Watch sci fi legend Philip K. Dick discuss the prophetic awakening experience that eventually became the basis for the VALIS trilogy.
In the video embedded below, science fiction legend Philip K. Dick appears at a 1977 convention in Paris and discussed the prophetic awakening he experienced that eventually became the basis of his VALIS novels.
Philip K. Dick needs no introduction. His work has been adapted into Hollywood blockbusters like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. His oeuvre is the among the finest examples of Oscar Wilde’s aphorism that “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”
Dick lived in the gutter of the modern world—one that he saw being overrun by a corporatized police state, media saturation, mental illness, unregulated technological progress and ultimately deteriorating in entropy. He worked, as well, in the gutter genre of science fiction—long before it was accepted by establishment academic types and Critical Theory grads were writing dissertations on the postcolonial experience of the subaltern in cyberpunk literature—only seeing one of his literary novels published in his life time.
But his vision was always on the stars. He searched for the divine spark of humankind by examining two questions central to his work: “What is human?” and “What is reality?” Through tropes common to his work like artificial reality constructs, alternate universes, and human-like simulacrum, Dick provided readers with a paradigm to profoundly reflect on the world they lived in. The very title of his 1968 classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? can be read as a Zen koan.
Dick experienced a series of visions in February and March of 1974 that consumed most of his later career. It was at this time that his work began overtly examining the Nag Hammadi Codex, gnosticism, and Christian eschatology. In VALIS—a fictionalized autobiography recounting the 1974 visions—Dick asks if it is possible that the universe is the creation of a wicked and foolish demiurge and whether humankind is on the precipice of eternal slavery or liberation. He kept an obsessive diary for years following the experience, published in part in 2011 as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. He also recounted the experience in the novels The Divine Invasion, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and Radio Free Albemuth.
On February 20, 1974, while recovering from the effects of sodium pentothal administered for the extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth, Dick received a home delivery of Darvon from a young woman. When he opened the door, he was struck by the beauty of the dark-haired girl and was especially drawn to her golden necklace. He asked her about its curious fish-shaped design. “This is a sign used by the early Christians,” she said, and then left. Dick called the symbol the “vesicle pisces”. This name seems to have been based on his conflation of two related symbols, the Christian ichthys symbol (two intersecting arcs delineating a fish in profile) which the woman was wearing, and the vesica piscis.
Dick recounted that as the sun glinted off the gold pendant, the reflection caused the generation of a “pink beam” of light that mesmerized him. He came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance, and also believed it to be intelligent. On one occasion, Dick was startled by a separate recurrence of the pink beam. It imparted the information to him that his infant son was ill. The Dicks rushed the child to the hospital, where his suspicion was confirmed by professional diagnosis.
After the woman’s departure, Dick began experiencing strange hallucinations. Although initially attributing them to side effects from medication, he considered this explanation implausible after weeks of continued hallucinations. “I experienced an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind, as if I had been insane all my life and suddenly I had become sane,” Dick told Charles Platt.
Throughout February and March 1974, Dick experienced a series of hallucinations, which he referred to as “2-3-74”, shorthand for February–March 1974. Aside from the “pink beam”, Dick described the initial hallucinations as geometric patterns, and, occasionally, brief pictures of Jesus and ancient Rome. As the hallucinations increased in length and frequency, Dick claimed he began to live two parallel lives, one as himself, “Philip K. Dick”, and one as “Thomas”, a Christian persecuted by Romans in the first century AD. He referred to the “transcendentally rational mind” as “Zebra”, “God” and “VALIS”. Dick wrote about the experiences, first in the semi-autobiographical novel Radio Free Albemuth and then in VALIS, The Divine Invasion and the unfinished The Owl in Daylight (the VALIS trilogy).
Dick abandoned his Earthly incarnation in 1981 resulting from complications from a stroke.
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