He should have talked to Kubrick

I have just lost a couple of hours to a suicide note. And I barely dipped my toe in.

Here’s the background on the young man who killed himself after spending a huge amount of time preparing a 1900+ page suicide note that works out a philosophical justification for suicide based on a kind of existential nihilism.

But if the 1,905-page suicide note he left is to be believed — a work he spent five years honing and that his family and others received in a posthumous e-mail after his suicide last Saturday morning on Yom Kippur — Heisman took his life as part of a philosophical exploration he called “an experiment in nihilism.’’

At the end of his note, a dense, scholarly work with 1,433 footnotes, a 20-page bibliography, and more than 1,700 references to God and 200 references to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Heisman sums up his experiment:

“Every word, every thought, and every emotion come back to one core problem: life is meaningless,’’ he wrote. “The experiment in nihilism is to seek out and expose every illusion and every myth, wherever it may lead, no matter what, even if it kills us.’’

(lots more at the article)

Towards the end of the note, it’s author expresses things quite concisely:

After systematically interpreting my emotions are material processes for at least a year and a half, the cause of life simply lost its cogency.

There are a couple of standard reactions when a very smart person really internalizes that life is inherently meaningless. One is a hard turn to religion. Another is to find it incredibly funny. Yet another is to develop a kind of “that just means I have to bring my own meaning to it’ philosophy. Sadly, being kind of broken by it is not terrifically uncommon for people who don’t tend to one of the other paths.

Being kind of broken in a way that leads to preparing a couple of thousand pages of treatise explaining your conclusions and then following through on them–without engaging with another person1–is, however, terrifically uncommon.

And it’s uncommon in a way that kind of fascinates me. If I’m not careful I’m going to end up first reading that whole thing, and then trying to rebut it. (A similar thing happened to me with Dick’s Exegesis, and I’m not interested in going down that kind of rabbit hole again.) I’ve already spent too much time reading his expression of the argument that technological nihilism is God, and that the Singularity might be a way to sidestep the “equality problem” of all choices being equally meaningless.

You can read the note, or download it in PDF form, from here (and I do think it’s terrifically weird that the newspaper story mentions the website, but doesn’t cite it.)

  1. A living person, in an interactive engagement, I mean. It’s clear from the note that he was engaging with the ideas of a lot of people through the history of philosophy.(back)

  1 comment for “He should have talked to Kubrick

  1. Lachlan O'Dea
    October 7, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    “Another is to find it incredibly funny.” – Douglas Adams immediately leapt into my mind as I read this.

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This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.