AI and Nietzsche – ChatGPT Making Things Up

Friedrich Nietzsche

Today there was a long segment in the CBS Series “60 Minutes” that discussed artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on society. Most of the examples were from Google’s Bard. One of the sections talked about hallucinations, and how the AIs are making things up.

This reminded me of a recent experience with ChatGPT you might find amusing. I was looking for a segment of Nietzsche where he discussed how Christianity is poisonous to human life and humanity. Rather than searching a number of books, I asked ChatGPT. Here is my exchange:


Which Nietzsche passage talks about Christianity being poison to human life


The passage you are referring to is from Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Antichrist” (Der Antichrist), specifically in section 39. Here is the relevant passage:

“The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit; it is at the same time obedience and self-annihilation. When you encounter suffering in your life, it is not in order to make you better, but solely in order to degrade you and humiliate you… Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant. A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousandfold. Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy—a loss out of all proportion to the magnitude of the cause. The case of the death of the Nazarene is a mere trifle by comparison with the sort of things that are continually enacted on a grander scale, under the auspices of holy pity, throughout the length and breadth of Christendom.”

In this passage, Nietzsche criticizes Christianity for its emphasis on sacrifice, self-annihilation, and pity. He argues that Christianity degrades and humiliates individuals by suppressing their freedom, pride, and self-confidence. Nietzsche believes that Christianity’s focus on pity as a virtue is detrimental to human life, as it weakens individuals and drains them of their strength and energy. He further suggests that Christianity’s influence has led to significant acts of suffering and sacrifice throughout history.

Alright so far. This came back in a second after my question. I didn’t have to search. The passage is in The Antichrist, and particularly in section 39. I read the passage and most of it made sense. I had what I wanted.

But the English translation just seemed kind of flat to me. Nietzsche, among many other things, is one of the most important contributors to the modern German language and his style is unique. For that reason I asked ChatGPT to not just give me a flat and vapid translation, but rather the original text.

Here is what I asked:


Do you have the German original text to this: [and here I repeated it’s sample quote from above].


Certainly! Here is the German original text of the passage you requested:

“Das Christentum von Anfang an, Opfer: Opfer aller Freiheit, aller Hochmuth, alles Selbstvertrauens des Geistes, zugleich Unterordnung und Selbstvernichtung. Leid, begegnest du ihm, in deinem Leben: nicht um dich zu vervollkommnen, sondern bloss um dich zu erniedrigen und zu erniedrigen… Das Christentum heisst die Religion des Mitleids. Das Mitleid steht in Gegensatz zu allen stärkenden Leidenschaften, welche die Energie des Lebensgefühls vermehren: es ist ein Niederdrückendes. Der Mensch verliert Kraft, wenn er mit-leidet. Durch das Mitleid wird jene Abzehrung an Kraft, welche das Leiden bewirkt, tausendfach vermehrt. Das Leiden wird durch das Mitleid ansteckend; unter bestimmten Umständen kann es zur völligen Preisgebung des Lebens und der Lebenskraft, zu einem Verlust von über alle Verhältnisse gehender Grösse führen. Der Fall des Todes des Nazaräners ist hierbei ein Fall von geringster Art gegen die Dinge, die in der ganzen Länge und Breite des Christenthums unter dem Patronate des heiligen Mitleids fortwährend in grossem Stile aufgeführt werden.”

Please note that the translation provided in my previous response was not a direct word-for-word translation but captured the essence of Nietzsche’s ideas.

Now I got suspicious. This looked very wrong. The German is not elegant, not Nietzsche-like at all. It is what I could call broken German at best. I then went to my Kindle system and bought the original German edition of Der Antichrist and looked for section 39. I quickly found that section 39 has nothing to do with this subject. Only a number of text searches finally got me close. Searching for the keyword “Nazarener” finally brought me to section 7, where I found the segment below which loosely matches the blue section above. “Nazarener” only appears once in the entire book.

From Kindle:

Man nennt das Christenthum die Religion des Mitleidens. – Das Mitleiden steht im Gegensatz zu den tonischen Affekten, welche die Energie des Lebensgefühls erhöhn: es wirkt depressiv. Man verliert Kraft, wenn man mitleidet. Durch das Mitleiden vermehrt und vervielfältigt sich die Einbusse an Kraft noch, die an sich schon das Leiden dem Leben bringt. Das Leiden selbst wird durch das Mitleiden ansteckend; unter Umständen kann mit ihm eine Gesammt-Einbusse an Leben und Lebens-Energie erreicht werden, die in einem absurden Verhältniss zum Quantum der Ursache steht (– der Fall vom Tode des Nazareners)

— Der Antichrist (German Edition) (p. 7). Kindle Edition.

Where it found the first five lines of its text I have no idea. I could not find it and didn’t have the patience to look further.

Of course, it did give me a disclaimer:

Please note that the translation provided in my previous response was not a direct word-for-word translation but captured the essence of Nietzsche’s ideas.

From this you can see it went back to its previous response and admitted that it was its own translation – I presume. It didn’t lift if from a professional translation published in an English edition of The Antichrist.

Rather than giving me the original text that I asked for, it gave me a translation back from its first poor English translation, so what I might have accepted for the German original was a translation of a translation. Why it thought it was from section 39 is a mystery. It definitely didn’t tell me the truth when I gave me this translation of a translation rather than the original text I requested.

In summary, ChatGPT just simply “made things up” in response to my question. The only value it provided was giving me the name of the book – but even that I might have guessed.

Christianity? Antichrist? Take a wild guess!

From my experience here I can conclude that if you want something mediocre written quickly, ChatGPT can be very helpful. But if you are doing serious research, or you want to get the truth or reality, beware.

AI, like your crazy brother-in-law at the backyard barbeque, just makes stuff up. Maybe in that regard it is All Too Human – to ironically quote another Nietzsche work.