Mitchell Heisman, a 35 year old nihilist who held a bachelor's degree in psychology from Albany University. His suicide note was notable due to its unconventional format; at 1,905 pages, spanning topics concerning (and not limited to) human nature, society, religion, technology and science, the suicide "note" was more akin to a grand philosophical tome. Heisman published his book, Suicide Note, online for free download within a day of finally shooting himself on the Harvard University Campus.
Ultimately, this is an experiment in nihilism. Every word, every thought, and every emotion come back to one core problem: life is meaningless. 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.
My most basic assumption was that life is meaningless and that I am an animal-machine.
My entire way of looking at world has centered around the Darwinian observation that human beings are material
things. If there is no ultimate dividing line between the human and material world, then all subjective mental
experience is explicable in terms of underlying material processes.
From a very early age, I found that interpreting human beings and my own subjective experience in material,
physical terms had a genuine, empirical truth that could not dismissed.
This means, for example, viewing humans, and especially my own subjective experience, by
the standards of physics. From a materialist, Darwinist standpoint, I and every other human is an animal and a
material object. All emotions, whether joy or misery, elation or depression, are rooted in behavior that proved to be
genetically adaptive for animal ancestors.
The decisive turn that made me different, or consummated my self-destructive difference from others,
was really this experiment on myself where I systematically interpreted all subjective experience: emotions, experiences, intuitions, instincts as physical material; not better or worse than any other physical material. This experiment, in its conception, amounts to a definition of disillusionment.
The attempt to root out myths leads to rooting out the roots of myths: emotions. Emotions are the root of beliefs. To
destroy all beliefs, all belief in emotion must be destroyed. After systematically interpreting my emotions are material processes for at least a year and a half, the cause of life simply lost its cogency.
I became unable to spontaneously believe anything. The entire procedure then amounted to the attempt to generate
spontaneity in a mechanical way. I was unable to regain a spontaneous belief in life and my efforts to do so amounted to a program to artificially produce or mechanize spontaneity. At some point, I simply gave up, not because I thought it could not be done, but because but my belief in the conventional rightness of “life”, or any end, became unbelievable.
There was a manifest gulf between the way my emotions worked and the way my intellect made sense of the world.
The entire original experiment was an attempt to remedy this gulf. When I say that I do not believe in my emotions, I
don’t meant that I don’t have them; I mean that I do not accord them any ultimate meaning or significance. Darwin’s
The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals demonstrates why: emotions and instincts are the product of evolutionary adaptations that happened to be adaptive for generations of ancestors.
I do not believe in my emotions, however much I continue to be driven by them. This, on a human level, this is what
nihilism or unbelief means.
After exploring an unadulterated materialistic view, life lost its cogency for me. I have become disenchanted and
have lost spontaneous naivety to an extent that all efforts to regain the cause of life ring hollow and fall flat.
The experiment in nihilism is a test of what I really do or do not believe. If it is the case that emotions are former
genetic adaptations or illusions of an evolutionary inheritance, the chance products of a particular course of
natural selection, then there is no reason to assume that they are guides beyond their original adaptive functions. This also means that everyone else and their emotions are also treatable as physical material.
Since I don’t believe in my emotions in an ultimate sense, I can attempt to manipulate them intelligently. I do not think I am a fundamentally less emotional than other people but I am less inclined to spontaneously believe in my emotions; I do not accord them any ultimate significance. Emotions are products of a particular heritage of evolutionary adaptation that do not have any absolute meaning in themselves. Yet if I really was devoid of emotion I would already be dead (instead of writing about death) because it is emotions, not reason, that drive the preference for life over death (and even willing death embodies the contradiction of being willed by life).
Yet over the course of this self-experiment, in radically questioning everything and reconciling all experience to this
best, most educated guess at material reality, two interrelated dilemmas arose. First, upholding self-honesty
led to making no exceptions to interpreting all as physical materialism, i.e. no exceptions for events such as “The
Holocaust”. Secondly, partly because of the very success interpreting all as material, I eventually questioned the
nature of the exceptions I made for myself. The iota of faith that make even programmatic selfishness possible, even that I lost.
Liberals are not at all fully nihilistic. In part, there is the practical belief in values vaguely corresponding to human
rights. But more fundamentally, “secularists” implicitly believe in a religion of the common emotions. They
generally believe that meaning is to be found in the material, biochemical processes that humans experience as emotions. They generally believe that it actually means something when these old biological mechanisms produce the familiar emotional routines.
While one may feel compassion, does this mean that one lacks the capacity to discipline one’s self from being mastered by that impulse. That people are mastered by such impulses is only another confirmation of Darwin’s insight that humans are animals. Most humans are driven overwhelmingly by instinct and emotion.
From a Darwinistic view, every capacity for emotion evolved as a product of genetic adaptation. Emotions, then,
are biochemical-based illusions that evolved to propagate genes. Pleasure, happiness, emotions, and desire: these are the evolutionary tricks that promoted the survival of our ancestors. The “happiness” and “sadness” of present day humans are the genetically adaptations of generations of ancestors.
This is “happiness”, the great goal of humanity has bee striving for: a particular configuration of biochemical
reactions. Why, not, then, drug one’s self into a state of “happiness”? If evolution had taken a different turn at some
early point, a completely different configuration of stimuli would produce biochemical reactions of “happiness”. It just so happens, however, that evolutionary path taken by innumerable ancestors yields these particular, incidental,
prejudices of human nature.
Wild, untamed sexual passion can clearly be adaptive for propagating the selfish genes. The genetic program for these “romantic” behaviors, like clockwork, are passed on, generation after generation. Ancestor after ancestor executed the same genetic program for romantic sexual passion, and contemporary humans are only repeating the script. The entire catalog of romantic behaviors from love to selective altruism has its basics encoded in the code of the selfish genes.
For some, the meaninglessness gleaned from a scientific view of life leads to nausea, angst, and nihilistic despair. I
reject this attitude on the grounds that nausea, angst, and nihilistic despair also originate in material reactions in the brain. What does despair mean to someone who interprets that emotion as a chemical reaction in the brain? The process of disillusionment can also be disillusioned and deaestheticized.