tag: Dialectics

The Exegesis: Disinformation & Valis’s self-generating creation

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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June–October 1980

After six and a half years of obsessive notes Dick reflects on the Exegesis thus far. He knows he repeats his arguments “like a stuck LP,” but the important thing is getting everything down in order to preserve the memory of what he went through: Valis is YHWH / Christ and the Holy Spirit as Thomas inhabited him. He has been attempting to document in a rational way a mystical experience that can’t truly be expressed in words. 

The Empire uses disinformation as a tactic against the Christians. Since reality is information you can tell which side is which in the battle by paying attention to who is generating information and who is suppressing it. 

Using concepts from quantum mechanics Dick speculates on Valis’s mode of operation. It only comes into existence after being observed by a participant. Someone has to be aware of Valis in order to perceive it, but Valis doesn’t exist until it is observed. Valis does this through a use of time we don’t understand. After creation it retroactively sends messages back to give a participant the understanding necessary to see Valis and therefore create Valis. This makes it self-generating using “physics about which we know nothing.”

Valis is simple, like a single-cell organism, but it is made up of billions of complex forms (humans). Since Valis is reality this makes our world a coherent unit of purposefully interconnected parts. Through the dialectic (the forces of the Empire acting against it) it is constantly evolving to maintain equilibrium.  

In all this Dick realizes he has come back around to the Yin and Yang of Taoism, but decides it is non-sectarian since it combines Christian, Brahmanist, Platonist and Taoist ideas all at once. 

The Exegesis: A contradiction and paradoxical solution

January 1980

Dick recognizes a contradiction in the idea that the greatest good can only be fulfilled through human suffering. How can that be the greatest good when the suffering is unacceptable? He calls it the dramatic tragedy of the universe. It is a paradox: the purpose of reality is a unified harmony which is achieved by unjustified human suffering which makes the entire thing unjustified. The true goal then is to save the individuals.

He returns to his idea of the never-ending dialectic. The answer is a second entity split from the Godhead that works at odds with the part of the Godhead striving for a unified whole. This Christ-like entity wants to free humans from suffering creating a push-pull dynamic with its other half. The goal of unity is only then theoretical because of the self-contradiction. 

I believe Dick’s conclusion is that this schism sets up an outcome where the unified endgame can only occur through the salvation of the individuals, which means the Godhead is subordinate to us if it wants to reach the ultimate goal of creation.

The Exegesis: The taco stand experience, overthrowing Nixon, communism & oscillating truth

March 1979

Dick traces the beginning of his 3-74 experience to a “taco stand” trip into “Mexico,” which was an eight-hour vision of several weeks in 1974 that he had while in California in 1971. That’s when Thomas entered his world, crossed the next three years and took him over in 3-74. This was a necessary infusion of psychic energy from a time when Dick was stronger to a time in 3-74 when he was weak. 

He recognizes his life in Orange County as the replacement reality, but he tries to imagine what was there before. He wonders if the changes reach all the way to the White House. Perhaps in the other reality Nixon remained in power. The world of Flow My Tears, which also includes the Nixon tyranny, was overthrown. 

Just before falling asleep he has a hypnagogic vision and is aware that he is not supposed to understand 3-74. Whoever healed him is also scrambling his mind, but now he knows he can’t figure it out and never will.

He ties his beliefs to Communism and theoretical Marxism (he calls it an anti-establishment Christianity anti-theist view). The key is millennialism, which is a belief that a paradise will be established on Earth before a final judgment. Thomas is a Marxist revolutionary, and capitalism is the BIP that enslaves us. Real Christians are communists, a secret hidden from the world.

He envisions the being beyond creation as a woman. She is his sister. Does he exist in her mind or does she exist in his? Which of them is alive? This dialectic is the yin and yang of Tao which he explored in Ubik.  

Our world is the world Mr. Tagomi experiences when he reads a page from a book in The Man in the High Castle. It’s a loop where the smallest thing (a single page inside a work of fiction) becomes the macro. The whole is contained in the part.

He realizes he is dead and doesn’t know it just like the characters in Ubik. Or maybe he’s alive and they are dead. He calls this a breakthrough into pluriform model theory. Truth oscillates, negating itself and then negating itself again, back and forth in a loop. He claims these riddles, where he ponders whether he is alive or dead, show how happy and fulfilled he is.

The Exegesis: Scramble patterns, infinite universes & tragedy

Early 1979

Dick is the next step in evolution, but he still feels his true identity is being hidden from him either through amnesia or through a “scramble pattern” of millions of conflicting ideas at once. This serves to confuse him. He can’t find the signal in the noise, but that is by design to keep the truth from spreading. 

Again he says he thinks he solved it. Valis is a computer and we might be in a computer program. He suggests there are infinite universes which contain subjective time within the universe that can’t be viewed from outside the universe. These are created by the flip-flopping of the dialectic. We are aware of them but have no memory of them in the next moment of completely different time. The memories we do have are fake memories generated by our current “frame.” If our consciousness opened up we would be aware of the infinite lives we had existed in and know everything. 

He has a vision of his twin sister who died shortly after she was born and sees her dead in a coffin. She is the one who generated the “perturbation in the reality field,” and he compares her to Ella Runciter in Ubik.

Suffering is inseparable from heroism or from any defiant act like creating art. In a bizarre passage he wonders if lowly creatures like rats and cockroaches are our equals and are also capable of this heroism and beauty. 

After reading Samuel Coleridge’s essay on Shakespeare he tries to makes sense of tragedy, which is usually portrayed as limited human understanding clashing with fate. Dick says disproportionate suffering is the essence of tragedy. The basis of all religion is the promise of a proportionate response, although it just comes down to an intuitive guess of what will happen. We expect something that will balance out the evil we observe. In the end fate is proved correct, except fate is not some blind force but rather a higher intelligent will. This would mean that something (Valis?) is mimicking fate. 

The Exegesis: A triumph over amnesia and the Bardo Thödol

Early 1979

Dick tries to explain his concept of memory. We all have the potential to have a 3-74 experience, but the new memories come too fast, wiping out what we learned, overwritten by the irrationality of Zebra… every nanosecond a new reality cancels out the previous one.

Zebra is toying with us. The dialectic flip-flops. Whatever is true in one second becomes the opposite in the next. We have the ability to influence future events, but we don’t remember this because we don’t have any memory of the previous “frame.”

He believes we are trapped in the bardo as described in the Bardo Thödol / The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is what Dick depicted as the half-dead state in Ubik. He says that if we remain in this entropic state the irrationality could potentially infect Valis which could “snuff out the cosmos.” Valis is the only thing that can break us out of this deterministic path where the future flows from the past and change it into one where we control the future of our own volition.

Just as in the half-life in Ubik, those trapped in the bardo believe they are still alive, and what they believe is reality is just a projection of their past. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is secretly showing not what happens after death but our present condition. He sees this as a game of sorts that we must outsmart (as he did) in order to break free. 

He again tries to explain how our future is constantly flip-flopping between binary pairs and it is happening so fast we can’t form memories of the past. He speculates it is possible that supercharged energy in the form of an idea could jump many years into the future and suggests that’s what happened with Ubik: his idea of Ubik in 1968 leapt into 1974 and overpowered his reality as Valis.

The Exegesis: Zebra mimicking Ubik

Early 1979

Dick wonders if some of his books (Ubik, Scanner, etc.) “went out from him” and then came back in signal form implying contact with the future.

The BIP (which Dick is now calling the Empire) is a uniformity or stagnation that puts an end to the dialectic. Dick thinks the entity which contacted him responded as Ubik because it doesn’t speak our human language. Instead it returned the signal Dick put out modified as a confirmation he could recognize. He still doesn’t know what it is even though he’s been in a dialog with it for almost five years. He’s not sure if it is Ubik or just appears like Ubik in order to communicate with him. This new realization is disturbing to him since it could mean Ubik itself is just a simulation that is taking a form he can understand. It could be the Holy Spirit, which would mean it is not trying to deceive him but is taking a form he recognizes from a point of grace and love.

This section is fascinating to me because Dick admits all along he may have been trying to make sense of what happened to him by using the sci-fi frameworks he made up. If Zebra is the deity it took the form he expected the deity to take. He doesn’t think any of this though undermines the fact that what he experienced was the deity.

He ties this back to the idea of the self-perpetuating dialectic. Dick put forth Ubik and Zebra responded as Ubik. He believes it assimilated his books, which would make sense since it is living information and his writing is information.

Valis is the real world and Ubik is how it breaks into our irrational simulated world, but then what is this real world and where is it?