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Out Of Mind » PERCEPTUAL AWARENESS » POWER TOOLS » Altered States of Reading (Part 1,2&3)

Altered States of Reading (Part 1,2&3)

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1 Altered States of Reading (Part 1,2&3) on Mon Sep 07, 2015 2:17 am



Altered States of Reading (Part 1): VALIS, Vallee, and Vaal

Saturday, 5 September, 2015

Where to begin when the story is a loop?
I have been mulling over a particularly rich and thought provoking entry from Jacques Vallee’s journals (Forbidden Science, Volume Two), about a synchronistic walk he took one day in October, 1973 with Hal Puthoff, head of the Stanford Research Institute program researching ESP. Vallee was telling his companion he thought the UFO problem and parapsychology were connected and that they were both more than scientific questions but also Hermetic quests or initiations, “an enigma like that of the Sphinx” … at which point, the two men turned a corner and found themselves face to face with a pair of sphinxes behind barbed wire. Vallee writes with amusement that “[Puthoff] must have thought I had known about the statues all along and had maneuvered him to the spot deliberately.”
We live in a vast precognitive soup, and at least some artists seem to draw not only from past influences but also from their own future timelines, precognizing their own books they have yet to write as well as books by others they have yet to read.
Vallee interprets such synchronicities as what he calls “intersigns,” connected to his notion of a higher multidimensional controlling agency—the idea he had been developing into his “control system” hypothesis. This hypothesis was the theme of his latest book manuscript, The Invisible College, which he had just finished drafting a couple months prior to this walk but which would not be published for over a year, in 1975. Vallee also makes the following comment, which is what made me do a double take: “I felt elated: Perhaps we were beginning to get the bigger picture. Shades of Philip Dick and VALIS! It’s not about extraterrestrials visiting our planet, I thought. It’s much bigger than that.”
This passage struck me as odd because of its timing. VALIS, the novel, did not come out until 1980, and even the mystical/paranormal experiences it was based on did not begin occurring to Dick until early 1974, a few months after Vallee’s walk with Puthoff. Moreover, the acronym VALIS (for “Vast Active Living Intelligence System”) did not emerge fully formed until after Dick’s most intense experiences; in his journals, Dick initially called the entity or extraterrestrial satellite beaming him information and commands “Zebra.” How then did a reference to VALIS get into a 1973 journal entry?
Although it is odd, I don’t think it’s too great a mystery, nor a case of precognition. Vallee also cited Dick’s “Vast Alive [sic] Living Intelligence System” as a literary version of his own postulated intelligent control system in the epilogue to the first volume of his journals, Forbidden Science, Volume One, covering the 1960s, although not published until the early 1990s. There, it is clear that the epilogue was written well in hindsight; in light of this, it seems that the October 1973 entry was thus probably also emended at some point much later, prior to being prepared for publication, and thus is not a case of actual literary prophecy. But it spurred me to wonder about the uncanny resemblance of Vallee’s themes in Invisible College and the themes that Dick was struggling with in his life and fiction right during the period that Vallee was developing his control system concept.
The similarity of Vallee’s most famous theory and Dick’s most famous literary creation are rather uncanny, if you think about it: Both postulate a higher, probably ancient intelligence somehow manipulating and controlling human society and evolution via select individuals receiving psychic communications and stage-managed “impossible” synchronicities. Once Vallee read Dick’s VALIS, it certainly made an impression on him—how could it not? Clearly a literary genius had independently arrived at some of the same ideas he himself had been developing, and the fiction writer had honestly asked the same questions he had; both writers avoided settling on a final answer as to who is actually behind this control system yet flirted with various possibilities ranging from all-too-human mind control to multidimensional beings. In other words, not only were the hypotheses similar, but so was the spirit of inquiry—skeptical, in the best sense. Given Dick’s long delay in publishing his closely autobiographical account of his 1974 experience, Vallee likely would not have known, unless he was totally steeped in Dick lore, that they had actually been attacking these problems practically simultaneously.
Were their ideas really independent?
A possible “source” we are forced to consider for Dick’s VALIS is of course Vallee himself. As early as 1974, in the aftermath of his 2-3-74 “Zebra” experiences, Dick began work on a novel that clearly had the germ of the idea, or name, of VALIS, but which he was then calling Valisystem A, and which would eventually become the posthumously published novel Radio Free Albemuth. Isn’t “Valisystem” an awful lot like Vallee System … as in Vallee Control System? Given the similarity of the two authors’ ideas, a connection between Dick’s idea and Vallee’s idea (and his name) seems likely to me; yet it is also, as near as I can tell, temporally “impossible.”
Vallee first drafted Invisible College in the span of two month in the summer of 1973, but he only finalized and edited it late the following year, to appear in 1975, months after Dick had begun referring in his journals and letters to a manuscript tentatively called Valisystem A. I have been unable to find the concept of a control system developed in any published work of Vallee that Dick could have read at that point; neither the phrase “control system” nor, really, the idea of such a system—at least in any developed form—appear in Vallee’s previous book, Passport to Magonia (although there is the possibility that Vallee may have mentioned such an idea in an interview or article—I invite readers who may know of something like that to let me know in comments).
There is also no indication in anything I have read on Dick, including Lawrence Sutin’s and Anthony Peake’s biographies, that he had had any contact with Vallee, although they would have overlapped in the Bay Area in the early 1970s, prior to Dick’s move south to Orange County in 1972. More tellingly, Vallee makes no mention of having ever met Dick—and it definitely seems like something he would have mentioned in his journals, given that his journals are a parade of other interesting writers and counterculture figures from that time and place. Dick never mentions reading any Vallee later on either, although this doesn’t say much, as Dick read widely (and absorbed ideas through many channels) and didn’t always leave any record of what he was reading. (Again, if any readers know differently, please let me know!)
Given Dick’s reputation for precognition, I think the coincidence of two control systems, being theorized and developed contemporaneously, so similar in name, suggests a possible psi-literary correspondence.
A Map of Precognitive Misreading
The obvious psi channel to consider would be telepathy, but for various reasons I am increasingly convinced that the main, or possibly only, true psi channel—even when it seems like mind-to-mind contact—is precognition. When we seem in touch with another person across space, there is no way to rule out that we are not actually precognizing the future moment (whether imminent or more distant) when the “true connection” is revealed or confirmed. If psi is based on a kind of “morphic resonance” of quantum brain states, it seems far more likely or common for our own brain states to resonate across time than for two different brains to resonate with each other, even if the latter is theoretically possible. In other words, telepathic connection may be miscrecognized precognition of a future real-world connection.
Among literary types, precognition seems to uniquely characterize frenetic genre writers, people compelled to bust their asses in the “trash stratum” just to make ends meet.
Dick has been called prophetic, like many other sci-fi writers. But he has also been called precognitive, as so many of his stories and personal experiences suggest genuine psi sensitivity. Besides the uncanny precognitive events in his personal life in the aftermath of his 2-3-74 experience, such as correctly divining the presence of a life-threatening inguinal hernia in his infant son while listening to the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields,” Dick uncannily precognized numerous developments in our culture. My favorite of his novels, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, not only seems prophetic of later revelations about use of hallucinogens in mind control experiments but also was uncannily prescient about the symbiotic integration of drugs and popular culture that would flower with the rave/trance scene in the 90s. William Sarill suggests that with Ubik—Dick’s second most famous literary invention—he may have precognized the wonder supplement Ubiquinol (now better known now as Coenzyme Q-10).
In his A Life of Philip K Dick: The Man Who Remembered the Future, Peake lists numerous other cases in which Dick seems to have precognized events in his own life. Although some of these cases can certainly be explained as the writer unconsciously fulfilling his own myth after the fact, others are uncanny and highly suggestive of something paranormal. I absolutely agree with Peake that Dick had been precognizing his own future his whole life, possibly even visiting his past self in dreams. Dick saw it this way too, and his Exegesis is a massive investigation of the implications of such autobiographical time loops for our understanding of causality and consciousness, one of the most mind-blowing books of our time.
That Dick was channeling his own future, particularly when he was absorbed in frenetically setting words to page, should not surprise us at all. Psi seems to emerge especially in “flow” states of skilled engagement. Whenever you are really cooking at whatever it is you are most skilled at and enjoy, that’s when (albeit unbenownst to you) you will be most tapped into the precognitive signal channel I have called “prophetic jouissance” and which traditionally has just been called “the muse.” Among literary types, precognition seems to uniquely characterize frenetic genre writers, people compelled to bust their asses in the “trash stratum” just to make ends meet.
Dick is only the most famous example. The alcoholic, depressed, and impoverished sea adventure writer Morgan Robertson precognized not only the sinking of the Titanic 14 years before it occurred but also the Japanese sneak attack on the U.S. Navy in Hawaii and the invention of radar. Comics genius Jack Kirby, as Chris Knowles has described on his blog, saw and described the “face on mars” 17 years before it was photographed by the Viking orbiters. Knowles has found other similar cases in Kirby’s works.
It seems (as Knowles suggests) that the less self-conscious of being “respectably literary” a writer or artist is, and the faster he produces, the more uncanny prophecies emerge “automatically” from his pen or typewriter. Inspiration, I am convinced, is real, authentic psi. Although Rick Strassman has linked prophecy to DMT and the pineal gland (the usual ‘unitarian’ wishful thinking that goes back to Descartes and possibly the ancient world), I foretell that a future neuropsychology of psi will concentrate on dopamine and the dopaminergic circuits of the reward system, since dopamine is really the neurotransmitter most associated with anticipatory signals. Appropriately enough in Dick’s case and probably lots of other under-the-gun genre writers, it is stimulants like amphetamines and even coffee that most directly boost dopamine and thus frenetic anticipatory jouissance, not hallucinogens.
We live in a vast precognitive soup, and at least some artists seem to draw not only from past influences but also from their own future timelines, precognizing their own books they have yet to write as well as books by others they have yet to read. Dick’s hypnagogic visions in 1974 notably included many unread or nonexistent books and galley proofs of what could have been his own future books or books by others in progress. A future “map of precognitive misreading” should thus extend Harold Bloom’s critical theory (The Anxiety of Influence) and explore the role of psi in literary/artistic and even scientific creation. It would require, partly, a better-developed theory of precognition in creative and social networks: Ideas may diffuse among contemporaries precognitively, through future sharings and convergences. In other words, people who have never met (yet) may share ideas, not via telepathy, but by precognizing their future interactions in the flesh or, more likely, the future encountering of their exciting ideas in print. Artists may be reading each other precognitively and borrowing each others most creative ideas, and preempting them, via a vast unconscious psi internet that only a few (including Knowles) have begun to explore.
Coming to my main point … I certainly can’t prove it, but I do suspect that in 1974 Dick either precognized reading The Invisible College or precognized reading about Vallee’s control system idea in some secondary source, or hearing about it from a friend, and mapped it onto his own evolving Gnostic suspicions about the world. This would mean that VALIS might actually be named after Vallee, and thus when Vallee later found and admired Dick’s work, it was like being drawn to a bastard child he did not know he’d fathered.
But there’s more to this (yes, highly speculative) story.
From VALIS to Vaal
Rewind several years, to 1967.
I wrote a few months ago about a precognitive dream I had related to a 1967 Star Trek episode called “The Apple,” about an ancient planetary computer named Vaal, which keeps the primitive humanoids who feed and service it in a state of ignorance and innocence. “The Apple” was typical of many Star Trek episodes that had a Gnostic theme: Some computer or other controlling demigod always seemed to be keeping the locals in a state of ignorance or slavery until the Enterprise crew arrived and liberated them. In fact, Max Simon Ehrlich’s original screenplay for “The Apple” was seen as so unoriginal and so specifically similar to the episode “Return of the Archons,” also about a computer ideologically regulating a planet’s inhabitants, that Gene L. Coon subjected it to a major revision to make it more distinct.
Artistic/creative feedback loops could be an important way that occulted, occluded, disbelieved, or misidentified precognition shapes human culture, and thus a future literary criticism will involve a kind of psychic deconstruction.
In the episode, Vaal (who appears as a big reptilian stone head) communicates to his elect, the leader of the humanoids named Akuta, via transmissions beamed to small antennae implanted behind his ears—in other words, Vaal is a vast, active, and even “living” (since he seems to require periodic offerings of fruit as fuel), intelligent control system, who exerts his influence by manipulating the thoughts and beliefs of the planet’s “innocent” inhabitants.
Dick was like a sponge soaking up pop culture, and no stranger to cryptomnesia. Paul Rydeen notes likely influences in VALIS of Scientology, of Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery (which seems to have deflected the origins of Valis from Formalhaut, in Radio Free Albemuth, to Sirius in VALIS), and the Star Trek episode “Break and Circuses.” The latter, about a basically 20th-century planet where Rome never fell, seems like it could have wormed its way into Dick’s ancient Rome visions/experiences (although ironically, this and many Star Trek alternative history episodes were no doubt influenced in turn by Dick’s own Man in the High Castle). It is entirely possible that Dick could have also seen “The Apple,” either when it first aired or, as I did, in endless weekday afternoon reruns during the mid-1970s, and been subconsciously influenced by it, morphing his own paranoid/Gnostic theory of a higher planetary control system into VALIS.
This would seemingly negate my earlier psi-based argument, of course: If the name of Dick’s control system came from anywhere in the linear flow of time, it would have come from Ehrlich’s Vaal, not from a still-fairly-obscure UFO researcher who had yet to publish his control system theory. But I propose that, in our precognitive world, and for someone like Dick, the reverse is just as easily the case. Apart from the simple fact that Vallee himself preexisted Ehrlich’s screenplay and Dick’s 1970s writing, linguistics itself supports the priority of naming in this precognitive synchronisitic clusterfuck: “Valis” is a good guess of how an American like Dick might spell a presumptively French word that sounds the way “Vallee” is spelled—for instance, if he heard the name pronounced by an English speaker (with a long e at the end) in a context suggesting the name was French, such as paired with the name Jacques. One could easily imagine that the phrase “Vallee control system” was among the hypnagogic phrases that Dick received from the psychic aether (or, perhaps, from whatever mind control experiment was beaming information into his brain in 1974*).
Thus, the more likely direction of influence is from Vallee to Dick. Consequently, Ehrlich is more likely to have gotten the name Vaal precognitively from VALIS than vice versa!
Plagiarizing From the Future
I have written about Slavoj Žižek’s “time loop” interpretation of Jacques Lacan’s theory of the symptom. Žižek is careful to distance himself from actual paranormal phenomena like precognition or time travel, yet his own constant citing of Gnostic science fiction indicates his secret love of such possibilities, so his protests seem to me like anxious defenses to prop up a beleaguered post-Marxian materialism. In a very interesting essay, he delves into the possibility he calls (following Pierre Bayard), “plagiarizing from the future.” The sure indicator that a previous work has plagiarized from a later one, he says, is when the particular, presumptively borrowed element in the earlier work is either jarringly out of place or simply not well developed, compared to the later work.
When the earlier manifestation of an idea is not only less well developed or out of place but also in a “lower” form of literature or writing, it is liable to have been unconsciously inspired by the later work, a case of precognitive plagiarism.
We could add to the list of tip-offs the basic idea that plagiarism from the future, like other forms of plagiarism, both is nearly always unconscious (or at best misrecognized, as no one, not even artists, with the sole exception of Dick, believes in precognition) and, more importantly, tends to be by “lower-status” artists—that is, writers who are forced by lack of public appreciation (Dick), lack of literary gifts (Robertson), or merely their career circumstances (Kirby, Ehrlich) to work hard in a medium that does not have a lot of artistic respectability. Thus, when the earlier manifestation of an idea is not only less well developed or out of place but also in a “lower” form of literature or writing, it is liable to have been unconsciously inspired by the later work, a case of precognitive plagiarism.
I think few would dispute the relative merits of Max Ehrlich’s “The Apple” and Dick’s VALIS—one is a derivative piece of TV camp that, as Marc Cushman puts it, feels like the Enterprise has taken a trip to Gilligan’s Island, while VALIS is arguably one of the best and most interesting novels of the 20th century—even if the cruel genre gods still relegated it to the second-class category of “science fiction.” It is certainly an honest novel, confronting the author’s true (even if psychotic) experiences in an authentic way. Thus, I think it is likely that Ehrlich precognized and borrowed the idea for VALIS in 1966, calling it Vaal, not knowing what he was doing, and especially having no inkling that his planetary stone-headed god was, by a double remove, named after the young UFO researcher Jacques Vallee, whom he had probably never even heard of.
Why do I think this? Because Ehrlich himself shows signs of being one of those precognitive writers toiling in the disregarded cultural slums, who possibly even had a past history of precognitively plagiarizing Dick’s ideas (or at least, book covers). One of Ehrlich’s early novels, for example, The Big Eye (1950), is about the cessation of the Cold War because of the imminent destruction of Earth in a planetary collision, which turns out to be an astronomer’s hoax; the motif of an eye-like image looming in the sky prefigures Dick’s McCarthyism-themed 1958 novel Eye in the Sky, and I can’t help but wonder if somehow the cover (at least) of Dick’s novel may have influenced Ehrlich. There are other possible connections, which I will delve into in a separate post.
Psychic Deconstruction
Of course, even if Ehrlich “read” Dick avant a lettre and “plagiarized” from him, it does not preclude Dick also seeing Ehrlich’s Star Trek episode and being influenced by it in turn, in the usual way. This would produce a sort of idea-feedback loop not unlike what I have theorized accounts for synchronicities within the life of an individual. One feature of precognition I have noticed in my own modest investigations into the phenomenon is that some kind of minor coincidence or doubling creates the initial spark, or forms an associative short circuit, acting as the nucleus of the symptom formation that is creative prophetic inspiration. It is completely conceivable to me that seeing a rerun of the Star Trek episode, by closely matching Dick’s own Gnostic ideas and experiences, could have catalyzed a precognitive encounter with Vallee’s ideas and thus given birth to Valisystem and VALIS, just as much as VALIS helped retrocausally shape Ehrlich’s teleplay.
What Vallee and Dick were both trying to put their fingers on could be nothing other than alienated psi, our own prophetic natures disbelieved, disavowed, and thus projected onto some imagined alien technology or intelligence.
I think this kind of artistic/creative feedback loop could be an important (as yet totally unexplored) way that occulted, occluded, disbelieved, or misidentified precognition shapes human culture, and thus a future literary criticism will involve a kind of psychic deconstruction. I am also not too modest to think that this logic, the totally unconscious machinations of precognition in our lives and relationships and the way they produce feedback effects because of our ideologically blinkered nonawareness of psi, may also give rise exactly to the illusion of a homeostatic control system being operated by a higher intelligence. It’s not an illusion, exactly—such an atemporal feedback effect would really be a thermostat regulating our lives, producing chaos and tricksterish effects when we are out of sync with our enjoyment, or the Tao, or whatever you want to call it, and harmonic synchronicities when we are better resonating with our future rewards. The only thing actually missing is the “Other” who is presumed to be manning (or womaning) the controls. The Other is us, unrecognized.
In other words, what Vallee and Dick were both trying to put their fingers on could be nothing other than alienated psi, our own prophetic natures disbelieved, disavowed, and thus projected onto some imagined alien technology or intelligence. If psi includes psychokinetic effects as well as precognitive effects, as abundant research also affirms, then we should take the trickster seriously here: Because no one believes in psi (even most psi believers pay lip service but don’t actually think too hard about the implications), not only our psi radar but also our intentions run rampant in the world, causing effects that no one understands and that we desperately try to fit into a causal narrative. Eric Ouellet’s excellent new book, Illuminations: The UFO Experience as a Parapsychological Event, describes how UFO waves can potentially be explained as mass poltergeist (or recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis) phenomena, along similar lines.
The sure sign of a science in denial of psi is that it runs in circles, perpetually elaborating and becoming more involuted without actually converging on final answers to its driving questions. Isn’t this what is happening both to physics and psychology? The breakthrough will happen, if it happens, only when psi is acknowledged.
Time Is the Problem
Which raises the further question, in light of Vallee’s core interest in UFOs: We tend to think in terms of “missing time,” but maybe displaced time is better. The “precognitive, sentient” nature of such phenomena has been noted by John Alexander and others. But who is it who is precognitive? Are they precognitive, or do they somehow cause us to be precognitive … and does the tricksterish nature of the phenomenon arise partly from our own dogged determination to see causality as unidirectional? UFO encounters are often surrounded by synchronicities, but I have suggested that synchronicities are really ‘surprises’ produced by our own unacknowledged precognitive faculty. We predict or orient to something precognitively but then, because we don’t believe in precognition, feel shock and surprise when the thing we precognitively oriented toward manifests in our life.
Oedipus isn’t really about marrying your mother; it is an archetype of misrecognized psi—how we wreak havoc on our lives and relationships when we engage in time travel and don’t know it.
In The Invisible College, Vallee signals loudly that time is the problem, that effects might come before causes, and that UFOs seem to be trying to convey something of this nature. He mentions a French 1954 encounter in which a UFO occupant asked a witness what time it was; the witness replied “2:30,” to which the UFO visitor answered, “You lie—it is four o’clock.” Time displacement is a common feature of close encounters. A recent MUFON case file described a pilot encounter with a UFO closely shadowing his plane, which was caught on radar … but with an eight-minute time displacement from the pilot’s actual spacetime position.
So here’s another possibility to ponder: When people see UFOs, are they actually seeing things not from the future but in the future, the business end of psychic (or psychotronic) time machines or psychic projectors being operated by our descendents? Could UFOs be visions of a future technology designed precisely to establish a psychic link, or collect psychic information, across time as well as space? Do UFOs represent future technological interventions to alter “past” history, sort of like massively scaled-up versions of Helmut Schmidt’s retro-PK experiments?
Squinting hard and rubbing my temples, my prophecy of the future of ufology is that the answer is indeed going to come from parapsychology, just as Vallee intuited and as Eric Ouellet reminds us. I’m not sure I totally buy Ouellet’s poltergeist idea, but in the over four decades since Vallee took his walk with Puthoff, there have not been many other big advances. Perhaps we will not have confirmation of what UFOs are until psychotronic technology is developed—that is, until the present generation is the agent of psychic technology and not on the receiving end. This is the true meaning, perhaps, of the claims of some bitter aging ufologists that we will not see an answer to the UFO question in our lifetimes. If it’s true, it’s simply because it’s not the future yet.
Postscript: Is Vallee VALIS?
Inserting reference to a particular event in a text that ostensibly precedes the event is one way of creating the illusion of prophecy. That is the oldest trick in the forgers book: You can manipulate belief very easily by playing with the apparent dates of things, and who knew what when. The most famous example of this is the Hermetic corpus, which was probably written in the first few centuries CE and included oblique references to Christ. For Renaissance intellectuals, who believed it preceded the Common Era, this confirmed its prophetic nature; another possibility is that it was genuinely older but was later emended with suggestive references to the savior to give it “prophetic” authority.
In the 1973 diary entry I mentioned, Vallee smuggles in a reference to Dick’s VALIS months before Dick even had his ‘mystical’ experience or began writing about VALIS in his own journals. Like I said, the context, and the fact we know he did go back and edit or at least comment on his journals, suggests this was not precognition on Vallee’s part but a much later editorial emendation that simply did not take into account the precise publication date of Dick’s VALIS or the work leading up to it. It could be totally innocent. But could Vallee also have been engaging in the same kind of trickery he attributes to the control system?
In Invisible College, Vallee mentions time displacement in the context of hypnotic manipulation, relating a vignette in which psychologist Milton Erickson found he could render a subject susceptible to suggestion through reframing. The example Erickson uses is politely telling a person he has just collided with on the street the (wrong) time of day, instead of a humble apology, leaving the other person desperately ready to embrace any new piece of concrete information to alleviate their confusion. UFOs, Vallee suggests, are a bit like that collision and bizarre reframing, making the witness very susceptible to some kind of hypnotic manipulation. In a Radio Mysterioso interview, the late Bruce Duensing suggests Vallee is playing such a game by noting the strangely non-sequitur mention of UFOs in the middle of Vallee’s Ted talk “The Age of Impossible: Anticipating Discontinuous Futures.”
That Vallee’s journal insertion of VALIS occurs in a very suggestive context of sphinxes and initiations makes me think Duensing could be right, and that Vallee may be playing the trickster here and elsewhere in his works. Vallee himself is a Hermeticist, and elsewhere in Hermetic literature, sphinxes appear as a signal that you need to take the given elements and think about their real sequence to arrive at the true meaning.** In my post on “time’s taboos,” I mentioned the sphinx as a symbol of time travel, and this is what I meant: Not literally creating a wormhole or time machine, but changing the perceived order of events, or seeing how what seems to be an effect may be a cause, and vice versa: exactly the kind of PhilDickian “disordered” thinking necessary to seriously contemplate precognition and its implications.
This is the latent meaning of the sphinx’s riddle in the Oedipus myth: The numerical sequence 423(1) (“What animal walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?” and answered correctly by Oedipus, who limps on only one good foot) is clearly out of order. The human story really begins, not ends, with Oedipus. Freud of course saw that clearly, but Oedipus isn’t really about marrying your mother … It is an archetype of misrecognized psi—how we wreak havoc on our lives and relationships when we engage in time travel and don’t know it.
Vallee is keying in on precisely the power of UFOs to get us to re-think the order in which things occur—in other words, consider the possibilities created/demanded by the real existence of psi. I thus think he himself is trying, in his writings, in his own humble way (and to his small but devoted audience), to be a UFO.
*The explosion of interest in psychic contact with alien intelligences in the 1970s, especially in California, coincided with suspected CIA experimentation in mind control, and the suspicion of worldly forces screwing with vulnerable and brilliant minds of the period overshadows much of this material, including Dick’s writings. Zebra/VALIS bears strong resemblance to Andrija Puharich’s “Spectra,” for instance, and the latter’s possible connection to CIA mind control research has raised speculation (by Adam Gorightly and others) that Dick himself was an unwitting victim of such experiments. There is certainly much in Dick’s life story that is suggestive, such as his and his wife’s discovery that the neighboring apartment was vacant except for a lot of electronic equipment. I have even read speculation—although I don’t believe it—that the SRI remote viewing research itself was a cover for mind-control experiments. It is very hard to know what to make of the mind control angle, and even delving superficially into the topic leads to a murky (potentially sanity-destroying) quagmire of paranoia. I thus leave this topic to others who better have their fingers on the pulse of this nexus of pop culture, fringe science, and conspiracy theory (Chris Knowles, that means you).

**Alert readers of Fulcanelli’s Cathedrals book may note something similar going on with that text, and the sphinxes therein. The alchemical secret, if Fulcanelli is to be believed, centers not on the End Times, as Jay Weidner and Vincent Bridges argue in their massive exercise in exegetical pareidolia, The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye, but on the end of time, as in, stopping or stepping out of time. Apocalypticism, as expressed in End Time cults and Christian Fundamentalism, represents, as Fulcanelli deliberately phrases it, primitive chiliasm (milennarianism)—primitive as in overly concrete or “literal minded.” In other words, supposing any of this has to do with the End Times is to naively fall for his trap. Fulcanelli’s interest is really in stopping or suspending time itself.

How do we do that? Duh, meditation. This is clear enough because Rene Schwaller, who may have been Fulcanelli (all you need to do is adjust Fulcanelli’s supposed chronology) or who at least, by his own claim, gave Fulcanelli the manuscript that became the Cathedrals book, tells us, via Andre Vandenbroek, that “stopping time” is the aim of alchemy. The point is “cognition of the present moment … the Absolute from which we draw our power.” Colin Wilson explains this as the most significant feature of Schwaller’s Hermetic philosophy:

One way of explaining it would be to say that human beings imagine they live in the present, yet their basic mental state might be described as ‘elsewhereness’, like a schoolboy looking out of a window instead of paying attention to the lesson. It is, in fact, incredibly difficult to be ‘present’, since we live in an interpreted world. We cannot even ‘see’ without preconception—’that is so and so’. Our most basic frame of mind is that of spectators; we look out at the world like someone in a cinema. When a man awakens to present reality—as Dostoevsky did when stood in front of a firing squad—the whole world changes. Everything suddenly becomes real. But his vision of himself also changes: he becomes aware of himself as a dynamic force rather than as a passive entity. … [A]lchemy, or the transmutation of matter into spirit … depends upon this ‘moment of power’, of being wholly present in the present moment.

Thanks to Eric at:

Last edited by PurpleSkyz on Wed Oct 07, 2015 10:58 am; edited 1 time in total


2 Re: Altered States of Reading (Part 1,2&3) on Thu Sep 24, 2015 11:11 pm


“… I found my thoughts returning to a troubling dream the night before, the meaning of which remained obscure: I had been clambering with difficulty over a rocky hill near my childhood home, and found myself moving toward a large white nightshirt hung ominously from the electrical wires, as some kind of warning or portent. The nightshirt was riddled with bullet-holes. Though I turned away, in the dream, I only found my path leading me toward another, identical nightshirt, also bullet-riddled, but farther off. ... This was all accompanied by a feeling of foreboding.”

Altered States of Reading (Part 2): Pynchon and the Psi Reflex

Thursday, 24 September, 2015

Thomas Pynchon’s sprawling unfinished 1972 novel Gravity’s Rainbow centers on an American army lieutenant, Tyrone Slothrop, whose amorous conquests around WWII London infallibly predict German V2 rocket strikes in an otherwise random distribution throughout the city. Slothrop’s weird ability puts him under the scrutiny of “Psi Section”—a division of military intelligence—who link his strange gift to Pavlovian conditioning he experienced as an infant in the laboratory of a legendary mad-genius professor, Dr. Laszlo Jamf.
One of the unwritten rules of literary fiction has always been: Thou shalt not use ESP seriously as a plot device.
Over two decades earlier, Jamf had (it is suggested) used the infant Slothrop’s erections as the “target reflex” tied to an unspecified conditioned stimulus “X.” If not reinforced, conditioned responses (like having an erection when presented with whatever X is) tend to diminish or “extinguish”—albeit often not completely. However, a theoretical possibility suggested by Pavlov in a letter to Pierre Janet is that the conditioned response could extinguish more than completely, or “beyond the zero.” The idea in the novel is that Slothrop’s adult sexual response is the result of his infant conditioning extinguishing beyond totality and into a mysterious negative “transmarginal” realm, and this is the object of much speculation in the 760-plus pages of the novel.
I call Gravity’s Rainbow “unfinished” because no one who starts the novel ever gets to the end. What starts out as fascinatingly crazy becomes boringly crazy about half the way through, and the reader’s interest, so to speak, detumesces. Revisiting the book recently, however, I confirmed what I had already suspected, which is that the secret of Slothrop’s condition(ing)—the mysterious X—remains unanswered all the way through to an increasingly ambiguous outcome, in which the character descends into madness, and even the circumstances of his childhood—including the very existence of Dr. Jamf—are called into question.
This is to be expected: One of the unwritten rules of literary fiction has always been: Thou shalt not use ESP seriously as a plot device. Writers breaking this rule quickly get relegated to the ghetto of SF, which up through Phil Dick’s day remained very much a “trash stratum.” The genre gods exist to serve the dominant mechanistic paradigm. Pynchon scrupulously avoided Dick’s fate by keeping the real nature of Tyrone Slothrop’s “gift” ambiguous, and surrounding that character with materialists (e.g., Dr. Pointsman) bent on explaining it away rationally.
Yet Pynchon clearly had a genuine fascination with parapsychology—he also wove PK experiments into his previous, much shorter novel, The Crying of Lot 49—so his ambivalence produced a kind of literary neurosis: Without descending into tepid realism, the only acceptable literary alternative is to postpone the answer, and keep postponing, in an endless spiral. The result is the kind of wordy symptom always produced by inability to be rid of a fascinating-yet-repellant remnant of the Real: A profusion of words and ideas that circle endlessly the void at its heart. (This unwillingness to accept or acknowledge the paranormal implications of the Real also accounts, I believe, for Slavoj Žižek’s descent into frenetic wordy repetition over the course of his career, but that’s another story.)
Yet neuroses can create a secure terrarium environment in which prophetic jouissance can sprout and even bear very interesting fruit; somehow Pynchon managed to quite uncannily precognize (or at least, anticipate) some of the most interesting modern developments in a theory of psi, which partly emerged from research conducted in the 1970s in California, especially at Stanford Research Institute (SRI).
Standing at Attention
For example, at SRI and in his time on the Star Gate program, physicist Edwin May noticed that when remote-viewing targets somehow involved high-energy discharges like nuclear tests, electromagnetic pulses, or rocket launches, the viewers were almost always dead on—much more accurate than with other targets. As a result, May has theorized that psi either orients toward, or is actually carried by, signals of extreme entropy change, things moving rapidly from a state of order to a state of disorder. May has also argued that, even when it seems to take other forms, psi is always basically precognition.
The behaviors that become associated with presentiment in adulthood may be culturally conditioned reflexes associated specifically with the repression of our psi functioning during the first few years of life.
The idea that psi is linked to entropy gradients could, May suggests, find some theoretical rationale in classical physics, where time itself is often understood as tantamount to the inexorable increase in entropy dictated by the second law of thermodynamics. Interestingly, in The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon had already homed in on the key entropy-vs.-information aspect of psi with his “Nefastis Machine,” a perpetual motion device whereby “sensitives” raise the internal temperature of a box and move a piston inside by focusing their attention on a picture of physicist James Clerk Maxwell affixed to its side. But the linkage of Slothrop’s premonitory organ to V2 strikes—which, because the rockets are supersonic, actually precede any audible warning—is a purer (and really, genius) expression of this linkage.
May clearly has hit on something important about psi. I’ve noticed that my most uncanny precognitive dreams and other premonitory experiences usually involve an entropy gradient of some sort, such as deaths, landslides, rocket launches and mishaps, explosions and fires, and breakages of household items. My life isn’t actually very exciting, fortunately, so more often than not I seem to be keying in on news reports of these events, or their signs and traces, not the events themselves (except for the breakages). This leads me to think that our unconscious preferentially attends to information about entropy gradients, whatever sensory channel we get it from, because it is relevant to our survival, and thus is part of a primitive threat-vigilance orientation.
In other words, I doubt the actual psi signal is somehow carried from the future via entropy or changes in entropy; in terms of May’s “multiphasic theory,” this would mean entropy gradients belong to what he calls the neuroscience domain, not the physics domain. (I discuss this question in the current issue of EdgeScience magazine as it applies to 9/11.) Recent advances in quantum computing provide a plausible (albeit still hypothetical) mechanism for how the brain could exchange information with itself through time, which I will discuss in a future post.
Pynchon was also prescient in linking psi to the most unconsciously willed of reflexes, the sexual response. Another big advance in parapsychology in recent years is the “first sight” theory of James Carpenter, a clinician and researcher at the Rhine Center in North Carolina, who assigns psi to the unconscious/preconscious realm as part of our basic adaptive mechanisms. Carpenter describes psi as the “leading edge” in our perception, and underscores how it operates in tandem with PK as really the root and basis of our engagement with the world. Carpenter doesn’t link it to sex per se, but his theory makes good sense of why psi seems to manifest itself most clearly in rewarding flow states and skilled engagement, a kind of enjoyment for which Slothrop’s compulsive amorous activity is a perfect metaphor.
As argued in the previous post, it may not be accidental that the most prophetic writers have also been the most frenetic, churning out creative material at a rapid pace in order to bring in a meager income—which suggests that they (a) love it and (b) don’t have any better job prospects and (c) cannot be thinking too much about what they are doing. (An extreme form of this principle is automatic writing—or in our day, automatic typing—which is an exercise that can produce very interesting unconscious and precognitive material.) Again, this would link precognition specifically to the reward system of the mesolimbic areas of the brain, and to the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is released in these areas precisely to entrain our attention and activity on “the next thing,” whether threatening or rewarding.
Dopaminergic circuits are also involved in Pavlovian conditioning—the substitution of new behaviors and stimuli for more basic rewarding or aversive behaviors. As may have been the case with Tyrone Slothrop, the behaviors that become associated with presentiment in adulthood may be culturally conditioned reflexes associated specifically with the repression of our psi functioning during the first few years of life, when normal socialization (parental reward) compels us to be linear and reasonable in our thinking. Psi is both driven into the unconscious and possibly also somatized, leading to the hypothesis that many “hysterical” physical symptoms such as those Freud investigated in his patients could actually be precognitive signals that lack more straightforward expression. More generally, such signals could take the form of the completely nonverbal and non-verbalizable behavioral complexes that psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas called the “unthought known.”
Feed Your Psi Dolphin
Thus we shouldn’t associate “prophecy” solely with intellectual work and creative achievements like books or art or dreams; and it also isn’t remarkable or rare. Paranormal foreknowledge manifests unconsciously, unintendedly, and constantly in our lives, but often in ways we don’t want or intend, and almost always it gets lost in the chaos and noise. We are most in tune with it, though, whenever we are engaged in whatever skilled activity we are best at and most enjoy—whatever puts us in that Zen flow state that shuts down the critical mind. In Slothrop’s case, that is sexual seduction, but skilled physical activities of all kinds may be a fertile ground to look for psi. Esalen founder Michael Murphy wrote of transcendental and psychic experience in sports (including golf), and my guess is that it is in sports and martial arts that the most consistent and constant psi manifestations probably occur, yet we are not likely to become aware of them because these activities do not usually leave a paper trail. Athletes and fighters are generally not served by reflecting analytically or intellectually about what they are doing, the way writers are.
Precognition may not be seeing the future or knowing the future or even feeling the future, but instead producing a behavior that is tied to a forthcoming reward.
Acting, singing, playing a musical instrument, and other kinds of performances, when likewise engaged in with skill and complete immersion, are probably similarly conducive to psi. In the ancient world, prophecy manifested in song, for example, and this could help explain much of the psychic aspect of modern spiritualism and shamanism, as well as the overlap between genuine psi phenomena and stage magic, another highly skilled and semi-high-stakes activity that ought to take the critical left hemisphere offline temporarily. “Mixed mediumship” is the term for the oft-noted admixture of possibly real psi phenomena with stage trickery; Uri Geller, who impressed nearly all scientists who actually worked with him that his talents were genuine, nevertheless also used trickery in stage perfomances, which made it easy for pseudoskeptics like James Randi to call him a fraud.* SRI physicist Russell Targ reported to Jeffrey Kripal (Authors of the Impossible) that he received what he thought was real telepathic information while performing stage magic. It may not matter what the activity is, simply performing skilfully some behavior that consumes the left hemisphere’s attention, ideally with some physical component, seems to open the psi channel.**
There is also aviation, an occupation with notorious links to psi ability. As in athleticism or stage magic, piloting an aircraft requires senses attuned and alert, and puts the pilot in a thrilling, highly connected flow state. Flying also embodies and expresses precisely the bird’s-eye psychic view associated with threat vigilance. Examples of aviators claiming psychic phenomena are myriad—Amelia Earhart is reported to have used ESP to locate missing aircraft, for example. Some psychic aviators, fortunately, have taken up writing. One of the more naturally gifted psychics studied at SRI, for instance, was Richard Bach, pilot and author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who came to the attention of Targ and Hal Puthoff because that novel clearly indicated an experience with out-of-body travel, a common factor in the lives of the most gifted psychics (including Ingo Swann, Pat Price, and Joe McMoneagle).***
My point here is this: Because psi is best expressed as an unconscious reflex, it may be possible to adopt an ultra-reductive, behaviorist, even Pavlovian way of thinking about the problem, just as Pynchon does: Precognition may not be seeing the future or knowing the future or even feeling the future, but instead producing a behavior (it could be a dream, or a physical response, or an utterance, or a drawing, or a story) that is tied to a forthcoming reward. A premonition or hunch that pays off in a confirmatory action is part of a reward loop, entraining—literally, training, as in conditioning—the attentional faculty on future information. It may be that practices of skilled engagement ranging from aviation to stage magic to frenetic writing for the pulps not only open the door to psi by focusing the senses and occupying the critical, conscious mind but also simply condition the psi apparatus through providing constant rewards or payoffs that, via the magic of dopamine, propel us forward to the next reward in an ongoing chain—like feeding sardines to your psi dolphin.
Completing the loop with a confirmation, providing those payoffs, is key. Psi needs to be seen as one half of a dual system, the other half being our everyday actions and perceptions that serve to confirm—or not—our unconscious presentimental instincts or conscious precognitive hunches. (Elsewhere I’ve suggested that psi specifically trades in probabilities coexisting in a state of superposition prior to confirmation through physical measurement—a quantum version of this idea.) The result is, I believe, a literal form of what Alfred Korzybski called time binding: reaching forward into the future and drawing ourselves toward those confirmatory nodes, those confluences where our psi is “judged” against a real state of affairs. Social time has a “cellular” structure, built around these bound symptom-loops of psi and jouissance. And creative writers, who are unknowingly copying from their own dimly intuited future works and those of other writers, are conveniently adumbrating for us, like a gravestone rubbing, this basic time-binding structure humans and all social animals, and probably even all living things (even bacteria) are engaged in.
Unfortunately, as a culture and probably as a species, we are deeply fearful of prophecy, and thus engage in elaborate mental gymnastics to disguise the living future as something else—which will be the subject of the next installment.

* One personality trait typical of psychics (as well as performers) is extroversion, although in some cases histrionic might better describe it: a high emotionality and attention-neediness. There may be a link between need for external validation and the emergence of psi abilities in childhood, which the trajectory of someone like Geller, or probably any number of lesser-known spiritualist mediums, shows. The extroversion of psychics (and their sometimes frustrating lack of critical thinking about what they are doing) may contribute to the overall scientific distrust of psychic displays. Scientists are mentally rigorous (and often, pretty dull) people, after all, and no matter how compelling a bit of mind reading or spoon bending might seem to a layperson, scientists are likely to be biased against most such displays because they are, quite simply, cheesy, obviously calculated to get attention.

** Given its link to spontaneous and even frenetic engagement, I would hypothesize that some of the most talented psychics—probably unknowingly—would be improv actors. Improv is a very Zen activity that rewards not thinking, just doing, and probably generates prescient scenes that may also capitalize on the group effects known to facilitate psi. Some enterprising young parapsychologist (if young parapsychologists exist) ought to systematically record improv performances and compare them to news headlines over the following two days. My hunch is this would produce extremely interesting results.

In an improv course, one is taught to follow a single overriding rule summarized as “yes, and…” (or “yes, let’s…”). To support their team members (it is thought of as a sport, not comedy) and learn to count on their support, improv performers adopt the constant attitude of total agreement with the reality already constructed on stage and contribute by adding something new that does not undo or contradict it. The result can be highly exhilarating and surprising. This habit of saying yes and honoring the world already created in an unfolding open-ended performance very much resembles the ritual of honoring psi successes I wrote about in my article on “yes-saying” in psi, and probably also can connect psi to the efficacy of “new thought” systems of positive thinking. The point is not just having a sunny positive attitude and expecting your wishes to change the world; the point is building an expectation that positive results will be honored in the future, which entrains the unconscious mind toward those outcomes. You are essentially building a habit of rewarding positive outcomes into your life, which, if you are interested in psi, coaxes unconscious psi abilities into the light of day like a shy animal.

*** Martin Caidin, a WWII bomber pilot who became a prolific writer of sci-fi techno thrillers in the 60s—including the novel Cyborg, on which the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man was based—believed himself to have psi (specifically PK) abilities and also famously wrote the novel Marooned in 1964, about a space capsule malfunction in orbit; to coincide with a movie version in 1968, he revised the plot to center on an Apollo mission requiring help from ground control and a daring rescue mission. I have not read his novel, but it is supposed to have uncannily prefigured the Apollo 13 disaster two years later. A reader sent me an article on an additional fascinating ‘synchronistic’ angle to this story: One of the NASA engineers helping solve the problem reported that a creative solution for recharging the crippled capsule’s battery came to him as a result of coincidentally seeing the film version of Marooned on the very evening he got the call about the real crisis unfolding in space.

Thanks to Eric at:


3 Re: Altered States of Reading (Part 1,2&3) on Wed Oct 07, 2015 10:58 am



Altered States of Reading (Part 3): A Private Part of Time’s Anatomy

Tuesday, 6 October, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Twitter etc. went wild when a new book revealed allegations that UK Prime Minister David Cameron had, during an initiation ritual while at Oxford, inserted “a private part of his anatomy” in the mouth of a dead pig. To an entire nation, it was a hilariously obvious permutation of Charlie Brooker’s disturbing debut episode of his Black Mirror series four years earlier, which centered on a British Prime Minister being blackmailed to have sex with a pig on live television, focusing specifically on the role of social media in compelling the leader to carry out the deed.
Fear of foresight causes all but the boldest writers to misinterpret their own visionary creative states as pointing to the past (i.e., channeling a muse or spirit, or maybe a past life) instead of what they really are: actually pulling information from their own future timelines.
This kind of thing—not the pig part, but “low culture” (e.g., TV, pulp) writers predicting the future, including future revelations of events that occurred in the past but of which the writer could have had no knowledge—happens all the time. Yet our collective disbelief in anything like precognition causes us to simply have a curious chuckle at these coincidences … maybe be a little “weirded out” (as Brooker said he was) … and then forget them soon afterward. It doesn’t occur to anyone to actually keep a tally. Nevertheless, I feel confident that enterprising grad students in some future department of Precognitive Media Studies will one day go back and scrutinize the whole archive of network TV from its inception, comparing dates teleplays were written with subsequent news headlines, and will turn up some pretty mind-blowing correlations.
In part one of this series, I described such a possibly prescient relationship between the planetary computer Vaal in a 1967 Star Trek episode called “The Apple,” written by science fiction writer Max Ehrlich, and Philip K Dick’s VALIS over a decade later. For various reasons, I suggested this may have been an inadvertent precognitive “plagiarism from the future” on Ehrlich’s part instead of, or in addition to, the usual forward-in-time influence of Ehrlich’s Star Trek episode on Dick’s novel.
Delving into the matter, I found that Ehrlich had not only seemingly anticipated other of Dick’s themes (and book covers), but also seems to have shared Dick’s interest in the paranormal sources of people’s dreams and obsessions. I don’t know much about Ehrlich’s life, but when writers take an interest in such things, it often arises from personal experience or at least some hunch that they themselves are in contact with sources of information that go against the prevailing mechanistic, materialistic worldview (i.e., the creative pattern Jeffrey Kripal described at length in Mutants and Mystics).
Boring Old Reincarnation
“I’ve always wondered why people have always reincarnated from the past. Those few times when I’ve had feelings of remembering another life, it was from the future.” Jacques Vallee
Ehrlich was specifically interested in reincarnation. He is most famous for his 1973 novel (turned into a 1975 movie) The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, about a young professor inexplicably obsessed with Indians and increasingly troubled by recurring dreams of living another life and being murdered by his wife while taking a swim in a lake. Proud accidentally discovers the real setting of his dreams in a TV broadcast (a motif Ehrlich no doubt precognitively borrowed from Spielberg’s Close Encounters a couple years later); urged by a parapsychologist interested in reincarnation, he travels to the New England town in the TV program to investigate his nightmares and confirm his growing belief that they are indeed memories of a past life in which he was murdered.
Proud meets and befriends a girl named Ann, the daughter of a man of Indian heritage named Jeff Chapin, who had drowned “accidentally” two weeks before he was born (and when Ann was three months old), and he clandestinely interviews Ann’s mother (and Jeff’s presumptive killer) Marcia. Marcia becomes suspicious of her daughter’s boyfriend’s uncanny similarity to her late husband, which reawakens her own guilty but also hate-filled memories of him; Jeff had drunkenly raped her on their final night together. When Peter then goes for a swim in the same lake … rather stupidly … Marcia takes a boat out and kills him—in other words, duplicating the murder of him when he was her husband, two and a half decades earlier.
It’s a very unsubtle novel, and totally predictable, but its obviousness is kind of what makes it interesting: If you squint, you can almost see it as a PhilDickian story but without Dick’s level of intellectual nuance. Dick grasped that anomalous cognition, what we assume are memories from the past, could just as easily be memories from the future. This inversion of common sense is precisely what made Dick Dick, and in fact we know from his Exegesis that he had read or seen Peter Proud and had exactly that impulse to revise its core idea: “Idea for To Scare the Dead. Dreams, but not about the past as are the dreams in Peter Proud; rather, they are like the dreams about the approaching Spaniards by the Aztecs—visions of the future.”
In other words, here, as in my suggested relationship of Vaal and VALIS, Ehrlich is clearly a lesser writer grappling with the same phenomena as Dick was (in this case, intimations of his own self haunting him from another time) but interpreting them in a less original, more culturally safe manner. Had Dick or someone with more of his sensibility rewritten Peter Proud, it would be far more interesting as well as parsimonious: We might notice how Proud’s nightmares were precognitive of a TV program, first of all, and perhaps how by automatically (mis)interpreting his visions of drowning as related to the past, Proud’s actions inadvertently elicit or fulfill precisely the tragedy he was actually foreseeing in the future; he’d be killed in order to cover up an old crime that his search had stumbled on.
It would be, in other words, exactly like a cross between any number of Dick’s stories (like Minority Report) and Nicolas Roeg’s exquisite 1973 film Don’t Look Now—a tragedy unfolding directly from a skeptic misinterpreting a precognitive vision of his own funeral as a percept in the present.* Interestingly, Ehrlich later continued his reincarnation obsession with a 1979 novel, Reincarnation in Venice, which begins just like Roeg’s movie ends: with a murder on one of Venice’s canals.
Such a revision presents us, really, with the “unconscious” of Ehrlich’s novel. I’m not saying there was a psi connection in this case, but there is a curious coincidence of names again. What is a “Peter Proud,” after all, but an erection, a filled dick?** Even though his imagination was not up to Dick’s level and thus he wrote about boring old reincarnation instead of actually seeing the future, is it too much a stretch to suppose Ehrlich may have resonated with the time-looping themes Dick was exploring and perhaps with his name as well?
Fear of Foresight
Like many (or all?) time travel narratives, Peter Proud is fundamentally an Oedipal story: The murder that ends the novel comes on the night Peter is expecting to sleep with, essentially, his own daughter Ann; the incestuous tension is not lost on Peter himself, although it doesn’t seem to give him too much pause. In psychoanalysis, the crime for the Oedipal transgression is castration … and what is killing a “Peter” but that?
It often serves our interests to think our fate is out of our hands, and thus any uncertainty about time and what it would mean to have authentic foresight confuses us and scares us.
As I suggested in my “Time’s Taboos” post, it is precisely Oedipus’s confused enjoyment, which “impossibly” connects his future and past, that turns psi into a psychoanalytic problem. The point of the tragedy is not merely that Oedipus committed an ancient version of the “grandfather paradox,” killing his father and marrying his mother; it is that he committed this crime and enjoyed it, and only belatedly discovered what it was that he had been enjoying. Oedipus is thus really a tragedy about disbelieved (and consequently misinterpreted) psi.
I am wondering whether we shouldn’t think of the idea of reincarnation as a kind of defense or denial of the Oedipal situation, a way for people to safely express their baffling precognitive or otherwise paranormal experiences without feeling like they’ve committing the ultimate taboo of ‘traveling’ mentally into the future. Such an idea would raise very interesting possibilities about much “survival” literature that go well beyond a single early 70s paranormal page-turner: What if people’s “past-life memories” are really precognitions of scenes of confirmation that elicit a reward—the reward of a parent, the reward of a researcher, their own reward in being something special? Is reincarnation just an Eastern way of pretending that the thin, gauzy veil of the future is actually a mirror?
Both Oedipus and the idea of haunting discarnate spirits were important themes in the life of probably the most famously prescient of writers, Morgan Robertson, the guy who prophesied the sinking of the Titanic 14 years before it occurred, as well as other events. True to the pattern, Robertson was not only a poor writer (unfortunately, in both senses), but he was also deeply interested in the psychic possibilities of the subconscious mind; he believed when he was writing that he was channeling “some discarnate soul, some spirit entity with literary ability, denied physical expression…” Intrigued by his prophetic gift and by the unfortunate circumstances of his sad life and career, the parapsychologist and psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud delved into Robertson’s stories and novels in search of clues to his character. His essay “Chance and Necessity: Is There a Merciful God in the House?” in his 1982 book Paranormal Foreknowledge is an utterly fascinating exercise in psi-criticism.
According to Eisenbud, who took the time to read an impressive chunk of Robertson’s pretty unreadable-sounding body of work, his hyper-masculine protagonists on the high seas invariably pine for mother figures they are fated never to possess, while they rail against the inscrutability of fate. The iceberg that sinks the “Titan” in Robertson’s most famous work Futility is just one example of cruel destiny that Robertson’s protagonists are unable to avoid, except occasionally in the depths of drink or, in a few very interesting cases, through an uncanny sixth sense. The protagonists are pretty clearly self-portraits.
Several friends (writing in a 1915 volume called Morgan Robertson, The Man) confirmed the writer’s psychic gifts, although oddly enough, none of them ever mentioned his most uncanny prophecy about the Titanic, nowadays his only claim to fame. (Eisenbud assumes this lacuna is probably because such mention would have seemed in bad taste, just three years following the disaster.) Eisenbud links Robertson’s prophetic habit directly to his tortured obsession with destiny and the question of man’s ability to change it—a question seemingly tied to his drinking problem, the “iceberg” in his life that he couldn’t escape no matter how hard he tried. Very sadly, drink left him, in his early fifties, a destitute and forgotten failure in his own eyes. He died at age 54; he was found, oddly enough, standing up, leaning against a bureau in a hotel room.
Having observed precognitive and other psi phenomena throughout his clinical work, Eisenbud identified a specific pattern of individuals expressing precognitive ability as part of a gambit either to subvert apparent destiny or to camouflage themselves within it to allay their guilt. Eisenbud specifically compares Robertson to a married clergyman patient of his who produced uncanny precognitive dreams as part of a defense against his homosexuality. There are hints in Robertson’s stories too of an (at the time) unspeakable sexual orientation that may have driven him unconsciously to choose a life of the sea for several years but write of it as though it were a kind of grim fate he could not avoid: The world of his fiction is a sweaty fantasy of manly seamen pressed into service, constantly bloodying each other in brutal fistfights, etc. Robertson seemed to want fate to absolve him of something that he feared was a choice … and vice versa. His precognition, Eisenbud argues, answered this need.
Eisenbud makes a very key observation that goes well beyond Robertson in its implications: “With such an ambivalent attitude toward fate, all one would need, it might seem, would be heads and tails on the same throw. But any good precognitive event provides just this, since … the metaphysical significance of such an occurrence is sufficiently in question to satisfy both schools.” Had Robertson been born a few decades later, he might have fastened on Jung and the similarly ambivalent concept of synchronicity, to satisfy the same need. I’ve argued elsewhere that synchronicity is ultimately an empty concept, a kind of security blanket that absolves us of the responsibility to actually engage with our foresight and confront its implications. But some kind of security blanket about fate may be something we all need, in one way or another, because we are all at least a bit ambivalent about the whole question of fate.
While we might think we want to know the future, so we can change it, for example, most of the time we really do not want that responsibility. It often serves our interests to think our fate is out of our hands, and thus any uncertainty about time and what it would mean to have authentic foresight confuses us and scares us. Does seeing the future doom us or “lock it in” in some way? … Or does a vision of the future make it radically open to alteration and force us to take responsibility? Precognition is the ultimate can of worms that is best left unopened, which is why it is almost always only expressed unconsciously and inadvertently, either in the course of skilled activities where we are blind to it, or occasionally as parapraxes or creative inspirations whose source we misidentify and whose true prescience largely eludes us.
Fear of foresight thus causes all but the boldest writers to misinterpret their own visionary creative states as pointing to the past (i.e., channeling a muse or spirit, or maybe a past life) instead of what they really are: actually pulling information from their own future timelines. Dick, almost alone among genre writers, was not afraid of the latter possibility.
Is a Cigar Ever Just a Cigar?
Despite the various cultural and psychological forces acting to divert our attention from psi, I anticipate that in our lifetimes, we will see it acknowledged, specifically as precognition, facilitated by the discovery that the brain is a quantum computer continually accessing information in its own future as well “repressing” unwanted data into its own past. The physics of information that Jacques Vallee called for, governing our weird relation to time, will turn out to be none other than the hyper-associative logic of the personal unconscious and memory, just as it is formed and revealed in dreaming, the nightly updating of the search system we use to find and index this atemporal data. Dreams are not “wish fulfillments” as Freud thought, but Freud was exactly right in identifying their utterly associative, illogical character; although I don’t think he saw the link with Freud, Vallee called it a “metalogic,” which is a good term.
In the future, Christ on the Cross may be replaced by the 53-year-old Dick sprawled unconscious on the floor next to his coffee table, a martyr to the new religion of psi.
In the metalogic of our brain’s mostly unconscious search system, puns (both verbal and visual) are probably the most characteristic form of coincidence, forming the nuclei of attractor phenomena in the symptom space of psi. This is not the Jungian world of noble and poetic archetypes, but a cringingly personal world of low humor and wordplay. In such a world, there’s a lot in a name … particularly one as suggestive as Phil Dick’s.
I don’t know if I’m the first to suggest this, but I think Dick occupies a unique, special place at the juncture between the linear-causal classical worldview and the psi-dominated landscape of the future in part because of the accident of his name. The associative networks in the brains of readers (and in his own brain) unconsciously will have made a special place for him because his name happens to be that of the Phallus. In Lacanian theory, the Phallus is the virtual/absent emblem of the Real, the black hole around which the whole symbolic order revolves, producing in its vicinity all the apparent and actual time distortions that black holes in space can generate. The Phallus is the empty signifier that radically warps the spacetime of jouissance.
In other words, Dick was a living pun, and he acted and increasingly acts in our culture as a symbolic-associative attractor: His influence continues to grow posthumously, and it may even be that history converges more and more on his writings, increasing their prophecy quotient, precisely because of this associative attracting power. It is Dick’s prophetic-ness that made him famous, and it is his fame that made him prophetic, in a feedback-loop. Genius, I am convinced, is nothing other than prophecy, the ability to strongly channel one’s own future.
This kind of Bohmian resonance is responsible for the very shape of culture, I think: a kind of “cellular” relationship between precognition and confirmation (or the Not Yet and the Actual). This cellular structure happens to be most visibly apparent when psi leaves a rich paper trail, as it does with frenetic, amphetamine-fueled (or alcohol-fueled, in Robertson’s case) genre writers. Occasionally their more respected “literary” cousins also tap into it, as Thomas Pynchon did when he made a “precognitive dick” the MacGuffin in his highly prescient (prescient about prescience) Gravity’s Rainbow. Because most of us mortals cannot accept or even imagine that we are ever seeing the future, however, we contort all our anomalous experiences to conform to commonsense linear causality, and our confusion results in various anomalous events that we generally manage to forget as soon as they happen.
Dick saw through culture’s psi-distorting linear-causal mystification; and it is significant that, not unlike “Peter Proud” in the above retelling, Dick’s untimely demise was a punishment for his offense, which (not unlike Oedipus) was a kind of self-enjoyment, prophetic jouissance.*** In the future, Christ on the Cross may be replaced by the 53-year-old Dick sprawled unconscious on the floor next to his coffee table—an image Dick himself foresaw. His untimely, confusedly foreseen death was a kind of martyrdom, fulfilling his destiny to be the absent signifier, the ultimate “vanishing mediator” preparing the way for a new religion of psi.
* Nic Roeg is another rare artist of the period, besides Dick, who really confronted the issue of misrecognized precognition and overlapping time. It is present also in The Man Who Fell to Earth, a film that strongly influenced Dick’s VALIS but may have been influenced by VALIS in turn, precognitively: How else to explain the “alien” Thomas Jerome Newton’s brief vision of the pioneer family and their simultaneous, UFO-like vision of him—which is exactly like Dick’s/Horselover Fat’s superimposed ancient Rome, not to mention Dick’s own experiences of remembering seeing his future self visit himself in dreams. Roeg is subtly suggesting here that Newton is not actually a space traveler from another planet (the mundane, “nuts and bolts” assumption of the Walter Tevis novel the movie is based on) but is actually a time traveler from Earth’s thirsty, desiccated future. The story thus becomes one of Oedipal nostalgia—retreating into the past and staying there, descending into alcoholism, instead of going back to the future, where he came from. Alcohol (a stand-in for the breast) and Oedipus are a common convergence. It is also notable that Newton has no genitalia.

** Whether influenced in any way by Dick, Ehrlich was clearly highly conscious of his naming of his protagonist Peter Proud: The obscenely engorged member of Jeff Chapin before the rape is a vision that his widow cannot clear from her mind. The young Peter is like her own guilt as well as her own enjoyment come back to haunt her, the return of her repressed; Ehrlich makes it clear that Marcia’s guilt is as much over having enjoyed the rape as over the murder itself. Basically, Ehrlich whacks you over the head with the fact that Peter is a phallic symbol.

*** We usually say the punishment fits the crime, but in a Dickian universe the crime also fits the punishment: Dick died from multiple strokes; in other words, castration as punishment for masturbation. Don’t laugh—it could happen to you.

Thanks to Eric at:


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