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An audience with Scott Manley, the science YouTuber with stars in his eyes

By Kirk McKeand

“How does humanity exist?” YouTube rocket scientist Scott Manley asks me at EVE Fanfest. “And billions of years from now, what’s gonna happen? Sure, we can imagine humans moving from Earth to other planets, but eventually, the sun’s gonna burn out. We could fly to other stars and survive longer, but those stars, as far as we know, burn out in a trillion years. What next?” 

Maybe we’re just part of a complex digestive tract, incomprehensible to us in the same way that we are to a microscopic organism, I reply. 

“Is there something that’s so complex we can’t really understand?” he answers with another question, not missing a beat. “I would love to know how humanity survives into the future, or just maybe not even humanity… the spark of consciousness.”

Manley is haunted by the idea that one day the universe won’t even be able to sustain thought, because there’s simply no energy for it. Inside his head, though? There’s definitely some kind of thought-based nuclear fusion happening. 

The inquisitive and intelligent YouTube star originally made his name through EVE Online videos, explaining the mechanics of an extremely complex game in a way we mere mortals can understand. He also has dozens and dozens of videos on Kerbal Space Program, in which he explains the real-life physics behind rocket technology and space flight. 

One of the easiest ways to explain the theory behind wormhole travel is to mark two points on opposite sides of a piece of paper. Draw a line between the two points, showing the distance to travel as the space crow flies. Now fold the paper in half so the two points touch, and imagine a short tube connecting them together across a much shorter distance. Manley has a knack for taking complex topics like this and unfolding them so they’re more easily understood by people without degrees in astrophysics. 

EVE Online is a game where humanity ended up stranded far away from the Milky Way. Without equipment for a colonization mission, our species was sent back to primitive times. EVE sees that portion of humanity thriving once again as a starfaring species, but we’ve simply repeated the mistakes of our past – here is a capitalist hellscape where tribalism runs rife and wars are fought over internet comments. 

“What I find fascinating is that EVE Online has this market system, which is like hyper-capitalist, but the most successful alliances are ones which operate on socialist principles,” Manley says. “Basically, making sure all our pilots are taken care of – because if a pilot is having to earn their own money, they’re distracted. If you want to win battles, you need to make sure that your people have got a ship, they’re taken care of, and they feel good. They don’t feel that they’re always having to log in and try to work to make money.”

For Manley, who’s a member of EVE Online’s largest alliance, Goonswarm, this socialist aspect works perfectly for him. He has no interest in becoming a fleet commander, he’d much rather be a cog in the war machine, locking on and firing missiles or performing scouting missions. As part of a large alliance, he doesn’t have to worry about stripping asteroids of their raw materials. He gets enough of those in his everyday life as an astronomer with a fascination for small celestial bodies that have the “potential for crashing into Earth and causing drama”, as he puts it. 

He might be above average when it comes to his knowledge of the cosmos, but he’s not above a bit of drama. 

“Conflict is always easier to sell,” he replies when I ask why he thinks so much sci-fi imagines a nihilistic future. “If you look at Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first couple of seasons, (screenwriter) Gene Roddenberry was like, ‘We shall have no conflict. Everyone shall be happy with each other.’ The writers had a hard time getting good stories in that context, and once he sort of stepped back, there was much more conflict and it became a much more interesting show.” 

These days, Manley has stepped back himself in some ways. He rarely makes video game content anymore because he’s found his niche with scientific explainer videos – very similar to what he used to do in Kerbal Space Program, but with real rockets. The algorithm rewards this kind of content with views because it’s what his audience wants, but he may well put out some videos around Kerbal Space Program 2 when that launches. 

“It’s much harder for people to teach science,” he says, “and so I just had more of an audience when I made the science videos. It’s been a fine second career for me.”

While he’s extremely successful on YouTube, he still holds down a tech job in Silicon Valley. For Manley, the YouTube stuff is for fun, as well as an added bonus that will help see his kids through higher education. 

“I love the response,” he says. “I love people telling me that they learned something. I literally had a fan on the way to this interview who was like, ‘I did aerospace engineering and you really helped me learn about astrodynamics.’ I was just playing Kerbal Space Program!” 

If you want to increase your brain size and make sure the light of consciousness survives the heat death of the universe, you can check out Scott Manley’s channel on YouTube

While you’re at it, why not discover more about EVE Online’s metaverse in our big feature.

Written by Kirk McKeand on behalf of GLHF

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Dive Deeper:
‘It’s valuable for us to explore’ NFTs, says EVE Online boss
There’s no need to worry though, EVE fans
In the safe seat of Fremantle, civil discourse takes centre stage
The electorate of Fremantle is sprawling and diverse, so it makes sense that its candidates debate would have much the…
Working in the metaverse: what virtual office life could look like
In the context of work, the digital divide has become less about access to devices and connectivity and more about…
Historic coalition marks changing of the guard for French left ahead of legislative elections
France’s Socialist, Green, Communist and far-left parties have joined forces in an unlikely but historic alliance ahead of legislative elections…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Yoram Karmi dances through the Aftermath of COVID-19
Yoram Karmi's dance piece Aftermath was created during COVID-19 throughout the lockdowns with his Fresco Dance Company.
The War in Ukraine Will Be a Historic Turning Point
But for History to Take the Right Path, America and Europe Must Work Together
Get all your news in one place