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"Nietzsche said that mystics never practiced the kind of ruthless honestly, or skepticism, which he dared," wrote Robert Anton Wilson. "He would have to withdraw that condemnation in the case of Phil Dick." I must agree. No single human has wrestled with the Mystical more honestly, efficiently, and usefully, as sci-fi author Philip K. Dick.

You know the long list of reality-bending movies made from PKD's works; Blade Runner, Total Recall, and The Adjustment Bureau are my personal favorites. Later, the Matrix films would use his themes to great effect, as would the television series Lost, wherein Benjamin Linus owns a copy of PKD's masterpiece VALIS. When John Locke imprisons Ben in his own house on the Island, he gives him VALIS to reread, because "you may have missed something." Indeed, it is easy to do so, because the novel contains more possibilities than actualities, much like the mystical experiences that led PKD to write it.

It was all triggered by a tooth ache, as the wiki entry on PKD explains:

On February 20, 1974, Dick was recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. Answering the door to receive delivery of extra analgesic, he noticed that the delivery woman was wearing a pendant with a symbol that he called the "vesicle pisces." This name seems to have been based on his conflation of two related symbols, the ichthys (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) that early Christians used as a secret symbol, and the vesica piscis. After the delivery woman's departure, Dick began experiencing strange visions which he referred to as "2-3-74", shorthand for February–March 1974. He described the initial visions as laser beams and geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and of ancient Rome. As the visions increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live a double life, one as himself, "Philip K. Dick", and one as "Thomas", a Christian persecuted by Romans in the 1st century A.D. He referred to the "transcendentally rational mind" as "Zebra", "God" and "VALIS."

Robert Anton Wilson illuminates things further in the third volume of his Cosmic Trigger series:

After the tooth extraction, Phil began to have unique perceptions. All the usual masks collapsed, and he saw hundreds, thousands of alternate reality tunnels. “The entire universe blew up in his face,” as he wrote in a novel. At the beginning, when Phil fell into the whirlpool he called “orthogonal time”- defined as “real” time, at right angles to our spurious linear time- he experienced events in ancient Rome and modern America almost simultaneously, and he had great difficulty in remembering whether the tyrant who misruled that segment of Hell had the name Nero or Nixon…and Phil thought he had begun to remember a past life as the apostle Thomas, a Gnostic mystic.

As the experience broadened and deepened, Phil found the Thomas theory inadequate to explain the multi-dimensional new world order he now perceived. He considered the possibility that Soviet parapsychologists had attained “mental telepathy” with extraterrestrials, and he, somehow, had gotten into the interstellar infobahn by accident. Later, Phil began to perceive and/or conceive the experiences in terms of three-eyed aliens from Sirius trying to help humanity escape the Empire and the Empire’s Black Iron Prison.

“The Empire never ended”- an urgently meaningful message to Phil- sums up this aspect of the Experience. On one literalistic level, it means that the Roman Empire never fell; it still governs the world, but it has inserted nearly 2000 years of “false memories” into our brains to keep us from remembering that we live in the Messianic Age when all miracles have become daily possibilities. The Black Iron Prison became Phil’s metaphor, or masque, for the 2000 years of delusion we have suffered in linear time, while our orthogonal selves still live in “real time”- Eternity.

Later, Phil attributed his experiences alternately to “Zebra” and “VALIS”. Zebra denotes an intelligence so huge that, insect fashion, remains invisible, because we normally see it as the environment- the whole entire environment.

We see here in this plot level construction PKD trying to deal with all the angles of his download and coming up with partial answers only, no "truth" other than the fact that it happened. In the book VALIS we find many of his experiences transferred entirely to the character of Horselover Fat, PKD's alter ego:

In March 1974 at the time he had encountered God (more properly Zebra), he had experienced vivid dreams about the three-eyed people -he had told me that. They manifested themselves as cyborg entities: wrapped up in glass bubbles staggering under masses of technological gear. An odd aspect cropped up that puzzled both Fat and me; sometimes in these vision-like dreams, Soviet technicians could be seen, hurrying to repair malfunctions of the sophisticated technological communications apparatus enclosing the three-eyed people.

Who can say? First eight hours of graphic information is fired at you from sources unknown, taking the form of lurid phosphene activity in eighty colors arranged like modern abstract paintings; then you dream about three-eyed people in glass bubbles and electronic gear; then your apartment fills up with St. Elmo's Fire plasmatic energy which appears to be alive and to think; your animals die; you are overcome by a different personality who thinks in Greek; you dream about Russians; and finally you get a couple of Soviet letters within a three-day period, which you were told were coming. But the total impression isn't bad because some of the information saves your son's life.

And that is the real kicker- PKD did in fact receive information about a rare undetected illness that his son had, which VALIS warned him of in time to save the boy's life. There is also the business of the "Thomas" persona feeding him Greek words he did not know, and yes, dreams of Russians followed by mysterious letters from the Soviet Union arriving just as prophesized. "Who can say?" indeed. What happened breaks the rules of so many reality models, none of them offering satisfactory explanations, it makes one want to give up and yet- VALIS helped the boy, so it could not "just" be PKD's colorful madness. Was it info beamed in from above? Yes. But from where, exactly?  For poor Phil, there would be no easy answers, only very hard theories.

His first attempt to deal with this rotating mandala of high weirdness came in the form of a novel called Radio Free Albemuth, wherein it is all dealt with in a rather elegant sci-fi way. Here are the key passages where he breaks it all down:

I had become plugged into an intergalactic communications network, operating on a telepathic basis. There I sat, and there overhead twinkled and glowed the star Albemuth, and from its network came an infinitude of messages, in assorted unknown tongues. What had happened was that the AI operator of Albemuth’s station, an artificial intelligence unit, had raised me at some prior time and was holding the contact open. Therefore information reached me from the communications network whether I liked it or not. It was the voice of the AI unit which I saw in dreams as the “Roman sibyl.” In point of fact it was not the Roman sibyl, not at all, and not really a woman; it was a totally synthetic entity…Beyond the AI voice lay Valis himself, the ultimate constituent link to the universe-wide communications network, which to the ancients would be the same as God. These realizations came to me not as speculation or even as logical deduction, but as insights presented to me by the sympathetic AI operator at work at my station. She was making me aware of that which man has ceased to understand: his role and place in the system of things. I saw on the inner screen of my mind an inferior agency creeping into our world, combating the wisdom of God; I saw it take over this planet with its own dreary plans and will, supplanting the benign will of God…or Valis, as I still preferred to call him. Over the ages God had played a great game for the relief of this planet, but lifting the siege had still not been accomplished. Earth was still an unlit button on the exchange board of the intergalactic communications network.

The book is very good, filled with wonderous tidbits of speculation, but ultimately becomes mired in the obsession with the Black Iron Prison: 

Rather than me being back in the ancient world, Rome had revealed itself as the underlying reality of our present-day world. My memory had become elongated, stretching out over a span of two thousand years, but what it encountered was a dreadful sameness: Rome lay spread out everywhere across the ages. What a giant entity it was, to extend that far in time. There lay no relief from it either in the past or the present, although in a sense I experienced no past, just a continual present of vast immensity.

Everything in Radio Free Albemuth is written in extreme charicature; America is morphed into a fascist dictatorship ruled by an alternate reality Nixon named Ferris F Fremont, who turns out to be an agent of the KGB and so on...the government shoots down the VALIS satellite and kills all the revolutionaries who have been used by the Albemuth aliens to try and overthrow the Empire on Earth. Bummer. You can see why PKD's publisher canned the book and did not release it until long after his death in 1982.

In VALIS, which was written right after Radio Free Albemuth, PKD changes the plot level architecture, focusing more on the theory that secret Christians have been implanted with "plasmate" souls from Sirius and are now returning to Earth after the rediscovery of the Gnostic Gospels among the Nag Hammadi codices. This story takes place more or less in our "real" world of the mid-1970s, and the fall of Nixon is attributed without any real explanation to the reemergence of the Sirian intelligence:

For two thousand years the single rational element in our world had slumbered. In 1945 it woke up, came out of its dormant seed state and began to grow. It grew within himself, and presumably within other humans, and it grew outside, in the macro-world. He could not estimate its vastness, as I have said. When something begins to devour the world, a serious matter is taking place. If the devouring entity is evil or insane, the situation is not merely serious; it is grim. But Fat viewed the process the other way around. He viewed it exactly as Plato had viewed it in his own cosmology: the rational mind (noo's) persuades the irrational (chance, blind determinism, ananke), into cosmos.

This process had been interrupted by the Empire.

"The Empire never ended." Until now; until August 1974 when the Empire suffered a crippling, perhaps terminal, blow, at the hands- so to speak-of the immortal plasmate, now restored to active form and using humans as its physical agents.

Horselover Fat was one of those agents. He was, so to speak, the hands of the plasmate, reaching out to injure the Empire.

Out of this, Fat deduced that he had a mission, that the plasmate's invasion of him represented its intention to employ him for its benign purposes.

What I like so much about the plasmate theory is that it turns the VALIS plot level narrative away from the hardline Conspiracy concerns and towards a new theory of time itself. He repeatedly quotes the mysterious line from Wagner's Parsifal opera, "You see, my son, here time changes into space", and comes up with some stunning revelations about our true four dimensional nature:

First you change time into space and then you walk through it, but as Parsifal realized, he was not moving at all; he stood still and the landscape changed; it underwent a metamorphosis.  For a while he must have experienced a double exposure, a superimposition, as Fat did. This is the dream-time, which exists now, not in the past, the place where the heroes and gods dwell and their deeds take place.

The single most striking realization that Fat had come to was his concept of the universe as irrational and governed by an irrational mind, the creator deity. If the universe were taken to be rational, not irrational, then something breaking into it might seem irrational, since it would not belong. But Fat, having reversed everything, saw the rational breaking into the irrational. The immortal plasmate had invaded our world and the plasmate was totally rational, whereas our world is not. This structure forms the basis of Fat's world-view. It is the bottom line.

Someone is  playing a board game with time, someone we can't see. It is not God. That is an archaic name given to this entity by societies in the past, and by people now who're locked into anachronistic thinking. We need a new term, but what we are dealing with is not new.

Horselover Fat is able to travel through time, travel back thousands of years. The three-eyed people probably live in the far future; they are our descendents, highly-evolved. And it is probably their technology which permitted Fat to do his time traveling. In point of fact, Fat's master personality may not lie in the past but ahead of us, but it expressed itself outside of him in the form of Zebra. I am saying that the St. Elmo's Fire which Fat recognized as alive and sentient probably abreacted back to this time-period and is one of our own children.

On some level Fat guessed the truth; he had encountered his past selves and his future selves -- two future selves; an early-on one, the three-eyed people, and then Zebra, who is discorporate.

Time somehow got abolished for him, and the recapitulation of selves along the linear time-axis caused the multitude of selves to laminate together into a common entity. Out of the lamination of selves, Zebra, which is supra or trans-temporal, came into existence: pure energy, pure living information. Immortal, benign, intelligent and helpful. The essence of the rational human being. In the center of an irrational universe governed by an irrational Mind stands rational man, Horselover Fat being just one example. The in-breaking deity that Fat encountered in 1974 was himself.

And so, having personally experienced so much of what PKD did, I find comfort in his lack of any one "answer" other than the revelation of a state of being that is fully four dimensional and thus "more true" than our usual biological view of meat puppets inside the spurious temporal Matrix of the Black Iron Prison. From my rereadings of VALIS and his Orthogonal Time model, I came to formulate my own personal proverb of revelation:

"We are not 3D subjects trapped in linear time; we are 4D objects composed of hypertime."

I close now with Robert Anton Wilson's final words on his own personal version of the VALIS experience...

As for me, after working with the ideas that my experiences resulted from telepathic assistance by real adepts on Earth, or similar adepts on Sirius, or from my own Poetic Imagination (as Blake called this faculty) I now tell people that I currently attribute it all to the pookah, a six foot white rabbit with supernatural powers well-known in County Kerry. I like that model because I don’t think anybody exists damnfool enough to take it literally

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Comment by Seagypsy on November 15, 2011 at 2:14pm

a mad genius at that, Sky.


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