149]


What's the article that Simon Critchley wrote that is referred to in this podcast?

Feb. 21 2018 11:21 PM
Nathan from China

This is poor stuff. The narrator is merely silly and is barely capable of a coherent sentence. I wish I had not wasted an hour on his refusal to engage with anything more substantive than clothing design and his fantasies about pop stars.

Jul. 13 2017 12:15 AM
Phoemela from Philippines

Am I crazy or was a segment removed here? I remember a part where a scientist was talking about teaching his daughter about nihilism. I went to the nihilism tag on the website and only this episode showed up. Does it ring any bells?

Nov. 09 2016 06:14 AM
Fisho from UCONN

Hi there,
I'm a huge Radiolab fan, I've listened to your podcasts for quite a while. While I'm sure this isn't really the best way to show my support, I noticed that during this podcast you call Eugene Thacker your brother in law. However you also call his wife your sister in law. I'm confused. Luckily, this is my one gripe with the podcast - otherwise it's spectacular, as always.

Jun. 30 2016 12:22 AM

I think you are overlooking that these fashion outlets copied a graphic design. They didn't even know about the book. At the very least you could have mentioned the designer's name. He or she deserves at least 50% of the credit.
This episode should have been about the illegal use of copy written material and how far it can spiral out of control instead of a thin connection between Jay-Z and a philosophical concept he's probably never heard of.

Jan. 28 2016 08:14 AM
Daniel Atkinson from Way Out West

Interesting, you go through the entire trope and even involve hip hop, but absolutely no mention of Thugs and Thug Life??? I can't think of a more conspicuously consumed group of American Nihilists around, can you???

Sep. 17 2015 01:47 PM
Monty from Bristol, UK

did the book cover designer have anything to say?

Sep. 02 2015 04:38 AM
chris from USA

This podcast was really boring. It didn't really discuss the book at all, just some "weird" things which were just some fashion marketing gimmicks that weren't weird at all. So the book has a cool title and that's about it. And the closing music after the dead air space, gee wasn't that cool how old are you people, was really boring.
Bedroom rock by stoned teenagers? not nihilism, not anything good, just boring.
How you afford to live producing such drivel boggles my mind. You need to get a real job, some physical labor like working in the sewers or picking cotton and then you will know what nihilism means. Your podcast was meaningless and above all boring.
Boring, boring, boring, boring, boring, boring.
I can't believe I let you bore me. NYC NPR BORING.

Aug. 02 2015 01:41 AM
JV from not usa

Jay-Z is not afraid of leaving the planet? that's seriously the conclusion? Rappers especially are afraid of death, the whole bad-ass persona bullshit is a symptom of being terrified to death, it has all the primitive ingredients: fear of being excluded from the herd, fear of not being apt enough to mate, fixation with being alpha male. No, this generation is terrified to death but it's completely on denial that it will happen, you can create a dopamine injecting neural oculus rift 120 fps HD but you will die nonetheless.

May. 26 2015 01:26 PM
Sgt. Garcia from Aridzona

I listened all the way through the podcast, to the song at the end. I don't understand what this has to do with nihilism. All I heard was a complex mathematical structure. It was like listening to a fractal in musical form. Is this not the opposite of nihilism?

May. 05 2015 11:19 AM
Ayn Melville

This podcast seemed to jump topics. At first I thought it was about plagiarism then they started talking about nihilism. I thought it was interesting to hear how the costume designer picks outfits and chooses her messages. We communicate more through nonverbal things like our clothing, hair, posture, the vibes we put off. The Jay-Z/ Beyoncé video helped to tie in nihilism which is the belief that life has no meaning or purpose. In one of Beyoncé's songs she says "I wanna leave my footprints in the sands of time." No one wants to be forgotten but if we believe we have no purpose we will be. The greatest thing is just to love, and be loved in return. That is our purpose to share our love because it isn't love until it's been given.

Apr. 14 2015 12:08 AM
Huxley Wilder from United States

Of course a philosophy based on pessimistic views about society would be a popular one. It is a revolt against the traditional values of the elder generation, it was a revolt against corruption of governments, against those who were blamed for war, famine, political upheavel. I think at its core, it is a way to say 'i'm not afraid" to the one threat every single person on this planet is terrified of- death.In todays culture, it's a way to release this threat. I like this idea of nihilism even though it is very self-centered and selfish, so i guess it is that of the teen pop culture. It's a very interesting concept, I'm glad I got to hear about such a fascinating philosophy.

Mar. 30 2015 08:59 PM
Eric from NYC

Arguably, the most influential person in history, Jesus Christ, had a lot to say on redemption and the meaning of life. He said “I AM the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." ( John 6:35)

Mar. 16 2015 10:58 PM
Dennis Hartwick from United States

You wonder in your show how the book, In the Dust of This Planet, came to have as much influence as it has. You point out where it’s influence has shown up, in movies and in fashion and in pop music, without it’s selling hardly at all. These instances of influence remind me of the physicist Amit Goswami’s hypothesis that consciousness is the fundamental reality. He maintains that consciousness is the wellspring from which our world of mind and matter and energy arise. This consciousness is not in space or in time, rather it’s formless and eternal. Consequently, it’s no puzzle that an idea or an emotion may spring up at the same time in different parts of the world.

Now, if one maintains that this consciousness is synonymous with love—remember God is love?--then things aren’t so bleak as the nihilism proposed in the book. And, if we’re going to equate this consciousness with love, then isn’t it a delightful irony that the philosophy of nihilism should get spread this way? I even wonder if I’m not being daft for not unequivocally understanding that the spread of this book’s influence is a wry beacon from the universal consciousness. And here is your broadcast making the beacon even brighter, as if maybe it were part of the plan, too. I don’t follow any religions, by the way, I’m just sayin’.

Mar. 16 2015 09:24 AM

Brooke wiped the floor with that other guy. Hers is a less adulterated nihilism; by insisting that there is something "special" about the nihilist impulse today, Krulwich's flunky sidekick was embracing a specifically anti-Nihilist POV. It is more nihilist not to acknowledge anything "special" in this time or any past or future time. His defense is Hegelian in spirit, whereas, as we know, Kierkegaard was soon not an Hegelian. Brooke's reference to Epicurus was most apropos in that it alluded to the sunnier side of Nihilism. About the only thing missing is reference to postmodernism and life after the death of metanarratives.

Mar. 15 2015 05:23 PM
Virginia T. Ripley from Florida

I felt this podcast jumped topics a lot. First i thought it was about plagiarism then they started talking about nihilism, I thought it was interesting how her costumes put off different messages. We communicate more through nonverbal interactions like, body language, clothing, touch, and the vibes we put off. the Jay-Z and Beyonce video helped to tie in the topic of nihilism which is the belief that life has no meaning or purpose. We all just want to be remembered in life and if we believe we have no purpose then we fear we will be forgotten. The greatest thing in life is to love and be loved.

Feb. 02 2015 10:30 PM
Ayn K. Melville

This podcast seemed to jump topics. At first I thought it was about plagiarism then they started talking about nihilism. I thought it was interesting to hear how the costume designer picks outfits and chooses her messages. We communicate more through nonverbal things like our clothing, hair, posture, the vibes we put off. The Jay-Z/ Beyoncé video helped to tie in nihilism which is the belief that life has no meaning or purpose. In one of Beyoncé's songs she says "I wanna leave my footprints in the sands of time." No one wants to be forgotten but if we believe we have no purpose we will be. The greatest thing is just to love, and be loved in return. That is our purpose to share our love because it isn't love until it's been given.

Feb. 02 2015 10:14 PM
Sir Lancelot from my bed

I know someone that is a pessimist 100% of the time, and life is miserable for them. But then again they are thinking of this very concept 100% of the time. If there is purpose to our lives is a question worth asking, but is it really something to ruin your life with? I believe if some questions are let go, we can make those questions some what of a mystery, a hidden boss if you will. Thus when reaching this boss, you will have that complete gratification and feeling of completion that no one else knows until they reach the end of the game.

Jan. 25 2015 10:11 PM
Allie from Oakland

as a 25 year old relying on tinder exchanges for love, I am so interested in reading about some of the mentioned Mystics. Got any good recommendations?

Jan. 15 2015 01:28 PM
Billy from Eire

Hey, the aforementioned show to be aired on 'On The Media' Did it ever happen? I couldn't find it.

Jan. 13 2015 10:31 PM
Harriet trumen from United States

This podcast was kind of confusing, I felt it jumped around a lot. As world I think nihilism is impeding because a lot of people seem to be looking for what’s next but they can’t seem to find it. Its easy to show this idea through pop culture because it’s how I think its how we express these pessimist feelings. Everyone has these feelings and this is how they are dealt with. Of course people want to find meaning in what they’re doing and hopefully in the end it meant something. I loved the part about Beyoncé and Jay-Z like they are at the end of the world together.

Jan. 12 2015 10:43 PM
JJ Niemann from United States

I really enjoyed this episode. Once again, terrific job.
Now if I could just find a link to the youtube version of the Jay-Z video....


Dec. 26 2014 01:29 AM

This is one of my favorite episodes ever. I loved hearing from the costume designer because she really made me think about her work when, for the most part, I don't notice what people are wearing. I loved the Liturgy track at the end. I loved the musical/sonic bit near the end after "Piña colada at the beach". Just the best, and completely suited to the subject matter. It gave me chills and actually the episode as a whole, in spite of it's nihilistic subject, made me feel upbeat and positive. Let's go.

Dec. 24 2014 04:16 PM
Matt Sukalac from United States

Mainstream commercial nihilism can't be trusted

Dec. 06 2014 03:58 AM

There does not need to be "purpose", other than feeling more and more love and connection to each other, every one. That will transfigure us. Purpose is an ego construct, and those who meditate know; we can kind of feel how good the field of energy is that exists in our nonphysical aspect. I would recommend it to the author, and if does meditate, he needs to be honest, and if he doesn't, why not try it, he will someday hit the right button in himself, believe me. He sounds like a nice person. I like his mind and his take on all our goofy stuff.

Nov. 22 2014 08:56 AM
Kurt Dalaryd from UK

Nihilism has always been with us. Now we have a rampant capitalism too. Toxic. So let's pray, look for meaning and burry our heads in religion...

Nov. 18 2014 02:43 PM
Lyra A. Swift from Oviedo, FL

I've heard it said that nihilism is nothing more than an excuse to block out the problems of the world, and though some may treat nihilism as that to some extent, those people are grossly misusing their beliefs. Nihilism means that the world does not have any inherent meaning, but that's not the same as no meaning at all. Quite the opposite: if there is no greater purpose or truth to the universe, that means that what you believe to be meaningful is, by default, the most meaningful thing in existence.

Nov. 10 2014 11:41 PM
Jane J. Asimov

This podcast seemed a little off topic to me. At one point I thought they were talking about plagiarism and lack of credit for using Eugene Thacker's book title as a clothing brand that was featured on many major celebrities but somehow they connected it all to Nihilism. Nihilism is a very intriguing topic to me. I think I would like to disagree with nihilism because I consider my self a pretty positive person and would never want to think we have absolutely no meaning or purpose on this earth. As well as are earth, generation and life going completely down hill. But at the same time If I look at the world at large is hard not to be an nihilist. The world is a mess both economically, environmentally and socially. And even if you try to change the world it feels almost as if you make no impact. Overall I don't know if Im a true nihilist but I will try my best not to be and keep being positive and doing my part even if it feels like my life is meaningless.

Nov. 10 2014 11:27 PM
gatzby fitzgerald from United States

The author says he is pessimistic about humans, about the Earth, and its future. I cannot look at the world in such a depressing way. I do agree that the world is corrupt in some ways and there are dark people, places, and ideas out there. I would have liked to hear more about the religious retreat into the desert and less about the costume designer of Jay-Z. But i do think that their is a purpose for everything we do and everything we are i don't believe that we are just on this planet to take up space and die.

Nov. 10 2014 07:59 PM
Mike O'Brien from Portland, Oregon

Nihilism is anthropocentric--it places humans at the center of the universe. Nihilism says, if it doesn't make sense to humans, then it has no meaning. However, when the universe has created life itself and over 3 billion years created humans, it would make sense to step back and ask "why this miracle of life? And how come I am so lucky as to be here to consider the question?" If you can let go of obsessing over the daily news, stop to take in the beauty of the natural world around you, as well as human music, art, and invention. Mindfulness leads to wonder and gratitude and taking joy in your existence.

Nov. 10 2014 01:28 PM
Walt C. Sinclair from Florida, U.S.

I agree very much with the anchors of this podcast on how nihilism may not be expressed the same way as it was before, however it still exists and is even more prominent than just your classic punk rock song. Although nihilism hasn't disappeared, do we find it more spread out across generations? Or do we find it more prominent in individuals that simply believe that there isn't anything left in the world? Has the general public's opinion changed to accept the idea of nihilism since it became known?

Nov. 03 2014 08:12 PM
Elie S. Totksy from Oviedo, FL

Though the author has a non-Hollywood plot in how the world is going to end, his almost-depressing view of the world is a view most people could not see. I personally watched True Detective and Russ really is portrayed as a very, very, very dark person. His ultra-pessimistic view of human society and that he believes he is being "realistic" about society would sometimes be called absurd by some people. Whether or not when the world ends we are together or alone or we're not the focus in our lives', I could only see a positive view. At least only positive compared to the views discussed in this podcast.

Nov. 03 2014 05:55 PM
Mia Belanger from United States

I like that In The Dust Of This Planet is a book that does not stick to the Hollywood plot line of the world ending. It focuses on nothing being left. The world doesn't care for you. The author says he is pessimistic about humans, about the Earth, and its future. I cannot look at the world in such a depressing way. I do agree that the world is corrupt in some ways and there are dark people, places, and ideas out there. At the same time, there is good in the world to balance it out. People bounced back from a very dark place nearly a hundred years ago. I'm speaking of WWII. People were lost and society didn't know what to do with itself. The podcast mentioned nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless. Life has meaning and there is much to live for in my opinion. I think people who live for this idea are not living. They dwell into the idea that there is nothing imporant in life. Perhaps these people are living in a box, because their is meaning. Why else would the world exist?

Oct. 28 2014 04:31 PM
Toni L. Gatsby from New York

I find the book itself very interesting. The statement that the biggest fear in humans is that we are not here for a reason is shocking, but yet very believable. Many religions rely on having a place to go after life, and I find that intriguing. I also find it amazing how the book cover has appeared in so many places. I agree that the title is "cool" and it may have just stuck because of that aspect, but I also believe many people may be beginning to read this book no one is suppose to read. The "dada" movement is another interesting aspect of this podcast, not only because of the increase in punk rock and "goth" culture, but because of the unique perspective it introduces to todays youth.

Oct. 27 2014 05:56 PM
Sherlock T. Dickinson

Nihilism seems like its just an excuse to ignore the problems and pretend that nothing matters, so we can do as we want. It seems like it invades pop culture simply because it allows those who are part of it to ignore the fears of doing things wrong and just to live. In the end, everyone has to see some meaning in what they are doing, they just try to deny that meaning so that they can get away with not listening to their conscience and living life as they are expected to. As true as it is that what we do will all eventually amount to death, we leave our legacies to those who are here after us and it continues to go down the line, and so nothing can ever be meaningless.

Oct. 27 2014 03:40 PM
Pach Atomz from Ohio

I finally got to listen to this podcast ...I found it very interesting. From another urban perspective, I created a short hip-hop inspired EP inadvertently from this same concept. If you look up "This Never Happened" by The Lusus King... you'll find it.
I'm going to search for this book. I really appreciate what you guys are doing. Thanks.

Oct. 25 2014 05:59 PM
Awake from United States

IPCC says SAG doesn't exist, but also that SAG must continue. Think.

Oct. 22 2014 06:20 PM
Anna B. Silverstein from Florida

Out of sight out of mind is the human condition allowing us to move on with our own meaningless or meaningful lives, however you look at it. Nihilism is the accepting of what is put out of sight, in my mind. It's impossible to change what you ignore. The lack of explanation for everything, chaos, randomness, and pointlessness replacing perceived reasons for life is what comes to mind when considering nihilism or pessimism. Existence may be arbitrary, and embracing morality and fragility may be the proper response to a temporary life, but to have it as a permanent outlook seems an unproductive way to go. Being content with your own life as you have constructed it while accepting the inevitability of death and probable fading of your mark on the world is the ideal balance.

Oct. 19 2014 12:44 PM
Shannon from Seattle

To me -- and I can only speak for me -- the baseline nihilistic vibe makes sense. I was born in 1986. I don't remember the boom years, and I define my generation by the tragedies that happened at formative ages.

Columbine happened when I was 12 -- kids weren't innocents or harmless Brat Pack-ers, they were potential murderers.

Then 9/11, I was 14, we aren't safe in our home turf anymore, and my generation was the cannon fodder for a war based on lies and posturing. People truly hated us, and we could see why.

2004, I was 18, a freshman at Oberlin, ready to strike out into the world as an ideological college student. We experienced 12 hour long lines at the poles, outside in the rain, while the townie precinct that shared space in the same church had no lines. Then we watched the Supreme Court hand the victory to a man that didn't win the popular vote. It's hard for me to think of democracy as sacred when this happened in my first election, before I even had a chance to be your classic naively crusading student.

The financial crisis happened in 2008, the year I graduated from college. There goes any expectation of a "normal" career path and life that some of our parents followed. And then we all became tethered to Blackberries, a life that's approximately the opposite of desert asceticism. I got laid off that November from the job I secured before graduation, so I never worked in the "before" time, just the "during" and, now, "after."

Now -- today! -- Obama and drones, Ebola, "The Fappening," the Elliot Rodger shootings, threats against Sarkeesian, constant hacking of financial institutions -- and more.

That's a lifetime's worth of crises! The world shifted under my feet at each developmental milestone. I grew up in a different world than my cousins who're 5-10 years older than me -- and an unrecognizably different world from my Boomer parents. The kids younger than me inherited this world, never knew anything else. It's a weird place to be.

I personally basically agree with the nihilists, that we're just bags of meat that are really in love with their own consciousness, whatever that is. But that doesn't make the world any less beautiful, or the things I can create with my hands any less worthwhile. I think that when I die, I die, and that's it, but because my ego doesn't persist doesn't make the happiness that I feel any less happy. It means it's just electrical impulses, filtered through things like confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance -- and ain't it grand? Just like all of these terrible things have happened, but childhood, America, democracy, a fulfilling career -- these things still all matter and are still capital-G-Great.

Oct. 17 2014 07:41 PM
Barrie Moss from Seattle

I am a positive, "there is a reason for everything" kind of person.But a few Fridays ago, I climb into bed and suddenly the thought: "Is there really a reason for everything? Isn't Life just a random sequences of events that we as Humans desperately try to make sense of?" crosses my mind. I wake up on Saturday and there on your show is "In the Dust of the Planet".

Then last night, I am at my every Monday writing group and I start to write and think about WHY tattoos are getting bigger and more elaborate, and why hair is now dyed several colors in florescent profusion. What IS this statement.
And then, (by accident??) just 5 minutes ago, I happen to re-listen to this podcast and Voila, THERE is my answer. " We are bold; we are not afraid; we are grabbing the moment to make a statement, even in the shadow of planetary destruction and pandemic violence. We are alive and we are not afraid.

Thank you, once again for your truly amazing show. I wish I were you.

Oct. 14 2014 05:38 PM
Bytefield from Chapel Hill, NC

Didn't realize I was a nihilist.

But of course life has no meaning. We're completely insignificant, a thin green film on a speck circling a speck, a third of the way from the center of a larger speck.

There are probably millions of civilizations vastly older and wiser than our own. To them we're wildlife. Nothing special. Certainly not anything they want to communicate with, any more than we care to converse with honeybees in their dance language.

But that doesn't mean we can't appreciate what we have: good friends, good sex, a good bitter. Helping others, that makes life worth living. It's all we've got, enjoy.

Oh yeah, and learning. Maybe the greatest joy of all.

"You can find Eugene Thacker's 'In The Dust Of the Planet' at Zero Books"
Might want to correct the title...

Oct. 14 2014 02:07 AM
Rudyard L. Kevoac from Florida

I found your connections to the Cold War very intriguing. While I was aware of the pervading feeling of anxiety and paranoia, I underestimated the role helplessness would play in the role of everyday lives. However, I would be interested to hear about grim recorded periods of imbued pessimism before the 20th century, such as can be found in the Norse religion. As you probably know, Germanic neopaganism accepted the inevitable death and destruction of the world during Ragnarok. It would be interesting to see how the reactions of these people would compare to modern outlooks.

Oct. 13 2014 06:45 PM
Rudyard L. Kevoac from Florida

I found your connections to the Cold War very intriguing. While I was aware of the pervading feeling of anxiety and paranoia, I underestimated the role helplessness would play in the role of everyday lives. However, I would be interested to hear about grim recorded periods of imbued pessimism before the 20th century, such as can be found in the Norse religion. As you probably know, Germanic neopaganism accepted the inevitable death and destruction of the world during Ragnarok. It would be interesting to see how the reactions of these people would compare to modern outlooks.

Oct. 13 2014 06:45 PM
Alice Z. Lovecraft from USA

I found this podcast to be super interesting. After reading the title, I jumped into it. I did not read the caption that this was about the book and its effect and just this whole mentality and I was delightfully surprised. The realistic idea of this world ending in ruin is one I've found myself thinking of often. It scares me, but this is what we have caused and now we need to face it. This also helped me see people who wear things like that or act that way in a different light. I also agree partially that the music industry is dying.

Oct. 13 2014 05:05 PM
Mary Margaret Richter from Bellingham, Washington

You are missing a marketing opportunity here. Radiolab should sell "In the Dust of the Planet" t-shirts and give Eugene a cut. I'm serious. I'd buy one, but only if it's authorized by Eugene!

Oct. 12 2014 05:33 PM
Wolves from Space

"the father of Transcendental Black Metal - Hunter Hunt Hendrix" -- GROAN

Oct. 10 2014 10:16 AM
Lazyboy A. from NYC

What if nihilism does not come in cycles but is a continuous theme in art/culture/society throughout time? Is there a legitimate connection between nihilism and dada and punk rock, or is that whole trope/motif just basically a dogma that gets repeated in classrooms and on plaques at MOMA? What is the basis for all these claims about the importance & popularity of nihilism? Thacker sounds really interesting and its cool that Jay-Z was wearing that jacket. Otherwise the episode is really dissappointing, random, unoriginal and superficial. Much better was the one where they discussed the number of times 'quicksand' appears in movies.Sorry guys! You're allowed to screw up in my books.

Oct. 10 2014 08:34 AM
Bruce Krajewski from Texas

Thacker, Critchley, and Radiolab might do better than a celebratory dance with Nietzsche. Geoff Waite has done his homework on Nietzsche, and writes: "Nietzsche seems to attack nothing more vehemently than democracy, socialism, feminism, popular culture, and the Left in general. Yet nowhere and at no other time has he enjoyed a warmer, more uncritical -- hence more masochistic -- welcome than today from precisely this same Left" (from "Nietzsche's Corps/e," Duke UP, 1996, p. 75).

Oct. 04 2014 12:09 PM
Donald Lee from New Jersey

Response to "In The Dust Of This Planet” on Radiolab and "Staring Into The Abyss” from On the Media.

This episode overlooked several key topics that would have helped to explain the issue of our contemporary nihilism.

1. We live in an epoch roughly delineated by the period since Descartes. As in, it's difficult for people after Descartes to understand what life was like before him. It's the point David Foster Wallace tries to explain in the opening of his Kenyon College commencement speech "This is Water” []. The under pinnings of our experience of the world is "Like water to the fish”; difficult for the poor fish to notice.
2. Nihilism isn't a “believe". Our contemporary nihilism is characterized by the lack of certainty or an unrelenting flow of choices built into the foundation of our modern world epoch. We are burdened by choice with no clear basis on which to choose. Should you choose what feels good? Should you run from danger? Should you pursue money? Which is better a short exciting life or a long boring life? On what basis should you make these choices? The period that the poet Homer wrote about didn’t have this problem.
3. What life can one hold up as an example of a life worth living? Or what is life at its best in our culture? This is the key question we raise when we talk about nihilism. The show mentions an unnamed fashion model, Detective Rust Cohle created by Nic Pizzolatto as well as JayZ and Beyonce. Then doesn’t follow up with any depth any of these examples. What does Pizzolatto say about nihilism? Do our artist and poets have a role it?

The novel “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville explains our contemporary nihilism then offers a way for the culture to escape it.

If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birthright, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; on the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove's high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it.

— Herman Melville, from Moby Dick
Please see: All Things Shining by Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly []

Oct. 03 2014 11:23 AM

Shazam can't help. SoundHound failed. 99 Comments and an answer in None. What is the name of the music near the 27-minute mark? Many have asked but I don't think we've received an answer yet.

I really enjoyed the show, as I almost always do, and I'd really like to buy that particular piece of building expansiveness.

Oct. 03 2014 11:13 AM
Leon Loucheur from San Francisco

The Radiolab team is so good, it's hard to think of a topic I wouldn't enjoy listening about on this program. As a non-scientist, I find the show fascinating and informative, and typically quite a bit outside my area of familiarity. However, when the show has touched on the more ethereal notes of art and philosophy, areas with which I feel a higher degree of familiarity, I am no less informed, no less fascinated.

As an advocate of the universe-without-meaning paradigm, I have to concede the point that nihilism is a sort of chest thumping pose, even at it's most thought-out, philosophical roots. From Eugene Thacker to Jay-Z, what in our lives is not a sort of pose? Even the art we make only for ourselves (if such a thing in fact exists) draws it's inspiration from some false seed, assuming nothing at the fundamental level is true. That doesn't make it any less an intriguing illusion. I think the image is a value adder,even in a pop context. It broadens the conversation, and flatly states an enduring truth: Nothing lasts forever.

Sep. 30 2014 03:31 PM
Dan from Toronto

Excellent program. Like one of the earlier commenters, I too want to point out that Buddhism's unique take on nihilism is well worth exploring. Far from inducing despair, the idea of emptiness (aka voidness), that is, that all things (including individuals) are empty of inherent existence, brings a greater sense of connectedness and meaning. The point isn't that nothing exists, but that nothing exists inherently. As the Heart Sutra puts it, "There is no birth, no sickness, no old age, no death, and also no extinction of them."
We exist from moment to moment in dependence on everything else around us (the ecosystem, the food we eat, parents, family, etc.) There is no alienation because you can't be alienated from what you already are. Looked at from this perspective, Western existential despair seems a little over wrought, even adolescent. Its interesting that there a number of heavy metal bands who use Tibetan Buddhist imagery in their music. Perhaps unconsciously trying to find a way out of nihilistic trap?

Sep. 30 2014 01:41 PM
Damian from Auckland New Zealand

So after listening to this excellent podcast all the way down here in Auckland, New Zealand I thought I would take a punt and check the local library for any copies of the book no one wants to read...two copies both checked out!!
I think if we accept that, on a Universal scale, everything is meaningless and has no purpose or special pattern then we can get on with creating what meaning we like in the knowledge that we are all just specks in time and matter gone in a cosmic instant. Rather than starting from the idea that we are something special, more special than those people, nations, cultures, sexual orientation, wealth etc. Some sort of mini Gods who deserve to be treated as such.

Sep. 29 2014 07:46 PM
markr from Scotland

Today was not a good day. I got rattled by a whole litany of bad stuff, from the trivial: flat tyre, to the worrisome: a family pet with unexplained illnesses, to the downright horrible: news about the death of a friend. Once the new tyre is safely on, I limp home and for distraction stick on the newest Radiolab. Turns out it's about nihilism. Christ, no! I have faith in J and R so I persist. I realise I actually enjoy it despite it draining what little energy I have left in me. But the show finishes 12 minutes early. Weird.... I scroll on, find Jad again, he starts talking about a song - it kicks in - I recognise it instantly, one big, relentless, juddering groove that doesn't let up for 7 glorious minutes, pummeling my empty head into an oddly calming, uplifting, better place. It dawns on me that I am not a nihilist or even a pessimist - I clearly believe in the restorative power of sharing - and on this occasion I get some knowledge, love, and music, to keep me going on a particularly rough day. Thank you Radiolab.

Sep. 29 2014 04:20 PM
Alex from Winnipeg

What is the name of the song that plays around the 27 minute mark? I NEED to find it!

Sep. 29 2014 03:45 AM
Nicholas L from Athens, Greece

Nihilism, like Atheism is either understood as a logical conclusion of what our species observes around it and is able to logically extend and advance concepts over, or not. (There can be no rational discussion about things or events we cannot observe) To celebrate Nihilism is a bit like celebrating Atheism. These are not alternate beliefs equivalent to Religions or other Philosophies. For those who truly understand them, they are a state of mind that is rooted in nothing but reality. There is nothing to celebrate.

But to take these ideas and commercialize them is ridiculous and it shows a complete lack of understanding of their meaning. To allow this to occur, to allow others to profit untethered by royalties or at least acknowledgement of the origin of the inspiration is to allow theft which is a moral dilemma in itself. Though there is no meaning or consequence to our existence that does not mean that within our little bubble we should not function with the biological tools afforded us by nature.

Sep. 28 2014 06:05 AM

I agree with everyone, this is a great show. But what about Amiri Baraka's Black Dada Nihilism? Back in the 70's anyone? TuPac, the pop god of Nihilism? Notorious B.I.G.'s album, "Ready to Die," with his baby picture on the front? Beyonce and Jay-Z are derivative. Accidental. Someone dressed them... they didn't mean to be profound.

All of the pop references.. very little perspective of how little black life in America is worth, and the dissidence of living with that. In America, if black children get killed, it's probably for a good reason. If black youth are arrested, it's probably for a good reason. If your community is over policed and people are arrested for with little evidence, it's probably for a good reason. There are more drugs and rape on most college campus' than on the other side of the tracks, but that's immaturity, not criminal.

There's a reason many black films end in the death of the hopeful one. Why black music is either angry, about temporary pleasures or an existential God who will take the pain away. It's a struggle to make meaning in the face of hopelessness. Black life in America is dealing with Nihilism.

But then, there seems to be huge competition for this attention (as noted by Liturgy in the podcast) because everyone's suffering, but no one seems to care.

Sep. 26 2014 07:17 PM
ddddbbbb from NJ

Best episode! Thank you for putting together a show about the current zeitgeist (which I constantly think about). One thing I would like to add is the 2012 phenomenon (and to a lesser extent the Family Radio Harold Camping End Times 2011 prediction) has had a large influence on the zeitgeist of this decade so far. I used to think of it as the "end of novelty" when I started beard-stroking about 2012 in about 2008 when the economy started to slip. So I'm glad that the costume designer mentioned "the end of music" because I feel like that is totally true.. it seems to be in the air. After mining the 90s for ideas what do we have left? Nostalgia over the iPhone debut? Bringing back bellbottoms AGAIN? Seems terrible. Also, "The end of music" notion can be lengthened into the "end of pop culture" as well which seems to be included with the vision of Jay-Z and Beyounce abandoning everything and walking into the desert. Well just wanted to say very refreshing episode and thank you! Peace to all humans on this crazy ride

Sep. 26 2014 03:48 PM

Question: I didn't hear race come up in the exegesis-of-sorts of the dust of this planet. One of the key features of the report had to do with two prominent black artists--noting that as a matter of fact, rather than a criticism.

So, I'm curious about that decision, specifically.

I'm also curious about the broader absence of race in the discussion. One example is where the piece ties in Dada, a European movement, and draws a parallel with contemporary US popular culture. At a very superficial level, these represent very small portions of global culture but--at least in my ears--are discussed as quasi-universal.

These aren't unusual kinds of questions to get, and I think they're fair.

But for real, what's up? Where are the pieces of the picture that are absent? Why is there this kind of missing awareness about the boundaries of these insights?

Sep. 25 2014 11:16 PM

@Matt from Vancouver
>“Dust on this planet = star dust = and it is wonderful and amazing thing” is a position one is perfectly entitled to adopt, and I actually have some sympathy for it, but it’s not science.

Actually it very much is science. Everything came from star "dust". We are all made up of the same stuff. We came from the same place. That all comes from science. No made up philosophy or religion is needed.

Bottom line: RadioLab is an amazing science show. They should stick with this, and avoid the debatable fiction of philosophy and religion.

Because the world has enough of that stuff.

The world needs more science, with all the real meaning it has naturally.

Sep. 25 2014 03:01 PM

Just a note, complete repudiation of everything includes (and perhaps most importantly) the repudiation of thought of repudiation (and the nihilism) themselves. Otherwise, it's just a switcheroo, a replacement identity and not actual repudiation of everything. Lol, not that I expect this resonate, but hey, we're talking nihilism. :-)

Sep. 25 2014 09:47 AM
Keith Fail from Austin TX

Just finished listening to In The Dust of This Planet back to back with the piece the Brooke Gladstone produced for On The Media, Staring Into the Abyss. You guys are so, so, so frickin' good. It makes me proud to be a human even if everything IS meaningless and empty.

What if instead of God or Philosophy per se we were to sincerely and totally place our highest values on humane interpersonal anti-egoic being with one another? We need a new secular theology that leaves the myths behind but saves the wonder and mystery at the living experience of being a human being. The world is longing for meaning, but meaning is ultimately empty. Yet as Robert Frost expressed a century ago in the face of determinism, there is yet beauty and love.

We can learn to practice radical self-observation, and that can be our new ethic and aesthetic. This I believe. The world is looking for a will to live again. I can't help but wonder whether this longing can arise and become somewhat stable out of the chaos of modern high-speed ubiquitous information flow.

While we wait to find out (or die), I will take comfort in the beauty that you guys create on your two respective radio programs. Thank you.

Sep. 25 2014 03:53 AM
Dry Camp from San Francisco

Fits with my experience of Burning Man.

Sep. 24 2014 01:05 AM
Andrew from New Mexico

Perhaps the late 90's was an optimistic time, but for those whose cultural touchstone remains The Big Lebowski, this is what nihilism looks like. Maybe kinda cool, but not as cool as the alternative.

Sep. 23 2014 10:20 AM
AlexM from Austin, Tx

I wish to recommend The Denial of Death to the Radio Lab hosts, produces, and listeners. The Denial of Death is the mother of all psychology books. Listening to someone talking about death and the meaning of life (or the meaninglessness of life) without having read this book, is like listening to someone mentally masturbate.

Sep. 22 2014 10:59 PM

What's the song toward the end? It doesn't seem to be the Liturgy song shared above?

Sep. 22 2014 09:42 PM
Matt from Vancouver

@blam (and others)

The thing to realize is that philosophical nihilism is not in any way shape or form in conflict with “the fact based world that RadioLab presents.” Have you seen what the neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have been coming up with in recent years? Things like our entire notion of personal identity (selfhood) being an illusion, along with free will, and with us being driven almost entirely by evolved biological urges which are fundamentally at odds with any grander vision of humanity? The most significant recent work of pessimism, Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, draws almost entirely on scientists, not “bummed out made up philosophy writers.”

“Dust on this planet = star dust = and it is wonderful and amazing thing” is a position one is perfectly entitled to adopt, and I actually have some sympathy for it, but it’s not science. It’s ascribing moral or qualitative to experience/phenomena – ergo, it is philosophy. (Richard Dawkins could do with recognising this, too.) A philosophical outlook adopted precisely to cope with the possibility of a truly nihilistic universe.

I’m not trying to bum you out, my friend – but if you’re as big a fan of science as you claim to be, you should recognise how science is contributing to these issues. You may also want to examine the possibility that “philosophy, mysticism, religion... made up stuff” is the only possible source for an effective response to the balls-out pessimism you claim to decry – and that perhaps this is why it’s been around just as long as science has.

Sep. 22 2014 02:57 PM

I am reminded of a quote by author C.S. Lewis who said “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

Sep. 22 2014 02:13 PM
Jamie from asheville, NC

best episode in ages. very very significant! mind blown

Sep. 22 2014 12:43 PM
Tyler Coulson from Chicago

Ha. I loved the bit about nihilism in the classroom. In 2011, I left corporate law and walked across the United States. Talk about nihilism. Wrote a book about struggling with nihilism, struggling with the loss of meaning and purpose. But I also apparently wrote it for no one.

Sep. 22 2014 09:54 AM

May I appeal to Eugene to make and sell his own shirts with his "In the Dust of This Planet" cover on it? I'd love to buy one. I even prefer the original drip design at the bottom of the text than the messy one in the ripoff.

Sep. 22 2014 04:08 AM

About that hack copying and selling your book cover, I feel so angry for you, it's something I hate a lot that sometimes happens in fashion and art. Carelessly taking someone's identity or something that meant something to someone and passing it off as theirs for their own gain. And no one questions it because it's a big/high profile company. I'm not even against people wearing and enjoying it, regardless if they've read the book or care for philosophy, it's that he sold something that was never his to sell. He's probably a smug, talentless, pretentious a**hat too. The art world is so full of bullshit.

Sep. 22 2014 03:49 AM
q from Norman, OK

I can't believe you ended this episode with Generation by Liturgy. I'm obsessed with that song too, and have also had a few conversations about that same exact True Detective quote. It almost feels like this episode was made for me. Good job, Radiolab. :)

Sep. 21 2014 06:12 PM
Cali Lili from Venice Beach California

U guys are SO cool ... Eugene is SO cool, both your wives are SO Cool - Brooke Gladstone / On the Media - SO Cool ...

Your conclusion is true ... it is a LOT about "Posturing" and "Look At Me" by the One Percent Who are literally BUYING our CULTURE !

THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ALERT : Not To be Negative : but I Have To Say : The Artist is in CRISIS. As i am probably the opposite of a nihilist : ) of COURSE i feel compelled 2 voice my disgust - at the outright Thieving B.S of the commercial entertainment industry as it shamelessly, gleefully picks out it's "Materials" from living breathing artists, expecting us to be grateful for their theft - we then become like an Abused Wife in a Domestic Crisis, Making Excuses for the Abuser ... Yes, as artists, we all use the world as our "Material" - and yes "creative commons" has it's place (it's own form of optimistic nihilism) but there is a reality out here for the 21st Century Artist, the same reality for every artist in every century ... we are the keepers of the innocence ... I worry for our innocence, if we become cynics too ... if we are silent, maybe catatonic? when our work is "abused" and as society's lack of respect for the artist deepens - we open our mouths in a "silent scream" - watching those with that Self-Satisfied Corporate Cash - "Buy" their way into a world of Craft and Grit ... As they "Buy" Culture ... Dear World, Culture is made, not bought. Artists are the Shamans, the Mystics, we go into those Caves daily ... and we don't do it for the money ... but HELL ... we do need to eat, we need roofs over our heads, we are Ninety-Niners which is why we experienced the Crisis of the Ninety-Niners before that expression was ever born. This IS An EMERGENCY ALERT.

Sep. 21 2014 03:49 PM
Jessica Thompson from San Diego

Interesting...I started thinking along a different line regarding the "In the Dust of This Planet' shirt. I thought of the collaborations between Rick Rubin (who strikes me a someone who may have read the book) and Jay-Z. I also knew that Lily Collins is Phil Collins' daughter, and he has worked with Rubin as well.

Sep. 20 2014 12:14 PM

enjoyable. Engaging. Entertaining.

But Dadaism is not nihilism

Nihilism suggests all is meaningless which fundamentally allows for the possibility of meaning.

Dadaism suggests there is no such thing as meaning. Far more powerful and dangerous.

Sep. 20 2014 11:27 AM

Jad got sidetracked when he talked about nihilism as mostly a phase that youth go through. As he mentions, older people have been complaining about that for centuries. What's new is the nihilism we see at the top of our society -- with the people who have the most to lose.

"'We are happy to overheat the planet and we dare anyone to stop us.'" -- this was environmentalist Bill McKibbben's judgement on Exxon's recent statement to investors, where they say they will continue to produce as much oil as they can. Now that's nihilism! (Punk rockers are wimps compared to oil executives.)

"I'll be gone, you'll be gone" was a common expression at the banks before the financial crisis. (Meaning: 'don't worry about making bad loans and crashing the bank -- we'll cash out before that happens'. They even shortened it to 'IBG-YBG'.) Nihilism seems to be the norm in elite circles.

Nietzsche talked about the 'revaluation of all values' 130 years ago, and our failure to do this since indicates that it's a dead end. Like Jad suggested in the piece, the only way we can truly revalue all values is by giving up on science, on civilization, and living primitively, ignorantly, and in poverty. Life will again be nasty, brutish, and short -- but that's the price you pay for meaning.

Sep. 20 2014 04:17 AM
Keith Penney from Livermore, CA

Did anyone else burst out laughing at 24:24 when Jad says, "Simon says"? Perhaps I wasn't listening right...

Sep. 19 2014 08:05 PM
Katie from Chesaning, MI

What an interesting episode! I listened to this and then saw this "nihilist philosophy" font today ( I understood what they were trying to channel in this font, now! Thank you for you all you do!

Sep. 19 2014 01:39 PM
S from Madison

There's hardly anything nihilistic about the math rock you finished the show with. The amount of planning and the faith in the future that recording necessarily implies hardly embodies abject rejection of value, rather it places a deep emphasis on constructing a precious negation.

So often the violence and joy of youth--that primal f-you to the parents, local power, inherited structures etc is simply an instinctive urge to negate that is later essential in the formation of identity. The reason we see so many young men clutching Zarathustra as a bible is that FN makes them think this instinctive drive to push back and negate is somehow singularly heroic. Truth is, it may be singular in experience but it is most certainly common in occurrence.

FN himself went through this evolution of negation, and spent a lifetime trying to bridge a deep love for the world (remember being a teenager and laughing and crying so intensely) with the desire to overturn and burn the structures that he inherited.

This isn't nihilism. Nihilism is the "eh I don't care" of the dullard, or the unreflective drunk behind the wheel. The "we're all just dust, man" teenager? He (and it's a he) is an impassioned no, searching for a yes.

Sep. 19 2014 09:03 AM

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Sep. 18 2014 12:06 PM

When talking about nihilism, can someone for once in the lifetime of philosophy and its r*m-j*b lovers, ask what and how poor peoples of colour work through such epistemologies? Ask Palestinians who are constantly murdered by Israel. There's a common compartmentalisation of nihilism; the only opinions that seem to matter is those of people with privilege and with guns. Case in point: every example used in this episode.

Sep. 17 2014 07:21 AM
Jenai from Edinburgh, Scotland

what about when instead of pessimism, people turn to positivity to help conquer fear? For example, the space program in the 60s started in militaristic fear, but instead of overcoming it through nihilism, it galvanised the nation to plan a world of tomorrow.

I wonder in what sociopolitical circumstances does one response happen over the other? Or do both occur at the same time?

Sep. 17 2014 06:48 AM
David Sanders from Boulder, CO

Wow...the part about the survey of youth and their thoughts about the future was rough. It made me realize that I actually do feel that way. Very sad. It's hard to get over the feelings of apathy. Between corporate lobbying, patent trolls, disease, inbred war, whatever. I suppose those things aren't necessarily that new. But I would argue that the humbling sense of scale in the modern era _is_ new. It makes it harder to hope that things could change.

But hey, maybe it's the first step in _making_ a change. :)

Sep. 16 2014 05:00 PM
Sarah Tait from Seattle, Wa

What a great episode. Reminds me of a song by The Classic Crime called The Happy Nihilist.

Sep. 16 2014 01:42 PM
D.W. from Boston

Perhaps it is an unfair generalization, but philosophers and scientists, and teenagers seem to make for poor historians. There was some throwaway acknowledgement that maybe the present generations weren't the only ones to explore nihilism, but to make youth-centered pop culture seem rational and worthwhile, any value in such acknowledgement was lost in trying to make the case that global warming and a uni or non-polar political world made goths "goth."

"They make me remember an easier time. You know, everyone says it about the past, it was a simpler time. It probably wasn't. But it seemed to be." - Boris Klapwald on photographing Grand Central Terminal

Sep. 16 2014 10:27 AM
Andrew Dorkneel

dude liturgy suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks

Sep. 16 2014 12:02 AM

Yep. 27 minutes in and this episode is definitely not for me and my mental health. Oh man

Sep. 15 2014 09:30 PM

true detective and that song are the only things that don't suck these days *drags on cigarette*

Sep. 15 2014 08:47 PM
Walter Sobcheck from LA

I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

Sep. 15 2014 02:46 PM

These people have obviously never done psychedlelics

Sep. 15 2014 11:44 AM
Stefan from Minneapolis

Why is pessimism/nihilism cool? I think it has to do with general teenager/youth rebelliousness. I'm not an expert in adolescent psych, but here's my logic.

Teens/young people tend to rebel against expectations because as people get older, they seek autonomy. Their parents and other adults have much more invested in life than they do, so one of the things teens rebel against is this idea that life means anything, that anything is important. The ultimate rebellion and, thus, the ultimate cool stance of teens and young people, (who happen to define what cool is, by the way) is to conclude that nothing is important.

This idea is tougher and tougher to hang onto as we age, though, because we have more invested in life and it's harder to accept that all of it is meaningless. But since the teen years are so awash with hormones and brain development, we end up with this nostalgia of that time of our life. So we all tend to feel that the ideas we had then were cooler than the ideas we have now. If one of the prominent ideas of our teen years is nihilistic or pessimistic, it gets this romantic cachet to it that we can't shake. It's permanently considered cool.

Sep. 15 2014 11:21 AM
Brandon from Alabama

I, like Ed Baker, am curious about the song at ~27m. If it's a full track, can you direct us to it? I was diggin' the build :)

Sep. 15 2014 09:21 AM
Matt from Australia

Loved it - when reminded of that nihilistic urge in all it's wilfully destructive forms - punk, dada, the apocalypse, or even just the act of smoking a cigarette - I'm reminded of Doris Lessing's "Shikasta" and that image of dancing in the stones.

Sep. 15 2014 07:48 AM

Disliked almost the entire show. The music at the end was not my cup of tea and lasted forever forcing me to pull over and adjust my podcast app so that I can skip it as quickly as possible.

Sep. 14 2014 05:53 PM

They got it wrong.

Dust in this planet = star dust. Which is what everything is made of.

And is beautiful.

Dust in this planet is a beautiful thing.

RadioLab got it way wrong.

As well, dealing with the fiction of philosophy, really goes against the fact based world that RadioLab had presented, which is why I love the show.

If I wanted philosophy, mysticism, religion... made up stuff... I would tune in to that sort of podcast.

Please continue to make RadioLab a fact based, positive, "mission to find the interesting truth" show. As we really have a enough made up fiction disguising itself as truth in the world.

RadioLab is the one show that shows life to have great and amazing meaning, all based on fact.

Please leave nihilism to bummed out made up philosophy writers - who write books for no one and wonder why their life has no meaning. Hint: if no one wants to read your book, it may be meaningless.

Dust on this planet = star dust = and it is wonderful and amazing thing.

Which is what I thought the episode was going to be about...

Hey, maybe next time actually do a show on star dust, and how everything is made of it, and thus we are all connected... now that sounds like a real RadioLab show!

Sep. 14 2014 12:55 PM
Anonybot from Mpls.

Does anyone know what the song/sound bite was at the end of the episode? It had bass beats, a background blues riffs and jet engines. Thanks, great episode.

Sep. 13 2014 02:18 PM

Today's episode greatly diminished my esteem for Radiolab. An episode focused on Jad's brother-in-law's book?

The idea that life should have meaning reduces us to victim status. It severs our connection to the world and our community.

I believe that life does not have inherent meaning. The world is full of interesting challenges. I look forward to every day. Rather than embrace hopelessness and powerlessness why not look at the meaningless nature of life as empowering? This life is our one shot, our only chance. Let's do something interesting!

Hopelessness creates inaction. An embrace of the idea that life should have meaning leads to a depth of disappointment. Perhaps the reason we've not taken action on issues like climate change is because many/most feel powerless.

As PDW points out the world is getting better. Measurably better. Who really wants to live like it's 1900, 1950, 1970 or even 1990? Some of the advances are miraculous. Antibiotics and the end of polio. Life is also improving in simple ways. Cars are safer. Clothes and food are cheaper.

I listen to Radiolab to escape the irrational panic pervasive in the 24 hour news sources. The "In The Dust Of This Planet" episode felt like it crossed a line.

Sep. 13 2014 01:55 AM

This show is both neurologically scintillating and emotionally entertaining however it is intellectually lacking as it does not provide a full scope look at all the different perspectives that shape and influence or cultural perspectives and frames of reference. Otherwise, I love radio lab. Why else would I sit at home and listen to this on a Friday night...maybe because there is no other point to life?

For further knowledge and understanding of what is it about today's world that make's this type of philosophy possible, read The Secular Age by Charles Taylor or the follow up synopsis How (Not) to be Secular by James K.A. Smith.

Sep. 12 2014 09:29 PM
Cristiano Ferreira Bucek from Geneva

Interesting episode. The very begining made me think of the first Nietzsche text I read 20 year ago and that I could never forget. He also named his masterpiece (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), “A book for no one and everyone:

" In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life.

-On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense
Frederich Nietzsche

Sep. 12 2014 07:40 PM
dirk from Omaha, NE

thanks for this!

Sep. 12 2014 04:29 PM
JB Lawton from Dublin, OH

I wanted to hear from two (or three) other people: First, the artist who turned the book jacket into a painting. Had he read the book or merely liked the book title and book jacket design?

Second, who was the graphic artist who created the book jacket?

Third, if Jad's bro-in-law didn't come up with the title himself, who did?

Sep. 12 2014 02:16 PM
petah b from lbc, ca

The absence of matter engulfs my existence.
I command my eyelids to open wide and I
curiously but slowly move my eyeballs in all
directions but the darkness is
encompassing. The sense that I may have
gone blind runs through my spine like a mild
electric shock. Franticly, I shuffle through
my mind for memories that led me to the
now as if my mind was a gray filing cabinet
stashed in the basement of a courthouse, or
unemployment office, or any other
government bureaucracy that has fortified
its case for existence. Only a few childhood
memories emerged and yet the mental fright
loosen up its grip on me. My first sense of
the outside world comes in the form of the
invisible fine dust that floats in the air. As a
child, I was often asked against my wishes
to observe a two hour afternoon nap.
Although once in a while I gave away to the
nap, the majority of the time I despised the
nap that deprived me from playing with the
neighborhood kids. As I revolted against
falling asleep, I spent the time watching dust
particles as they were visible when a few
stray light beams pushed through the
overlap of the heavy window curtains. This
brave sunlight entering the dark room
illuminated a small patch about a meter
from my bed. Inside it I had clear view of
numerous specks dancing, racing and
disappearing from my view thus dying off for
all I knew. Back then “to be” meant someone
else knowing that I am “be”. Without an
entity’s knowledge of me, I was nonexistent
as far as I was concern. It’s dark, empty,
silent, and desolate. The specks repudiate
fathers and sons, life and death, and even
me. Now nothing matters and nothing is
what matters in the dust of this collective

Sep. 11 2014 08:17 PM
Peter from PA, USA

YES! haha I read before the dust of this planet before it was cool.

Sep. 11 2014 08:17 PM
Matt from USA

I think the logical evolution of this is a kind of modern day existentialism. We're all looking to define our own meaning in an indifferent world. Love this quote from Woody Allen:

“We're all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions, moral choices. Some are on a grand scale, most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are, in fact, the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, Human happiness does not seem to be included in the design of creation. it is only we, with our capacity to love that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even try to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more”
― Woody Allen

Sep. 11 2014 06:12 PM
Kristen from denver

has anyone else had trouble with the download of this? I've tried it twice and both times I go to play the file and it is only 11min 25sec long.

Sep. 11 2014 03:07 PM
Chadney from Queens

The final song "Generation" by Liturgy is the perfect soundtrack to watching all of the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy being sucked into the gravity of our own galaxy's central black hole. THIS final obligatory shredding of EVERYTHING is exactly the meaningless meaning of Nihilism: that which cannot escape meaninglessness.

With my eyes closed, sitting in my parked car, thinking of our Milky Way shredding at its core is all I could picture while listening to this song for the 1st time ever. "Watching" stars and planets and solar systems plummeting into the molecular shredder, drum-beat by drum beat, chord-repeat by chord-repeat, star after star, planet-after-planet.

The song's final cymbal that crashes into a dark silence ending the song is the molecular dust of the last planet swallowed whole, the post-Earth dust spraying out of the gravitational syphon perpendicularly to the no-longer-existant plane of the no-longer-existant Milky Way, into an endless universe of rehash.

Sep. 11 2014 02:15 PM
taj from Oakland, CA

If life has no meaning.
That is meaningless.

Neither good not bad.

It does not mean anything.
That it is meaningless.

We tell stories about meaning or meaninglessness
That make meaning out of something (or nothing)

We choose
or we think we do.

The real question is not meaning or non-meaning.
If there is meaning “underneath” or “inside” of reality how can can we really know?

What we do know is that we tell stories.

We do “make meaning” out of something (or nothing).
We make it.

The only question is do we have choice.

Can we choose the stories, we tell? The meaning we make?
The worlds we construct and inhabit with our words.
The words through which we produce and reproduce the “I” and the “we” the “us:” and the “them" and the rest of the universes/multverse. And engender the behaviors that those stories create, support, suppress and legitimate.

The words through which make meaning of experience.

And is their experience and knowing or understanding beyond language and words. Can we have direct experience of reality?

If I knew, I would it would be impossible to tell you . . . anything but stories.


The stories I enjoy and working to tell and animate are ones about love, the sacred nature of human life and the rest of the living work and the need to live in ways that allow others to live fully and bring the experiences of joy and happiness into the world.

If we move beyond what is true at a fundamental level and recognize we have the power (or the illusion of it) to create the stories throughout which we bring meaning in the world - lets honor the story tellers and tell stories and craft culture that reflects the possibility of radical choice.

To continue to be able to do this will require transforming our highly extractive economic systems that has produced the climate change we are experiences to both adapt and mitigate the impacts so that we can find ways to live resilient and interconnected and interdependent lived.

Sep. 11 2014 11:05 AM

Since Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated, any creative enterprise (ie writing books, selling $175 T-shirts to idiots at Nordstroms, making monotonous simplistic metal records with your Grandpa’s oil money or selling crappy JayZ tunes) cannot be Nihilistic. These activities are however supremely cynical, because they are diametrically opposed to the philosophy they name check. I hope Jad’s Bro in law gives him a suitable gift to reflect the 20 min advertisement he just received.

Sep. 11 2014 10:57 AM
Setty from montreality

I disagree with your point about climate change somehow being less "fuckyou"able than nuclear war. There are specific actors responsible for climate change and if people wanted to, they could all join 350 or other groups and try to take action. But there are two problems:

One is that we have been taught helplessness because that is very useful for selling products. Nihilism's rise coincided with the end of traditional agrarian life and family values and the beginning of highly mobile, hate-the-past capitalism. That can't be just a random coincidence. Beliefs thrive when they line up with the demands of capital.

Second, it's hard to protest one's self. The people with most power are the people with money. They didn't like nuclear war, they don't like police brutality, there are lots of things they will protest. But they won't protest much against the motor vehicles, airplanes, and power plants that give them their "quality of life." So rather than accept responsibility and change their behavior, it's much cheaper on the ego to become a nihilist and just say, hey, enjoy it while it lasts.

Sep. 11 2014 10:54 AM
Taylor Ryan

That Easter egg at the end with the looping drums from the rock band was so unnecessary. If you're going to add an easter egg, do it with something that worth listening to.

Sep. 11 2014 10:23 AM

One of you're best shows. Spectacular even.
But you couldn't help yourself, could you??
Had to add the dead air and Liturgy after the sign-off.
Anyone who calls themselves 'unique' probably isn't.

Sep. 11 2014 10:16 AM
Liz from Columbia, SC

As a teacher of undergraduate creative writing, I can say that another way the current nihilism manifests itself is in young people's interest in post-apocalyptic fantasy fiction. Not only do kids 18-22 spend a lot of time reading stories set in a ruined future, but they find it hard (and are often annoyed if I require them!) to write stories set in reality. This podcast made me think of my own classroom in a new way, and I'm excited to engage my students in a discussion about where their interest in dystopia comes from and what "lies on the other side." Because although the students are drawn to these dark fantasies, the stories themselves really don't succeed as good fiction most of the time--in a way, they're too morally simple and the characters often lack complexity. I guess dystopia is another way in which pop culture's nihilism offers an escape (like you guys were saying in the podcast).

Sep. 11 2014 07:22 AM
P from UK

This was the first podcast I have ever listened to by Radiolab even after furious recommendation from my friend for months and months!

Totally blew my mind and I have been listening to as many as I can ever since!

So well produced and so gripping!

Now I am furiously recommending this to as many people as possible!

Sep. 11 2014 07:06 AM
Ayala from Haifa, Israel

this has got to be one of my favorite episodes. I loved it. thanks!

Sep. 11 2014 03:49 AM
John from Uruguay

I´m just here to say that you produce an incredible show, worth listening every time.
There is so much negativity in these comments, I can´t believe we are listening to the same show. How can you have so much negativity about this?

Sep. 10 2014 10:40 PM
Jose from Queens

Sorry Guys,

I'm a big fan, but for the first time ever I could not finish one of your episodes. Com'on! end of days? Jay Z? WTF???

It was nonsensical and didn't show a lot of curiosity for the world.

Sep. 10 2014 09:14 PM
Steve M

Hey radiolab, i loved this episode! If you want some funny poems about nihilism check out this:

Sep. 10 2014 05:50 PM

@Naga from Portland
"This is an entertaining piece, but Jad & the Radiolab crew needed to dig a little deeper"

There would have been enough material for a full episode. Sickening to throw away one of the last good topics Radiolab hasn't featured.

Also, introduction and first five minutes were subpar. And what's up with minutes of silence followed by a progressive rock song. To hide the fact that this was a short 30-minute episode? That was not creative, if that was what you were going for.

Sep. 10 2014 05:29 PM
Jim from Omaha

Nice episode but I hate the music at the end. Also I kind of miss having Robert's more down to earth opinions being expressed.

Sep. 10 2014 02:07 PM

I am sick of all the ism comments. own it and stop the groupies.

Sep. 10 2014 12:54 PM

OMG this blew my mind. There is so much more that could have been added. The Matrix. Cabin in the Woods. All of H.P. Lovecraft's work. Every dystopian sci-fi novel ever, especially Philip K. Dick. The recent obsession with Gnosticism (that mystic ascetic thing). There is so much that it's going to take me awhile to pull it all together and come up with a thesis for what it all means. Because personally I agree with Nietzsche: you have to ultimately pass through nihilism to the other side. Which means that in the end, you reject it. Amor fati, man.

Sep. 10 2014 11:25 AM
Mike from Seattle

I don't really know about all that stuff above, but I haven't been blown away by a closing track since Chumbawamba's 80s pop take of "Time Bomb" off their album Anarchy (one little Indian).

Sep. 10 2014 11:08 AM
Julie K from Washington D.C.

Love love love the episode!!! And really enjoyed not having to hear Robert monopolize the conversation. Amazing soundtrack for this episode too!

Sep. 10 2014 10:57 AM
Joshi from Luxembourg

Nice episode! But Nietzsche is pronounced N-ee-tz-sh-uh, and he was no philosophical pessimist -- unlike his teacher Schopenhaurer, on whom Nietzsche turned.

Sep. 10 2014 10:53 AM

Wow, a vacuous show about his brother in law... whats next a show interviewing the dude who delivers his little rugrat's organic sphagnum moss diapers? I guess Jad figured out all that simple science stuff...sad

Classic moment: "I didn't know the only other academic I interviewed taught a class brother in law!" NYC as the whole universe...

Sep. 10 2014 09:55 AM
Ryn from ohio

Excellent! You can tell Mr. Tucker is a nihilist. The analysis of culture is an intellegent way is one of the things i love about this program. This is RadioLab quality i expect! Thank you so much!

Sep. 10 2014 08:07 AM
Ed Baker from South Carolina

In the latest episode "In The Dust of this Planet", what is the music track that starts at about 26:30? If by Jad, then it's excellent!! I really want to get the full track.

Great episode by the way, and yes I bought the book :)

Sep. 10 2014 05:39 AM
Connor Clinch from South Carolina

This was an awesome episode. I'm sure Dr. Thacker won't mind the publicity either! There's definitely going to be a new place on my bookshelf for his book.

Sep. 10 2014 12:43 AM
yuichi from Hell

Liturgy is not black metal.

Sep. 09 2014 10:11 PM
Sarah from San Francisco

Big correction guys:Cary Joji Fukunaga is the Emmy winning director of True Detective, Nick P. the writer/creator.
Love the show!

Sep. 09 2014 10:06 PM
Denver Andrew from Denver

Great episode! I only wish we could've hear Robert chime in. There's probably no one around with a more interesting perspective on Nothingness than RK, I'm guessing. And I love the Liturgy piece as a (hidden) capstone. Speaking of nihilistic swan songs for the end of the Universe, you might want to check out Chef André & The Exploding Explosion:

Sep. 09 2014 10:05 PM
Renee from LA

@ Chris from N.J., I'm gonna need you to back up that statement please.

Sep. 09 2014 10:03 PM
Chris from New Jersey

I'm a 24 year-old man and as far as I'm concerned humanity has never been in a better place.

Sep. 09 2014 08:30 PM
PDL from Hong Kong

I think that you can believe that in the scale of the universe, humanity is almost meaningless, but that life has tremendous meaning when thinking about how we treat those who share our planet.

Marshall Brain explained it well in his TEDx talk:

Sep. 09 2014 08:19 PM
Naga from Portland

This is an entertaining piece, but Jad & the Radiolab crew needed to dig a little deeper to examine the relationship between nihilism and asceticism. The roots of asceticism are actually found in the opposite of nihilism: eternalism. If nihilism is the believe that the self is completely extinguished at death, eternalism is the belief that the self continues just as it was upon death, and enters another realm (heaven, hell, etc). So when they paraphrase the desert mystics performing austerities as an expression of the belief that "the body is just getting in the way; I want to go soul-to-soul with God," what they're describing is eternalism.

Nihilism, on the other hand, is usually associated with the opposite of asceticism: hedonism. It's the belief that, if there is nothing waiting for us on the other side of death, then why not live it up to the fullest right now -- and damn the consequences?

The Buddha, 2500 years ago, began the teaching of a Middle Way. This is not the middle way between chocolate & vanilla, or between being nice & being nasty. It's specifically the Middle Way between nihilism & eternalism, and also therefore between hedonism & asceticism. As a Middle Way, it's also not a compromise between the two. It's rejecting both as satisfactory and dwelling in the mystery that occurs when we do so.

Sep. 09 2014 06:20 PM
Sam from Los Angeles

I have listened to every Radiolab and always love it... but I never thought I would learn about a new metal band from it! Liturgy rocks, thanks for the heads up!

Sep. 09 2014 06:18 PM
brian from Portland

This was an entertaining podcast that I enjoyed, but I would have liked to hear more about the religious retreat into the desert and less about the costume designer of Jay-Z. I enjoy the music & fashion of Jay-Z and Beyonce but I'm more interested in the salvation the women seeked who went into the desert.

Also, you sold the book very well. I'll be checking it out at my local library.

Sep. 09 2014 05:27 PM
Dan Porter from AC, NJ and Montreal,QC

@Tait from Billings, Montana

I agree that the deconstructionist creed is self-defeating, or at the very least deeply ironic.

It reminded me of two things:
(1) The recent Radio Lab on "Loops" brings up Gödel's incompleteness theorem. I think Deconstructionism falls into this category of thought; it can't be completed (or true?) because it is self-conflicting. You can't really follow through on Deconstructism any more than you can find someone to "shave the barber."

(2) There was an interesting concept introduced in a fantasy book series called The Prince of Nothing. One of the central characters, a sociopathic nihilist named Kelhus, follows a philosophy which could be considered a combination of buddhism and determinism. His sect believed that behaviours are controlled by "what comes before." In essence, there is no free will because people do not understand all of the influences that cause them to arrive at decisions. And yet, their 'holy grail' was to attain a form of enlightenment they called "The Thousandfold Thought" which was to be able to so perfectly understand all of the causal relationships which drive events in both the world and the self that one could break free and achieve true Free Will. Such a theoretical person was said to be a "self-moving soul."
I was reminded of this story because within their own philosophy of determinism, this concept of a "self-moving soul" seems impossible. Much like deconstructionism, the further one goes down the rabbit hole, the more it seems impossible to continue.


Sep. 09 2014 04:51 PM

This was probably a good one to do without Krul, if his past views of existential meaninglessness are any indication.

(I'm buying the book, btw)

Sep. 09 2014 04:44 PM
Steve Dempsey from London, UK

Is Nihilism any more of a posture than Theism? If one is posturing in the face of death, isn't the other fear?

Sep. 09 2014 04:39 PM
Jim T from San Francisco

Oh, a nit: The past empire that founded Alexandria was not, as the voiceover suggests the Roman Empire. At the time of the religious retreat that the podcast discusses, the Roman Empire was current. The former empire was Alexander the Great's or that of his successors in Egypt, the Ptolemies.

Sep. 09 2014 03:55 PM
V Walker

Grats, you sold a book in 10 minutes or less.

Sep. 09 2014 03:18 PM

Still listening and enjoying, but one small correction: Nick Pizzolatto is the writer/creator of True Detective, but not the director. That was Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Sep. 09 2014 03:10 PM
Tait from Billings, Montana

I agree with the position made on the show that nihilism in pop culture is little more than personal bravado. Death is the great equalizer; your attitude about death does not matter once you have died. All I want to pose is this: How is it possible for a nihilist to talk about nihilism, and remain consistent to his or her position? If it is all meaningless, what is there to teach? This is the great irony of deconstructionism. It is a creed that aims to tear down all creeds. To deconstruct is inherently incompatible with the design of deconstructionism. What do you think about that? Is it possible to truly deconstruct as an end in itself, or is nihilism and deconstructionism really just a placeholder saying, "I don't know what the meaning is, but I don't think it's anything I've seen so far." Sort of a philosophical agnosticism. These are open questions, since this is as far as I see this theory going. Any ideas?

Sep. 09 2014 02:04 PM
Ken Hardy from Beyonce's hut in the desert

Great show but the last 10 mins. or so lacks audio...oh, wait, I get it. The silence is all about the whole nihilism thing. You're getting a little out there guys.

Sep. 09 2014 02:02 PM

Yeah, turn off the's all bullshit. We live in a increasingly better world than we were born into. You wouldn't know it because of the incessant harping and fear-mongering of the 24-hour news cycle.

Be positive, help each-other, work at being better, kinder, more efficient, more and learning is what will save us.

Sep. 09 2014 11:15 AM
Vzzzz from Russia, Pereslavl-Zalessky

The link on the album does not work. Points to an internal WNYC page.

And nice show by the way =)

Sep. 09 2014 10:35 AM
Eugenio García


Sep. 09 2014 08:56 AM

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