Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality”

In 1963, Philip K. Dick won the coveted Hugo Award for his novel The Man in the High Castle, beating out such sci-fi luminaries as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Arthur C. Clarke. Of the novel, The Guardian writes, “Nothing in the book is as it seems. Most characters are not what they say they are, most objects are fake.” The plot—an alternate history in which the Axis Powers have won World War II—turns on a popular but contraband novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Written by the titular character, the book describes the world of an Allied victory, and—in the vein of his worlds-within-worlds thematic—Dick’s novel suggests that this book-within-a-book may in fact describe the “real” world of the novel, or one glimpsed through the novel’s reality as at least highly possible.

The Man in the High Castle may be Dick’s most straightforwardly compelling illustration of the experience of alternate realties, but it is only one among very many. In an interview Dick gave while at the high profile Metz science fiction conference in France in 1977, he said that like David Hume’s description of the “intuitive type of person,” he lived “in terms of possibilities rather than in terms of actualities.” Dick also tells a parable of an ancient, complicated, and temperamental automated record player called the “Capard,” which reverted to varying states of destructive chaos. “This Capard,” Dick says, “epitomized an inscrutable ultra-sophisticated universe which was in the habit of doing unexpected things.”

In the interview, Dick roams over so many of his personal theories about what these “unexpected things” signify that it’s difficult to keep track. However, at that same conference, he delivered a talk titled “If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others” (in edited form above), that settles on one particular theory—that the universe is a highly-advanced computer simulation. (The talk has circulated on the internet as “Did Philip K. Dick disclose the real Matrix in 1977?”).

The subject of this speech is a topic which has been discovered recently, and which may not exist all. I may be talking about something that does not exist. Therefore I’m free to say everything and nothing. I in my stories and novels sometimes write about counterfeit worlds. Semi-real worlds as well as deranged private worlds, inhabited often by just one person…. At no time did I have a theoretical or conscious explanation for my preoccupation with these pluriform pseudo-worlds, but now I think I understand. What I was sensing was the manifold of partially actualized realities lying tangent to what evidently is the most actualized one—the one that the majority of us, by consensus gentium, agree on.

Dick goes on to describe the visionary, mystical experiences he had in 1974 after dental surgery, which he chronicled in his extensive journal entries (published in abridged form as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick) and in works like VALIS and The Divine Invasion. As a result of his visions, Dick came to believe that “some of my fictional works were in a literal sense true,” citing in particular The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, a 1974 novel about the U.S. as a police state—both novels written, he says, “based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.” He claims to remember not past lives but a “different, very different, present life.”

Finally, Dick makes his Matrix point, and makes it very clearly: “we are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.” These alterations feel just like déjà vu, says Dick, a sensation that proves that “a variable has been changed” (by whom—note the passive voice—he does not say) and “an alternative world branched off.”

Dick, who had the capacity for a very oblique kind of humor, assures his audience several times that he is deadly serious. (The looks on many of their faces betray incredulity at the very least.) And yet, maybe Dick’s crazy hypothesis has been validated after all, and not simpy by the success of the PKD-esque The Matrix and ubiquity of Matrix analogies. For several years now, theoretical physicists and philosophers have entertained the theory that we do in fact live in a computer-generated simulation and, what’s more, that “we may even be able to detect it.”

via Reality Carnival

Related Content:

Robert Crumb Illustrates Philip K. Dick’s Infamous, Hallucinatory Meeting with God (1974)

The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick: Documentary Explores the Mysterious Universe of PKD

Free Philip K. Dick: Download 13 Great Science Fiction Stories

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



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  1. Emma Zarate says . . . | February 3, 2014 / 4:50 pm

    “But I rather suspect that my experience is not unique what perhaps is unique is the fact that I’m willing to talk about it.”

    I think more of us could be louder. And together, even louder.

  2. Me says . . . | February 4, 2014 / 2:26 pm

    Dimethyltryptamine…

  3. TK says . . . | February 4, 2014 / 3:39 pm

    Suppose that deja vu was the sense of two alternate realities coming together rather than branching off.

  4. Max says . . . | February 4, 2014 / 7:35 pm

    What an amazing guy, but I also find it really interesting that this is mindblowing for a lot of people, and he puts it in a particularly striking and mindblowing way. But shamans and spiritual people have been saying more or less the same things for ages, and yet PKD is regarded as a visionary. I think he was a visionary, but I also think his main contribution was just being true to himself and delivering these messages to humanity like he did. He could see things and articulate them from a perspective that is just stunning, and I think absolutely unique. But we all can do that and we all are visionaries, we just haven’t taken the steps to truth that he did. In a sense he was just a person waking up, or perhaps he woke up. Many people are going through the same things, although the details are different; they don’t make for such cool stories.

    I just find it really interesting that we regard him with such wonder, but in shamanic cultures, he would just blend in and people would just think of him as ordinary.

  5. Steffen says . . . | February 5, 2014 / 8:15 am

    What you are saying Max is so true. Well said..

  6. gentlyweeps says . . . | April 24, 2014 / 10:12 am

    Excellent article! It should be noted, though, that the intuitive type is a concept from C.G. Jung’s personality typology, not Hume. Jung may have been an influence on Dick as he is even mentioned by name in “The Man in the high castle”. Apart from his typology and archetype theory of the unconcious, Jung was also a close collaborator of Richard Wilhelm who brought the I Ching to fame in western culture by translating it from Chinese to German.

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