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I like Philip K. Dick. His ideas are intriguing and his writing is more than passable by my standards. I also think he knows how to weave a story together in an interesting way, typically demonstrated by multiple characters and storylines converging at some point. More than this, the worlds he creates are fantastic and foreign, while also very recognizable; so that the ideas and themes he deals with seem to be important to those of us on earth. However, despite my admiration of PKD, I also find him quite unsettling. His combination of Gnosticism, paranoia, insight and perhaps mental illness culminates into a character willing to look at us with a straight face as he explains that our reality might be false, or that time does not operate as we think it does. I find myself particularly unnerved by this combination due to an experience I had roughly nine months ago.

Like I said, I find PKD to be very interesting, so after reading The Man in the High Castle, I found myself browsing his Wikipedia page and generally stumbling around the internet with his name in mind, albeit at a very late hour. Wanting to see what he was like ‘in person’ and wanting to avoid thinking about work the next morning, I searched for interviews that he had participated in. Before long, I stumbled upon this video, and watched with curiosity. To those offended by youtube, thinking it a lesser form, or simply those who aren’t interested in watching the video, let me explain what he’s talking about.

In 1977, in front of a crowd at Sci-Fi conference, PKD says he has experienced glimpses into the future. Then, he explains that a dark haired woman came to his door one day, and told him that some of his novels were true in literal sense. He then goes on to explain that we are living in a computer-programmed reality, and at some point a “variable’ was changed which gave us hints to find this out. Essentially, he suggests, there are two computer-programmed realities: one where déjà vu is possible and one where it is not. Déjà vu is important to Dick, as he suggests that in this computer-generated reality, we are only pieces of code, meaning we have memories of both the past and present, but only have access to the ones in the past. Déjà vu then, is what occurs when we peer into the future without knowing it, until the moment occurs. Oddly enough, it was at this point in the lecture that I was feeling déjà vu.

Wanting to know why I was experiencing this feeling, I rifled through my notepad of ideas, odd thoughts, amusing experiences, situational jokes and so on. After minutes of flipping pages, unflipping pages and repeating this process, I found the idea I was looking for. I gathered – based mostly on the entries surrounding this one – that I had written it six months before watching the PKD lecture. The idea reads as follows: “Our life has already happened and we know all [our] experiences subconsciously. [Our] [b]rain just can’t process it all. We are [our] past, present, and future self, subconsciously. But consciously only the first two. Only in brief moments do we recognize the experiences of our future selves. Dream first, then the real event [knowing with certainty it will occur]. Not just experiencing the event and thinking ‘déjà vu.’” (Page number unknown).

The main similarities I noted was the possibility that we have all our memories stored in our minds, we just can’t consciously access them. However, in both our ideas, an optimism is present that suggests we can somehow know our future. PKD suggests this is déjà vu: to experience something and then feel a sense of familiarity, as this had already happened to us. My suggestion follows the same line of thinking, but is still slightly different. Instead of déjà vu, my writing suggests that we can peer into the future, and to know intuitively that our vision will become reality at some point. I differentiate this from déjà vu because this phenomenon is only unlocked after an experience has occurred. My idea is incomplete however, as it doesn’t suggest why this might be possible, while PKD asserts that because we live in a computer-program, we are already implanted with all of our memories, we just don’t have access to them all. After noticing this strange similarity, I felt convicted to create a plausible(?) theory, explaining why futuresight and déjà vu might be possible. Keep in mind that by this time it was nearly 3 AM and I was writing in a near frenzy.

I won’t quote it because it’s very rambly and somewhat incoherent, so I’ll summarize it. Essentially, an almost infinite number of selves exist that occupy each moment in time, for a single Person. For example, I exist as a self, in the present moment, but another self exists one second before me, and one second after me, to ad infinitum, so that a self exists for my Person for every given point in my life. In this way, assuming I live for another fifty years, my Person will have roughly 1,577,847,600 future selves, all thinking, like me, that they live in the present.

From this, I argued that there exists a Person named Josiah. This Person is essentially a Platonic form of my person, who has access to every single memory my selves have, at any point in their life. This Person is the archetype person that is the culmination of all my selves experiences. Of course this creates questions: did this Person ever live? Where does this Person reside? Perhaps in the truest of realities, where his life is everlasting? I tentatively say that he was the first ‘self’ of Josiah and has perhaps been reincarnated a number of times, so that he has experiences in my reality, that I have or will experience, as well as separate realities that I don’t have knowledge of.

With this almost infinite number of selves, I incorporated the idea of déjà vu and futuresight. In my theory, déjà vu is a future self trying to communicate with a past self. The future self is (somehow) in a state that allows him to communicate with a past self, while the past self is not in the proper state. Thus, the past self is unable to predict the future, but when the experience occurs, he feels the familiarity of his future self trying to communicate. In contrast, futuresight occurs when a futureself and past self are both in a subconscious state that allows such communication, so that, somehow, they can communicate, and the future self discloses information of the future.

As for memories, I surmise that we are not remembering as much as peering into a past self’s reality, as they experience the event for the first time. What must follow is the possibility that we can only be sure about being in the present reality. However, what do we do with mis-remembering? – when we reflect on the past, but are proved by accounts of others, and perhaps technology (cameras, video, etc) that our memory was objectively wrong. I think this is a potential instance of peering into an alternate reality. Instead of thinking that every self of my Person exists in this reality, and will all experience that same things, and will follow the same trajectory, like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, perhaps there are a multitude of realities my Person has experienced. Perhaps there are an infinite number of realities that my Person has experienced that I have no knowledge of, and when I mis-remember, I somehow catch a glimpse of an alternate reality, where the setting might be familiar, but the circumstances are different and foreign to my present reality.

Of course, I can do nothing to convince you that my assertions are true, and, to be honest, I don’t think I believe them myself. I am typically not a Gnostic person and usually don’t entertain such ideas, and I offer this theory to you with some embarrassment because I fully understand it’s very outlandish and easily scoffed at. However, I do find these ideas interesting, and perhaps worth entertaining. I also believe it’s interesting because I had knowledge of something close to Dick’s idea long before I knew who he was. Of course, everyone has ideas and overlap is almost guaranteed, but the possibility remains: a future self communicated to me that time-tearing existed and gave me knowledge of PKD’s theory before I watched to provide me an example of this phenomenon.

Conversely, there is the possibility that my theory is completely false, time-tearing is rubbish, and only one self exists for each Person. Even then however, I hope you don’t feel as though your time has been wasted. For even if the theory is wrong, hopefully it has forced you to think in ways that you aren’t used to: to consider ideas without adhering to them, to challenge conventional and even rational thought, and to entertain the idea that things are not as they seem to be, if only for a few brief moments. This then, is what both draws me to PKD and unnerves me about him. He challenges reality, which is certainly interesting, but by doing so he implies that things are not as they seem, and I think this is what really is unnerving: he might be right, and I may have experienced just what he was talking about.

Or maybe I’m a pretentious, mystical Gnostic – either way, feel free to discuss it below.

By Josiah H. Nelson

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11 thoughts on “Time-Tearing with Philip K. Dick

  1. I’ve had this experience with PKD, repeatedly. Someone said of a related text that it was “tracking” him, though I appreciate your idea that the reader is somehow tracking themselves. Stalking . . . ?

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    • This is a sort of reply to both comments:

      I certainly agree. I think the implication or even the possibility that multiple selves exist is a fascinating idea. Perhaps we are not the most important self. Perhaps many selves occupy many realities. Perhaps one self holds the key to all the others. The self as self may no longer be…not only in the “essential” “present” or “being” sense, but the metaphysical chance that we are not alone.

      Still, I like the idea of moments and jumps and grids. I want to synthesize but perhaps I need to let them exist in tandem. Each pointing out slightly different pieces of potential knowledge that would be spoiled if synthesized. What sort of experiences have you have ‘tracking PKD?’ I’m quite curious.

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      • A typical tracking/stalking experience . . . last week I was thinking metabolism is information and information is metabolized, and then I read “info metabolism” in The Exegesis a few days later . . . or, more accurately, thinking about metabolism and information on and off for a few days and then immediately before it appeared in the book (on the next page).

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  2. If instead of all these “selves” you instead conceive of it as all possible experiences or “moments” then it maybe becomes a bit easier to comprehend.

    There is only one “you”: the conscious perspective that has experiences. It scans its attention across these moments, and the personal history of this conscious perspective is the “trajectory” it has taken so far.

    “Recall” of the past of “anticipation” of the future is then simply you partly directing your attention to another part of that grid of moments. Every possible moment is always accessible to the conscious perspective that is you.

    This might have implications for making “jumps” across the “grid”…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting way to look at this. I’ll have to keep this in mind. I like the language you use of trajectory, jumps, and grids. Very though provoking. Thank you.

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      • I think PKD is a witness to the dissolution of what we traditionally think of a unitary self. The flux (James in PKD) is an interesting problem . . . one or many?

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