In February 1974 something happened to author Philip K Dick that changed his life forever. Was it an illness, a psychotic reaction, or something truly mystical? Early on, he came to the conclusion that the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether it is truly there. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
But, by 1969, he had published over 40 novels and stories, as well as winning the 1963 Hugo Award for The Man In The High Castle…and he was a heavy amphetamine user. In 1972, after his fourth marriage failed and his home was burgled, he made his first suicide attempt. He later entered the X-Kalay rehab centre to recover.
On 20 February 1974 Dick was at home recovering from dental surgery, which had involved sodium pentothal for the pain…The painkillers were delivered by a woman wearing a gold necklace with a Christian fish symbol. On seeing this he was suddenly blinded by a flash of pink light and a series of powerful visions ensued. He later described this vision as anamnesis – “loss of forgetfulness.”
He immediately knew he and the delivery woman were both persecuted Christians in ancient Rome. Time was unreal, or rather it was a Platonic ideal. More visions happened in the following months: abstract patterns, philosophical ideas, sophisticated engineering blueprints. He felt he was actually living two simultaneous lives. One of his visions told him his child had an undiagnosed life-threatening hernia, which turned out to be true.
His night-time murmurings turned out to be Koine Greek:
In that instant, as I stared at the gleaming fish sign and heard her words, I suddenly experienced what I later learned is called anamnesis—a Greek word meaning, literally, “loss of forgetfulness.” I remembered who I was and where I was. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, it all came back to me. And not only could I remember it but I could see it. The girl was a secret Christian and so was I. We lived in fear of detection by the Romans. We had to communicate with cryptic signs. She had just told me all this, and it was true.
For a short time, as hard as this is to believe or explain, I saw fading into view the black, prisonlike contours of hateful Rome. But, of much more importance, I remembered Jesus, who had just recently been with us, and had gone temporarily away, and would very soon return. My emotion was one of joy. We were secretly preparing to welcome Him back. It would not be long. And the Romans did not know. They thought He was dead, forever dead. That was our great secret, our joyous knowledge. Despite all appearances, Christ was going to return, and our delight and anticipation were boundless.
He called this “an invasion of my mind by a transcendentally rational mind.” The invader called Zebra, made more effective and rational decisions than he could, including sorting out his finances and royalties. Dick wrote a private journal – called Exegesis – from 1974 up to his death in 1982.
In it he tried to make sense of the intense visions he had experienced. He made a further suicide attempt in 1976 when his visions ceased. He worked on many theories for his visionary experiences: God, the KGB, satellites, aliens, a telepathic first-century Christian called Thomas, the CIA, a version of himself from a different dimension, his twin sister in the spirit world.
Most of Philip K Dick’s later works explore the gnostic ideas and implications of his visions. VALIS – “Vast Active Living Intelligence System” – is part of his unfinished trilogy of books about what he believed he had discovered.
In his Exegesis he wrote: “We appear to be memory coils… in a computer-like thinking system which, although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information… there is a malfunction of memory retrieval.”
Think of it what you will, it seemed to make him happy and secure. Philip K Dick passed away on 2 March 1982. His ashes were buried next to his twin sister Jane, who had died in infancy. Her tombstone had been inscribed with both of their names at the time of her death, 53 years earlier.