Detective Del Spooner:What Measure Is a Non-Super?
You are a machine. An imitation
of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece? Sonny: Can you
? We can't fly
, we can't shoot fireballs out of our nostrils
, and we live pitifully short lives
. Those Sufficiently Advanced Aliens
, vampires, or cyber-humans are so far above us in every respect we should just accept them as a Benevolent Alien Invasion
. And yet every non-human and supernatural creepy crawly without its head up its butt
envies us and wants to be like us
Because we can create.
Despite our flaws
, Humans Are Special
for some reason, and only an unaltered human body, soul
or mind has the unique ability to create things that supernaturals seem to lack. For some reason Cybernetics Eat Your Soul
, vampirism drains your humanity, or being soulless means you're dead inside. Oh sure, a vampire scientist might make great discoveries, but all of them will be of the Science Is Bad
variety whether he likes it or not. A robot can't paint or write a sonnet, and even Elves
can't seem to make anything that has a deeper meaning behind the generic beauty they're so good at. For some reason a non-human's work is stale, at best a repetition of more creative, emotive, and insightful peers.
This can be an overt or subtle cue that we're dealing with beings that are Not Even Human
. Depending on how it's played in context, it can be used as a negative trait to balance out a race much superior to humans
, which does not make them any better or worse
than us, just different. It can also lead to Cultural Posturing
on the part of the humans, as the page quote shows, or in more extreme cases serve as an excuse to feel indifferent towards killing them
. After all, anything incapable of creative endeavors can't be human, and is therefore fine to kill.
This can have interesting ramifications in a plot. They might seek
to become human
by learning to feel
or even transforming themselves physically
, hoping The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body
which will allow them to understand us. It may be cultural: enough exposure to humanity may well "cure" them
, though any of them who resist this change and want to stay uncreative are likely to be Obviously Evil
. It can also lead to more frightening efforts at stealing
that which they lack from us—whether it is in the form of "Creative Energy
", souls, wombs
, or slaves. In this case Evil Cannot Comprehend Good
, and their sterility is self-perpetuating.
If (when) anyone brings up that average humans can be biologically sterile or have little to no "artistic talent"
the normal response is either: they get ignored
, point that in comparison humans produce over hundreds of millions of works while the race total work is 0, or point that this is because humans are, in comparison to other races, total wackos
. After all, anyone who had visited Myspace or Free Journal
can attest the insane... "imagination" of the average Joe/Jane.
An interesting thought to consider for readers is that it is an author
who is assigning this trait to the aliens, robots, vampires, or whathaveyou, even if it's only by thoughtless, reflexive imitation of other works. So in a sense, they are cursing these creatures with something any artist would consider a Fate Worse than Death
A common variant outside of the development of artificially or supernaturally prolonged life concerns the differences between men and woman, in which it will be observed that, in going through pregnancy and giving birth, a woman is capable of creating life — perhaps the ultimate form and union of both creativity and fertility — whereas a man can not. It is often suggested that men are thus capable only of destroying, not creating, as a way of attempting to compensate for this lack of creativity. This is often used as a way of arguing or justifying why women are inherently better than men
, although it can also be used to indicate that the woman in question making this argument is a deluded Straw Feminist
capable only of seeing the worst in men. Furthermore, while men do not actually carry the baby, they do in fact play a fairly important role in conception... something which is rarely mentioned either way.
Compare Medieval Stasis
, where elves, aliens, demons and other immortal races far older than humans typically have technology comparable or only slightly more advanced than humans. The most common explanations given, if any are, is either that the other species is creatively stagnant or that they've hit an upper technological limit and it's impossible to advance farther (The Singularity
notwithstanding). If an entire race has stagnated culturally, they may become a Dying Race
- or the fact that they are dying may be the cause of the stagnation. Contrast Deaf Composer
, who can still
(probably) create despite lacking a necessary sense, and Grew Beyond Their Programming
, when a robot evolves free will.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Though Astro Boy has emotions, he's incapable of appreciating art and music. He gets an upgrade that allows him to at one point, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of making him vulnerable to pain and fear. What's interesting is that he comes to accept his differences and decides being the best robot he can be is better than trying to be a fake human.
- Tezuka is slightly inconsistent on this, perhaps not surprising given A) the manga's Continuity Snarl, which can Hand Wave quite a lot (the time stream did it!), and B) Tezuka's habit of following the rules unless it's cooler or more fun to do otherwise (see also: Black Jack).
- Interestingly, he is capable of all of the above, good and bad, in the 1980, 2003, and 2009 versions. He still seems perfectly happy as a robot, though. The 1980 version at least was Tezuka-approved.
- OEL manga Mark Of The Succubus has demons who, among other things, are extremely pragmatic and don't do anything that is unnecessary. One of the things the main character finds so fascinating about humans is their ability to create beautiful things for no reason at all other than the fact that they can.
- Macademi Wasshoi explains the Otaku behavior of gods and devils as a result of finding humanity's creations fascinating, since being eternal beings with vast power has left them with no need for innovations or cultural identity of their own.
- The homunculi created by Father in Fullmetal Alchemist are incapable of performing alchemy (though some of them have alchemy-related powers, like Greed's Ultimate Shield, which is technically some sort of transmutation). Fitting the typical pattern of the trope better, Envy in particular has a massive disdain for humans that actually hides a deep-seated...well...envy for humans' ability to form emotional bonds and persevere in spite of their "inferiority"; this envy eventually drives Envy to despair and suicide.
- The Zentraedi in Robotech have shades of this. They are kept deliberately ignorant of how to use technology, with all of it being provided by the Robotech Masters. This is a form of control; without the Robotech Masters to guide them, all of the Zentraedi's technology will eventually break down, and they will be unable to fight their wars.
- A major theme in Chobits, mostly coming out late in the story, is that no matter how human the persocoms look, they cannot have children because they're robots.
- Oda Nobunaga realizes that the Drifters bring new technologies and knowledge to a world roiling in Medieval Stasis; for example, as a warlord, he finds the simple crystal balls used by the Octobrist Organization for quick communication in the battlefield a much more revolutionizing idea than actual magic. As the setting's Magnificent Bastard, Oda is thoroughly studying this and incorporating it into his world-conquest campaign.
- Loki's magic fountain in X-Men/Alpha Flight (1985) can cure people of ailments and make them into super-beings, but at the cost of their creativity.
- In the Silver Age, this was Brainiac 5's limitation - he was utterly brilliant, but he could only modify things that were already invented, such as Mon-El's anti-gravity mineral and his ancestor's force-field. This limitation was eventually dropped.
- In a short story in 2000 AD set untold eons in the future, humanity has done, created, and experienced everything possible in every possible permutation and variation. There's nothing left to live for. So they do the one thing no one's ever done before to end their unspeakable boredom: end the universe.
- The title character of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac was always a little unhinged, but only truly lost it when his ability to create art was taken from him. One of the sequels shows a failed attempt to do this to a more strong-willed artist.
- The Snarks, repeated enemies of the Kid Hero team Power Pack, are like this. Their species has no imagination, so they copy what they can't steal and steal what they can't copy.
- In a slight wrinkle to the Trope, Destruction from The Sandman books is capable of creating things, and tries his hand at countless forms of art. He's just terrible at all of them. It's implied that the reason is that, being the manifestation of destruction, creation goes against his inner nature.
- The Shaper of Worlds, a sometime adversary of the Incredible Hulk, is a Reality Warper with nearly unlimited power and one huge limitation: he absolutely lacks imagination. He can only create by copying the desires of others.
- In Season Nine of Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Angel & Faith, the destruction of the Seed of Wonder at the end of Season Eight has resulted in no decent books, movies or paintings being made.
- The Sheeda from the Seven Soldiers Of Victory maxi-series, hailing from an extremely distant future that's utterly devoid of resources, are incapable of creating anything themselves, and thus survive by travelling back in time and "harrowing" past civilizations.
- A scene occurs in Matrix Revolutions, where Neo is surprised to encounter a machine family that understand love better than him.
Hardwired I Robot opens the question about whether robots and AIs can have soul and feelings when Sonny, an advanced robot prototype, starts drawing creative artworks. Which turns out to be a prophecy, or possibly another clue left by his creator. Interestingly, I Robot paints the eventual ability of robots do to all of this as inevitable. Sonny's just the first.
- Master Control and Clu 2.0 cannot create new Programs, but they can "repurpose" them. Creation is something that only "Users" (humans) can do. Justified with some Fridge Brilliance. They are computer programs with set parameters that not even they can break, no matter how much they'd like to.
- Serendipity, the Muse from Dogma got tired of giving everyone else ideas, and asked God to grant her a little vacation on Earth, so she could create herself. Much to her annoyance, she found herself with an annoying case of writers block. Apparently she's not allowed to keep any of the ideas she gives out for herself.
- Averted in Short Circuit, Newton Crosby tries to convince Stephanie Speck that there's no way that Number 5 could be sapient, he squirts some ketchup and mustard onto a piece of paper, squishes the paper together, and then asks the robot what he sees. At first, Number 5 quickly lists off the basic ingredients of ketchup and mustard... but then he finishes with, "Looks like... resembles... butterfly!" (turns the paper on its side) "Oak leaf!" (turns the paper again) "Flower! Pretty..." And that convinces Newton that Number 5 isn't a soulless machine after all.
- In the Disney Channel original movie Pixel Perfect, Loretta the hologram girl tries to write her own song but can only mash together the lyrics of other songs. She doesn't understand why combining popular lines into one song isn't legitimate, since her own appearance was created by combining pictures of many different girls into one image.
- In the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, this is stated as the reason it's so important for the students at Hailsham to cultivate artistic capabilities. This is because the students are all clones, and the teachers wanted to prove that they were just as human as everyone else.
- Mercedes Lackey's Bedlam's Bard/SERRAted Edge universe: Elves can't create (at least in the artistic/cultural sense), only adapt. Many an elven villain's lair is described as a bad knock-off of a Hollywood horror film.
- One of the funnier moments in this respect was when an evil elf got all huffy because someone saw his throne room and commented, "I think you owe Frank Frazetta licensing rights." The elf's response implied he'd already been sued by Frazetta at least once.
- They don't have anything like human imagination. Elven Bards create music and play it very well, but it's not new music, just minor variations on what's come before. When a human bard created a work for a christening and played it, the elves were astonished. Also, while the elves have extraordinarily long lives, they tend to fall into patterns, and eventually fade away for lack of anything new. A human living with some actually roused a number back into vitality by suggesting that they go and hunt wild monsters in abandoned domains - something which had never occurred to them.
- Mentioned and played with in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series.
- In The Bloody Red Baron, we learn that Edgar Allan Poe has not written a word of fiction since he became a vampire.
- In "Andy Warhol's Dracula", there's a subversion — it's widely agreed that the artworks Warhol created after he became a vampire lack an essential spark present in his earlier work, but it turns out at the end that Warhol never actually crossed over, only adopted vampire mannerisms, and remained human his entire life.
- The series plays with this trope, in that several other famous celebrities — including Bob Dylan — also become vampires, and all suffer from this to a degree. However, several of these criticisms — including those raised in-text about Dylan — are similar to criticisms these artists have faced in real life as they got older and their careers / fields moved on.
- From Terry Pratchett's Discworld series:
- The elves in Lords and Ladies: they are fascinated by music but they are incapable of creating any of their own.
- An interesting example are the Auditors in Thief of Time. They do not approve of the untidiness of life, creativity and all that. During efforts to get rid of it, some of them take human form. They cannot eat or drink because the sensory overload would destroy them, yet they consider rules, including protocol, important, so when one of them comes up with the excuse "our religion forbids it" for declining tea it was a stroke of creative genius, for an Auditor.
- Death is frequently reported to have this problem as well. Ysabell and Susan both observe that his house and everything in it is "just a copy of one he's seen somewhere." This is used rather cleverly in Soul Music: by playing the guitar that has been causing all the trouble, Death effectively kills the music, forcing it to revive Buddy so he can bring it back.
- Thud! includes as foreword a religious Dwarven text that says Trolls were created by accident and are doomed to just wander around not able to create or comprehend. It's also very clearly indicated that this particular passage had been added at a much later date as part of the Fantastic Racism. Part of the big revelation at the end is that the original version had the creator be absolutely thrilled at the new life that he didn't intend and adopted it along with his intentional creations.
- This applies to the Fallen in The Dresden Files.
- This is toyed with in Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The invading aliens use scavenged technology, and only understand how to use what they have, not how to invent anything. This mirrors their military weakness and sociological blind spot; they cannot develop new tactics, nor understand that humans might react to a situation differently than they do. Even our concept of lying boggles their minds.
- This is an important plot point in Coraline — Coraline realizes that The Other Mother can't actually create anything genuinely new, just mimic and alter things that already exist... and the implications of this realization allow her to figure out where her parents are being kept.
- The idea is brought up in Animorphs - Andalites and Yeerks begin to fear humans once they realize that humans, while much less technologically advanced, made technological progress far faster than their more advanced counterparts. Ax, an Andalite, is astonished to learn that humans went from first powered flight to space flight in under a century.
- The Yeerks are also cited (admittedly, by Andalites) as having stolen everything they have from other races, being capable of modification (Dracon beams kill more slowly and painfully than the shredder beams they're based on, for example) but not true creation.
- Since the Yoort (related to the Yeerks somehow) were at least partially responsible for the mind reading devices that are the basis of their 'memory markets' this spreads further doubt on the Andalite's claims.
- The protagonist of The Diamond Age uses an original poem as an impromptu Turing test, reasoning that a sufficiently advanced Eliza-style chatbot might be able to carry a conversation but couldn't make the creative leaps necessary to interpret, much less create, symbolic language. She's right; in essence, artificial intelligence systems are philosophical zombies in the novel's world.
- Subverted in The Tommyknockers, where the alien-touched become capable of incredible feats of technological jury-rigging and improvisation, yet are such bumbling incompetents at taking practical advantage of their skills that the benefit of such talent is negligible.
- The most extreme example of this is the woman who gains super-intelligence and inventive skill and uses it to make a crude boobytrap to kill her cheating husband. That's it. Even the other alien-influenced people at least had the stones to do something like make laser guns or teleporters...no, she built a crude electric chair. And died too. Literally too dumb to live, in spite of being a super-genius now.
- The Neverending Story: The creatures of Fantastica are creatures of stories and can't create new stories themselves.
- A core concept of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien. "The Enemy cannot make, he can only mock", and thus any creature he cannot corrupt to his side, he simply makes bad copies of. This started in the very beginning, when the only sound Melkor could add to the music of the Ainur was cacophonic and distorted. Specifically, Orcs are Morgoth's corruption of the elves, trolls are the corruption of the Ents, and dragons are implied to be corruptions of the Maiar with bodies bred from "corrupted stock." Even Gollum is just a twisted version of a hobbit.
- The idea is somewhat undermined by the Medieval Stasis of everyone else in the setting.
- However, the lack of technological progress (and in fact technological regression, since the Númenóreans may have had self-powered ships at the height of their power and Morgoth may have had something akin to a tank back in the first age, depending on how you read Tolkien's notes on the eras) can be attributed to depopulation due to near-constant war, including several instances of major catastrophes that destroyed most of the major cities and several major plagues sent against the humans. When your best and brightest get killed off all the time and you have to run away a lot, it's hard to make advances, much less keep everything you have working.
- Truth in Television. The collapse of the Roman Empire in the West significantly set back technological development. However this was not so much any actual loss of technology. Although some knowledge was lost there was much that was still preserved, and the setback was mainly due to the loss of Rome's logistical power.
- Tolkien also inverted the gendered version of this trope as given above. In "Laws And Customs Among The Eldar", it is stated that female elves' "creativity" was mostly expressed in creating children, while creating music, art, etc. was mostly the purview of male elves.
- Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures:
- In The Year of Intelligent Tigers, this comes up regarding the Doctor (who's a Human Alien). The Doctor complains of being like "an idiot savant" because while he's amazing at playing instruments, particularly the violin, he cannot improvise or come up with any of his own material. This is part of an overarching subplot/motif of his being not quite human.
- Interference includes a group of cloned people who are sterile and effectively asexual; one of the Doctor's companions ends up one of them, but he ain't asexual once he's returned somewhat to normal.
- This is expanded on the Faction Paradox series, where the full story of said colonists is revealed - they're called the Remote, and they are what happens when a group of sterile humans ensures its survival by essentially recycling their personalities by, at the time of their deaths, gathering a group of the closest to the deceased, downloading their memories and impressions of the dead into a machine and allowing it to imprint a clone with the data. Long story short, anyone would absolutely loathe meeting themselves after a few centuries, after this trope and Flanderization have taken their toll on their psyche.
- In The League of Peoples Verse, this is the greatest threat facing humanity: having been given everything they could ever need by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens in the League of Peoples, most of humanity has lost all forms of creative impulse. There is no need to work, because machines handle all industry; there is no hope for scientific research, because League technology is beyond human understanding; there is nothing to do but lose oneself in mindless decadence. This is a fate that has already all but destroyed several other cultures which were "uplifted" by the League.
Oar: What do young people think of this, Nimbus? The young Fasskisters and Cashlings. Do they ever look around and say, Why are things not better? What is wrong with us that we cannot accomplish great deeds? Why do we waste hours and days and years on activities we know achieve nothing? How can we stop being broken?
Nimbus: Of course they ask such questions. Once in a while. When they can force themselves to concentrate. Out in the depths of space, light-years away from anything, I've watched Cashlings weep over who they are... who they aren't... what their race has become. That's how prophets are born: a moment of clarity, the desire to transform themselves and the universe. But it never lasts. They can't make it last. They're damaged, Oar — even if they experience a flash of profundity, they can't sustain it, they can't use it, they can't preserve the desire to change. I've watched them; they can't become anything else, not even with other species to learn from. They simply lack the capacity. The Cashlings are lost, and other races are following them into the darkness. On their best days, they long to be truly alive... but they're physically incapable of pushing themselves past the emptiness. You can't imagine their heartbreak when they realize they can't make it work.
- Michael Moorcock's Elric stories state that the Chaos Gods cannot create anything truly new or original, only destruction and decay. They can randomly rearrange things and copy things they have seen before, but they cannot truly create in the way humans can.
- The Race from Worldwar by Harry Turtledove are an interesting variation on this. They do progress and create new things, but do so in such a slow and tentative manner that it appears like Creative Sterility to humans.
- How slowly do they advance? They sent a probe to Earth to find out whether it was suitable for conquest 1,000 years ago. When they finally got around to invading (during World War II), they couldn't believe that humans weren't still wearing metal armor and fighting each other on horseback.
- The Yuuzhan Vong from the Star Wars Expanded Universe turn out to be an example this as the NJO series goes on, oddly not due to literally not being able to create new things but being unwilling to. According to Vong doctrine, the gods blessed them with all the technology they could ever possibly need in the Cortexes, a kind of organic database containing their version of schematics, and that to create new technology of any kind is heresy. Most of the Vong scientists flatly refuse to believe that it's even possible; Nen Yim is horribly traumatized when she learns the Cortexes do not hold all the answers.
- This is a weakness of the Hive in Tour of the Merrimack. They can adapt their behavior in reaction to tactics used against them, but they are incapable of innovating on their own. They do not create; they only consume.
- German philosopher Oswald Spengler claimed in his non-fiction book The Decline of the West that when a culture has explored all possible art forms (first the aesthetic ones, later the offensive ones), they end up reviving old styles or copying exotic cultures (or mixing both).
- In I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, its revealled that the supercomputer AM originally went mad when he realized that, for all his vast power and intelligence, he was still bound by his programming as a war machine, and couldn't direct his thinking away from destruction and torture: already teetering on the brink of insanity thanks to his inability to move or escape its original complex, this additional constraint drove him into genocidal madness.
- In Richelle Mead's Georgina Kincaid novels, the main character laments that as a succubus, she cannot create any form of art, or conceive a child. The latter is true of all demons, and it is implied (though not proven) that the former is as well. For instance, she can dance with the best of them, but is utterly incapable of choreographing a new routine (a pipe dream of hers).
- In the Jao Empire series by Eric Flint and K. D. Wentworth, this is the major weakness of the Jao, and the reason that some senior Jao want to make an alliance with humanity, rather than simply enslaving them.
- The trope is played with in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, in the case of planet Keorga. Its inhabitants seem to lack the capacity for imagination or innovation as humans understand it, yet channel much of their culture into creating beautiful displays of art, for which they’re renowned. The humans struggle to comprehend the contradiction.
- This is true of the Denizens in Keys to the Kingdom, and becomes a plot point in Grim Tuesday during the contest for the second key. In a battle of creation, the eponymous character turns a glob of nothing (basically antimatter) into a jeweled sculpture of a tree wrought from precious metals, while Arthur creates a Xylophone and plays a song he wrote for his adoptive parents. The Mariner chooses Arthur's song in part because he recognizes Tuesday's work as a copy.
- Discussed in Neuromancer by Case and the Dixie Flatline ROM:
"Motive," the construct said. "Real motive problem, with an AI. Not human, see?"
"Well yeah, obviously."
"Nope. I mean it's not human. And you can't get a handle on it. Me, I'm not human either, but I respond like one, see?"
"Wait a sec," Case said. "Are you sentient, or not?"
"Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I'm really just a bunch of ROM. It's one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess...." The ugly laughter sensation rattled down Case's spine. "But I ain't likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But it ain't no way human."
- It makes sense that as a ROM construct, Dixie can't really learn or create (it's shown earlier that his memory wipes back to its default state when he's turned off and back on). In fact, his predictability is why Neuromancer tries to take out Case first.
- The Booklings in The City of Dreaming Books practically worship literature, but they can't create it themselves. The publishing agent Claudio Harfenstock can't even appreciate it; the flawless manuscript, which moves others to tears and makes them dance through the streets, has no effect on him whatsoever.
- The Cylon civil war in Battlestar Galactica can be considered a fight over whether to evolve into life bearing organic lifeforms, or stay as soulless immortal machines. Natalie, the leader of the "pro-life" rebels would later describe their distance from immortality as giving their lives meaning. It helps to consider that those Cylons who formed the rebels had the greatest number of unique individuals develop among their previously uniform clone-like culture. Those that wanted to stay immortal had no "unique" members and were all basically still a Hive Mind. They all got blown up, and if any survived they are no longer immortal anyway. Also bear in mind the 'pro-life' Natalie faction only came to that decision when they had in effect already lost immortality by, unless they got Galactica's help, already losing the civil war and so facing permanent boxing (in essence the war broke out before they even considered giving up immortality). The creators of all Cylons, the final five, believed in this trope but also had no problem making themselves and their 'children' immortal, so neither faction really had their mindset down exactly.
- The Cylons also believe that the reason they've been unable to bring forth children is that they lack the emotional and spiritual connection of love amongst themselves, which is why they set up Helo with Athena. It worked.
- In Stargate SG-1, the Goa'uld appear to have stolen or found all of their technology, although we do see a few Goa'uld scientists here and there.
- The Asgard are probably a better example, totally lacking a certain type of imagination. Thor states in one episode that sometimes the answer to a problem may lie in a less sophisticated approach and that the Asgard can no longer think in such a simplistic manner (they essentially keep trying to one-up their own technological developments). He also says that the Asgard wouldn't think of creating a chemically-propelled kinetic weapon, like the machine guns used by Earth's humans. Given that the average Asgard is several hundred years old due to using multiple cloned bodies with transferred minds and it makes more sense. Its generally accepted that people tend to get more stubborn and stuck in their ways as they age. If the Asgard are remotely like this its likely that they really can't see a better solution for something than an upgrade of what they already have.
- Weirdly, the Replicators—evil robot space bugs—are mostly an aversion. They may not have much interest in writing sonnets, but they're extremely dangerous because they constantly adapt to attempts to destroy them, learn from their mistakes, and improve themselves. Though their "greatest advancement" is to make humanoid versions of themselves, they mainly do this to flaunt their perceived superiority to humans.
- In Vampire High, the particularly broody vampire had good artistic abilities, but would accidentally kill anything living that he "captured" in a painting so he gave it up.
- Mentioned in The Sarah Connor Chronicles when Sarah's voiceover states that if the robots ever learn to create art for themselves they won't have to destroy humans; they'll be them—all while Cameron practices ballet for no practical reason.
- Star Trek has this demonstrated all over the place, many alien species have progressed to a certain technological point and just leave it at that. On the other hand humans aggressively adapted alien technology to their own use and quickly become a major player in intergalactic politics. In Star Trek: Enterprise Ambassador Soval confesses to Admiral Forrest that one reason Vulcans were so condescending to Humans is that when Vulcan suffered through a similar world war it took them nearly 2,000 years to rebuild their civilization. Humans did it within a hundred years and had started the beginnings of an alliance within 3 years of premiering their first warp five ship. Vulcans were scared of what the humans could accomplish.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data's attempts to create genuinely original creative works are a large part of his Character Development. Despite having the overall computing power of a fair percentage of humanity, actual creativity is mostly beyond him, as his efforts are mostly derivative. For example, when writing a poem about his cat, his verse and meter are all technically perfect, but the overall effect is that of scientific term-based Purple Prose. And when asked to mold clay into a shape that he perceives as music, a task requiring imagination and the ability to connect sound without language into a visual concept, he produces a treble clef note; again, technically correct, but Completely Missing the Point.
- Discussed at length in the Season 2 episode "Elementary, Dear Data". In an argument between LaForge and Pulaski, LaForge argues that Data is capable of original deduction, while Dr. Pulaski counters that while Data's deductive skills may seem original, they are in fact only derivative of what he already has in his databanks. To experiment, they LARP through a Sherlock Holmes mystery, while Data solves in the prologue, having read the story in question before. Upping the ante, they asked the holodeck for an adventure with Holmes-like elements, which Data again solves in the opening minutes, as the computer had created a story featuring story elements from two different books. LaForge argues that Data had deduced a trap in the story using available evidence, while Pulaski counters that he'd simply recognized elements he'd read about before, making the experiment a push. Finally, LaForge asks the computer for an Original Flavor Sherlock Holmes holodeck Fan Fic with the difficulty level Up to Eleven to challenge Data. Their Exact Words (to challenge Data, not "Holmes") result in the creation of Professor Moriarty, whose antics quickly push the experiment to the wayside. However, when the Moriarty character returns in a later episode, Data successfully deduces his deception and saves the day.
- Interestingly, this plot also implies that at the same time as discussing whether Data is capable of original thought, both of them implicitly assume that the ship's main computer is!
- In Star Trek: Voyager the Borg were facing a war against Species 8472, an enemy who was immune to assimilation and their only method they have of adapting and being the malevolent juggernaut they are. The Voyager crew, on the other hand, took time to study the alien biology and devised a weapon actually capable of harming 8472 (based on Borg technology). Janeway made an explicit observation of the irony.
- The novelization of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Search" also implies that Changelings have a rigid and stagnant culture. This is one of the reasons for which Odo decides to return to Great Link - so he can free the other changeling from this state.
- Invoked, explored and ultimately averted in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager where the holographic Doctor creates a holo-novel and sends the first draft to a publisher. Said publisher then publishes the first draft without the Doctor's permission, arguing that, as an artificial intelligence, he isn't capable of being an author. The resulting trial concludes by granting the Doctor rights as an author but stops short of declaring him a person.
- The Pakleds are like this. Their species are under-developed intellectually and are before the point that they could have actually developed warp capabilities on their own. They became a spacefaring race by stealing from other, more advanced species because they would rather have such things now than wait to develop it themselves. When the Enterprise finds a Pakled ship, it's really just a hodge-podge of parts from various different starships.
- In the Babylon 5 movie "In the Beginning", Londo states that the Centauri gave humans FTL technology in exchange for artistic works. Here however other civilizations can create things, humans just do it better. It's not that the Centauri can't create, but that at that time they were a decadent spacefaring "empire", so the baubles they got were seen as amusing trinkets. Londo does go on to note humans were far, far more vibrant and motivated than Centauri, the (ruinous) extent of which they had trouble grasping.
- A Crusade episode involved an alien escapee holding on to a data storage unit, which his government was desperate to get. When The Captain is forced to hand him over for a "trial", he leaves a copy of the unit behind. His shuttle is promptly destroyed by his government en route. The crew loads the unit and realizes it's the recording of their culture's greatest cultural treasures, which the new government wants to purge in an attempt to impose Creative Sterility. The man gave his life to ensure these cultural treasures are preserved.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation had an... interesting inversion of the battle-of-the-sexes "Men can't create life, so they destroy stuff/invent things as a poor substitute" version of this. A Mad Scientist Robot Wars contestant ranted at Catherine (after her most recent playing of the Single Mother Card) along the lines of "You think you know what it's like to create something because you popped out a baby? I made this!". And yes, this grief over his destroyed robot is his excuse for killing a man.
- The Time Lords in Doctor Who are increasingly characterised over the series as a powerful race who reached a certain peak of advancement and then spent the next few millions years comfortably resting on their laurels, becoming increasingly stagnant and corrupt in the process.
- Keep in mind that the Time Lords had a practically infinite power source, could shape reality, travel anywhere in time and space, rewrite time and even DESTROY all of time and space completely if they so chose. The final step of their evolution was to become non-corporeal beings "free from the tyranny of cause and effect" while ripping the universe apart so that nothing else existing would have ever existed in the first place. Once you become that advanced, there's really nowhere left to go!
- The Doctor describes the Cybus Cybermen with this trope in their debut arc, but it doesn't really come up much.
- Comes up again significantly in the Big Finish audio production "Human Resources" where the Doctor informs the local Cybermen he only saved them by accident, before he realised who they were. When asked why he will extend help to all other species but not the Cybermen he answers "Because other species create. You don't."
- Highlander: The Series: An immortal impresario kills his gifted proto-immortal protege in the hopes of preserving her talents forever, but she loses her creative spark after she revives (sorely POed at him about it too).
- And Immortals are sterile too.
- The loss of creative spark mentioned before is zig-zagged, however. The episode in question makes it clear that the innate fear of death is the source of human creativity, and losing that fear is what strips her of her ability to create. However when she is confronted by the rules of the Game and realizes that she can still be killed if another Immortal takes her head, she begins to recover her creativity.
- Bear in mind also the Immortal Byron, (yes, that Byron) who certainly retained his creative drive. Among other things.
- Many Christian theologians apply this trope to Satan. Devoid of God's endless creative power, the devil is creatively sterile, able only to distort, mock and corrupt the Lord's creation — humanity in particular. This may even be the Trope Codifier, particularly in fantasy and/or horror settings — it is certainly the tack taken by Tolkien in his Middle Earth.
- This is the problem for most of your Mons in Mortasheen, which is why they need a trainer to command them in battle. Though, this isn't quite that clear cut, and one of the game's Gym Leader equivalents is a monster.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem, vampires suffer from this to a large degree. The reason Vampires haven't taken the world by storm with their stunning works of art and literature is that all vampires find themselves mentally locked into the era in which they lived. Adapting their mindset to account for changing times is a massive effort, and even then they find themselves at least one step behind the human world. Along with that, the creative "spark" that drives the pursuit of art and music is largely extinguished during the Embrace. Many vampires simply cannot break through the ennui they experience to bother practicing their arts. However, they CAN innovate new disciplines and Blood Sorceries, meaning its not so much that they cannot be creative...they're just modelocked in such a way it removes their ability to keep up with the times in Mortal Society, and cannot create emotional works very easily, as most Vampires tend to be somewhat detached from their dinners
- Victoria Ash, a Toreador vampire with the voice of an angel and a body to match, had been trying for over a century to burst onto the global music scene. The best she could manage was to become a one-hit pop wonder who blipped onto the public radar for a couple weeks and vanished just as quickly, while other less talented and certainly less beautiful singers continued to drown her out.
- Curiously, Nosferatu vampires who can generously be described as what happens when Looks Like Orlock and Red Right Hand have an undead baby, avert this. Their artwork is said to evoke a lot of emotion springing from their alienation from both mortal and vampire society. They create sculpture gardens built underground from raw materials and debris with their Super Strength, and never intended to be seen by anyone, as well as haunting melodies using the acoustics of the subway system. In a twisted way, they're better artists than the clan of artists.
- The same thing goes for the True Fae of Changeling: The Lost. They can't create works of art that actually mean anything, and they're infertile. Which is why they abduct changelings, who act as craftsmen, servants, or just plain pets. And if said changelings get powerful enough and go crazy, then they become True Fae. That's right; the abduction cycle is how they reproduce.
- The Clockstoppers in the fan-made game Genius The Transgression act as actual agents of this, seeking to wipe Inspiration from the world. As empty shells with no inner drive to speak of, they are motivated entirely by a mix of spite and envy and despise everything vaguely creative or intellectual in nature. Even their very presence causes technology of any type to stop working, even from far away. Combined with their inability to be harmed by anything "unnatural", their penchant for raising angry mobs, and their capability to disable all attempts at rational thought in an area, they are incredibly dangerous for humanity in general and Geniuses in particular.
- The Soulless in GURPS Fantasy II, though in their case it's because they're all so old they exhausted their creativity millennia ago.
- Played with by Unknown Armies clockwork automata. While most clockworks have the creativity of a particularly stupid dog, automata, the most advanced kind of humanoid clockwork, have an average Soul score of 95 - 40 points higher than the human average. They still have no souls, though, and they can't learn any other school of magic than the one powering them.
- The Adeptus Mechanicus of Warhammer 40,000 view any sort of technological innovation as heresy. Somewhat justified, as they believe that knowledge was discovered by ancient humans and then lost, and as new ideas could potentially be paths for Chaos to infiltrate, but given that everything is getting worse for the Imperium every year (technologically), this may not be the best policy.
- While Exodite and Craftworld Eldar have access to far more advanced technology than they currently use, they deliberately use less-advanced tech so they don't fall to the temptations of Chaos that doomed their empire (automation breeds decadence). On the other hand, the Dark Eldar, who did fall to Chaos, still use the tech at the level they had at the Fall of the Eldar Empire, which is still far more advanced than most other races.
- One side effect of Horror taint in Earthdawn is that you become incapable of performing precise, detailed work. As a result, most people in the Earthdawn world practice some form of artisan craft, to prove to those around them that they're not infected. In game terms, you're required to take one Artisan skill... and Earthdawn becomes the only game where your character's life may come down to a successful Needlepoint roll.
- Inverted with Caretakers in JAGS Wonderland. They understand poetry and literature, because they exist outside the universe, where only information and narration matters. What they don't get is maths and physics, and they hate humans because they can both understand science and literature.
- The Thanatotic Titans of Pathfinder attempted to create new life so as to equal the gods, sculpting beautiful clay statues and breathing life into them. This resulted in the Demodands, a race of Always Neutral Evil fiends with warped and hideous appearances..
- The Covenant in Halo fit the creatively stagnant explanation. Most of their tech is reverse-engineered from Forerunner ruins, and they never bothered to develop it much further. Although their imitation-based technology is far more advanced than humanity's, the Covenant is largely ignorant of how to use it to its maximum potential, often running their spaceships inefficiently, for example. Which is highly ironic; despite having highly advanced tech, their mathematics are far behind humanity's. Lucky thing for the humans they declared war on.
- Lampshaded as being religious devotion. Since the Covenant thinks the Forerunners are gods, they feel they have no right to improve on their "perfection". For some reason, the Brutes get a free pass to create new technology, and improve on Covenant tech (like the brute plasma rifles that shoot faster). One of the novels reveals that the Covenant don't even do things that the technology is already capable of; Cortana greatly improved the firepower of a captured ship's weapons by basically changing the settings, which the local Covenant AI responded to by accusing her of blasphemy.
- This is different from most examples, though. The Covenant races are fully capable of creating new technologies, with the majority of them having already achieved spaceflight before they began using Forerunner technology; in fact, a few of the races, like the Prophets and Elites, had reached roughly the same technological level as 26th century humanity.
- In Halo: Cryptum, the Forerunners actually note that the Prophets were a scientifically-talented species, to the point where their technology equaled that of their "prehistoric" human allies, who were advanced enough to be nearly a match for the Forerunner themselves.
- The Protoss in Starcraft also fit this trope. Although they have access to tons of advanced tech humans don't have, such as advanced psychic powers and incomparable teleportation and shield technology, the human units can still match their theirs in battle. And to drive the point home on how creative terrans can be with Protoss tech, in Starcraft II the single-player campaign lets the player conduct research into Protoss technology, and some of the results lets them do stuff the protoss can't, like automate their refineries so they can operate without workers, speed up collection rate at said refineries, and instantly deploy troops to any locale from orbit, rather than worry about psionic power fields. There's actually some Lampshade Hanging when you discover the automated refinery, the descriptive blurb wondering why the Protoss never thought of this, and decides it may be due to their religions traditions.
- Strictly speaking, though they get new units in the sequel the Protoss still suffer from this, it's their estranged exiled brethren the Dark Templar that have made the innovations. The new Stalker was designed by the Dark Templar, the Immortal is just an upgraded old unit according to the lore, the Colossus and Mothership are old weapons they've just not used until now, and the Void Ray is a joint effort between the Dark Templar and the Khalai. Thus, the only new units the Protoss have that they actually designed themselves are the Phoenix and Void Prism (the Sentry has no unit lore so the jury is still out on how it came about).
- The Space Pirates in Metroid games, particularly the Prime series do this a lot. As their namesake suggests, they are far more inclined to steal technological and cultural ideas from other races than not, though to be fair they will improve on or at least adapt to such designs when possible.
- If the series ever shows a piece of technology in both an original and a Space Pirate variant, the Space Pirate version is better. The exception is Chozo tech, of which the Pirates can only make vastly inferior imitations, when they can figure it out at all.
- One scan of a Space Pirate log in the first Metroid Prime game reveals that they've been trying to figure out Samus' morph ball. They have, to an extent - they can give one of their men a suit that, when activated, forces the occupant into a spherical space. What they haven't figured out is how Samus comes out in one piece; all their test subjects are reduced to candy-coated Pirate Nuggets with crunchy bits in their gooey centers, and the ones who survive the experience would generally benefit more from a mercy killing than medical attention.
- Actually, the Pirates are a subversion of this trope upon closer inspection. According to scan data, one of the reasons why the Federation considers them a threat is because they make rapid technological advances, and not all of it is based on stolen designs. Indeed, scan data in the second Metroid Prime game indicates that even their basic frontline soldiers have received significant improvements in their weapons and equipment since the last time Samus fought them. The Pirates take scientific research and development very seriously and have multiple Science Teams working on the latest cutting-edge technology. The bottom line is, yes they do steal technology and reverse-engineer it to their own advantage, but they are not dependent on finding new tech: it is merely to supplement their own home-grown research.
- The Chozo got hit with a strange version of this: they became so advanced that they couldn't come up with anything better than what they already had. They decided that they'd hit the technological peak and instead turned to a simple life of mysticism. Not that they gave up their scientific knowledge, they just didn't use it unless they had to.
- A possible justification is that they used to be warriors. They were faced with a dilemma: keep making high-tech weapons to fight and wage war, or stop developing technology and become pacifists. They chose the latter, which worked out just fine until Phazon meteorites showed up. It's very possible that the could have become corrupted by Phazon and gone on to wreck the galaxy if they had not spent centuries as philosophers.
- In Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, only humans are capable of making a Reason, the necessary impetus that reshapes the new world. The demons that have taken over the land side with the remaining half-dozen human survivors despite their lack of powers. As he was forcibly transformed into a half-demon before he could make a Reason, this fact becomes very important to the Demi-Fiend. The game ends up having two 'neutral' endings, depending on whether the main character lives more based on his human or demon side. With the human ending, he ends up successfully conceiving and executing the same Reason as Ms. Takao where she failed (due to Extreme Doormat tendencies on her part), whereas the demon one ends with you trying to do so, but not being human enough to create said Reason, preventing the world from regenerating due to fear of ridicule and hatred (since by that point you've murdered everyone save for Ms. Takao, who lacked the proper will to make her own Reason and has aleady been vaporized anyway), or the PC simply likes the Vortex World as is and keeps it.
- Although some demons are certainly lacking in this regard, this is more of a rule than anything. A Loa in the First Kalpa implies the demons are immortal in their own way due to having sacrificed their ability to change, while humans kept the same ability at the cost of being mortal. The Loa also wonders what that means to the Demi-Fiend, he who shares the demons' power and the humans' ability to change and adapt.
- In Mass Effect 2, Mordin puts this trope forth as his reason for considering the Collectors mindless slaves of the Reapers.
Mordin: No art. No culture. Closer to husks than slaves. Tools for Reapers. Protheans dead. Collectors just final insult. (beat, sharp inhale) Must be destroyed.
- Also applies to the game universe as a whole as virtually all advanced technology in the series is based off Prothean and Reaper technology. The strict laws laid down by the Council only slow progress more. In this case, the stunted creativity is part of The Plan by the Reapers to ensure all sapient species in the galaxy develop along a predetermined technological path, making them easier to predict and destroy.
- This is also alluded to in regards to humanity. Before the appearance of humans on the galactic scene, things were relatively stable, treaties had been crafted to limit military power, and the galactic scale was mostly balanced, having remained unchanged since the Krogan Rebellions. When humanity arrived on the scene, they used bizarre new tactics and unconventional technologies, making the other races scared of them. No other race, for example, would allow a planet to fall under alien control while a rapid reaction force arrived from somewhere else (the other races would instead have significant military forces around each planet they controlled). When humans were told that they couldn't field too many dreadnought-class ships, they responded by obeying the letter of the law and introducing carriers. The concept of a stealth ship never occurred to anyone before the humans developed the Normandy. In effect, human has exploded onto the scene, achieving in 30 years what most races took centuries to do, and it scares the crap out of everyone else.
- Similarly, the Normandy was not only revolutionary for being a stealth ship, but also for being a collaboration between Human and Turian engineers to design a vessel that incorporated both race's design philosophies into a single vessel. The second Normandy takes this further with Cerberus engineers expanding upon the original design and installing an onboard AI created from Reaper tech to manage the cyber-warefare systems. Shepard later incorporates prototype ablative armour from the Alliance, a Turian-designed Thanix cannon retro-engineered from Sovereign, Quarian Cyclonic shielding and a Reaper IFF into the ship, making the Normandy a frigate with nearly the same firepower and sturdiness as a dreadnought.
- The main Geth faction holds the belief that using technology provided or scavenged from more advanced races stunts the development of races; this is the main reason they refused Nazara's (Sovereign) offer of a Reaper body in place of their Dyson Sphere.
- In Assassins Creed I, Warren Vidic advocates that humans suffer from this, stating that all major technological development in human history has been a result of studying the artifacts left by Those Who Came Before. Furthermore, he adds that the Templars were singularly responsible for all of this development. Whether he's telling the truth is up in the air, as he is a villain, after all (and a Templar as well) and the sequel muddies things further. On the one hand, Altaïr makes several major advancements by studying the Apple, but Leonardo da Vinci makes countless major, working inventions without it.
- Patently false on the claim that advances were solely due to Templars. Edison, noted to be a Templar, is increasingly notorious for his habit of stealing ideas and patents from more skilled scientists; his biggest skills seems to have been business and publicity rather than invention. Tesla is just the victim mentioned in-game.
- The Nobodies of Kingdom Hearts II are mere shells of humans and whatever other things that The Heartless ravaged. They gain power beyond the normal spectrum, but sacrifice their capacity for emotion. The members of Organization XIII are shown to emulate human behavior; carefully watching them shows that they suffer complete Lack of Empathy.
- Played for Laughs in Startopia where The Greys' culture is noted as dull and uniform and the ultimate enemy of art and artistic creativity. Consequently, their idea of 'art' is three cubes stacked on top of each other. Every race in the game likes it.
- Golden Sun: The Lost Age mentions this, explicitly, as part of the slow decay of the world after the power of Alchemy was sealed. The grandiose nations of the Golden Age fell into ruin, the races of Adepts and mastercrafters died out, and technology regressed to Medieval Stasis because the remaining (and now dominant) Muggles had no way of understanding or reproducing the Magitek marvels.
- Certain government types in the Civilization series can stunt cultural or technological development in exchange for other bonuses. For example, in Civilization Revolution, Fundamentalism boosts military power but nerfs science, and Communism gives a bonus to production but nerfs culture. (Justified in the latter case by the fact that cultural bonuses all derive from religious structures.)
- The Combine in Half-Life. Though they possess technology far in advance of humanity, it all appears to have been violently appropriated from their countless previous conquests and twisted for their own purposes.
- Elves in Eight Bit Theater fit this trope. Red Mage once lampshaded it by asking Thief why the elves had technology on par with humans when their culture had had a 7,000 year head start, to which Thief lamely answered "we like it that way." To be fair, we shouldn't expect every species or culture to develop at the same speed or in the same direction. Still, the elves basically just... stopped.
- In the long-on-hiatus Gossamer Commons, this is part of the premise. The protagonist, Keith, falls under a death curse, and The Fair Folk offer to grant him one boon before he dies. He decides what he most wants is to write a great novel. This is a problem for the fairies, who thought they had figured out all the loopholes in possible wishes; they have no way of making Keith write a great novel, so they're stuck keeping him alive until he accomplishes it on his own.
- In Sinful, Herbert, a demon stuck in his human glamor, can follow a recipe without mishaps, but the resulting food is never anything more than "bland". He also states outright that demons don't dream like humans do, because, while the human mind creates all sorts of wacky visions, a demon only ever sees an accurate memory, if anything at all.
- Present, though not directly pointed out, in Homestuck. Trolls find fashion stupid, and only a handful of them are remotely interested in artistic pursuits (and they're kind of considered odd), as opposed to the Kids, who all play musical instruments, and three of them do other artistic endeavors, like creative writing or drawing comics.
- While many of the above examples claim that refining older ideas it is a sign of creative sterility this web series argues that all of human creativity is merely remixing older ideas. Ultimately, nothing is new. (Including this argument. "There is nothing new under the sun", As the Good Book Says.)
- Although some people think this is a cop-out and/or a lame excuse to exempt others from working or thinking about something creative with effort and time. There's always the possibility of introducing something new, after all, or at the very least coming up with an original way to combine several old things.
- Something of this is part of the Turing test. An old variation on the Turing test has it that 'the first strong AI will be the first AI to make a good joke'.
- Some music composers who work with compositional algorithms hope to create computer programs that know as much about composition as the composers themselves. So far, no one has quite succeeded.
- The assumption that this trope exists has historically been one of the great problems AI has faced as a field of study. Despite research in the field leading to many useful real-world technologies (machine learning; theorem provers; speech recognition; ...etc), as soon as any one of these is discovered, the general reaction from investors/backers is "Oh, so it's just ___; you haven't created real AI after all". This led to the AI Winter in the 90s, and now AI research usually carries on under more marketing-friendly buzzwords.
- Adolf Hitler apparently believed the Japanese were like this. It is true that most of the things Japan is known for technologically & culturally are refined versions of things developed in other countries... but then, the same could be said for a lot of places. Similar sentiments exist about the Chinese.
- Which is patently false, given the Chinese only invention of paper and gunpowder and prior or parallel development of the compass, printing, lacquer (varnish) and any number of other things.
- Computational creativity, while by no means on par with humans, has some success.
- As far as real life goes, though, it raises the question 'By what measure is something creative?' After all, 95% of the 'creativity' humans have is just as much a remix/rehash as what a computer might put together.
- People with savant syndrome and/or autism used to be thought uncreative—but now we know that isn't actually true. Analysis of art, music, etc., produced by these folks shows that they seem to be simply developing in a different way from: Most artists start out with creativity and gain technical skill slowly; savants start out with a high level of technical skill and slowly learn to apply it creatively.
- Automated proofs. There's a reason why computers came into existence: they don't get tired and they don't make mistakes because they are tired. So when you need to cover several millions of variations in a proof... Well, you can do it by hand, but you'd better think about automating it. As Science Marches On, more and more things get automated. Ironically, code optimization was once believed to be purely human domain that should not be given to computers. It was handed over eventually.
- Writers Block.
- It has been suggested that the development of a civilization follows certain patterns, and certain stages. The last stage, and the longest one, Decline, includes the idea that no more new forms or styles of art are created, only old styles revisited with different blanks filled in diferently - Creative Sterility on a cultural level.