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Metaphysical Quotations from the novels of Philip K Dick

compiled by Andrew May

Originally appeared on the website philipkdick.com

Science fiction is an ideal medium for philosophical speculation. Probably the first person to exploit its full potential in this regard was A E van Vogt, whose 1945 novel The World of Null-A is a brilliantly worked-out exposition of the principles of General Semantics (an early precursor of both Deconstruction and Neurolinguistic Programming). By the early '50s Van Vogt's career had moved away from fiction, and the torch was passed to the young Philip K Dick, who rapidly established himself as the metaphysical SF writer par excellence.

To give a flavor of Dick's versatility as both writer and thinker, I've compiled the following selection of philosophically-oriented quotations - one from each of his SF novels. To trace the subtle way that PKD's ideas evolved over time, I've grouped the quotations under seven roughly chronological headings: Belief systems, Counterfeit worlds, Demigods, Knowledge is power, What is human?, Shifting realities and Theological speculations.


Solar Lottery (1955)

People lost faith in natural law itself. Nothing seemed stable or fixed; the universe was a sliding flux. Nobody knew what came next. Nobody could count on anything. Statistical prediction became popular... People lost faith in the belief that they could control their environment; all that remained was probable sequence: good odds in a universe of random chance.

The World Jones Made (1956)

"To me, the spectacle of demagogues sending millions of people to their deaths, wrecking the world with holy wars and bloodshed, tearing down nations to put over some religious or political 'truth' is -" He shrugged. "Obscene. Filthy - they're the opinions of absolutist individuals forced on whole continents. And it has nothing to do with the sincerity of the leader. Or the followers. The fact that they believe it makes it even more obscene. The fact that they could kill each other and die voluntarily over meaningless verbalisms..."

The Man Who Japed (1956)

"The domino method operates on the assumption that people believe what their group believes, no more and no less. One unique individual would foul it up. One man who originated his own idea, instead of getting it from his domino block." Mrs Frost said: "How interesting. An idea out of nothing." "Out of the individual human mind," Allen said, aware that he wasn't being politic, but feeling, at the same time, that Mrs Frost respected him and really wanted to hear what he had to offer. "A rare situation," he admitted. "But it could occur."

Vulcan's Hammer (1956)

The dissatisfaction of the masses is not based on economic deprivation but on a sense of ineffectuality. Not an increased standard of living, but more social power, is their fundamental goal. Because of their emotional orientation, they arise and act when a powerful leader-figure can coordinate them into a functioning unit rather than a chaotic mass of unformed elements.


The Cosmic Puppets (1956)

The headline seemed to hang a few feet in front of his face, the black type, yellow paper. Scarlet fever strikes again: Second child dies... The second child was Ted Barton. He hadn't moved out of Millgate on October 9, 1935. He had died of scarlet fever. But it wasn't possible! He was alive. Sitting here in his Packard...Maybe he wasn't Ted Barton. False memories. Even his name, his identity. The whole contents of his mind - everything. Falsified, by someone or something. His hands gripped the wheel desperately. But if he wasn't Ted Barton - then who was he?

Eye in the Sky (1957)

"We're subject to the logic of a religious crank, an old man who picked up a screwball cult in Chicago in the 'thirties. We're in his universe, where all his ignorant and pious superstitions function. We're in the man's head". He gestured. "This landscape. This terrain. The convolutions of a brain; the hills and valleys of Silvester's mind."

Time Out of Joint (1959)

"I want to see the factory; not the photograph or the model, but the thing itself. The Ding an sich, as Kant said. It's too bad you're not interested in philosophy," he said to Vic. "Sometimes I am," Vic said... "The other night coming home on the bus I got a look at how things really are. I saw through the illusion. The other people on the bus were nothing but scarecrows propped up in their seats. The bus itself - " He made a sweeping motion with his hands. "A hollow shell, nothing but a few upright supports, plus my seat and the driver's seat. A real driver though, really driving me home. Just me."

The Man in the High Castle (1962)

"But," Paul said, "it deals with alternate present. Many well-known science fiction novels of that sort." To Robert he explained, "Pardon my insistence in this, but as my wife knows I was for a long time a science fiction enthusiast. I began that hobby early in my life; I was merely twelve. It was during the early days of the war." "I see," Robert Childan said, with politeness... Still holding a copy of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Robert said, "What sort of alternate present does this book describe?" Betty, after a moment, said, "One in which Germany and Japan lost the war. "

The Game Players of Titan (1963)

Junk, like a billion golf balls, cascaded brightly, replacing the familiar reality of substantial forms. It was, Joe Schilling thought, like a fundamental breakdown of the act of perception itself... "I'm scared - what is this?" He did not understand and he reached out groping in the stream of atom-like sub-particles that surged everywhere. Is this the understructure of the universe itself? he wondered. The world outside of space and time, beyond the modes of cognition?


Dr Futurity (1960)

All the tampering had already been done. That was his theory. And, by going back, he would simply observe, not alter. The past had been tampered with up to the hilt, but none of them, not Loris, not even Corith, had recognized it. The portrait of Drake, with the skin darkened, the beard and mustache removed, would have looked very much like a portrait of Al Stenog.

Dr Bloodmoney (1964)

Now it must begin again, Bruno Bluthgeld thought to himself. The war. Because there is no choice; it is forced on me. I am sorry for the people. All of them will have to suffer, but perhaps out of it they will be redeemed. Perhaps in the long run it is a good thing. He seated himself, folded his hands, shut his eyes and concentrated on the task of assembling his powers. Grow, he said to them, the forces at his command everywhere in the world. Join and become potent, as you were in former times. There is need for you again, all ye agencies.

Martian Time-Slip (1964)

Down the hall, another teaching machine was addressing a group of children; its voice came from a distance, echoing and metallic. Jack strained to listen. "Gubble gubble," it was saying to the children. He closed his eyes. He knew in a moment of perfect awareness that his own psyche, his own perceptions, had not misinformed him; it was happening, what he heard and saw. Manfred Steiner's presence had invaded the structure of the Public School, penetrated its deepest being.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964)

What we have here, he realized, is not an invasion of Earth by Proxmen, beings from another system. Not an invasion by the legions of a pseudo-human race. No. It's Palmer Eldritch who's everywhere, growing and growing like a mad weed....With vast trailing arms he extended from the Proxima Centaurus system to Terra itself, and he was not human; this was not a man who had returned. And he had great power. He could overcome death.


Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964)

From the instant that Bunny Hentman's ship appeared the slime mold had become apprehensive; its thoughts, reaching Chuck Rittersdorf, were saturated with concern, now. "I am receiving ghastly malappraisals of the recent events," the slime mold thought to Chuck. "All emanating from the Hentman ship; he and his staff, and in particular the several Alphanes around him, have dreamed up a philosophy which places you, Mr Rittersdorf, dead center in the fictitious conspiracy against them."

The Simulacra (1964)

I could tell him, McRae thought. Ease his pain. But why? He did not like Karp, who had built and now maintained the simulacrum, kept it functioning as it had to function - without even a trace of hesitation. Any failure would have betrayed the secret, the Geheimnis, which distinguished the elite, the establishment.... Their possession of one or more secrets made them into Geheimnisträger, bearers of the secret, rather than Befehlträger, mere carry-outers of instructions. But all this to McRae was Germanic mysticism.

The Penultimate Truth (1964)

What would it be like, to have the earth open up and millions of humans, imprisoned subsurface for fifteen years, believing in a radioactive waste above, with missiles and bacteria and rubble and warring armies - the demesne system would sustain a death blow and the great park over which he flapped twice daily would become a densely populated civilization once more, nor quite as before the war, but close enough. Roads would reappear. Cities. And - ultimately there would be another war. That was the rationale. The masses had egged their leaders on to war in both Wes-Dem and Pac-Peop. But once the masses were out of the way, stuffed down below into antiseptic tanks, the ruling elite of both East and West were free to conclude a deal...

The Zap Gun (1965)

"Your conscious quandary as to the spuriousness of your so-called weapons designs is an artificial, false issue. It obscures the psychological reality beneath. You know perfectly well, as any sane human would, that there is absolutely no argument for producing genuine weapons, either in Wes-Bloc or Peep-East. Mankind was saved from destruction when the two monoliths secretly met at plenipotentiary level in Fairfax, Iceland in 1992."

The Crack in Space (1966)

This was a difficult situation. Myra Sands was not the sort who could endure uncertainty; for her things had to be either this or that, either A or not-A - Myra made use of Aristotle's Law of the Excluded Middle like no-one else he knew.


The Ganymede Takeover (1967, with Ray Nelson)

I'm still thinking, Paul Rivers told himself early that morning. He then heaved a wistful sigh and rolled over to give his belly the same opportunity to acquire a sunburn as his back had. Here I lie, surrounded by the silent flesh of my fellow human beings, he said to himself with a trace of bitterness, and my mind goes nattering on, as if I were back at the university lecturing to some slightly dense class of undergraduates. My body is here but my mind... perhaps, students, the central problem of man is that he is never where he is, but always where he is going or where he has come from. Thus when I am alone I am not really alone. And when I am with someone I am not really with them. How, he asked himself almost angrily, do I get my mind to shut its big energetic mouth?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

He had wondered, as had most people at one time or another, precisely why an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida.

We Can Build You (1969)

I didn't catch the alienness, the otherness, with the simulacrum that I had caught with Pris... Her main fear, I could see, was of closeness to other people. And that fear bordered on suspicion of them, assigning motives to their actions which they didn't actually have.

Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970)

"But you see," Provoni said, "they're the same way. There is an invasion of Earth by nonterrestrials, and everyone - everyone! - wants merely to continue living... Do you know what the French gentry were afraid of during the Revolution? They were afraid someone would come in and smash their pianos. Their narrow vision..." He broke off. "Which even I share," he said aloud, "to an extent".


Now Wait for Last Year (1966)

Across from him Don Festenburg leaned back, said, "You're lucky. But I'd better explain this. Here. The calendar." He pushed a brass object; across the desk Eric saw. "You've moved slightly over one year ahead." Eric stared. Sightlessly. Ornate inscriptions. "This is June 17, 2056. You're one of the happy few the drug affects this way. Most of them wander off into the past and get bogged down in manufacturing alternate universes; you know, playing God..."

Counter Clock World (1967)

He walked a short distance away, listening, sensing the cemetery and the dead beneath the headstones, the corruptible, as Paul had called them, who, one day, like Mrs Benton, would put on incorruption. And this mortal, he thought; must put on immortality. And then the saying that is written, he thought, will come to pass. Death is swallowed up in victory. Grave, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting? And so forth. He roamed on, using his flashlight to avoid tripping over headstones...Nothing was more profoundly optimistic, more powerful in its momentum of good, than this re-forming of bodies which had, as Paul put it, corrupted away, and now, with the Hobart phase at work, reversing the corruption.

Galactic Pot Healer (1969)

She turned to face him, her eyes burning with exasperation. "It is recorded first," she said, as steadily as she could manage. "The Kalends spin the story; they enter it in the ever-changing book without a title, and it comes about, finally... That raises a question. Which is cause? Which is effect? The Kalends wove in their altering, evolving script that the Fog-Things would pass away. Did then the Kalends make them pass away?"

Ubik (1969)

Jory had told the truth; he had constructed - not this world - but the world, or rather its phantasmagoric counterpart, of their own time. Decomposition back to these forms was not of his doing; they happened despite his efforts. These are natural atavisms, Joe realized, happening mechanically as Jory's strength wanes. As the boy says, it's an enormous effort. This is perhaps the first time he has created a world this diverse, for so many people at once.

Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (1974)

In the living room of Ruth Rae's lavish, lovely, newly built apartment in the Fireflash District of Las Vegas, Jason Taverner said, "I'm reasonably sure I can count on forty-eight hours on the outside and twenty-four on the inside. So I feel fairly certain that I don't have to get out of here immediately." And if our revolutionary new principle is correct, he thought, then this assumption will modify the situation to my advantage. I will be safe. The theory changes the reality it describes.


A Maze of Death (1970)

" God contains all categories of being. Therefore God can be absolutely-not-God, which transcends human reason and logic. But we intuitively feel it to be so..." He eyed her. "What do you think about that?" he asked, a little timidly. "I think it's wonderful," Susie said, with enthusiasm. "It must be so great to have trances and perceive what you perceive. You should write a book saying that what Specktowsky says is wrong." "It's not wrong," Tony said. "It's transcended by what I see. When you get to that level, two opposite things can be equal. That's what I'm trying to reveal."

Deus Irae (1976, with Roger Zelazny)

"How did man and God get separated?" Like a child, she listened attentively, awaiting the true tale. Pete said cryptically, "A quarrel so old the story is garbled. Somehow God set man up where He could reach man daily, regularly; they were in direct touch, the way you and I are now. But something happened and somehow they wound up like Leibnitz's windowless monads, near each other but unable to perceive anything outside; only able to scrutinize their own beings... Evidently man did something, or anyhow God thought he had. We don't know precisely what it was. He was corrupted, anyhow, through nature or some natural substance; something made by God and part of His creation. So man sank our of direct contact and down to the level of mere creation. And we have to make our way back."

Valis (1981)

Man and the true God are identical - as the Logos and the true God are - but a lunatic blind creator and his screwed-up world separate man from God. That the blind creator sincerely imagines that he is the true God only reveals the extent of his occlusion. This is Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, man belongs with God against the world and the creator of the world (both of which are crazy, whether they realize it or not). The answer to Fat's question, "Is the universe irrational, and is it irrational because an irrational mind governs it?" receives the answer, via Dr Stone, "Yes it is, the universe is irrational; the mind governing it is irrational; but above them lies another God, the true God, and He is not irrational; in addition that true God has outwitted the powers of this world, ventured here to help us, and we know Him as the Logos," which, according to Fat, is living information.

The Divine Invasion (1981)

"The Ape of God", Elias said. "A Medieval theory about the Devil. That he apes God's legitimate creation with spurious interpolations of his own. That's really an exceedingly sophisticated idea, epistemologically speaking. Does it mean that parts of the world are spurious? Or that sometimes the whole world is spurious? Or that there are plural worlds of which one is real and the others are not? Is there essentially one matrix world from which people derive differing perceptions? So that the world you see is not the world I see?"

Copyright © 2002 Andrew May

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