Here is what I mean by 'justification.'
In many of Lovecraft's stories, such as 'Call of Cthulhu,' mortals encounter terrifyingly unfamiliar beings that induce insanity. But despite the obvious fictionality, I notice that the occurrences are designed in a way that could be possible.
For example, Cthulhu is a creature from another part of the universe, and maybe even a different dimension, and his body and power is simply a side effect of his entry into our reality. In short, Cthulhu is 'permitted' to do things that we aren't. His similarity to earthly beasts could either be a cosmically vast coincidence, or he could be so eldritch that we can only perceive a dragon with an octopus head before permanent insanity.
This is my favorite concept: the idea that something is real, but so unfamiliar that we could never handle it without death or catatonia. And those fortunate enough to survive, in complete honesty, don't really count as 'alive' anymore.
That being said, is there a term for this concept? In drafts of my ideas where this takes place, I used a placeholder term that is found in Bloodborne, 'the eldritch truth,' but I've never figured out what that is exactly (though I enjoy that game for its use of Lovecraftian themes, such as severely mutating from eldritch wisdom).
I would like to know the true term for the concept, please.

(And if someone can define the eldritch truth, that would be nice as well.)

Also Spoilers, if that even matters by now
A detail I remembered: In the movie Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the main antagonist wanted to learn the near omniscient knowledge and secrets that the aliens knew, to which they seemed happy to obliged since it seems they were waiting for the skull to be returned and were thankful. However, a mere mortal's brain couldn't process the knowledge, and the antagonist was reduced to a wisp of glowing dust.
So there's that kind of 'eldritch secrets' to consider.

sigh Another Edit
I had just thought of something interesting. As CAgrippa stated, and to which I agree, an 'educated' and 'sane' person has a grip on their reality that eldritch secrets can loosen and dispense with. But is there a way to condition yourself against, or avoid altogether the death, mutation, and madness? I've thought of two different methods to use.

I learned that in the story BLIT, mentioned by Thucydides, some of the children had apparently taken turns staring at the brain-destroying images to see how long they could go, and eventually built an immunity, which made me wonder if a person could attain the knowledge and retain their life at the same time by doing something like looking at excerpts repeatedly.
Because if they could, then it may mean that a civilization could attain this knowledge by risking one sane person, or offering an insane person, to learn these secrets in that manner, and transcribing it to a sane person in a way that protects them.

Then there's the revelation I had upon consideration. CAgrippa stated that some people could pass off the secrets as magic, keeping their mental grip strong. What if a person acknowledged that there are things that are real, but so strange that they break our understanding of reality? Could they already be immune to madness?
And if a character simply acknowledged that to themselves before turning to see the book or beast behind them, could they look upon it safely, with at the most a fainting headache?

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    $\begingroup$ Not exaclty an answer, but this seems similar to the concept of Brai hacking: In the story "Blit" and others by David Langford, some scientist, who should know better, invents a graphic pattern called a "basilisk" that will cause the viewer's brain to lock-up, killing the viewer instantly. It works much like a computer virus, crashing the brain's operatining system. See projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacegunexotic.php $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Dec 27 '15 at 7:21
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    $\begingroup$ Why do I always find the Cthulhu questions at 3am? Oh well, I will answer it anyway. After all, the need for sleep is just another part of the illusion. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Dec 27 '15 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ Has anyone ever found a link between the Chthulu mythos and the Hitch-hikers guide to the Galaxy before? I give you the total perspective vortex. Please do not look Into it. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Dec 29 '15 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ This is more about terminology than building a fictional world - perhaps english.stackexchange.com is more appropriate. I'm VTCing as off-topic even though the post is quite old. $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 8 '17 at 2:22
  • $\begingroup$ Damnit... there is such a word. I just cannot remember it right now. It shows up in "Godel, Escher, Bach", I think (Pulitzer prize winning non-fiction) with the chapter about the record that cannot be played on a given record player because the record produces the harmonic frequency that destroys the record player. But I can't find the actual term. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Feb 8 '17 at 7:09

If I understand the question correctly, you're wondering how to label the effects on human mentation of manifestations by Cthulhu and Its ilk.

Insofar as Lovecraft himself is consistent about this -- and he is certainly never systematic-- the poles of the effect seem to lie between sanity-blasting destruction and a kind of semi-effective denial. This leads me to suggest something like "destructive rationalization" as a general term.

In Lovecraft's fiction, it is usually the imaginative, educated, intelligent observer, normally one with an aesthetic affinity for experimental and avant-garde fine arts, who risks full sanity destruction. This is because such a person, in Lovecraft's world, is able to understand with some clarity even phenomena that range well beyond apparent possibility.

By contrast, the "lower" sort of person -- less educated, intelligent, cultured, sophisticated, (white), etc. -- can always use superstition and raw stupidity to blur away what he or she perceives. Faced with anything less than a full-on manifestation by Cthulhu -- say, some Deep Ones or the like -- all too soon this person's mind bends the perceptions. "Wall, they wuz this fish thang, real ugly-like, an I guess I don't keer to see another." This person may find that social support from like-minded persons, alcohol, and a total lack of intellectual or aesthetic stimuli will lead eventually to a full resolution and recovery, apart from the odd hideous nightmares.

In essence, the difference is whether one is capable of rationalizations that actually distort and destroy the remembered stimuli. Byakhee becomes giant bat thing becomes tall tale, as it were. The intelligent, sensitive, cultured white male, however, cannot do this. Indeed, he actually roams mentally beyond the stimuli, seeking to account for them, and realizes just how impossible such an account might be. Thus it is not so much what a Deep One looks like as what its very existence implies that is ultimately so sanity-blasting.

So I suggest "destructive rationalization."

Note that there are, I believe, Freudian terms for this kind of memory-encysting, in which the trauma is sublimated and expelled from the mind, but I don't recall his work thoroughly enough to remember whether he discusses permanent suppression of this kind as possible. But his terminology would certainly be the place to look for something more authoritative.

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    $\begingroup$ What you are looking for in psychiatric language is repressed memory. It's real enough. Adults who were abused as children sometimes have no conscious recollection of the abuse other than what leaks out as nightmares. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Dec 29 '15 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ @nigel222 Good point. Does repressed memory also tend to generate a sort of "cover story"? I'm thinking this is a very Freudian conception, in which the unconscious constructs a coded representation of the traumatic memory in order to substitute for that which is repressed. Even as I write this, I begin to think of some of his more famous case studies, and I think he does show this effect. I'm also pretty sure there is strong evidence that Lovecraft had some familiarity with Freud's work.... $\endgroup$ – CAgrippa Dec 30 '15 at 9:51
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about repressed memory in particular. Generating a story to cover up a gap in ones memory is known as confabulation and is common in the early stages of Alzheimers. Actually on a lesser scale we all do it. Human memory is far from losslessly encoded. If interested also look up false memory syndrome. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Dec 30 '15 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer reminds me of the story "In The Walls" that played on the Drabblecast Lovecraft tribute month this year. Tl;dr a guy with a concussion can handle some stuff better. I think you're right that in his stories the "lesser" people seem to be able to handle it better, partly by not caring to understand it (stupidity), and partly by accepting it (superstition and occultism). $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Dec 30 '15 at 13:17

Let's start the investigation from the other end. Ignoring the eldritch insights for now, let's take note of a peculiar hole in our current scientific knowledge... life.

We know what living things are made of, because we've taken them apart more times than any sane species should admit to. We have pretty well supported theories about how all of their internal functions and processes are supposed to operate. Still, no matter how we reassemble the raw components, we can't create life from un-life.

There is a simple reason for that.

Life is not really possible on this dimension.

Its all part of an illusion which has been cast by the elder gods. Sort of a self-maintaining slapstick comedy, created purely to entertain the denizens of the dark.

We uncover that truth whenever we route lightning down into a patchwork corpse and scream to the heavens, "Give my creation LIFE!". Nothing happens except our corpse gets cooked crispy, followed by a really horrible burning hair smell. (At least that is all that has ever happened when I've tried it!)

Fortunately for our sake's, we write off those failures and ignore their inherent implications. We must have gotten the recipe wrong... or maybe we just needed a bigger lightning bolt.

We continue our lives, happily unaware that we are the impossible, doing the impossible with every breath we take.

Which is where the old one's come into the game.

As you have noted, Cthulhu is 'permitted' to do things that natives of our dimension are not. Most notably among these permissions, is being alive. It is from a time and place where life actually is possible, and it brings that privilege along whenever it visits us.

When we look at any of the old ones, we see in their fundamental essence what it really takes to be alive; and moments later, we realize that we don't meet those requirements. We must in that moment take one of two roads. We must accept the truth of our condition and return to our natural un-alive state, or we must discard our rational minds and succumb even more completely to the illusion which sustains us.

This is sad truth of our existence, and the best words I have found for Cthulhu's affect on that frail truth is...

Forced Self Realization.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting idea, but doesn't really answer the question, does it? $\endgroup$ – TheSexyMenhir Dec 28 '15 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSexyMinhir,... check again! The last line is a direct answer to the OP's question. The rest just explains why "Forced Self Realization" is the correct term for that terminal condition. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Dec 28 '15 at 21:04

What you describe is a classic mythological trope, typically called "The Other." The Other is a being (thus apparently alive) which is totally and completely foreign to you. In some, the Other is a concept which generates great fear. If the Other is capable of reaching into that which you call your Self, and manipulating it against your will, that can cause fear. It can also cause a first-strike, trying to reach out into it before it reaches into you, though with an Elder God, this can be more foolish than valiant.

This is associated with many phobias, especially phobias of particular living things.

Drawing from CAgrippa's answer from Lovecraft lore, a more educated individual may be more subject to insanity from such an interaction. If I were writing a story about the topic, it might be reasonable to consider that those who are more educated may view their intellect as a shield against the unknown. However, if the Other is not something which is well defined by intellect, it may slip through unfettered, and uproot that intellect in a way the educated individual never prepared for. Consider how hard it is to intellectually grasp concepts such as "know theyself," and the ability for an Other to do such a thing does not seem so far fetched.

And, since this is a question about Lovecraft, I end with a traditional parting thought:

P̢̢̲̭̘̣̪͉͞͞h̴̛̫͉͖̜͙̳͎̕͞͠'̶̀͢҉̯̞̹͈ṉ̶̘̠̯̬̭̖̳͘͞ģ̵̛͠҉̰̝͇̩͍̗͍̘̫͈̺̭̥͉l̨͍̘͔̰͔̖͍̹̠̭̱̰̖͙̦̦͎̕͟u̢̡҉̲̭̲̺̮̖͖͖i̴̢̹̳͉͎̥̪̜͎̼̣̦̖̻͈̖͉͚ͅ ̵͏͇̗̭ͅm̶̨͍̤̪̱͇̤̬̥̥͔̼͍̠̼͕g̷̷̰̩͙̪̫͉̺̯͘͟͠ļ̶̭͇̘̮̕͢ẃ̵̸̷҉͕̬̠̥̤͖̙̲͇̼̹'̺̩̖̟̣͈̖͙̤̫̰̗̯̀͡ń̷̴̶̰̮̺͔̼̺̹̘̟a̷̰̪͙͇̤͓̤̭͎̦͕̻f͏̨͙̰̘͔̟̜̠͈̯̻͕̖̳̝̝́͘ͅḩ̴̛͉͉̲͇̠͙̣̩͙̩͚̮̼̺ͅ ̧̛̟͓̤͇̯͍̫͖͎͈̫̳͓̞͘Ç͘͏͈̹̠̙͎̳̯͚͔̼͙̻͔͖̲̩̹̕ͅt͏̖̲̤̫̤̫̼̪̥̠͙͚͍̭́ͅḩ̡̲͈̫̯͚͉̱͍̳͝ù̧͙̭̙̻̲̙͚͔̲̬͚͢͝͡ḻ̴̵̨̹͉͙̟̯̞̠͔̦̝̩͜h̶̼̜̦͖͍͎͍̕ṷ̴̶̢͙̗̬͇̯̞̗̰̣̬̥̲̣̦ ̵̲͍̩̭̩̗͈͚͟͝R͏̛͘͟҉̫̝̞̪̣̪̻̤̼͖̪͎'̛̯͚͎̳͎̼͓̘͉͢l͟҉̵̘͈͙̣̹̜͍͎̬̺̹̪̜̀y͏͓̞̬͙̥̞̦͎͖̞͖͎̖̀e̶̵̡̺͉̯̭̣̗h͇̺͇̖̼̻̟͓͜͟͜͞ͅ ̴̷̡̨̪͍̙̳̞̭̙̫̯̘͚͇͚̼͙͟w̧̮̜̯̭̘͈̫̳̖̕͜͠g̢̨̗͖̬̠͎͓̱̞͓̭̯̺͕̭̯̦ͅa̴̠̘̬̩͍͜ͅh̵̷̨̜̻͔̖͈̤͈̩͔͈͇̩̞̲̜̩͍̺'̸̨͇̞̜͈͟n̨͟͞҉̤͚͎͇̣̺͚̻̖͖́ͅà̻͉̙̲̲̞͘͝ģ̙̗̙͓̜̣͔̥̫͟͡l̴̨̨̼͚̫̞̙̳͙͢͟ ̢̦͚̲͇̞̺̗̫͇f̸̸̫̠͖͙̜͉̲͖͓̭͇̦̭̩̲͡͠ḩ̸̲̤͍̖̻̣̝̼́̕͝ͅt̴͝҉҉̵͔̮̞̪á̢̕͢͏̗̯̗̙͙͉̪͓͙̣̰̣g͏̶̡͓̤͍͖̜̠̜ͅn̴̶̛̝̼͉̠̻͓