A Life of Philip K. Dick
The Man Who Remembered the Future
By ANTHONY PEAKE
December 30, 2013
This year saw the 30th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential writers of all time, the iconic Philip K. Dick. Although virtually unknown outside of science fiction circles, during his lifetime Dick’s intriguing philosophy on the nature of reality has become a staple of the modern Hollywood movie. Huge blockbusters such as Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau, Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly and Paycheck were loosely based directly on his novels or short stories, and movies such as The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, The Matrix, The Truman Show and Inception all owe a huge debt to his vision.
One of the most intriguing themes of Dick’s writing was the concept of the “precog,” a person who could “see” the future before it happened. In 1954 Phil introduced the concept of precognition in his novel The World Jones Made. In this novel the eponymous anti-hero Floyd Jones can see exactly one year into the future. From then on “precogs” occur regularly in his novels and short stories, most notably in his 1956 short story The Minority Report, his 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritchand many others.
What was it that made Philip K. Dick interested in precognition? It had not been a particular theme within classical science fiction nor had it been part of the books that the young Philip read during his childhood years and early teens. The answer may lie in one simple fact: Philip K. Dick himself was a “precog.” He was not writing fiction but heavily disguised autobiography. Let us review the evidence.
Like many of his schoolmates, Phil was expected to attend the University of California in his hometown of Berkeley. But in order to do so he needed to reach the entrance grades required. This possibility started to fade rapidly when, during a crucial physics test, Phil couldn’t remember the key principle behind the displacement of water. As eight of the ten questions involved this principle, he was clearly in trouble. And then it happened: a voice clearly and precisely explained to the surprised young man the scientific principles he so desperately needed to understand. All Phil had to do was write down the words in his head. Phil received an ‘A’ grade.
Although this “voice” effectively disappeared for many years, Phil continued to sense there was a part of him that was alien in some way. Throughout the 1950s the voice remained silent and then, under somewhat prosaic circumstances, it re-appeared. In an interview with his friend Greg Rickman, recorded in October 1981, Phil described how he had been watching a TV programme about the Galapagos turtles. The fight for survival of one particular female turtle had really upset him. After laying her eggs she had turned in the wrong direction and instead of going towards the sea she crawled inland. Soon the heat had brought about extreme dehydration. She was dying. As she began to fade her legs were still seen to be moving. The film had been edited to give the impression that the dying turtle was imagining she was back in the ocean. He went to bed with this tragic image in his mind. He woke up in the night to hear a voice. In careful and deliberate terms the entity explained to Phil that the turtle actually believed she was in the water:
I was just terribly amazed and dumbfounded to hear that voice again. It wasn’t my own voice because one of the sentences the voice said was “And she shall see the sea” and I would not use the two words “see” and “sea” in the same sentence. It tends to do that, use word choices I don’t use. One time it used the expression “a very poisonous poison” which I would not use.1
It is clear Phil recognised the voice as being the same entity that had helped him in his physics exam all those years before. It was back. He was to continue hearing this entity for many years, but only as a faint background whisper. In another 1981 interview he stated:
I only hear the voice of the spirit when I am falling asleep or waking up. I have to be very receptive to hear it. It’s extremely faint. It sounds as though it is coming from a million miles away.2
The “Voice” Returns
In February and March 1974 the voice was to reappear and stay with him. It all started quite innocently. Phil had been in considerable pain after having a wisdom tooth pulled out. His wife, Tessa, called the dentist who prescribed painkillers. As Tessa did not want to leave her husband alone in such a state of agitation she asked if somebody could deliver the prescription to their house in Fullerton. Half an hour later the doorbell rang and Phil dashed to the door. On opening it he saw a young woman clutching the much-needed painkillers. Phil stood back stunned. Around the young woman’s neck was a necklace with a fish pendant. Phil recognised this as a symbol of something deep within himself. He asked her what it was and she explained it was a sign used by the early Christians as a code to show their secret beliefs to fellow Christians.
Dick later reported this was the first time he experienced the pink light, the same light so central to the Beatles incident (described below). He said a beam of this light shot out of the pendant and entered his brain. This light opened up a part of his brain that had long been asleep. He described it in this way:
I suddenly experienced what I later learned is called anamnesis – a Greek word meaning, literally, “loss of forgetfulness.” I remembered who I was and where I was. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it all came back to me.3
As we have already mentioned, up until March 1974 what Dick had called “the voice” manifested itself on rare occasions such as the incident during the school exam. But after Phil’s “anamnesis” his hidden partner was to become very active in his life. It decided that Phil had become far too slovenly in his personal appearance. He was made to go out and buy a pair of nasal hair-clippers and it suggested he trim his beard. The entity even had Phil go shopping for new trendy clothes.
It was also concerned about the health of the shared body. It had Phil go through his drugs cabinet and forced him to throw out those medications that were proving problematical to his health. It discovered that wine was too acidic for his sensitive stomach and suggested he change to drinking beer. This being had many skills that Phil sadly lacked, such as business acumen. It realised he had made quite a mess of his tax matters and within weeks the entity sorted this out. It also had Phil sack his agent after it read over his royalty statements and discovered massive irregularities.
All of these were minor interventions compared to its apogee, the saving of Phil’s son’s life. Phil describes how one morning he was lying in a semi-sleep state when he heard the voice announce that his recently born son, Christopher, had a potentially fatal birth defect and that urgent medical attention was needed. Indeed the voice was quite precise when it stated: “Your son has an undiagnosed right inguinal hernia. The hydrocele has burst, and it has descended into the scrotal sac. He requires immediate attention, or will soon die.” Phil told various versions of this story, including one involving him listening to the Beatles and the lyrics of “Strawberry Fields” were changed to give the instruction. Tessa, acting on her husband’s frantic instructions, took Christopher to the family doctor and it was, indeed, confirmed that Christopher had exactly the problem the “voice” had described and surgery was needed.
What was the source of this “voice” and how did it have information unknown to Phil? Phil was to conclude that it was an immortal part of himself, something he called a “plasmate.” He argued this entity had bonded with him and in doing so had taken human form, something Phil termed a “homoplasmate.” He was later to describe how his mind had been invaded by a “transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and had suddenly become sane.” He explained that:
…mental anguish was simply removed from me as if by divine fiat… some transcendental divine power which was not evil, but benign intervened to restore my mind and heal my body and give me a sense of the beauty, the joy, the sanity of the world.
This being, set free from its shackles by Phil’s “anamneses,” was able to use its powers to help Phil precognise the future. Indeed, Phil realised this being had been the source of a series of peculiar precognitive incidents that had taken place throughout his life.
For example, in his 1974 novel Flow My Tears the Policeman Said, Phil has a sequence in which one of his characters, Felix Buckman, is distraught at the death of his twin sister, Alys. He finds himself in an all-night gas station and there he meets up with a black stranger. Buckman and the black man start up a conversation. In the summer of 1978 Phil, uncharacteristically, decided to go out late at night to post a letter. In the darkness he noticed a man loitering by a parked car. Phil posted his letter and on the way back the man was still there. In a second uncharacteristic impulse Phil walked over to the man and asked if anything was the matter. The man replied that he was out of gas and he had no money with him. Much to his surprise Phil found himself digging into his pocket and giving the man some cash. The man asked for Phil’s address and said that he would return later and pay him back. As Phil entered his apartment he realised that the money would be of no use to his new friend. There were no gas stations within walking distance. Phil went back out, found the man, and offered to drive him to the nearest all-night gas station. As he stood watching the man fill up his metal gas can he had an alarming sensation of a déjà vu-like recognition:
Suddenly I realised that this was the scene in my novel – the novel written eight years before. The all-night gas station was exactly as I had envisioned it in my inner eye when I wrote the scene – the glaring white light, the pump jockey – and now I saw something which I had not seen before. The stranger who I was helping was black.4
Phil drove the black man back to his car, they shook hands and Phil never saw him again. He finishes off his description of this event with a slightly chilling comment:
I was terribly shaken up by this experience. I had literally lived out a scene completely as it had appeared in my novel…. What could explain all this?5
In early 1974 Phil started a long-term correspondence with a graduate student called Gloria Bush. As time went on Phil described to Gloria some of his deepest thoughts, including his fascination regarding his own precognitive abilities. In a letter dated 9 May of that year he described to Gloria a particularly strange recurring dream he experienced in November 1971. In the dreams he always saw what looked like a Mexican city with “square arrangements of streets and yellow cabs.” The yellow cabs suggested to Phil a location in the USA rather than Mexico or Latin America. At the time of these dreams he was living in Marin County, north of San Francisco. In 1974 he was living in Fullerton, a southern suburb of Los Angeles. Right next to Fullerton is a place called Placentia which is a strongly Hispanic area. Phil explains to Claudia that he was convinced this was the place he saw in these dreams.6
But Phil’s dreams in 1975 took a turn to the macabre. On 25 February he wrote a letter to Bush that was very different from those he had sent before. In a fascinating postscript to an otherwise standard letter, he mentions “the entity” again. It had clearly been manifesting itself within his life at that time. How regularly and to what intensity we cannot say as we have no other source other than this letter. However, it is clear Phil wanted to bring things to a head. He told Claudia:
I was up to 5 a.m. on this last night. I did something I never did before; I commanded the entity to show itself to me – the entity which has been guiding me internally since March. A sort of dream-like period passed, then, of hypnogogic images of underwater cities, very nice, and then a stark single horrifying scene, inert but not still; a man lay dead, on his face, in a living room between the coffee table and the couch.7
On 9 May 1974 he wrote another typewritten letter to Claudia stating that he felt “scared.” He didn’t elaborate on this comment but at the bottom of the letter is a handwritten note that states the following: “p.s. What scares me most, Claudia, is that I can often recall the future.”
Almost exactly seven years later Phil had failed to answer a series of phone calls to his condominium. A group of neighbours then found his front door open. One witness, Mary Wilson, entered the condo and described how she initially thought nobody was home, but then she spotted Phil’s feet sticking out from behind a coffee table. She immediately asked her mother to phone Phil’s close friend, science-fiction writer Tim Powers. Powers jumped on his motorcycle to see what he could do to help. In his introduction to The Selected Letters of Philip K Dick Volume Four Powers describes what happened next:
As I was putting the key in the ignition of my motorcycle I heard the sirens of the paramedics howl past me down Main Street. When I got to Phil’s place the paramedics and Mary Wilson were already there and the paramedic had lifted him from between the coffee table and the couch and carried him to his bed, and Mary and I answered a few hasty medical questions about him before they got him into a stretcher and carried him downstairs to the ambulance.8
Phil’s February 1975 dream had come true in stunning detail. He had seen the circumstances of his own death.
Who, or what, was the “entity” that seemed to share Phil’s life and know his future? Surprisingly enough Phil believed this being to be a version of himself that existed outside of time; a being that could observe the whole of Phil’s life from a position of timelessness. Phil believed that during his dreams, in his semi-waking states and during certain times of heightened awareness, this timeless part of himself could communicate and use its foreknowledge to assist him.
In October 1977 Phil made a very curious statement during a radio interview at the Berkeley radio station KPFA FM. He described an incident that took place in 1951:
Back at the time I was starting to write science fiction, I was asleep one night and I woke up and there was a figure standing at the edge of the bed, looking down at me. I grunted in amazement and all of a sudden my wife woke up and started screaming because she could see it too. She started screaming, but I recognised it and I started reassuring her, saying that it was me that was there and not to be afraid. Within the last two years – let’s say that was in 1951 – I’ve dreamed almost every night that I was back in that house, and I have a strong feeling that back then in 1951 or ’52 that I saw my future self, who had somehow, in some way we don’t understand – I wouldn’t call it occult – passed backward during one of my dreams now of that house, going back there and seeing myself again. So there really are some strange things…9
If the figure at the end of the bed was a future version of Phil then that version would have foreknowledge of all Phil’s life-experiences between 1951 and 1977. Indeed, if Phil’s interpretation can be taken at face value, we have here evidence that in some way his mind from the mid-1970s was manifesting itself back within its own past.
Vertical Vs. “Orthogonal Time”
But Phil was not simply happy with accepting this may be the case, he wanted to create a model to explain such a belief. Immediately after the strange events of February and March 1974, or simply 2-3-74 as he termed them, Phil started to keep a journal. Initially in hand-written form and later as page after page of typewritten sheets with diagrams and side notes, this became known as his Exegesis. In effect this was Phil’s attempt to understand the source and meaning of the visions and revelations that he continued to receive until his death in March 1983.
We are fortunate that in November 2011 a single volume containing all the main sections of this huge work was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Running to 976 pages this is a fascinating read and in it one can discover Phil’s own understanding of how a part of him could see the future. His solution was a radical re-interpretation of time itself – something Phil called “orthogonal time.”
He proposes there are two variations of time, both of which exist at right angles to each other. We are usually only aware of “Vertical Time,” but there is another which runs at right angles to our space-time. He calls this “Orthogonal Time.” If we could perceive both times simultaneously it would look cubical, hence his term cubic time. He proposed that events are actually located within this cubic time. As such the idea of cause and effect cannot be applied within this model. Causality can run in reverse or act simultaneously with an event in the past or the future. In other words within orthogonal time all past and future states exist at this moment. In the whole of the Exegesis Phil makes one passing reference to a physicist by the name of Herman Minkowski, the teacher of the much more famous Albert Einstein. With reference to his own precognitions, Phil wrote:
This is a disturbing new view but oddly enough it coincides with my dream experiences, my precognition of events moving this way from the future; I feel them inexorably approaching, not generated from the present, but somehow already there but not yet visible. If they are somehow “there” already, and we encounter them successively (the Minkowski block universe; events are all already there but we have to encounter them successively), then this view might be a correct view of time and causality.10
Phil suggested that the basic premise of his short story Adjustment Team – that there exists a way in which the past can be “adjusted” to change the present – may be another of his fictionalised accounts of something that really takes place.11
Phil believed that part of us exists within orthogonal time and this alternate-consciousness can, under certain circumstances, communicate with the every-day self that perceives only linear time. This was the source of “the voice” and VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick’s gnostic vision of one aspect of God). This is how, in dreams, Phil found himself back in his own past observing an earlier version of himself. In this way “the voice” was his own voice speaking from his own future. This entity created his plot-lines using material from his own future. Was this how the meeting with the black man at the gas station ended up in A Scanner Darkly? All information from all parts of our life is readily available to a mind open to receive it. Phil suggested in a letter to his friend Patricia Warrick, written in September 1981, that:
The universe is an information retrieval system; which is to say, everything that has ever happened, ever been, each arrangement and detail – all are stored in the present moment as information; what we lack is the access or entry mechanism to this stored information… where the past of each object – all its prior manifestations along the Form axis – this is all stored in the present object and can be retrieved.12
This is again astounding evidence that Phil seemed to be accessing information from some form of infinite data-field. It is very much in keeping with the work of modern-day researchers such as Ervin Laszlo and Bernard Haisch, both of whom suggest this “library” is, in fact, something known as the Zero-Point Field.13
Is this the answer to the mystery of Phil’s precognitions? It certainly makes sense. The future and the past are simply illusions. Phillip K. Dick and every being that reads this article consist of two independent consciousnesses. One lives in linear time and the other in orthogonal time. And in this way we may all be immortal. After all, the transition between life and death takes place in linear, not orthogonal, time.
In his novel Ubik Phil created a concept known as “Half Life.” This is a timeless place, hovering between life and death. Tibetan Buddhists call this the “Bardo State.” Is this from where Phil’s eternal mind communicated with him? To paraphrase the title of one of his most intriguing books, could it be we all exist in a place where “Time is Out of Joint”?
For more on the above, read Anthony Peake’s book The Man Who Remembered the Future: A Life of Philip K. Dick.
1. Gregg Rickman, Philip K. Dick: The Last Testament, Fragments West, 1985, 23
2. John Boonstra, Horselover Fat and The New Messiah, Hartford Advocate, 22 April 1981, reproduced inPKD Otako #06, 22
3. ‘How to Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later’, published as an introduction to I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, Doubleday, New York, 1985
4. Lawrence Sutin (editor), The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, Vintage, 1995, 268
5. Ibid., 269
6. The Selected Letters of Philip K Dick, 1974, Underwood-Miller, 1991, 101
7. Philip K. Dick, Letter to Claudia Krenz, 25 February 1975
8. The Selected Letters of Philip K Dick, 1975-76, Underwood-Miller, 1992, ix
9. Richard A Lupoff, A Conversation With Philip K Dick, Vol. 1, no. 2, August 1987, 45-54
10. Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K Dick, Hachette Littlehampton, Kindle Edition.
12. The Selected Letters of Philip K Dick, 1980-1982, Vol. 6, Underwood Books, 2009, 262
13. Ervin Laszlo, Science and the Akashic Field: An Integral Theory of Everything, Inner Traditions, 2007
ANTHONY PEAKE is the author of a series of highly acclaimed books, all of which develop a hypothesis that he terms “Cheating the Ferryman.” In these books he presents an explanation for all of Philip K. Dick’s extraordinary experiences. His book on Dick is The Man Who Remembered the Future: A Life of Philip K. Dick.
New Daw No. 139 (July-August 2013)