Depression Reveals the Truth: We Live in the Abyss

[Epistemic status: Just poetry, written in a nihilistic mood. Don’t take it so seriously.]

When you are in the midst of a deep depression it’s impossible to do anything other than lie in bed and wish to die. Speaking is difficult, writing impossible. So any piece of writing about depression will always be false. False, because written prose about depression originates always as an afterthought, thus distorted, allayed, softened. The written word can’t fully capture the despair, the futility and the horror of being depressed. Paralyzation of will renders it impossible. But I try my best.

First of all, there is always the feeling of pain. Pain in your bones, your limbs, your lungs, head and heart. Then exhaustion and extreme tiredness. You are too exhausted, too tired to move. But you can’t sleep. And you are too fatigued to escape. To distract yourself. You also don’t see the point in distracting yourself. Truthfully, you don’t see the point in anything. The problem is that depression makes all of it very believable. You think you can see the truth. And maybe you do. There is this saying: „Depression lies“. I’m not so sure. Maybe happiness lies. Maybe life itself lies. Just imagine if you could apprehend, to the full extent, all the evils of this world: dying children in Africa, pigs slaughtered in factory farms, women in mental ayslums crying over their dead daughters, lonely students, heart-broken and addicted to benzos and opioids because their cries for love were never answered. Then imagine if you saw, clearly, in your minds eye, all your failures, your weaknesses, your shortcomings, your inability to understand the theory of general relativity, your insomnia, your aging and ever less appealing body, your slowly decaying immune system, your lack of money, your lack of influence, your lack of willpower, your laughable productivity. Your selfishness. Imagine if you could contemplate, at all times, the right deeds you didn’t do, all the good things you could have done, all the experiences you could have had or would have had or could have in the future if you were just another person. A person more intelligent than you. A person more energetic than you. A person more admirable than you. Or a person, just less miserable. Less tormented. Less pathetic. Less you.

If you perceived clearly all this you couldn’t function. Not in this world. Not in any world. Evolution, the alien God, Lord of all reductionistic worlds, would have thrown you into nothingness. Depressed people lose the game of natural selection. The Alien God made creatures not able and not willing to see the flaws of the world and of themselves. He created optimists and gave them their rose-colored glasses for free. I won’t give you an academic sermon about the phenomenon of „depressive realism“. That’s none of my business. That’s what Wikipedia is made for.

So here is my thesis: Depression doesn’t lie. It pierces through the veil of ignorant bliss. It reveals. And the revelations are frightening, soul-crushing and true. Depression lets you see the grim, naked truth. It lets you see into the Abyss. At the heart of all being is suffering, and the wish for things to be different. Combined with the knowledge that this wish is unfulfilled. Unfulfillable. You are alone. People may say they love you. But they only love a mask. A shell. Depression lets you see that there are people out there who have more positive impact on the world at least by orders of magnitude and there is nothing you can do about it. Sure, you wish more people would admire you. That you would be a better writer. A better scientist. A better being. Or more intelligent, preferably at math. Maybe more funny, more talented at computer science. More useful. More productive. You wish you were unique. Special. At least a bit. But you are not. You are just a random sample from the eternal and vast urn of genes, environment and happenstance. The laws of probability are stern and unforgiving. You are average. You are mediocre. This is the axiom of existence.

Consider the self-sampling assumption. You should reason as if you were a random sample out of the set of all the observers in your reference class. Anthropics is the enemy of perfection. And even if you were one of the lucky few. One of the chosen ones. A genius, talented, witty, productive, energetic, admired. You would still die. You would still have enemies. You could still lose all of your loved ones. Just through a freak accident. And you will. And all of this, and I mean all of it, call it life, the cosmos, the multiverse or the ultimate ensemble. It doesn’t make any sense. Whatsoever. It just is. There is no purpose. Nothing justifies the existence of this world. Or of you. But you exist. You have to exist and nobody asked you for your consent. You were thrown into this world, cruel and uncaring. Oh sure, there is happiness. I’m not saying that there isn’t. Opioid receptors are a solid fact. But suffering prevails. It is stronger. Let’s say you got really lucky. I mean, really, really lucky. You are a genius, productive, admired and have a loving partner. What will happen? Hint: Death. Oh, sure, maybe someone will build a friendly AI, summon the singularity, transcendence, whatever you wanna call it. Entropy still reigns. Eventually, everything will be nothing.

Whatever. I’m in a good mood, really generous here: Let’s imagine the second law of thermodynamics was somehow false. But don’t celebrate to fast! How would this help? Ok, death is dead. But boredom is still alive and well. The question you have to ask yourself is: What would you do for the rest of eternity? Do math? Physics? Write books? Make love? Dance? Take drugs? I guess this would get boring long before the last stars have burnt out. But admittedly, the ability to indulge in superficial hedonism is strong in us. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. Even so: You *know* that there exists suffering. Maybe, which is highly, extremely doubtful, considering the all-encompassing baseness of our species, we would be able to eliminate all suffering in our light cone. There would still exist suffering. In the past (google timeless universe of block universe). And in other, causally inaccessible parts of the universe. And you know that your happiness depends on the existence of this suffering. A bit of a bummer, you don’t think so?

Let’s be even more generous, delve straight into the realm of panglossian fantasy and assume that suffering was abolished. Everywhere. Through some weird shit. I don’t know. Maybe quantum stuff or time travel or acausal magic of some sort. Whatever. But then this still leaves one fucking thing left: There is no fucking purpose whatsoever. To all of this shit. The multiverse is mute and cold and doesn’t care. It’s absurd to the core. A sick, twisted farce with no redemption or meaning.

Some of you will say that we, as humans, have the ability to give our lives our own meaning. Just like that. Through some weird, existential, Munchhausen bootstrapping shit. So yay! Let’s celebrate and create lots of meaning. If you happen to be around, can you give me some meaning? I guess I need it.

[For a balance, read this more constructive/optimistic post about some of the same topics]

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