There is a major drawback to being so smart that you can perceive the edges of infinity. It makes you bedbug crazy. I love the science fiction that populated the paperback shelves in the 50’s and 60’s when I was a boy. I love the work of Philip K. Dick. But it leads you to contemplate what is real… what is imaginary… and what is the nature of what will be.
There are numerous ways to investigate life. But it is in the nature of imaginary people to try to find ways to make themselves real. When the replicants in Bladerunner try to make themselves into real people, they must try to create memories that didn’t exist. They try to mirror human life to the extent that they can actually fool the bladerunner into letting them live. Of course, it doesn’t work. They are not real. (Bladerunner is the movie name of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
It is like that for me as well. Being an imaginary person is difficult. You have to constantly invent yourself and re-invent yourself. By the time you finally get to know yourself, you have to change again so that the anti-android factions don’t destroy you. Although, I think I may not actually be an android.
Does that sound a bit crazy? Well Philip K. Dick’s life story may in fact have led him down the path to really crazy. In 1971 he broke up with his wife, Nancy Hackett. She moved out of his life, and an amphetamine-abuse bender moved in. In 1972, ironically the year I began reading Dick’s work, he fell in love at the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention. That was immediately followed by erratic behavior, a break-up, and an attempted suicide overdosing on the sedative potassium bromide. This, of course, led directly to his 1977 novel A Scanner Darkly.
The story is about a police detective who is corrupted by a dangerous addictive drug that takes him down the rabbit hole of paranoia, and being assaulted by the perception of multiple realities simultaneously. His novel Ubik from 1969 is a story of psychics trying to battle groups of other psychics even after they are killed by a bomb. The crazy seems to have been building for a while.
In 1974 he had a transcendental experience when a lady delivering medicine to his door wore a fish-shaped pendant which he said shot a pink beam into his head. He came to believe the beam imparted wisdom and clairvoyance, and also believed it to be intelligent. He would later admit to believing he had been reincarnated as the prophet Elijah.
Imagination has its dangers. It is a powerful thing able to transform reality. Science fiction writers often use their imagination to shape what the future will actually make come into being. But it can also turn your mind inside out. A great science fiction writer like Philip K. Dick can contemplate the nature of reality and turn his own reality inside out. It is a lesson for me, a lesson for all of us. Wait, is that a pink beam of light I see? No, I just imagined it.