You may have heard of the radical exploits of Jurgen Schulze. But I was his psychiatrist before he escaped from Borsa Castle, the Transylvanian mental institution, and before he formed his infamous, bizarre cult. “God is dead,” he told me in one of my weekly evaluations of his mental condition. “Long live the gods,” he added, grinning at that gnomic remark. Only after his unprecedented and mysterious escape did I read his actual German writings, although by then mere scraps survived his attempt to burn the text; apparently, he’d done so just prior to his escape. I found the singed remnants in a corner of his residence, and judging by the pile of ashes, only a very small portion of the whole remained legible, one of which is the title, Lebending und Wach in der Totte Gott. Nevertheless, piecing these together with his peculiar remarks in the interviews, I’ve reconstructed Schulze’s philosophy. The public often prefers to demonize the mentally ill, on the basis of its prejudices, but perhaps there’s an appetite abroad to warrant this exposition of Schulze’s rather hair-raising worldview.
According to Schulze, the history of cosmology shows that from the most naïve, parochial myths of ancient times, to the experimental, objective theories of modern physics, explanations of nature approach the truth as they become maximally ironic. This means that nature surprises any species that searches for the ultimate truth, by anti-correlating intuitions with facts. Intelligent creatures evolve to exploit a niche, a way of surviving in an environment. Creatures that endure long enough to reach equilibrium with their territory, because their genes have created winning uniformities in their traits—and have built thus an adapted body-type or a species, as such—rely on those innate abilities that allow them to succeed. In that respect, creatures are inherently conservative in evaluating their intuitions, reflexes, and other habits or traditions. Creatures that are interested solely in surviving under those terms we call animals, while those that survive in virtue of their rational powers of understanding become aware of more and more possibilities until their sights are set on a universe that’s worlds apart from the locale in which they’re evolutionarily suited to succeed. Had the universe been as large only as the mythical Garden of Eden, or were there no life forms that could see further than their neighbourhood or that could think other than in their nakedly species-centric fashion, the pursuit of knowledge wouldn’t be ironic, because there would have been no knowledge in the first place. But because it’s evidently possible to be excluded from the Garden, as it were, for creatures to ponder matters that are at best tangentially related to their biological life cycle, so that there have arisen persons or independent agents, ultimate knowledge is also theoretically possible—and that knowledge is necessarily not just counterintuitive but fulsomely so. On these grounds which he expressed in several of our sessions, Schulze declares in one of the intact fragments of his philosophical writings, “This is why the more exquisite the humiliating implications of a theory of the nature of reality, the greater the theory’s chance of being true” (3a).
Cosmology began with religious myths which assume that there are divine, perfect persons who create nature for our benefit. For Schulze, this is the maximally naïve way of misunderstanding the universe, by means of which we project our prejudices onto the wider world. The opposite, atheistic scenario, however, isn’t necessarily the most ironic and thus the most epistemically justified. Today, physics stops at the point of positing objective causes and effects and other quantifiable phenomena, and so excludes magic and the supernatural from its universe of discourse. Instead of being created by God, nature creates itself from chaos according to laws, principles, and free parameters which the physicist nevertheless inevitably smuggles into the picture of the chaotic starting point. This is because whereas chaos or the nonbeing out of which nature emerged has no need to conform to human reason, physicists are methodologically bound to rational ideals which must guide their explanations. But were the universe fundamentally material and objective, as scientists understand it to be, cosmic irony would not be maximized, because our expectations have adjusted after the Scientific Revolution. Schulze therefore writes, “The ultimate theory of the world must confound both the gullible, narrow-minded zealot and the cynical, self-abnegating scientist; otherwise, cognitive progress might end in harmony between intuitions and facts, which is contrary to the principle of irony that’s entailed by the history of cosmology” (3b). The universe may or may not be harmonious from its impersonal frame of reference, although this is technically an incoherent figure of speech; certainly, though, the nature of the metaphysical facts conflicts with any intelligent species that arises to attempt to explain them, since such a species will pride itself on its dignity which the natural facts are bound to drastically undercut. The perfected theory may prove adequate to the facts, in some epistemological respect, but those facts will confound the species as a whole, including its intuitions, preferred self-image, and life-sustaining cultures.
Schulze lays these points out in one of the longer surviving fragments:
As far as intelligent life can tell from this corner of the galaxy, the most ironic explanation of the cosmos must posit a deity, to baffle the beleaguered naturalists and secularists, but must simultaneously remove that deity from the prevailing ontology, to torment the masses of anachronistic god-worshippers. To maximize irony and to fulfill our philosophical obligation to understand the facts even at the cost of our happiness, we, the enlightened few must assume that God—some intelligent mind—accounts fundamentally for natural being, but that this primary mind somehow negates itself so that there could be no responsible hope for religious salvation. (4a)
Deism is one possibility, but that theory proposes that God exists alongside the universe, which he created but which doesn’t interest him, and this leaves open the possibility that God will change him mind, which again presumably gives hope to theists and contradicts the principle of metaphysical irony. Schulze conceded that the more psychologically-plausible scenario was hit upon by one Philipp Mainlander in the nineteenth century, who surmised that God decided to commit suicide, which required that he transform himself into a material body, namely the natural universe, so that he could eventually disintegrate into nothingness. We thus inhabit God’s rotting carcass. Although Mainlander doesn’t speculate as to God’s reasons, these are clear from human politics and psychology, which should approximate the truth given that God is supposed to be a mind of some sort. Assuming as Schulze did, that polytheistic systems such as Hinduism logically reduce to monotheism, the primary deity would had to have been isolated by his majestic priority to everything else and thus must have been eternally lonely, which should have driven him to madness; moreover, his power over everything else would have corrupted him and exacerbated his burgeoning psychopathy. Schulze thus suspects that “Deicide might have been an act of saving grace, albeit one that dooms all intelligent creatures evolving in God’s wake, to grim resistance against the cosmic tide” (6c).
In one of his more cryptic fragments, Schulze writes, “The imperative to mortify all sentient beings with a sign of nature’s overflowing irony compels us to join physics with theology, to discern the poetic significance of universal decay” (6b). For Schulze, the data degradation of all systems resulting from entropy, particle decay, and quantum decoherence through a system’s interaction with its environment is metaphysically necessary. The invariant matrix element or probability amplitude connecting the initial state of absolute Being to Nonbeing is psychological, as it is in the Copenhagen interpretation of the wave function’s collapse. But instead of a measurement problem, solved by the need to invoke an observer before which particles must concretize their motion or position, we’re faced with the disparity between what there is and what there should be, which existential burden is overcome by interpreting cosmic evolution as the result of a psychological inevitability.
There must have been God, but God can no longer be, because knowledge should be perfectly unsettling, and so God must have initiated natural regularities by a moral collapse, by a primordial descent into melancholy and madness. Familiar psychological and political principles—that power corrupts and that loneliness breeds depression—bridge the theological and the physical, the sacred and the profane; the archetypal fall from grace is the source of Becoming, of the natural transformations of pristine Being into irredeemable nothingness. Schulze argues that “The infinite promise of a magical Creator is spoiled by the fact that this Creator had the misfortune of being alive and so was cursed with having eventually to succumb to temptation” (7a). The existential meaning of all things is given by their ultimate end point, which is the final void, because the relation between those two isn’t contingent, but poetically just. “All things are destined to be undone when they dissolve into nothingness, because God divined a technique for terminating the absurdity of his ‘perfect’ life” (7b).
The probability that God’s initial pristine state of absolute being would transition into nature, the latter being the process of matter’s disintegration into nonbeing, is given by the following formula, adapted from Fermi’s Golden Rule, which Schulze had scrawled on one of his walls:
ℾg→n = cא/A│⟨n│Mˈ│g⟩2lim/(I→∞)
He explained to me that the double-struck gamma signifies the one-to-many transition probability per unit mind, and the supernatural initial state of divine being g likely transitions to natural state n when the characterological configuration of God’s mental states c is multiplied by the numerical constant א (aleph), which signifies the proportional relation between a mind and its actions, divided by A, the range of possible actions that outwardly express mental energy. Assuming that that range allows for the transition, and irony is maximized as indicated by the right-side portion of the equation, which says that in the limit case irony is infinite, the transition occurs by way of the square of the matrix element, composed of the perturbing state Mˈ, melancholy, which couples the initial and end states. The field of potential actions is consistent with the degradation of divine being, because that being is singular, as intuited by monotheists. God is almighty Being and so must stand alone at the apex of reality, but for that very reason God’s fall from grace was inevitable. Indeed, irony flows from the deity like the Holy Spirit, because God’s supremeness meant that he was obligated to be myopic, which is to say self-absorbed, and that instilled the original vanity leading to his derangement and to his plan for escaping from that self-imposed prison. “God chose suicide by the transference of sacred being into the pit of profane matter, but the law of irony persists as an echo of God’s psychosis” (8a). (Note, therefore, that although Schulze retains the sexist reference to God as a masculine figure, he deprives the patriarch of any privilege that’s traditionally accrued from that identification. For Schulze, God is the worst, not the greatest being, and the masculine vices are inherent to that depravity.)
As Schulze jotted onto a scrap of paper, irony, in turn, takes the form of the relationship V(F) → D, where V is vanity as applied to some fact F, yielding a distorted representation D. A mind perceives a fact such as a stone’s resting on the earth, but instead of humbly receiving the essence of that perceived state of affairs, renouncing his personal preoccupations, the mind projects the latter onto that which is present, casting the fact in the mind’s image. Irony entails, then, a disparity between what minds can know and what can exist regardless of whether it’s known or is knowable. “In his supernatural domain, God was all, but God eventually failed to know himself, because he entered the pseudoreality of his psychosis” (8c). God longed for what could never be: an equal or an escape from loneliness and from his destined corruption by his unchallengeable might. He retreated to his megalomaniacal delusions, like any despot, and so sealed his fate. Whereas God should have been eternal, he nullified his divinity with the act of so-called Creation.
As I said, irony is preserved by evolved creatures, because their genes make them selfish and so they’re bound to misconstrue the natural world. But for Schulze, life’s evolution was necessitated by the deeper irony that, whereas God’s plan was to inject his being into a material body that could be annihilated, godlike, albeit hapless beings had to reemerge to stage a doomed revolt against that plan. “Otherwise, alpha would have vanished into omega, the sun would have set for eternity, and a mad king would merely have succeeded in achieving his psychotic aim” (9b). The nullity of nonbeing would straightforwardly cancel out the plenitude of God’s absoluteness, which would deprive Irony of its chance to perpetrate its mischievous games. To maximize irony, God’s purpose must be opposed, and so from his decaying corpse arise sentient, intelligent creatures that are capable of understanding their horrific lot. Their fate must be tragic, of course, and so they won’t reverse the course of natural degradation, by artificially revivifying God in the form of ideals that recapture the platonic heaven of original divine reality. Irony is the tendency towards epistemic disharmony. That disharmony is maximized not in chaos but in the approach towards a happy balance that’s fated to skew in the opposite direction at the pivotal moment.
According to Schulze, “Irony entails a form of mental torture: the futility of perfect knowledge is attributable to the emergence of evil in God’s character” (9a). We can’t understand the world before us, because we’re pebbles caught up in a metaphysical landslide; “understanding” something means not identifying with it, but standing under the thing and so falsifying it, by interpreting it from only one vantage point. As it really is, the primary world of nature is atrocious and we’re fated simultaneously to rummage through its nooks and crannies for clues of how to survive, and to retreat to our cultural and technological playgrounds that cater to our vanity. “We imagine we’re lords of Creation even though we thereby reenact the sin not of Adam and Eve, but of Yahweh himself, and universal Creation is the ultimate act of destruction” (11b). Irony means that we’re alienated from the world, as God was self-alienated, but irony is an inferno that even God couldn’t fully control, and so God’s grim plan for Being’s termination provides for the (mere) hope of renewal. “God flickers back to life in the minds of evolved creatures, but only to haunt finite versions of him from beyond the grave, to scale the heights of objectivity and to grasp the extent of his downfall” (9c).
For Schulze, the emergence of organic processes in a physical world bent on annihilating itself is surprising not just because some of the chemical preconditions are presently unknown, but because, theologically speaking, the creation of nature was meant to wipe out Mind in its purest form and because organisms are anti-natural. The Cartesian distinction between interiority and exteriority isn’t just a philosophical conceit, but is found in each organic cell that selects how the outer world can interface with the cell’s internal parts, by processing whatever passes through the membrane. The cell’s internal structure is sacrosanct and must be shielded from the indifferent environment. Thus, all creatures are fundamentally selfish and short-sighted; the wisdom of setting aside your personal good for the universal betterment of some abstraction, including even the good of your species as a whole, is a higher form of supernature. Biological normality is the lower, more common form, since genetically-imposed egoism entails a conflict between the individual and the rest. The world sustains life, such as by providing sunlight for photosynthesis or water for sustenance, but this happens only by accident as far as natural law is concerned: the indifference of physical events is at odds with the self-directedness of organic processes. Therefore, a creature wants to survive even at the cost of objectifying other creatures and using them for food or for slaves, and in the limit case, individual survival is achieved by undoing physicality, by rewriting natural laws and creating an artificial world within the larger, putrefying one. “This subworld would displace all of nature if the self-oriented creatures could fulfill their dream of establishing heaven on earth, that is, of replacing earth with heaven” (12c).
The abstraction of a collective good is likewise anti-natural because even should that greater good be interpreted as the preservation of nature, as in the case of environmentalism, any ideal or purpose is an imposition on physical aimlessness. And for Schulze, collective goods emerge as a result of rational thinking which, far from uniting intelligent creatures with the universe, alienates the former by eventually informing them about the dreadful destiny of the latter. Legends of miracles and religious poetry about supernatural orders are only jumbled reports of the fact that supernature stares us all in the face: life within a universe that’s fundamentally hostile to life—to the point of guaranteeing the extinction of all living things as a matter of natural course—is an astonishing anomaly. All life is miraculous because egos prefer an ideal subworld to the impartiality of physical causes and effects; egos thus oppose nature just as nature crushes their dreams by eliminating each living thing, one by one, without exception.
But the irony isn’t encapsulated just by that anomaly of life’s emergence. Evolutionary forces conspire, as it were, to reenact the godhead. The scarcity of resources, the competition for mates, and the selfishness of organic hosts for lines of genetic code result in social hierarchies dominated by alpha leaders whose tyrannies flow from something akin to God’s madness. Animal dominators evince the amorality and sloth that would have belonged to the almighty deity, while sapient dominators relive God’s sociopathy as though they were possessed by His Holy Spirit. If life is miraculous, mentality is sacred, for Schulze: the peaks of organic evolution, at which points minds sustain metaphysically forbidden thoughtscapes, are simultaneously precious and treacherous because these narratives and models and other mental contents verge on the tragic thoughts of the fallen Absolute. Being on holy ground is standing where everyone longs to be but also where no one ought to stand, because being there ensures your destruction. Merely thinking in nature is thus a holy act, because the more you think, the more like God you become as you’re corrupted by power and driven mad by the implications of scientific discoveries. “Thought was meant to be terminated prior to the complexifications that fill up space and time, but because a self-annihilating almighty Lord is supremely ironic, the irony persists in the re-emergence of divine Being in the form of organisms—especially the predators and warlords and cognitive elites who over and over again replay God’s collapse, as though with their lives they were bound to answer the first part of a joke written into the flow of nature” (14a). On these grounds, Schulze asks, “Given that God is dead, are we obligated to revivify him and if so are we thereby saints or clowns?” (14b).