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A summary of Reddit cosmology or, on the forum as a work of art

It is very probable that my readers know what Reddit is. In case instead you lived the last five years under a rock, it is basically one of the most successful forum communities on the Internet. It is a container for bazillions of subforums on every possible subject. Clicking the “random” link a few times gives me for example things as diverse as forums on socialism, on what is your first impression of me, Runescape (the videogame), law, Linux, tales of people who work in tech support, paranomal, sexy cosplay girls and India. And that’s just a minuscule random sample of thousands of forums.

The first world

Reddit cultivates its own sense of humour, and among humorous subforums there is, famous, /r/firstworldproblems. Here, “first world” is intended as meaning developed nations. The “first world problems” are “frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in wealthy countries. It is typically used as a tongue-in-cheek comedic device to make light of trivial inconveniences.”

first world problem
A typical First World problem

The Second, Third and Fourth World

Of course the original subdivision included the Second world, the (most famous of all) Third world and the Fourth world. All of them are represented on Reddit (click on image to reach the forum):

Threads in /r/secondworldproblems. The shiny daily life in socialist countries.
third world problems
Typical /r/thirldworldproblems. I have no idea of where third world problems are discussed seriously on Reddit.
Fourth world problems
Usual /r/fourthworldproblems: the happy and simple life of tribes.

The Fifth World

Until so, nothing more than banter and satire on current world issues and division. But the Reddit hivemind soon asked itself: well, why should we limit to the classical four worlds? What is beyond that?

Enter now the Fifth World, which is a true through-the-looking-glass experience. You traveled the world from first to fourth: now you go forward and see what’s beyond.

Fifth World problems
/r/fifthworldproblems : everyday problems beyond your usual dimensions

The fifth world is all about the everyday inconveniences of transcendence. It’s peeling the veil of logic and rules and being puzzled by the surreality below. It’s opening your door and finding yourself in a painting of Magritte, or worse.

This is how an usual discussion on /r/fifthworld develops:

I wanted to make an apple pie from scratch, but the universe I created only spawns peaches

Although it’s likely that it ceased to exist once you left, perhaps you should try returning to the universe you existed within before creating this peach-only universe–bring a peach with you it may just become an apple

No, no, no. The only way an external object being brought through spacetime unto another plane could be physically changed is if another parallel universe is created from the peach universe. It’s as though you want him to suffer from inter-dimensional paradox fever.

Of course you’re right, but if you’d like to get off your high horse for a second: For many transcends, creating a universe is a one-time deal. I know the upper-echelon of Overlord Zangarth’s court may be able to create dimensions left and right, but think of those of us who can only catch a glimpse of the horrors in the multiscape once.

There are no common notions of space and time in the fifth world. It seems it is a general denomination that in truth encompasses several universes (that can be created and destroyed at will) and several dimensionalities, or none. Laws of physics or math seem to exist only to bother you at the very least convenient moment. Or, sometimes, more weird and less comprehensible stuff altogether happens, and it seems the forum has interesting members.

There is only a constant in the fifth world, apparently, and it’s that everybody is named Stephen (apparently due to this unfortunate time travel incident).

We don’t need to stretch our imagination to know how the Fifth World looks like, the Reddit community is nice enough to have provided a whole subforum dedicated to fifth world pics. Such images seem to confirm that the whole concepts of logic, dimensionality and spacetime are, somehow, different out there.

Fifth world inhabitant.

Other fifth world dwellers on a perfectly normal day

Commuting in the Fifth World during a winter day

The Sixth World

What could possibly be beyond the mind-bending vastities of the Fifth World? Nobody really knows, but it must be terrible, because all we have from the Sixth World are screams of various nature.

/r/sixthworldproblems. Whatever it is the Sixth World, it looks like pain

There is practically nothing intelligible about the sixth world. If the fifth was surreal and logic-twisting, but after all still describable in human words, this can’t be said for the sixth world. Only madness is there; only screaming can be had.

The Seventh World

What is beyond madness? Peace, and a new state of mind. And here we enter the most bizarre and fascinating level of the Reddit cosmology, the Seventh World -the one that actually drove me to write this lengthy post.

The Seventh World is another world true. When we enter it, we first see the dominating image of a serene, sunlit tower, somehow metaphysical, De Chirico-esque.

The opening image of /r/seventhworldproblems

There is no documentation, no guide to the Seventh World: all we know, we know from the posts of its inhabitants (which tend to call it simply “Home”). Not even the tower picture seems a clear clue -there is basically no talk of a tower in all the forum. We know that Home has several inhabitants, and some of them feature a number, but nothing is known about what this could mean.

Threads on /r/seventhworldproblems. The terse or otherwise enigmatic titles are a clue of the general mood of the forum.

There doesn’t seem to be much interaction between them; they often interact however with a huge swarm of machines. Their purpose is unknown but from the posts they seem to be quietly pervasive. There are also disturbing clues of some form of mind control going on.

A thread of /r/seventhworldproblems discussing machines, and giving some mind control hint

It seems there are some kind of leader entities within Home, which are called the Colours -in particular two are known, who also interact (and moderate) in the forum, Blue and Green. What is the exact nature of the Colours, is unknown.

That is the beauty of the Seventh World: it is unknown. It is something that could only be reconstructed from the vague, contradictory and implicit claims of the forum posts. It’s like being an alien reading a single Internet forum of ours: they could reconstruct something but most posts would be too implicit, referring to things they can’t have knowledge of, or too alien, to make sense. /r/seventhworldproblems is not a world building exercise, it is an artefact that asks us to be interpreted as describing a world.

As such, /r/seventhworldproblems is a unique work of collective art. It is the Internet forum version of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rama from Rendezvous with Rama, or of Luigi Serafini’s Codex Seraphinianus: an interpretation device that yields no coherent interpretation. As Shelley Jackson remarked about the Codex, with words apt here as well:

it’s probably meant to hover on the verge of scrutability, to constantly hold forth the possibility of being read but stay resistant at the same time. It’s important that it bothers you with the feeling that there is some content that you ought to be able to extract from it in a normal discursive kind of way. It’s meant to appeal to the rational or exegetical urge. It wants to be interpreted but it won’t let you, and it’s very interesting the way it teasingly asks to be read and then refuses. You could see this as a really really elaborate inkblot. It’s never going to completely yield to you in the sense of giving you insight into the artist’s intentions, so it kind of reverts you back on yourself and makes you notice what you’re noticing and notice the associations that you make. It’s a kind of springboard for your own creative musings.

The difference is that here, instead of the asemic writing of the Codex, we have actual writing and concepts. It is possible that one day the Seventh World will collapse into a definite, meaningful narrative. It is also possible that it will dissolve and split, or that it will stay on the verge of vagueness forever, like the memory of a dream or the outlines of a hill from the mist. It’s an ongoing collective work of art -nobody knows what will happen out of that. The Reddit author who conceived /r/seventhworldproblems wrote to me in an email:

Hah no, the vagueness of it is the coolest thing. The latest interest in machines is great […] and what ‘Blue’ has become since the beginning is totally amazing. Truthfully, I wish there were some way I could thank the active members of this community for being so cool, and creating such an interesting world.

And beyond?

Is there something beyond the Seventh World? There are a few, but none has really taken off. There is however /r/infiniteworldproblems, which is pure madness. You have to see it (and come back with retinas burned, most probably, if only from the stylesheet).

A sum up of the cosmology

There is a nice post that sums up the Reddit cosmology pretty well:

There’s method behind the madness.

Firstworldproblems – the woes of the western entitled

Secondworldproblems – the woes of the eastern poor

Thirdworldproblems – the woes of the developing untouchables

Fourthworldproblems – the woes of the unrecognised and lost

Each ascending number abstracts the subject’s standing, and by four there’s nothing left materialistically. The only thing a fourthworlder has is their perception of reaity, which is subsequently abstracted in the fifth world. The sixth world abstracts the abstract, leaving you with nonsense, and the seventh world abstracts the abstraction of the abstract, bringing you to a bizzaro starting point.

The worlds of Reddit -and especially /r/seventhworldproblems – look like a simple and bewildering usage of the forum to create a collective work of art. A discussion venue which is not about something, but that is something, and alive and open. Take a look, and see if you can call it Home.


  1. Maija Maija

    It seems that when you put a million monkeys to hit as many keyboards, sooner or later you will get something interesting, after all. 🙂

  2. Hamish Hamish

    There’s also /r/45thworldproblems and /r/54thworldproblems

  3. Zultan Zultan

    I found 45th world problems first through a reverse image search and now, after hours of wading through subreddits, here I am, and now I’m not so lost

  4. […] und um die Interaktionen von reddit auf eine andere Weise vorzustellen, möchte ich außerdem auf diesen Blogartikel verweisen, der die Entwicklung eines Unterforums zu einem Stück reiner surrealer Kunst […]

  5. Marisa Marisa

    I was trying to make sense of some of these weird subreddits and stumbled upon your blog. Thank you, it made me feel little more sane. And /r/infiniteworldproblems was quite a bizarre trip!

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