Gilbert De Meester The Universe of Philip K. Dick - Systemic Analysis (Page 3)

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On the whole, process systems again turn out to be more important, which may explain the 'victory' of the cultural, ethnic group of "chuppers" over the policy-dictating simulacra.
Again, process systems are suggested to be part of a cyclic structure, viz.: "Perhaps, he thought, what I must seek then is a rebirth." (p. 125)
The overall impression this novel leaves us with is mainly the same as the conclusions we had to draw from Galactic Pot-Healer: Dick presents us a universe where both entropy and, more ambiguously, homeostasis threaten humanity and human values, but negentropy turns out to be – or is promised to become – more powerful, so that his novels usually strike a note of optimism, as well.


1 "Heavenly father...we ask that in your mercy you enable us to raise the funds for the roof repairs which seem imperative. We ask that our sick be healed...We further ask that no outsiders get in and disrupt our law-abiding, orderly lives and we ask in particular that lastly, if it be thy will, that Nicole Thibodeaux be free of her sinus headaches".
2 Philip K. Dick, "The Android and the Human", a speech delivered at the Vancouver SF Convention, and at the University of British Columbia, March, 1972, in: Bruce Gillespie, Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, Best of SF Commentary; Number 1.
3 Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 53.
4 Ibid., p. 53.
5 Ibid., p. 54.
6 Ibid., p. 57.
7 Ibid., p. 63.
8 Ibid., p. 63.
9 (a) – (e) are properties which are taken from system theory as such; (f) and (g), on the other hand, are idiosyncratic for Dick and therefore they are most persistently present in his novels and short stories.
10 Especially in Dick's later novels, we can find more (female) examples for this attitude, with Pris Frauenzimmer in We Can Build You as the extreme.
11 There are many instances of this phenomenon. In addition to the already mentioned robot Willis and angry or wise cars, there are drug cabinets (The Game-Players of Titan), Lazy Brown Dogs (Now Wait for Last Year) up to the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Besides, the transition from homeostatic systems to process sytems makes up the plot of some short stories, e.g. "The Defenders", "Second Variety", "Autofac", "The Electric Ant" and (to some extent) "Nanny".
12 In other words, what is android-like or homeostatic on the personal, individual level is depreciated because it gives rise to entropy in the inter-personal, relational field.
13 Seen like this, it is easier to understand how creative individuals, who are open to the new possibilities can mean an important danger to totalitarian regimes in Dick's work.
See also Darko Suvin's remark, quoted in the first section.

A Maze of Death and process systems

The first thing we had better do is ask ourselves whether this book is really concerned with process systems and not, as might be suggested, with homeostatic systems. Is the crew of the Persus 9 trying to restore the diminishing contact between the members or are they doing more than simply trying to lift up entropy? With the appearance of the Intercessor and Seth Morley's reaction "But we invented you!" (p. 187), it turns out that the negentropic force of the polyencephalic undertaking is so strong that even 'objective' reality is touched by it. So, we are dealing with process sytems, at any rate.

The relation with entropy

On p. 97 the title of this novel is explained as follows: "As if we're rats in a maze with death; rodents confined with the ultimate adversary, to die one by one until none are left." This depicts the threatening force of entropy, which is – cfr. supra – only a reflection of equilibrium1 systems in Dick's metaphysical concept of the universe, as expressed in the book's religion (p. 9). There, entropy is seen as (possibly) a result of the processes at work. Elsewhere, it is characterized as the opposite of process systems, which tells us at the same time something about negentropy. E.g. on p. 8: "a creative job at last, and just when he [...] was nearing a break" and on p. 37: "That's the difficulty [...] We have no common purpose". The most striking aspect of entropy though, lies in the plot of the novel. It confirms what we have already said in relation to Galactic Pot-Healer: entropy can be a necessary intermediate in a process system. Indeed, t! he destructive maze is merely constructed for the benefit of the group – despite the loss of personal qualities (mainly aggression) – so that the system as a whole can develop a new and higher form of organization. The resultant of the forces at work is, as we have seen, a negentropic, or positive vector, but the components are positive vectors, pointing in different directions, as well as negative – more exactly: usually negative. Hence all the misfortunes and killings with only little hopeful moments. The plot, in fact, is this: entropy can be used to fight entropy and result in negentropy. As an Indian tantra says: "Through change eat change". Build in all kinds of changes to overcome the natural, negative, change2.

The relation with homeostatic systems

There are not so many instances of homeostatic systems in this novel, but still we can confirm some of the aspects already mentioned in the previous section. The data we are provided with can be brought together in three items:
(1) the homeostatic system of the computer linked together with the polyencephalic cylinders and the homeostatic 'activities' in the printing of the "tench"3;
(2) Ben Tallchief's thoughts on p. 11:
"I decay and the Form Destroyer has me.
God, he thought, help me.
But not by replacing me. That would be fine from a cosmological standpoint";
(3) the fact that Tony Dunkelwelt, who "lives for his mystical insights, his schizophrenic trances" (p. 79) sees the Form Destroyer in an old man, who he kills (p. 120).
From (1) and (2) we can conclude that homeostatic systems can take up a position between the others. In (1) we find examples of mechanical devices on and over the border to process systems: the computer generates a religion which manifests itself in reality and the "tench" answers questions next to the reprinting of objects. (2) implies that process systems are the favoured, the higher ones. Tony Dunkelwelt's situation, in (3), is another instance of the parallel between schizoid personalities and homeostasis; he can be compared with the already mentioned Pris Frauenzimmer (We Can Build You) and – in a quite similar situation even – Manfred Steiner (Martian Time-Slip).

Properties of process systems

We already saw in Galactic Pot-Healer that process systems are going toward Being – hence, p. 45: "everyone will be". This idea is repeated in A Maze of Death, with some further explications of how this can be reached according to Dick, viz. on p. 10: "I want to be! I want to act and accomplish something".
So, process systems involve acting and being creative: "help me find something more creative and stimulating" (p. 7). The goal of process systems can also be called (Inner) Truth or Reality: "[we are] prisoners of our own preconceptions and expectations [...] without ever seeing reality as it actually is." (p. 102) – and, of course, shared reality does not have such disadvantages.
This reality is covered by layers of lesser reality and illusion: "[Pray] for the veil of illusion to rise to expose the reality beneath" (p. 107).
Again, Reality lies in the middle of a cyclic structure. The psychological reflection of this 'basic truth' can be found in Seth Morley's words: "It's what's on the inside that counts." (p. 22) The cyclic structure is, once more, symbolized by rebirth, though this time more explicitly rebirth in a higher circle, one closer to Reality: "I should be looking for a clear, white light, the proper womb in which to be reborn." (pp. 141-142)
Finally, the negentropic force in these process systems lies in the shared building up of reality by the characters4. This shared reality can withstand entropy: "He died alone, but if we had been there he could have been saved." (p. 62). But it can also build something new: "it had to be a joint projection from all of them; otherwise [...] it would rapidly disintegrate." (p. 185)
These properties are not only found in the ideas and philosophy the novel relates; they are inherent to the working of this novel – and most of Dick's novels – as such.
Proof for this can be found in a great many mandalic structures and repetitions (always with transgression or transformation of the previous stage).
To give only some examples:
(1) the relation between the table of contents (p. 5) and the rest of the novel is one of repetition and strong transgression. When we abstract the real meaning of the situations in the table of contents from their 'pastoral drama' context, we find exactly the same as we see in the rest of the novel in other concrete contexts, like the detective story, the horror genre, the metaphysical exposition, the surrealistic description, etc.:
(2) the worked out repetition of the conversation of pp. 28-29 on pp. 38-39;
(3) the glimpses of 'objective' reality in the polyencephalic dream (e.g. the "tench", some of the jobs of the main characters, the name Persus 9), which are always seen in another perspective;
(4) lots of ironical foreshadowings – e.g. on p. 25 Seth Morely says he's going to Delmak-O on his own and his wife, who reacts to this idea, will do so herself in chapter sixteen;
(5) the relation between the dream and the reality, especially the influence of the dream on reality.
These examples and the way Dick's novels as a whole function, can be put in a model, which is taken from the description of process systems and reflects a way of information processing:

It is important to see that in the end of the novel a new direction is pointed out, but not yet completely mapped.
When we take as an example the relation between the first sixteen chapters on the one hand and chapter seventeen on the other, we obtain (as only one way of representation) the following:

In this model, the main events are presented by capitals.

a: Seth Morley's journey
b: Mary Morley's journey
c: group colonialization
d: the projected religion
e: the religion 'come through',

Dynamic versus (homeo)static universe

Although we have always based ourselves on the notion that Dick's universes is reigned by negentropy, there are some elements in his cosmogeny that would fit better in a static universe, e.g. the creation theory in Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 93).
The two extremes can be found in (one) the Catholic interpretation of the Bible, where everything began with the perfect unity of God, to which everything will return (homeostasis) and (two) the religion of the Edda, where even the (defective) gods can be replaced, so that a real dynamic process is possible.
There is a development in the four cases of cosmogeny in Dick's novels. Often Dick is not very clear about it though, insofar that the workings of his novels pre-suppose a dynamic universe and the cosmogeny can sometimes be seen as inclusive, which implies a static universe.
In Counter-Clock World (pp. 144-145) the creation is inclusive and the universe concentric, with the rings gaining more reality as they get smaller. In this universe there can be no evolution – from the part of God everything "is as it was and shall be" – although a dynamic concentric universe is possible, and often implied in Dick's work, e.g. in the representation we gave of A Maze of Death, resembling information processing.
The cosmogeny in Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 93) is not very clear. The description looks static but dynamism is brought in when the creative god suddenly turns out to be – or seems to be – overcome.
A Maze of Death provides us with references to both the static universe of the Bible and the dynamic universe of the Edda. On p. 10 we find homeostasis: "The mentufacturer...can abort the decay process by replacing the decaying object with a new one". There is incertitude concerning the cosmogeny on p. 9: "The origin of the Form Destroyer is unclear; it is, for instance, not possible to declare whether (one) he was a separate entity from God from the start, uncreated by God by also self-ceating, as is God, or (two) whether the Form Destroyer is an aspect of God, there being nothing –".
The reconciliation of every living thing with the "original Deity from whose unity of being everything has come" (p. 61) again stands for a static universe.
In the second half of the novel though, everything speaks for a dynamic universe – which can be seen as the evolution in Dick as such. We find that "the Deity does not know everything." (p. 87). This evidently leaves room for progress and change.
The Walker-on-Earth is compared to the Wanderer, "Wotan, who had but one eye" (p. 129). Wotan, or Odin, is the highest god in the Edda.
On p. 103 then, the dynamism is mentioned explicitly and further specified as "the dialectic of the universe".
His latest (and probably last) cosmogeny is explained in the appendix to VALIS. It brings us a dynamic universe, which is compared to information processing:
"The Mind lets in the light, then the dark, in interaction; so time is generated." (p. 215) can be put next to "the dialectic of the universe". So can the "Two source cosmogeny" which is compared with "the Yin and Yang of Taoism" (p. 223).
The process systems are represented in: "The universe is information" (p. 216) and "in fact [...] really information and information-processing".
Now, as this appendix forms Dick's most outspoken and latest cosmogeny, we have reason to believe that he has undergone an evolution to a dynamic cosmogeny; anyway his novels always pre-suppose a dynamic universe.


1 Bruce Gillespie, "The Real Thing":
"What I sought [...] was the centre of the wheel around which all of Dick's other ideas revolve. I've not read [...] theories about entropy, so I cannot spin a neat theory in terms of Philip Dick's self-acknowledged sources." (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 40)
2 As Stanislaw Lem says in "Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case – With Exceptions": "[Dick] has invented an extremely refined tactic: he uses elements of trash [...] so that he leads a gradual RESURRECTION of the long-extinct, metaphysical-exotic values. In a way, he makes trash battle against trash." (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 79)
3 In this way, the "tench" is a repetition of the printers in the short story "Pay for the Printer". It (he) transcends their possibilities, though.
4 Dick in his Vancouver Speech:
"Reality, to me, is not so much something that you perceive, but something you make." (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 65)
5 Cfr. section two "The seeds of a new creation" and the analyses of Galactic Pot-Healer and The Simulacra.

VALIS as a testing ground – by way of conclusion

This novel will be used as a testing ground for the main theses of this dissertation, but only to some extent, as there is no reason to repeat all the properties of the three systems by showing how they appear in VALIS.
Suffice it to defend our graphical representation of Dick's universe and to point out the reappearance of some of the most idiosyncratic properties – with some overlapping of these two, of course. It is meaningful that we need the first twenty pages only to do so.
To begin with the importance of entropy, we can immediately find this force at work throughout the first chapters and it is mentioned explicitly as the cover-term for all the misfortunes and frustrations: "Eventually he forgot what event had started off his decline into entropy." (p. 3).
Homeostatic systems are represented on different levels: the individual in the person of Gloria Knudson (p. 2) and the social in "establishment" (p. 4).
Process systems can be found from the very beginning: in the title and the explanation of the title in the motto of the book. This already proves their superior importance.
Furthermore, we have deduced a cyclic, concentric universe. For this we find an example on p. 19: "Fat had long been in the part of the cycle where they reel you back in."
Also, there are links between entropy and negentropy on p. 8: "It's a technique to break down the personality [...] Then they can build up a new personality" and between entropy and homeostasis on p. 2: "Gloria Knudson had wrecked him, her friend, along with her own brain [...] [she was] a reflex-arc thing on the other side of the phone line."
So much for Dick's universe; it confirms everything we have found in earlier novels.
The really idiosyncratic properties of systems hang closely together with the concept of the universe. We have already mentioned the reappearance of the link between equilibrium and process systems (p. 8) and the introduction of entropy in the inter-personal field by a schizoid, homeostatic-like individual (p. 2).
Then, there is the connection between homeostasis and totalitarian regimes on p. 4: "They wanted to put all persons who were not clones of the establishment away. The authorities were filled with hate."
Most important though, are the ways entropy may work: through shared reality or, to give a more complex paraphrase, "Vast Active Living Intelligence System!", and, secondary in importance, through art: "The means by which Sherrie brought Horselover Fat to God was by means of a little clay pot which she threw on her kickwheel" (p. 11)
We are already familiar with the negentropic workings of pots (as symbols for art and culture), but the power of the shared (building up of) reality was never before so explicitly mentioned as forming a "negentropic vortex" comparable with the "arrangement of information!" (cfr. the motto of the book).
The fact that the negentropic force is related to a "system", together with the other instances in this novel (and in others) where the terms are used explicitly, justify our systemic approach to the universe of Philip K. Dick.
Doing so, we have found a number of insights into the work of this author, which could be placed in a coherent system, so that we can also give explanations e.g. for the evolution of the 'floating' point of view and the split personality in VALIS, as well as for the coherence in Dick's work.


I Primary: Philip K. Dick

(the used editions are pointed out between brackets; Dick has been published by Gollancz, Rapp & Whiting, Sidgwick and Sphere in the U.K. and Ace, Berkley, Daw and Doubleday in the USA)


Solar Lottery, 1955. (Arrow books, London)
The World Jones Made, 1956.
The Man Who Japed, 1956. (Ace)
Eye in the Sky, 1957. (Arrow)
The Cosmic Puppets, 1957.
Time Out of Joint, 1959. (Penguin)
Dr. Futurity, 1960. (Methuen Paperbacks, London)
Vulcan's Hammer, 1960. (Arrow)
The Man in the High Castle, 1962. (Penguin)
The Game-Players of Titan, 1963. (Sphere)
Martian Time-Slip, 1964. (Del Rey Books, New York)
The Simulacra, 1964. (Methuen)
The Penultimate Truth, 1964. (Panther)
Clans of the Alphane Moon, 1964. (Panther)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, 1965. (Panther)
Dr. Bloodmoney, 1965. (Arrow)
The Crack in Space, 1966. (Methuen)
Now Wait for Last Year, 1966. (Panther)
The Unteleported Man, 1966. (Methuen)
Counter-Clock World, 1967. (Coronet Books, New York)
The Zap Gun, 1967. (Panther)
The Ganymede Takeover, 1967. (Arrow) with Ray Nelson
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968. (Panther)
Ubik, 1969. (Dell Books, New York)
Galactic Pot-Healer, 1969. (Pan Books, London)
A Maze of Death, 1970. (Pan)
Our Friends from Frolix 8, 1970. (Panther)

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