tag: Zebra

The Exegesis: A triumph over amnesia and the Bardo Thödol

The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
Buy it on Amazon

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?

The Exegesis: Exploded time, a key in Parsifal, & acosmism and gnosticism combined

December 1979

Dick is having a hard time wrapping his head around what it means if he is Zebra. Does he exist in two places at once, as himself in 1974 and as Thomas in 45 A.D.? Did he cause the “perturbation in the reality field” that he saw? He envisions a parabolic orbit where we acquire a separate identity and then return in a loop back to the whole.

When Buddha achieved his enlightenment he converted time into space. Dick imagines time as a series of superimposed “laminations” added to, rather than replacing, the ones that come before. Ubik correctly represented this spatially. Ubik showed the beginning of enlightenment and VALIS is its logical successor. 

Dick says the line “here, my son, time turns into space” from Wagner’s opera Parsifal is the key to everything that helped him unite Buddha’s enlightenment, Paracelsus, Plato, Ubik and his 3-74 experience. Without that line in the opera he couldn’t have written VALIS. I always assumed the Valis and Ubik entities were one and the same but Dick here says he is only just realizing that.

Dick makes a connection between acosmism (the result when Zebra frees the body physically?) and gnosis (the freeing of the mind).

“I can come to no other conclusion. Reality is a field onto which our senses have falsely locked and which now coerces us and must be demonstrably broken from outside in a way in which we can witness (‘a perturbation in the reality field, a vortex’).”

Dick stands by his assertion that Valis did not create the universe but is a product of it or its antagonist. It is reordering the chaos of the universe. It doesn’t just use language but is language, which fits into his idea of Valis as living information.

He summarizes what he believes up to this point: just like in the cold-pac in Ubik we are surrounded by a hologram reality. Valis/Ubik breaks through into this maze (which they built?) in order to test us.

The Exegesis: The insanity of the maze, a maze paradox & the path of the living information

October–November 1978

Dick connects his books to his present model of reality. Zebra is like the computer that constructs reality in A Maze of Death and also the thing that intrudes into our fake world as in Ubik. Like in A Scanner Darkly it is actively trying to hide its true nature, and this fact of occlusion is then further occluded from us. He says the “quasi-mind” of the maze appears insane and compares it to Yaldabaoth (one of the creator gods according to the Gnostics) who does indeed sound crazy. Because of this irrationality it is impossible to make sense of it. The maze is disorder and confusion which we can only navigate through the help of Zebra. Dick still thinks this is something we created for ourselves as a puzzle.

He has been working on the exegesis for 4 and a half years and says he is now being “signalled to die.” He is afraid the exegesis is unpublishable and that everything he has learned will die with him, another way that the maze will win. He recognizes a paradox though that if the maze wins we win, since we created the maze. 

He returns to the idea of Zebra as a living information virus embedded in his book Flow My Tears and imagines it proliferating as people read it. He wonders if it had been dormant since the time of Acts before traveling from the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls to the Dead Sea Scroll scholar John Allegro to Jim Pike to him.

The Exegesis: Metaphors, Dibba Cakkhu, an orthodox conclusion & an intellectual maze

October–November 1978

Dick compares us to fruit or crops which are growing and ripening until the moment we are mature and are able to see the true reality. This only happens to a select few, something the Biblical parables tried to express through the same metaphors. Are we being tested on our ability to see beyond the fake reality? Did Dick pass this test through his writing?

Through enough skepticism and belief, Dibba Cakkhu, one of the six higher psychic powers of Buddhism, can be achieved. I suspect Buddhists might say it takes more work than that, but this is the opening of the divine eye, what Dick calls the 3rd eye. Dick summarizes much of what he has said before about the living information which “impregnates” us and brings us to life. Whatever it is that is in control of the world, technology or not, has to be called God. That makes Dick a prophet like Elijah.

Dick explains the concept of original sin except he uses the word “occlusion” instead of sin and Zebra instead of Christ. He admits though that this belief system is orthodoxy and seems disappointed in his conclusion.

His attempts to figure a way out of this situation is depicted in his books as an intellectual maze. Is Zebra outside of the maze trying to help us, did we create Zebra to guide us, or is Zebra the living maze itself? Dick thinks he may have escaped due to his intellect, and he returns to the idea (illustrated in A Maze of Death) that we constructed our reality and left ourselves clues in order to avoid being trapped there.

He names five of his seemingly random earlier stories (see related) and says they show the idea of Zebra existing apart from a phony world, although it sounds like retconning to me.

The Exegesis: A camouflaged Zebra in the world

October 1978

Dick examines an epistemological argument about whether there is an actual external universe or just a universe in our mind that would be indistinguishable from an external one. He relates this to Brahman who is making us think we experience the world. What we perceive as evil is actually just the interests of the macrobrain which don’t necessarily align with our own. It has to be this way though otherwise existence would cease.

He wonders if the world and Zebra are two modes of the same thing: Zebra is awake and the world is asleep. Zebra has been in the world all along, playing dead, camouflaged until it wakes up. 

Dick embraces his love of Christ and his anticipation of the return of the rightful king. 

He reiterates that no time has passed since the time of Thomas. Someone has just made it appear that way. He thinks perhaps there is an objective reality. When it appears to change our brains perceive this as the passing of time, but he can’t figure out who is responsible for tricking our brains this way.