British Humanist Association launches YouTube campaign featuring Stephen Fry

March 17, 2014 • 1:03 pm

Reader HaggisForBrains informs me that the British Humanist Association has just launched a YouTube campaign, “that’s humanism,” featuring animated videos narrated by Stephen Fry. HaggisfB adds that there will also be a Facebook and Twi**er campaign.

There are currently four short animated videos, each 2-3 minutes long. And I love Stephen Fry; he’s witty, eloquent, funny as hell, thoroughly atheistic, and has sporadically (and successfully) battled a form of bipolar disorder, about which he’s very open about (as he is about being gay). Plus he loves science and doesn’t put up with woo or crap. What’s not to like?

Here are the four short videos, put up today. It will take you only ten minutes to watch them, and this is a Professor Ceiling Cat recommendation.

“How do we know what is true?” (I like the emphasis on evidence as the only way to know what is true.)

“What should we think about death?” (“Wanting something to be true is not the same is being true”.) I sort of disagree with the notion that life is better when finite than if it were eternal. I’ve always said that yes, I’d like to live forever. And I can’t help but think that most people agree with me; after all, people don’t want to die. If we stuck around forever, we’d get to see what happened—until, that is, the Sun began burning us up in a few billion years.  This video, like much of humanist discussion of death, tries mightily to make a virtue of necessity.

“What makes something right or wrong?” (Here Fry espouses a solid, rationalistic morality.)

“How can I be happy?” (“Meaning is not something out there waiting to be discovered, but something we create in our own lives.”)

I have to say that these videos are just so damn—sensible, especially compared to the made-up stuff promulgated by faiths.  Notice that food, wine, and cake are mentioned as helping give meaning to our lives, something with which I heartily agree.

Written & produced by the British Humanist Association in conjunction with SkeptiSketch, and narrated by Stephen Fry.
Contributing artist: Roberto Gomez – EvolutionBiologia.
Thank you to Alom Shaha, Craig Duncan, Andrew Copson, and Sara Passmore
That’s Humanism logo design by Nick Cousins

69 thoughts on “British Humanist Association launches YouTube campaign featuring Stephen Fry

  1. Lots of fun and common sense.

    But, although wine may give meaning to your life, it would end mine in a big hurry.

    I’m allergic to sulfites. L

  2. I have to disagree with you about eternal life. The problem with eternity is that, no matter how much time you spend there, there’s still an infinite amount of it yet to come. I think there would inevitably come a point where you’d done everything worth doing many times over, and further existence became painfully tedious. At that point I think you’d either want to cease existing, or perhaps reboot your memory to eliminate the “been there, done that” quality of every single experience – which pretty much comes to the same thing.

    1. ” further existence became painfully tedious.”

      Depends. There are many brain states that are inherently pleasant and if they could be maintain indefinitely, I’m not sure we’d ever get tired of eternity. We only get bored when we can’t induce those states.

      1. Yeah, but that sounds like a stoner warehouse. No, I can honestly say that if given the real choice right now between eternal life and dying tomorrow, I’d rather die tomorrow. I love being alive, I really do. But being alive forever sounds horrifying.

        On Fry, anyone who has not seen his video series, “Last Chance to See” (based on the book by Douglas Adams–a sort of follow-up to it) is advised to check it out. Everything there is to like about Fry is on full display, plus really cool animals. He is the intelligent, curious “everyman” who makes the show unforgettable.

    2. I agree. I can compare it to bipolar euphoria which I have experienced several times.

      Even the best feeling imaginable will pale over time, and if you’re unlucky you’ll be left in a mental state of system overload where the reboot button is missing.

      Unless suffering from permanent memory loss at random intervals, I wouldn’t want eternal existence and experience.

      I wouldn’t recommend it even for my worst enemy.

      1. And that sort of memory loss I think would amount to death – so it isn’t *you* that lives forever, but a sequence of things that look a bit like you …

        Of course, the “look” here would have to be metaphorical.

    3. On the individual level, I don’t know about eternity, but the human lifespan could be a lot longer. And aging could stop in late 20s or earl 30s thank you very much.

      Sadly, from a societal perspective one can argue that one of the best gifts past generations give their descendants is getting the f*ck out of the way.

    4. I agree living forever, not dying, would become very tedious.

      Dying and passing on to an afterlife (whatever that means) devoid of a sense of self is as close to oblivion as you’re going to get.

      Dying and hanging out with your favorite tutelary deity would also be a drag after a few millennia; plus there are some people I would not like to spend eternity with; that sounds like hell.

      Now reincarnation on the other hand, especially if you could carry your self- identity forward and leave yourself an inheritance every time you die, might just be the ticket. It would make for a better world.

    5. A good thing about (quality) sleep is to put at arm’s-length the (over-)stimulation of the previous 10-12 hours.

    6. Not surprised that it only took till comment 4 for this sentiment. 🙂

      Personally, I’m with Jerry.

      Do you think science will eventually grind to a halt? If not, there will always be something worth learning.

  3. Damn – my post just disappeared…apologies if it reappears in duplicate. Love Stephen Fry and his heart-breakingly touching piece on depression. Liked his little videos, too, but will be happy when the fad for frantically scribbling on the screen goes away and pines for the fiords…

    1. I’ve been hearing a small but growing discontent with the videoscribes, which is a shame as they really lend themselves well to the short lecture format. I think I’ll teach myself a new animation technique this year so I can keep my stuff fresh. Anyway, point taken.

    2. “…will be happy when the fad for frantically scribbling on the screen goes away and pines for the fiords…”

      You & me both!

    1. Random mutation?

      Maybe try it out for a while and see if it grants you some previously underexploited advantages. 🙂

        1. So am I, no freaking kidding! Creamy cheese soup with leeks.

          Too bad we aren’t religious. 🙂

  4. I’m so glad someone agrees with me about living forever! I want to live forever, there are so many things I want to learn and do well, create and experience. I often think that science could make greater progress if we lived forever and bred more sparingly as people could continue their work without being permanently interrupted by death. I know there would be many practical problems but I just don’t understand it when people say they don’t want to live forever.

    1. I know this is touching on Godwin’s law, but if you live forever, wouldn’t that include all the horrible people that have lived also? Wouldn’t they be around forever?

      Yor mother could give you advice forever. Your children could forever ask for favors.

      Sounds like hell to me.

  5. I see many people have taken to commenting on the desirability of immortality. Permit me to put a slightly different spin on it.

    …and that would be that this would be a rather good and subtle litmus test for determining who has and who hasn’t internalized the distinction between “really big” and “infinite.”

    If you think you want to live forever, you would do yourself an huge flavor to not even pretend to trust your instincts when it comes to infinities. No shame in that; few people even get the chance to be exposed to the types of math that’re necessary to explore this subject, and fewer still have the inclination (let alone need) to warp their heads ’round it.

    But, suffice it to state that “forever” is an entirely separate beast from “a really long time,” and in some rather profound and radical ways. Not just boredom; time itself becomes irrelevant when considering immortality, just as numbers themselves become irrelevant when considering countable (and other) infinities.

    For myself, I’d love to have high confidence in being healthy and fit for as long as I like, likely centuries if not millennia, and to have a graceful way to exit to oblivion at any time of my choosing. Bonus points would be for the ability to “fast-forward,” such as to be able to observe speciation and continental drift over the course of tens and hundreds of millennia without having to live through every day of it — or, similarly, to travel the galaxy (or beyond?) without having to watch every single mile tick off the odometer. I might even eventually want to use that last feature to observe the Cosmos at billions-of-years scales, including stellar and galactic evolution, all the way through heat death…but I don’t think I’d be much interested in anything past that, and that only after I’d scratched every other itch.



    1. Your post reminds me of a futurama episode where they experience the evolution of several universes….or the same one in repeat depending on your pov.

      1. Ha ha! I remember that one too. Wasn’t there a creationist in that one that caused the professor to leave earth because he couldn’t stand dealing with stupid ideas?

        1. I think so, but my memory of futurama episodes is a bit blurry.:-)

          Couldn’t find it on the tube…

        1. Hehe, me too. 🙂

          There must be some romanticism left in our cold atheistic hearts after all despite those pesky rumours…

    2. I agree. Living forever reminds me of one of those genie wishes that sounds like a really good idea until you discover how it really works.

        1. You also see them being bored. I recall an argument about who would be the scare crow for millenia when showing what it is like to be a Q in human terms.

          1. I think the quasi-omnipotence and quasi-omniscience would be worse for the boredom than the time factor. What’s the point of undertaking some monumental task if you already know that all you have to do is snap your fingers and it’s done?

            Of course, as time ceases to exist with true immortality, so do action and thought with omnipotence and omniscience, if it weren’t for the fact that those concepts are already self-contained contradictions. Be careful what you wish for….


    3. I don’t want immortality, and for exactly the reason you give. Forever is a really long time. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, you may think it’s a really long time until your birthday, but that’s just peanuts com[pared to eternity.

      I don’t want to live forever, but I would like 500 years, with the option to renew.

    4. You’re absolutely right, Ben, and I suspect that’s a lot more like what those of us who say we’d like to live forever really envision. (But with a lot more creative detail, of course!)

      And looking at it the other way, what we have now, relatively, is so infinitesimally short as to be completely insignificant…

  6. Stephen Fry, such a huggable guy, is also loved by my grandees as he narrates the excellent kiddies’ cartoon Pocoyo (original in Spanish).

    He is marvelous in the UK QI TV programme. So witty & so quick on his feet. A real joy to watch.

    His command of the English language reminds me of Prof Steven Pinker.

        1. +1, as they say. I happen to be a fan of this format, and I suspect it’s still got at least a few laps left in it yet.

          …but, of course, if criticism spurs you to come up with something even better, then forget that last and rest assured that I hated every second of the videos and got Baihu to scratch my eyeballs out just so I’d never have to watch anything like that ever again!



  7. Thank you for posting these Jerry. I probably would have not found them otherwise. The last time I seen Stephen Fry was in a debate. On his side was Christopher Hitchens. What a joy that was.

  8. After Douglas Adams and Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry is one of my favorite people. It just so happens they are all Brits, but wh cares. These short videos are marvelous. Succinct and understandable, watching them is like drinking clear, cool, water. Bravo!

    1. “It just so happens they are all Brits, but wh[o] cares.”

      Indeed; in some special cases we can overlook that detail.

  9. Another good thing about Stephen Fry is that he is along with Ian McKellan one of the earliest gay actors to play a gay man in a movie.
    The Hollywood tendency to cast straight actors as gay men is annoying!!

    Fry played Oscar Wilde in “Wilde” and Ian McKellan played gay film director in “Gods and Monsters” both in the 1990s.

    1. I can’t say I find it “annoying.” Whether the actor is gay or not doesn’t matter to me. If you’re playing a gay character, that aspect of the character shouldn’t be whitewashed. That’s all I care about.

      To me, it’s no more or less annoying than a gay actor playing a heterosexual character, and that’s happened innumerable times.

      I believe it was John Gielgud who once famously said, “Of course I can play a heterosexual! I’m an ACTOR!” LOL

      That digression aside, I love Fry. Fun guy to watch as a performer, and I appreciate him doing this. Very effective message.

  10. It might be nice never to have to face death, but that doesn’t preclude us from pointing out that a finite existence does make our lives more valuable. It’s supply and demand. This is how i respond to theists who insist atheism – the fact that we’re not working toward some reward in an eternal life to come – robs life of meaning and value. No. Just the opposite. My life is more valuable to me since I know it is finite. I’d better not waste it.

  11. These are great videos for kids just starting to ask questions about god and death and happiness. Share them broadly.

  12. These are great videos for kids just starting to ask questions about god and death and happiness. Share them broadly.

  13. I found the way the animation for the person & flower dying funny. I had to watch the next animation to see if I was bad 😀

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