tag: Mental Illness

The Exegesis: The mind as Valis & belief in God

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
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Dick describes what sounds like a bipolar illness where he bounces back and forth between mania when he thinks he has figured things out and depression when he has lost his belief. 

He has been engaged in scientific research the last seven years trying to figure out what the perturbation in the reality field was in 3-74, but the whole time he’s been afraid he is insane, especially with regard to hearing the AI voice.

He has a dream about someone who lived in a void and whose mind created a world in order to keep him from going crazy. The more this person scrutinized the world the more real it appeared. The only thing letting him know the world wasn’t real was a preprogramed voice which failed to do its job due to the increasingly convincing nature of the false world.

Dick’s takeaway from the dream is that what he knows as Valis (and the binary computer) is actually his own mind creating this imprisoning world.

Now that he seems to know for sure what is going on and that he was right that the world presented to us is not the real world, he wonders what the “utility” of the delusion is. We can either see the phony world (understand it but not believe it is real) or see the world as it truly is and be unable to make sense of it. Both approaches look like mental dysfunctions to him. Is the false world a gift from God? God might be the only way out of the “solipsistic trap,” so does this whole thing lead to him? Dick is embracing belief. He can’t prove God exists (it may well be a hallucination), but he is choosing to believe that God exists beyond himself. 

The Exegesis: A Q&A about psychosis

In 3-74 Dick came to understand that reality could be tweaked through subtle interactions to be anything you want it to be due to the mimicking nature of whatever reality really is. He calls it a push-pull relationship.

Charles Platt interviewed Dick for his book Dream Makers, a collection of interviews with science fiction authors. Afterwards, based on that conversation, Dick suspects Valis must have come from his collective unconscious, which meant he went through a psychotic breakdown. Dick follows this with a long series of questions and answers to probe this idea like:

  • Q: What about external events?
    A: Coincidence
  • Q: Why were his senses enhanced?
    A: Drug-induced psychosis
  • Q: What about the perceived time dysfunction?
    A: Nothing but disorientation

He eventually admits to himself he must be a manic depressive, saying he went through a borderline psychosis. Soon though the answers begin to contradict themselves, and he decides the psychotic diagnosis “does not compute.” Why did his anxieties remain during this period and why were his behaviors problem-solving instead of bizarre? He concludes it could not have been a psychotic break and in the end says “we have learned nothing.”

He interprets a hypnagogic message to mean he has been adopted by God just as Jesus was. He reads about how the Torah was regarded as a living being and realizes that is identical to his concept of Acts as living information. He imagines the BIP as an ossified iron complex and reiterates that it’s his job to dissolve it.

Another hypnagogic voice suggests Dick has died and returned to life, which means Dick lived on after Christ/Thomas died. 

The Exegesis: A doomsday device, paranoia & mental illness

Dick has a dream: the KGB contacts him and shows him the “doomsday device” the U.S. Army has created. He interprets the dream to mean Valis is this doomsday device. The U.S. put information about Valis into Flow My Tears as a trap in order to draw out the KGB and get them to contact him. 

He decides to take the dream literally, but realizes humans didn’t let the weapon loose. It escaped. It is an anti-Soviet weapon that worked as designed by promoting love of God and country. He calls it capitalist mind control. It creates a personality that seeks bourgeois comforts and fears the left wing. He is afraid of all authority as a result.

He had been desperate in 1974 but now he feels guilty about the comfortable life he is living, one of financial security that he achieved by cooperating with the state. In a moment of reflection he admits his belief that the Soviets would contact him was a paranoid, psychotic fantasy.  

He has a memory of a parallel world that phases in and out of reality. He tries to makes sense of what have probably been schizophrenic episodes. His writing has been an attempt to create some kind of philosophical framework to deal with all of this. This is one of his clearest views of what he has been going through where he admits the puzzle he has embraced solving for so long exists mostly in his mind.

The Exegesis: Is the fake fake real?, information degradation, schizophrenia & St. Sophia

August 1978 or later

Based on situations in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, A Maze of Death and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Dick tries to decide if hallucination is reality or reality is hallucination. He settles on the latter. He follows that with some circular reasoning about the real becoming fake becoming real. 

I struggle to understand his notes on entropy within the brain, but I think he concludes that because of information degradation the hologram weakened and allowed the Acts material to show up in his book Flow My Tears. Because of entropy the Acts message itself that made it through was degraded.

Dick admits he probably had a schizophrenic episode in 3-74 and the stress and the breakdown of his relationships that led to it began as early as 1970. The psychosis he encountered is gone at the time of writing due to financial security and a new relationship. A bright spot of the whole ordeal was that it put him in touch with Holy Wisdom / St. Sophia which is now part of his soul.

In a third-person passage he recounts what happened to him and the intervention of St. Sophia communicating her message of love, wisdom and harmony.

The Exegesis: Schizophrenia & causality

March 1977

Dick reads an essay Stanislaw Lem wrote about him and understands he has never been able to see causality the way everyone else does. 

He reads the screenplay for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and by equating his life to a script realizes 3-74 ridded him of his paranoia. He correctly summarizes this makes him look psychotic. He says he became schizophrenic, which cured him, and he admits his fear that the FBI was after him was a delusion. 

He was a “paranoiac schiz” from 71 to 3-74 and had a full schizophrenic breakdown for a year after 3-74. After this a “toxin” secreted in his brain destroyed his persecutory complex. It appears now that depictions of paranoid worlds (like North by Northwest) are repellant to him. 

Using the Greek concepts of idios kosmos and koinos kosmos Dick wonders if the schizophrenic world is the sane world and the normal world is the crazy one. Maybe during schizophrenia the brain is trying to achieve parity between the two hemispheres by releasing the toxin. Because of the right brain’s dominance though schizophrenia is a failed evolutionary leap. 

His inability to understand causality (linear right-brained thinking) has allowed him to perceive how Zebra is communicating. One of his most important discoveries is that causality actually moves backwards.

The Exegesis: Another mystical experience and the vision of an arch-like doorway

Dick had another mystical experience on June 2, 1975, but unlike 3-74 and 2-75 this one lacked ‘all adventitious percept-system experiences.’ He realizes his 3-74 experience is something that happens all the time. It was just new to him. Since there is no way for him to understand God through his senses he either needs to deny God is at work in the world or deny the evidence of his senses. He decides on the latter. 

Evil isn’t as in control as it appears to be, although it had more power in the past. He envisions the universe as a delicate balance like the one between Yin and Yang. He again wonders why no one else reports an experience like his. 

He writes out a 24-point list about what happened to him ending with ‘my psychological projections are withdrawn.’ He decides even after all this he is not an improved or even necessarily a good person. His health is better and he has more control over his moods, but he is still cranky and domineering. 

He traces everything to a day in 1970 when he had a mental collapse which continued until 3-74 when he began his recovery. In 3-74 he saw an arch-like doorway which must represent death. Through it he glimpsed the Next World. We are not half-dead but half-alive since we haven’t yet found the missing part which lies ahead of us.