“Of all the words yet spoken, none comes quite as far as wisdom, which is the action of the mind, beyond all things that may be said.”1
Philosophers have wondered about the meaning of existence as early as written history. But what does it mean to exist beyond our daily life? One philosopher attempted to define existence itself. In his famous book Being and Time, German philosopher Martin Heidegger distinguished between Sein (being) and Dasein.2 The latter has no English translation but generally means ‘being there’ or ‘existence’. Existence was also a main topic throughout Dylan Klebold’s journal. In his writings, he refers to existence with possibly different meanings, but he generally considers existence to be a property of the mind, e.g. existence of his self-aware thoughts and insights.
Dylan Bennet Klebold was born on September 11th, 1981. He kept a journal and left entries spanning through March 31st, 1997 and January 20th, 1999, totaling 14 entries, which include a separate document and one undated entry. Dylan wrote in a style very different from Eric Harris’s, in a more inward looking manner about his depressions and his social life, exploring the meaning of topics such as existence, the mind, suicide and love.
Love plays an important part in Dylan’s writings. He feels very distant from the seemingly worry-free lives of his high school peers, the jocks who have relationships and friendships, but he finds their lives shallow and empty. In over half of Dylan’s entries Dylan he writes about the difficulty to find love, how much he desperately needs it, and spends a number of entries expressing his feelings for someone named ‘Harriet’, someone who never came forward after the attacks. The lack of love and the emotional support he believed it would bring appears to be a major cause for his suicidal depression.
Dylan sometimes used made-up words. He calls himself the “everything-dweller” and the “true existor of the everything”. He blends words like “perceivations”, from perceive and perceptions, or forms new ones like “un-existable”. According to one source, “Dylan was very smart. […] You could tell by talking to him his vocabulary was extensive,” so it seems possible that his linguistic gift pushed him to use words creatively.3
But others came to the wholly different conclusion based on such distortions of language that Dylan suffered a schizotypal personality disorder.4 While most psychologists do not believe that anyone can assess a mental disorder merely based on someone’s writings, without ever meeting the subject in person, Jade Vega concludes that Dylan met various criteria of schizophrenia. She mentions for example that Dylan displayed “social and interpersonal deficits […] and reduced capacity for close relationships”.5 But if that were true, why were Dylan and Eric Harris such close friends, and why had Dylan also been good friends with Zack Snyder in his early teens? Vega disregards this circumstantial evidence and even goes so far to conclude that Dylan showed “odd beliefs and magical thinking” for calling his classmates “zombies”.6
Peter Langman also believed that Dylan suffered mental delusions, but I disagree.7 Dylan struggled with the concepts of existence, reality and ‘being’ like many philosophers have done before him, and they too sometimes needed to invent new vocabulary to express their most abstract thoughts. The “magical thinking” Dylan supposedly displayed has more in common with Heidegger and the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus than with schizotypal delusion. I believe that Dylan did not suffer an immediate mental disorder—rather, he suffered from unrecognized genius.
One can only speculate, but if Dylan had been given the opportunity to grow a long grey beard, then his words might have been taken more seriously. When Heraclitus published his work at the oracle of Delphi, he was a voluntary mountain recluse in his fifties. Dylan, an involuntary social outcast, wrote his thoughts on existence at age fifteen and sixteen. A lifetime more of such thought experiments might have made him a great American philosopher.
The title of Dylan’s journal is as abstract as its contents. When we take into account that this personal document may have been a description of thought exercises and hypothetical situations, the contents should seem less odd.
As I did with Eric Harris’s journal, I will discuss or mention only the parts from Dylan’s journal entries that I found meaningful, in chronological order, taken from a subset of all entries. Several entries were left out because they were personal love letters or otherwise not valuable enough for further discussion. I added my own subtitles for reference, although Dylan did title his entries:
Human Existence—March 31st, 1997
The Everything—April 15th, 1997
Dimensions of Thought—May 21st, 1997
The Meaning of Love—February 2nd, 1998
March 31st, 1997
In his first entry Dylan dwells on the past and describes how different he feels from the lives that jocks have. But he also brings up deeply philosophical themes of existence, the mind and human nature.
My existence is [expletive] to me—how I feel that I am in eternal suffering, in infinite directions in infinite realities—yet these realities are fake—artificial, induced by thought, how everything connects, yet it’s all so far apart…. & I sit & think…
At first glance Dylan means to say that his personal suffering was the consequence of his own thinking. People sometimes feel depressed, not because of true events, but because of their own negative perceptions of otherwise neutral or even positive events.
Dylan indirectly questions the fabric of reality. The idea that thought induces reality is supported by the science of quantum mechanics: “As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality,”—in other words, magical thinking.8 Quantum science explains how matter and energy behave at the smallest levels that scientists can measure. A key concept of quantum science is that scientific observation directly influences the behavior of, for example, electrons and photons. A specific experiment called the Double Slit Experiment proves that certain ‘elements’ can behave as either waves of water or as particles of matter depending on whether a scientific instrument actively observed the individual elements. When the observing device is turned off, the elements behave as waves. When turned on, they behave as particles.
This means that human consciousness, in the form of a scientific observation, provably influences reality at quantum levels.9 The strangeness of this result left physicists wondering whether there exists a ‘real’ reality that can explain the behavior of quantum elements as either waves or particles. Albert Einstein believed in such a real reality, but his contemporary colleague Niels Bohr disagreed and concluded that reality is not real. “Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it. … We compel [the electron] to assume a definite position. … We ourselves produce the results of the measurement.”10
Dylan’s comment that “everything connects, yet its all so far apart” echoes statements by Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “What was scattered gathers, what was gathered blows apart.”11 Also: “From the strain of binding opposites comes harmony.”12
Science of the Mind
Science is the way to find solutions to everything, right? I still think that, yet I see different views of [expletive] now—like the mind—yet if the mind is viewed scientifically…
Eric Harris made a similar statement on April 21st, 1998 that only “science and math are real”. Dylan and Eric both accepted the scientific worldview in an otherwise religious America.
Yet if according to quantum science, the mind induces physical reality through the act of conscious observation, then what is the conscious mind, when viewed scientifically? On a biological level, according to philosopher Sam Harris who found support with the science of neurobiology, the conscious mind seats in the secondary brain that wraps around the ‘primitive’ primary brain, or the animal brain.13 But while we perceive to have free will, this sensation is the result of a cognitive dissonance which means that our primary brain executes commands before the secondary brain becomes aware of them. Our brains fool ourselves into believe we make conscious decision, while in reality our animal brain does. The conscious secondary brain merely rationalizes our subconscious choices ex post facto, after the facts.
Even spookier, neurobiologists have proven that, for example, when we ‘decide’ to move our index finger, the primary brain has already fired the electronic signal down our nerve paths before the secondary brain becomes aware of it. Nonetheless, the secondary brain believes to be the initiator of the movement, the source of cognitive dissonance. In this sense, people’s brains fool themselves into believing that they have free will.
But what is the mind itself? Where does the sensation of awareness and consciousness come from? The answer has implications in terms of technological progress when we want to build robots that do not just possess artificial intelligence, but also have a conscious mind that can make moral decisions on its own account. Over a decade ago, philosophers such as Dan Dennet14 and scientists such as Jeff Hawkins15 brought popular attention to the scientific study of the mind.
Past, Present and Future
A lot on the past though… I’ve always had a thing for the past—how it reacts to the present & the future—or rather vice versa.
Dylan spent a great deal of his waking life dwelling on the past, on things that depressed him, such as the loss of an important friendship or the monotonous school routines he endured at Columbine High.
In several places he expressed the idea that past, present and future influence each other. One way to interpret this odd belief is from a philosophical point of view. As we grow older, we accumulate experiences and we develop our personality and emotions. We gain new insights and gain a better understanding of our own social realities. As a consequence, the view we have of ourselves changes over time, and we alter our interpretation of the past. As teenagers we may find fault in ourselves when a love interest rejects us, while as adults we learn that others reject us because they fail to see the good in us, and that rejections therefore is not our fault.
How much we remember of our past selves also changes our perception. The mind is not a device that flawlessly records events, but one that produces sensations blurred by emotion and faulty memory. Who we are today depends on the narrative we tell of our past. Conversely, who we imagine to be in the future influences how we act today, which in turn affects how we see our past selves. For example, if I decide to become a CEO in the future, I may tell myself that I have always been interested in business ever since I was a kid, or that I was born to be a business leader.
When we look at a picture of ourselves when we were a baby, we have to tell a story of how we grew up and became the adult we are today, but this story will be largely a fiction based on incomplete memories and wishful polish.16
True Human Nature
They don’t know beyond this world (how I do in my mind or in reality, or in this existence) yet we each are lacking something that the other possesses—I lack the true human nature that Dylan owned, & they lack the overdeveloped mind / imagination / knowledge tool.
Everything we know about the world around us comes through our biological senses of smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. Even when we use scientific equipment to supposedly observe reality without interference from human sense, we interpret those scientific results with our senses nonetheless. It therefore makes sense that Dylan jumbled together the concepts of mind, reality and existence. Everything we call reality exists only as an observation of the mind that processes our senses. The image we have of our reality can therefore never be of any real reality.
In this statement, Dylan tells us how far he feels removed from ‘normal’ people, because of his ‘overdeveloped’ mind. He means to say that normal people have a seemingly natural access to ‘true’ human nature, namely love, friendship and relationships. But they lack the ability for deeper interpretations of the world around them. Dylan would rather have been be less intelligent and more intuitive. He considers himself a sufferer of.
When he writes about “the true human nature that Dylan owned” he refers to an earlier remark “when Dylan Benet Klebold got covered up by this entity containing Dylan’s body”. It seems that Dylan feels the he went through a transformation, from an ordinary human being into a person with an overactive mind. At the same time, his newfound intellect, this ability to incessantly question the reality of the world around him, became a burden.
What does it mean when your intellect gets in the way of acting human? If ignorance is bliss, what should the intellectual do?
The thinking of suicide gives me hope, that I’ll be in my place wherever I go after this life… that I’ll finally not be at war with myself, the world, the universe—my mind, body, everywhere, everything at PEACE in me—my soul (existence).
Life is war. Dylan expressed his teenage inability to cope with life’s challenges. Here he offered a hint of what he really means with the word existence: “[…] me, my soul (existence),” namely his own being, how he exists in the world among his peers. Of course, in this context the word soul is as obscure as Dylan’s use of the word existence.
April 15th, 1997
Dylan further explores the topic of existence and attempts to define how his life relates to it.
The Transceiver of Everything
Existence…. what a strange word. He, set out by determination & curiosity, knows no existence, knows nothing relevant to himself. The petty declarations of others & everything on this world, in this world, he knows the answers to. Yet they have no purpose to him. He seeks knowledge of the unthinkable, of the undefineable, of the unknown. He explores the everything… using his mind, the most powerful tool known to him. Not a physical barrier blocking the limits of exploration, time thru thought thru dimensions… the everything is his realm. Yet, the more he thinks, hoping to find answers to his questions, the more come up. Amazingly, the petty things mean much to him at this time, how he wants to be normal, not this transceiver of the everything. Then occurring to him, the answer. How everything is connected yet separate. By experiencing the petty others’ actions, reactions, emotions, doings, and thoughts, he gets a mental picture of what, in his mind, is a cycle.
Existence is indeed a strange word. The word existence comes from the Latin existere or exsistere (ex sistere), which means “stand forth, come out, emerge; appear, be visible, come to light; arise, be produced; turn into.”
Compare Dylan’s statement “He explores […] through dimensions…” with Heraclitus: “Wisdom is the oneness of mind that guides and permeates all things.” Assuming Dylan was writing about himself, this quest to seek “knowledge of the unthinkable” is in other words his desire to understand abstract reality. As the language of mathematics shows, some thoughts or ideas cannot be expressed in words, they are in a sense “unthinkable” but nonetheless part of the world around us.
Dylan’s intelligence bothers him. He is consciously aware how of much more intelligent he is compared to his peers. But trying to be normal means to act his part by “experiencing the petty others’ actions, reactions, emotions, doings and thoughts.” He immersed himself in human nature, or his view thereof, an expression of his desire to be free of intellectual anxiety. He wishes to be like most people who do not question the world around them.
The “mental picture of a cycle” that is the result of answers leading to more questions and so forth, has a deeper meaning. Accompanying his text, Dylan frequently drew what he called a ‘thought box’, which resembles a sort of mollusk shell that twists clockwise. One of these drawings includes a note that reads “goes on infinitely” with an arrow pointing inwards. Dylan probably meant that this cycle refers to the infinite loop of questions and answers. For example: Why do we go to school? Because we need an education. Why do we need an education? Because society needs an educated people. Why does society need an educated people? This line of questioning has neither beginning nor end and could be what Dylan’s inquisitive mind continuously produced.
Dylan’s discovered that we can break out of circular logic, such as “teenagers go to school because society needs skilled workers; society has skilled workers because teenagers go to school”. When we do, we open up endless new questions and potential answers. Therefore, we must conclude the unthinkable, namely that the universe is unknowable because we can never answer all questions.
The Hall of Existence
Existence is a great hall, life is one of the rooms, death is passing thru the doors, & the ever-existent compulsion of everything is the curiosity to keep moving down the hall, thru the doors, exploring rooms, down this never-ending hall. Questions make answers, answers conceive questions, and at long last he is content.
People are not primarily driven by hunger, emotion, sleep or sex, but by the curiosity of the mind to explore such things in life.
“Existence is a great hall,” reminds of Valhalla, the hall of fallen heroes in Nordic mythology. “Ever-existent compulsion of everything” means the entropy of the universe, the arrow of time, always moving compulsively.
Concerning “death is passing through the doors”, villain Vigo expressed a similar sentiment in the Hollywood production Ghostbusters II: “Death is but a door. Time is but a window.”17 Perhaps Dylan had watched it too. The idea of death as a door is also expressed in Christian religion, where St. Peter guards the entrance of heaven. And people with near-death experiences often describe that they passed through a tunnel towards a bright light (induced by hallucination). The “never-ending hall”, eternal existence, is also a tunnel.
May 21st, 1997
Dylan further discusses the properties of the physical reality, how his thoughts are the most powerful creator.
Time, Space and Thought
Within the known limits of time… within the conceived boundaries of space…. the average human thinks those are the settings of existence… Yet the ponderer, the outcast, the believer, helps out the human. “Think not of 2 dimensions,” says the ponderer, “but of 3, as your world is conceived of 3 dimensions, so is mine. While you explore the immediate physical boundaries of your body, you see in your 3 dimensions—L, W, & H. Yet I, who is more mentally open to anything, see my 3 dimensions, my realm of thought—Time, Space, & THOUGHT. Thought is the most powerful thing that exists—anything conceivable can be produced, anything & everything is possible, even in your physical world.” After this so called ‘lecture’ the common man feels confused, empty, & unaware. Yet those are the best emotions of a ponderer. The real difference is, a true ponderer will explore these emotions & what caused them. Another… a dream.
The universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old, which makes the outer boundaries twice that in light years.18 Yet beyond the physical boundaries of the universe, the thoughts we can think appear limitless. The language of mathematics allows us to write ‘infinity to the power of infinity’. The mind can think thoughts that cannot really exist outside the mind.
Dylan’s prose expresses once more an important aspect of quantum science, as explained earlier, namely that the observing mind induces the result of its own measurement. While this is may only be true when we observe the behavior of electrons and photons, it does mean that an underlying ‘real’ reality does not exist. Reality is an illusion that helps observing minds make logical sense of how one thing leads to another.
But some scientists express a bigger concern. As science digs deeper in the world of atoms and its particles, will there ever be an end to new scientific discovery? Or do scientists themselves induce new layers of reality simply when they ask new questions? For example, we now know that atoms are made of protons and electrons, and they themselves are made of quarks. The problem is that reality may be a sort of onion having infinite layers, in which case science will never be able to answer what the universe is made of and will have to admit defeat.
However, if the science could really be the cause its own measurements, then the human mind that invents such science truly is the creator of its surroundings. Have we built the world we live in by collectively dreaming it up? Do we give birth to a new answer when we pose an original question?
It appears to me that thought is the most powerful thing that exists. The thinking mind can imagine abstract, infinite realities that we cannot communicate with words or images.
Quantum mechanics takes a toll on the senses of even seasoned scientists, because of its implication that real reality does not exist. But others emphasize that we should embrace the ideas of quantum science: “Someone who has learned to accept that nothing exists but observations is far ahead of peers who stumble through physics hoping to find out ‘what things are’.”19
Dylan’s passages once again echo Heraclitus’s thinking. Compare, “Thought is […] physical world,” with Heraclitus: “Of all the words yet spoken, none comes quite as far as wisdom, which is the action of the mind, beyond all things that may be said.”20 Compare, “After this […] what caused them,” with “Many fail to grasp what they have seen, and cannot judge what they have learned, although they tell themselves they know.”21
I think, too much, I understand, I am GOD compared to some of those un-existable brainless zombies. Yet, the actions of them interest me, like a kid with a new toy.
Not cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am—but cogito nimium, intelligo—I think too much, I understand.
Compare the first sentence of this statement with Heraclitus: “Those unmindful when they hear, for all they make of their intelligence, may be regarded as the walking dead.”22 With great intellect comes great arrogance. While it is not healthy to look down on people so much, in such a misanthropic manner, both Heraclitus and Dylan Klebold generally felt incapable to communicate their ideas to their peers, which became the cause of their social reclusion.
When Dylan calls others “brainless zombies”, it is simply a mental revenge on the school bullies that cast him out. In terms of intellect, he felt socially and emotionally as far removed from Average Joe as “God” to “un-existable, brainless zombies.”
Jade Vega wrote in her ‘applied final project’ titled Dylan Klebold and Schizotypal Personality Disorder: “This is one of several instances in Dylan’s journal where he not only demonstrated odd thinking, but odd speech, as well. He used several words which were not real, in addition to using words in inappropriate contexts.”23 But Klebold’s “un-existable, brainless zombies” are simply a reference to the humanoid enemies in the computer game Doom, and they are coincidentally called ‘zombiemen’, Former Humans or Former Sergeants.
The odd adjective “un-existable” refers to people who, in Klebold’s view, are like primitive animals who live in the three dimension of space, but never in the three dimensions of “Time, Space and Thought”. They do not have the overdeveloped mind that burdens Dylan, that makes him question everything about the world around him.
What bothers most about Vega’s interpretations is that by her measure almost every philosopher would have to suffer some personality disorder. The oddest thing about Klebold’s writings is that he manages to expresses highly abstract ideas using the limited vocabulary available to him—limited because of language, not because of Klebold.
1Heraclitus, Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus, trans. Brooks Haxton (New York: Penguin Group, 2001).
2Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2006).
3Stéphanie Kaim, “The Columbine Killers,” (Doc en Stock, 2007).
4Jade M. Vega, “Applied Final Project: Dylan Klebold and Schizotypal Personality Disorder,” (University of Maryland, 2014).
7“Was Dylan fascinated by the number 5 because he thought he lived in the 5th dimension?” Peter Langman, “Dylan Klebold’s Journal,” (2008), 12.
8Henry, “The Mental Universe.”
9Dean Radin et al., “Consciousness and the Double-Slit Interference Pattern: Six Experiments,” Physics Essays 25, no. 2 (2012).
11Heraclitus, Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus, 40.
13Sam Harris, Free Will (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012).
14Dan Dennet, “The Illusion of Consciousness,” (TED, 2013).
15Jeff Hawkins, “How Brain Science Will Change Computing,” (TED, 2003).
16Richard Linklater, “Waking Life,” (2001).
17Ivan Reitman, “Ghostbusters II,” (1989).
18Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes (Basic Books: 1993).
19Henry, “The Mental Universe.”
20Heraclitus, Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus, 13.
23Vega, “Applied Final Project: Dylan Klebold and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.”