Gilbert De Meester The Universe of Philip K. Dick - Systemic Analysis (Page 2)

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We Can Build You (1972): The story is fairly complete. It is interesting, perhaps, to see how two people can influence each other, so that here, too, shared reality means shared building up of reality, or breaking down if you're in contact (as the I-protagonist is) with a schizophrenic who has no access to negentropy.19

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974): Part four (the epilog) leaves no room for speculation. But as in the previous novel we get a fine example of the necessity of empathy as a negentropic force, even a more extreme example: whether Jason Taverner exists or not depends on the fact whether Alys Buckman dreams about him or not.

A Scanner Darkly (1974): At the end of this novel the results of the battle against the drug-maffia still have to show themselves, though the hint is clear enough. Looking for seeds, we can find plenty of them in the scene at the end of the book - both literal and figurative.
The impact of empathy on reality is symbolized here in Bob Arctor's split personality: as two groups of people know him as two different (even opposite) characters, his brain, too, splits in two. Besides, in a speech20 Dick said that one hemisphere partakes in the collective (un)consciousness, the noösphere, so that's where the novel is pointing at, as well.

Valis (1981): The next step that has to take place after the last pages of the book is the ultimate (so far): the author of the book and the main character in a way are one and the same person but still they are miles apart (literally and figuratively) and have to come together one way or another.


1. Change in Dick's novels:
It is clear from the foregoing that in all of Dick's novels there is some change by the end; if not important changes from the point of view of the plot, then certainly a step forward from a psychological or systemic angle.
2. Evolution:
In the novels where we find the so-called seeds for a new creation very outspokenly, there is also an evolution noticeable. In The Man in the High Castle (1962) the reader is left with some conclusions to draw concerning the relation between the novel and the novel-within-the-novel and between the realities depicted in both.
In Martian Time-Slip (1964) the reader can find some reasons to have doubts about the rest of the history, but nothing explicit. In The Zap Gun (1967) it is made explicit that something in the plot has been left unresolved.
In Ubik (1969) it becomes explicit which part of the plot has been left unsolved.
In A Maze of Death (1970) the reader is left with information which is obviously in contradiction with the central idea of the plot.
Finally, in VALIS (1981) even the stability of author and characters is shaken.
So, the nature of reality becomes gradually less clear (and obvious!) whereas the reader's creativity plays an ever greater part. This can be mentioned in evidence of (1) that negentropy gets more important even beyond the work and (2) that Dick consciously intends to write about the process (!) of going towards Reality or Being.
3. Empathy:
From the distribution of this motive throughout Dick's novels, it has become clear that the shared building up of reality is one of Dick's major preoccupations and also that it's linked up closely with – even (to a large extent) makes up – negentropy in his work.


1 The scope of the short stories usually is too limited and the stories as such, from a literary-technical viewpoint, too shallow and commercial to be interpreted along these lines.
2 Solar Lottery, p. 188.
3 Eye in the Sky, p. 256.
4 Vulcan's Hammer, p. 154.
5 The Simulacra, p. 220.
6 The Penultimate Truth, p. 207.
7 Clans of the Alphane Moon, p. 205.
8 Ubik, p. 208.
9 A Maze of Death, p. 190.
10 The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, p. 204.
11 Now Wait for Last Year, p. 224.
12 Counter-Clock World, p. 158.
13 Cussick's last thoughts on Jones are highly sarcastic; they express the idea that the second coming is not necessarily something to rejoice at, especially not if the second Christ-Figure is (nearly) inhuman. This comes close to W.B. Yeats, who, in his poem "The Second Coming", wrote: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" Which is not very surprising when we know that Yeats wanted to express his cyclic worldview in that poem and that Dick was familiar with the poetry Yeats has written – portions of one poem are quoted in three different novels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p. 5), Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 97) and Our Friends from Frolix 8 (p. 187).
The theme of the second coming also turns up (in other forms) in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and VALIS (1981).
14 Among others David Ketterer, Patricia Warrick and Brian W. Aldiss.
15 The novel-within-the-novel is used as a nice symbol for the negentropy which can penetrate the cyclic structure of the universe.
16 Cfr. also Ubik (1969) and A Maze of Death (1970).
17 Note also that on page 176 of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? it is suggested that empathy (shared reality) makes people immortal: "But if I'm Mercer, he thought, I can never die..."
18 The same idea is expressed in the short story "Pay for the Printer".
19 See also the account of Manfred Steiner's situation, above.
20 "Man, Android and Machine" (in: Peter Nicholls)

Galactic Pot-Healer and equilibrium systems

Galactic Pot-Healer is one of Dick's novels which is most outspokenly concerend with entropy, or the struggle against it, to begin with the word "healer" in the title1.
Already in the first chapter, it becomes clear that entropy has also a metaphysical meaning in this novel: entropy is not only at work in the office the protagonist, Joe Fernwright, lives in ("cartons - empty - lay piled" p. 5), in the city where he lives ("a cracked and unrepaired sidewalk" p. 6), in the "planetwide Party apparatus [...]which[...]clasped them in a hug of death" (p. 6), in the economic life ("nearly worthless inflationary trading stamps" p. 7), but also – and this is the entropy working in someone for whom life has lost its meaning ("It's gone...The energy [!], the capacity to fiddle away a lifetime without dignified work" p. 11) and who is losing life as such, as a consequence ("I am dying, he said to himself" p. 14). So obviously, this novel will deal with this metaphysical kind of entropy too.
The next important thing that we can find in the first chapter lies in the fact that Joe is determined to fight against this entropy all around him, once he can play an important part in someone else's life. Only when he gets a message from someone who needs his help, does he make up his mind not to "voluntarily die", to "want to stay alive. And wait. And wait." (p. 15) Which is a very important decision, as "Dick's heroes rely on instinct and persistence (several of them, such as Jack in Martian Time-Slip or Nick in The Penultimate Truth are characterized as permanently 'going to keep trying')"2.
From that moment onwards entropy is constantly seen at work, in various degrees, and usually it is interpreted as a challenge. Chapter two and three confirm in a somewhat elaborate way the main ideas we could already find in the first chapter – which functions as a kind of programme for the rest of the novel.
In chapter two entropy is omnipresent. We can find it in Joe's marriage, because his wife "had taught him to loathe himself, and then, having done that, she had left him"3 (p. 16). There is entropy in the prediction of his financial situation: he will be paid in crumbles, i.e. "in other words fine debris" (p. 19). It is only in a dream that "without him the system [!] would break apart"4 (p. 22). In short, entropy is present in the whole of society, where "everyone is aced out in the end" (p. 26).
Chapter three, on the other hand, begins with an uplifting moment – and one which, once again, stresses the metaphysical dimension - viz., when Joe is told: "Your wife will signify something" (p. 26). This is so important for Joe that from that moment on he is "going to keep trying", despite the growing importance of entropy. For Joe's future hardly looks any better than the concrete situation on earth does. After all, his future job means contact with the sunken Heldscella (p. 28) and with Glimmung who is said to be senile (p. 29) and indeed appears to be rather 'rundown' (pp. 39-41). Furthermore, Joe's thoughts on p. 34: "I've gone mad from inactivity" and p. 42: "A man is an angel that has become deranged" make it clear that he even sees entropy as inherent to his own constitution and to mankind's suffering existence.
Joe's situation in this respect is exemplary for the many reasons for pessimism in Dick's universe and he himself is a very Dickian hero because of his persistence.
Going through the rest of the novel, we can find the different aspects of entropy in Dick's universe:
(1) Entropy is a necessary part of the physical world. The examples speak for themselves: "a weak sun" (p. 63), "Each living entity passes through periods of expansion and periods of contracting," (p. 76) and, explicitly: "entropy [...] is the ultimate fate of everything" (p. 90). This, of course, is nothing new. It is merely the second law of thermodynamics in other words.
(2) Entropy has a psychological dimension, too. E.g. in the whole of chapter one and on p. 76: " 'When I am depressed' 'But that's when your energy is low' ". This psychological dimension is characterized as the result of the impact of physical entropy on the human psyche.
(3) Entropy has a metaphysical dimension as well. This is not a result of the physical entropy, but rather the deeper reason for it; physical entropy is merely the outward reflection of this metaphysical dimension5. Hence, "The flood is a symbol for everything that eats away structures" (p. 81). So, entropy in its metaphysical dimension can be called: "Death, in some indistinct form" (p. 82).
This aspect can be expressed on a super-human level – which is the case when we see that an evil goddess6, Borel, is at the roots of entropy (p. 93) – as well as on a human level – in that case entropy has to do with the deepest, primordial fears of mankind: "I am feeling a fear that is millions of years old" p. 99. The next aspect is the most striking and the most meaningful in Dick's work:
(4) Entropy is closely linked up with process systems. For this there are enough examples throughout Dick's work7 to justify our graphical representation of his universe-concept.
There are different possibilities in this relationship. For one, entropy can simply be seen as the necessary counterpart of process systems. This is the case when we are confronted with Black Glimmungs "with the form-destroying principle motivating them" (p. 100), the existence of Joe's corpse during his own lifetime (p. 101) and the Black Cathedral (p. 105). Also, it is put explicitly on p. 76: "Each living entity passes through periods of expansion and periods of contraction".
Next, entropy can be one of the results of a process (system), as is said on p. 93, viz. when Amalita, the creative god, brings Borel, the destructive goddess, into existence8.
Entropy can be a useful intermediate in a given process (when chaos is a possibility between a certain cosmos and a better ordered one). In that case entropy is not absolute; the equilibrium is not reached for the whole system, but only for a part of it. This becomes clear in Glimmung's remark on p. 77: "Failure will tell me as much about myself as will success. Self-knowledge, that is what I will achieve". In other words, though part of Glimmung may have to give way to entropy (his vanity, for instance), the whole of his personality can come closer to Reality, because of the failure.
Entropy can even be a necessary step – which is something to expect in a cyclic universe where death is needed to get a rebirth9. The example is self-evident: "Let's die for this." (p. 78). Put differently, this means that negentropy is the resultant of some energy vectors – cfr. our graphical representation – , which are not simply – as our presentation – going a little to the left, followed by a movement to the right, ad infinitum; the vectors are pointing in every direction, allowing for the existence of negative energy vectors, representing entropy. In systemic terms: it can be necessary to break down a certain (limited) organisation to elaborate on it. We will meet with the same phenomenon in the analysis of A Maze of Death.
Joe's doubt on p. 55 probably has to be classified among the last two properties, viz. when he says: "I'm going to my death. Or is it life, for the first time? The process [!] of being born?"
We can conclude from the foregoing that entropy plays an important part in Dick's work, not only as a constitutive part of the background situation, but even as a representative of the equilibrium system that takes a place in his concept of the universe. Besides that, this is in such a close relationship with process systems that we have to look for its eventual meaning in a discussion of these process systems.

Homestatic systems:

Looking for these – scarce though they are – we find new reasons to believe our graphical representation is correct.
First, in the close relationship between homeostatic and process systems – nearly all of the examples are borderline cases, from an angry bed on pp. 22-23 to the robot Willis who crosses the border on p. 89 when he says: "You first have to say - aw, the hell with it" and then is developed into an extreme example.
And second, in the fact that process are valued higher10.

Process systems

Already a lot has been said about process systems in relation to other systems. It needn't be repeated. Still, there are some meaningful things left to be said about the explicit nature of these systems as they are shown in Galactic Pot-Healer.
For one thing, process systems are seen as on the way to Reality or Being: "everyone will be [!]" (p. 45) and "A man must do what aids his humanity" (p. 118). Next, they are on their way to the centre, to find Truth: "He knew. About my life. He knew it from the inside" (p. 52). The centre the process systems are headed for lies in a cyclic structure. This becomes clear when we see that knowing the truth is equated with putting "the separate bits in superimposition over one another" (p. 68).
In The Game11 we have a symbol for the whole of Dick's universe – be it simplified: the translation of meaningful pieces of language by computer, in such a way that the organization (or meaning) gets lost reflects the equilibrium systems; the restoration of the original internal organization exemplifies homeostatic systems; the fact that The Game can bring negentropy into a social context, as Joe thinks: "Contact with others [...]; through The Game our isolation is lanced and its body broken" (p. 11) represents process systems.
And indeed, the "contact with others", the shared reality is shown to be the major negentropic force in this novel: e.g. "I – need you. All of you" (p. 136) and "I need you to live, as separate entities combined within my one somatic presence" (p. 140).
Also a second, and even a third, instance of negentropy (equally typical for Dick) are given in the advice for Joe on p. 155: "Be creative. Work against fate. Try."
To conclude we can say that these last words convey the overall impression the novel makes. It is the same as with most of the other novels (cfr. supra) and it relates, to put it in systemic terms, the importance and higher value of process systems.


1 This explicit concern with entropy (or the battle against it) is expressed in five titles.
Galactic Pot-Healer - the word 'healer' immediately implies a disease, in other words entropy at work – also relates the novel to the drug culture Dick was familiar with. The same can be said about Time Out of Joint. Both point at the possibility of getting to an alternate universe by means of drugs (in the second example, literally), which is a recurring theme in Dick's novels and stories.
Martian Time-Slip and The Crack in Space are the most literal examples of the other possible way of reaching an alternate universe, viz. by the disruption of Kant's basic categories time and space.
A Maze of Death suggests different interpretations: as a whole it relates the novel to the prevailing imminent threat of entropy, the pun on 'amaze' in the first words already shows a possible negentropic force (staying amazed might imply trying to find a solution and keeping on trying) and the word 'death' may refer to LSD – as in A Scanner Darkly.
(Of course, "the time is out of joint" is a quotation from Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act. I, sc. 5, line 188)
2 Darko Suvin, "P.K. Dick's Opus," in: R.D. Mullen & D. Suvin (eds.), p. 174.
3 The hard, destructive woman appears in many of Dick's (later) novels. She represents entropy, but she's also linked up with the classic idea of the 'femme fatale' and Jung's destructive anima-figure.
4 This is a foreshadowing of Glimmung's words on p. 139: "Only you can give it to me."
5 In a letter of comment to SF Commentary, Dick proclaims that this reflects his personal philosophy: " the real and ultimate force which is destroying the protagonist's private world...Now, I personally conceive the form destroyer as personified, as an active evil, the evil, force...Yes, it is an anti-God" (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, p. 32)
6 As in the short story "Faith of Our Fathers" and in A Maze of Death. 7 Cfr. also the section on A Maze of Death and process systems.
8 As an analogue appears in A Maze of Death, this problem will be dealt with, in more detail, in the section on that novel.
9 Also in Ubik, A Maze of Death and (implicitly) Counter-Clock World.
10 Even Willis, the robot, is disturbed by the immediate alternation of commercials for devices to regulate a certain homeostasis and classical music – which stands for culture as a negentropic force.
11 The concept of game plays an important role in Dick's work. Though it cannot be examined in depth in all its aspects within the scope of this dissertation, one aspect is worth looking into. It boils down to the fact that some of the properties of games – and game theory – are used as a kind of negentropy.
In Solar Lottery chance and unpredictability are used to obtain a better form of government (cfr. the link between totalitarian governments, homeostasis and predictability in the next section).
The same goes for The Game-Players of Titan.
In the short story "Shell Game" chance is used by the characters to get a better insight into themselves.
The aspect of rule-following in games in a means for the manipulation of a planet-wide economic structure in the story "War Game".
In The Zap Gun identification by the characters with pawns in a game can be put to the defense of earth – besides, the society depicted in that novel is based on a mock armament race.
This property of identification is also the force behind the story "The Days of Perky Pat".
Furthermore, the following aspects can be found: chance in the consultation of the I Ching in The Man in the High Castle; rule-following in the stories "A Game of Unchance" and "Return Match"; assumption, pretence and roleplaying in the stories "Second Variety", "The Electric Ant", "The War with the Fnools", "The Father-Thing", "Colony", "Impostor" and "The Mold of Yancy" as well as in the android and simulacrum motifs.

The Simulacra and homeostatic systems

In this novel there are quite a few instances of homeostatic systems and the title suggests that they are among the novel's main concerns. There are homeostatic systems on different levels and each level has another appreciation (though not every evaluation can be found explicitly). They cover a wide range of complexity. To begin with simple mechanical devices like the F-a2 recording system (p. 5), the "homeostatic beam" as a way of traffic control (p. 43), the papoola, used for propaganda purposes (p. 52) or cabs with a "self-guidance system" (p. 71). Then there is the use of drug therapy for mental illness (p. 8). More complex are the persons who convey a homeostatic constitution, e.g. the harsh, egocentric Julie, who "would [...] not deteriorate" (p. 34) and Nicole, "the most synthetic object in our milieu" (p. 98) and "An illusion. Something synthetic, unreal." (p. 119). There is even homeostasis in the social structures of the communal appartments – crf. their idea! ls in the prayer1 on p. 16 – as well as in the governmental form of the USEA, which depends on the simulacra to keep up distinctions between the Ges, who make up policy, and the Bes. who carry out orders (pp. 36-37). As a result of the homeostasis in society, the USEA has nothing but "Norms Standards." (p. 48)
In none of Dick's novels and short stories there is enough material concerning homeostatic systems to deduce their basic properties from. But, fortunately, there is the so-called Vancouver Speech2 in which we can find six very important remarks for the understanding of homeostatic systems in Dick:
(1) "has he not also, in this process [of introjection of the living quality into his own head], reified – that is, made into a thing – other people?"3
(2) "our men – made world of machines [...], interlinking homeostatic components – all that is in fact beginning more and more to possess [...] animation."4
(3) "what machines do may resemble what we do, but certainly they do not have intent in the sense that we have; they have tropisms, they have purpose in the sense that we build them to accomplish certain ends and to react to certain stimuli."5
(4) "[to be an android] means to be pounded down, manipulated, made into a means [...] And, most of all, predictability."6
(5) "there is a certain parallel between what I call the 'android' personality and the schizoid. Both have a mechanical, reflex quality."7
(6) "Another quality of the android mind is an inability to make exceptions."8

In these statements there are seven basic properties9 of homeostatic systems in Dick's universe:
(a) they have tropisms to protect their inner organization, in (3);
(b) these tropisms act as a necessity, in (3) and (6);
(c) they are open in so far that they depend on stimuli, in (3);
(d) there is a necessary response to the stimuli, and hence, predictability, in (2), (3) and (4);
(e) homeostatic systems can be used as a means, as an intermediate, in (3) and (4);
(f) concering the border with process systems, there is reification of human beings in the 'negative' or outward direction, in (1) and (4);
(g) in the 'positive' or inward direction, we find homeostatic systems turning into process systems, in (2).

There are examples for these seven properties throughout the novel. We find that tropisms to protect the inner organization (a) are possible on different levels; on an individual level in Richard Kongrosian's exclamation: "I've got to be invisible! It's the only way I protect my life!" (p. 96) and on a social level in the compulsive ways of the government, e.g. in the need for the next der Alte "to keep the system creaking along a while longer" (p. 143). The fact that these tropisms act as a necessity (b) is illustrated by the "obnoxiously persistent reporting" machines )p. 7) with "their blind, efficient mechanical way" (p. 205). It is more openly implied on p. 51: "The tropism being established, the papoola trudged after her".
The dependence on stimuli (c) can be seen in the workings of the F-a2 recording equipment: "[it] went into a state of extreme activity, then, utilizing the sunlight and the water; its metabolic processes stimulated" (p. 6).
The predictability as a result of necessary response to the stimuli (d) is the reason why the simulacra have a "cold, logical appraisal of reality" (p. 58). It is also part of the efficiency of the auto-cab: "its mechanism gears changed as the cab creakely adjusted to the new conditions" (p. 100).
Homeostatic systems can be used as a means, as an intermediate (e). Hence, the degrading remarks "that nonentity, der Alte" (p. 7) and "It's a fake, a simulacrum [...] I can control it" (p. 54).
Most interesting in Dick's novels though, are the borderline cases: the homeostatic systems evolving into process systems (g) and the human beings who are showing a homeostatic constitution in their reification of other people (f). The latter can be found in Julie's attitude: "She was writing off another human being, severing herself from Vince [...] as if she had returned a book borrowed from the building's library."10 (p. 33). The former is exemplified by the "dead [!] Theodorus Nitz Commercial"11 (p. 209).

Evaluation and the relation with process systems

The way homeostatic systems are evaluated in this novel depends on the level they operate on. As mere technical devices they are free from evaluation. This is probably because as such they can be used to good ends (propaganda for liberating space travel) as well as bad (to keep the illegal government going). On more sophisticated levels they are favoured less than process systems – among other things, because they are more open. So e.g. personal therapy is claimed to be better than chemical therapy and harsh women are found difficult to live with12. Furthermore, on a political level this homeostasis gives rise to a totalitarian13 mentality (with a "uniformed public" p. 86). On an abstract, ideological level aspirations are more honourable than norms and standards (p. 48).

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