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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Comments (18)
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  • Emma Zarate says:

    “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.

  • Me says:


  • TK says:

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

  • Max says:

    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.

  • Steffen says:

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

  • gentlyweeps says:

    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.

  • God realized says:

    Tes we are in a Computer Simulation…I am a ET Contactee and have peiced together the Alternate Realities. It is Saturn/ Phonecian Controllers caller Empire rulers, the Alien looks like a old Zeta. They have the BEE Hive mentality, Peace and be one.

  • David says:

    Here i can visualize the all lecture, i want to see full version. it is possible?

  • Michelle McReynolds says:

    Is Vishnu dreaming us or are we dreaming Vishnu?

  • Mehmet Türker says:

    Interestingly, Omar, the second caliph of Islam, prominent companion of Prophat Muhammad, a high scholar, says that: God created man and made him sleep, when he dies he opens his eyes; he somehow figures a virtual reality.
    Kuran also, in its various verses, says, this world was merely a game and an entertainment; so humans should stay conscious and should not be lured by the attractions of the earthly life, instead should search for the REALITY.

  • Gerrold says:

    Nicely done! One error, though. The clause you say is in the passive voice isn’t though it does lack agency.

  • William Norris says:

    I had this explained to me a different way. If there is a universe of endless possibilities, then there would be an infinite number of realities. So what would the odds be, that your unique consciousness would actually be in this one reality.

    It would be 1 in infinity. Therefore, the odds are, you are actually NOT in this reality. The odds are much greater that you would be in a different reality other than this one. Thus, if you aren’t really in this reality, then what you believe is real must be a simulation or hologram.

    So we could be real, but odds are, we are not. Crazy!

  • ∞&#9809∞ says:

    I may or may not be my own alpha version of my own infinite life, I likely am at least one of an seemingly infinite number of the beta versions which likely are all connected to the alpha. The practically infinite experiences of the supposed infinite beta versions are all sampled and shared among all versions which we seemingly remember as dreams, which is why the details of the dreams can both appear so real and yet often so foreign to us . None of the experiences of the beta versions are simulations but beta realities.. PKD was close but no doubt did not understand that what we call our “Universe” is nothing more than a particle compared to what is outside of it. One of my own beta versions has experienced the outside and shared the view from up close to the outer reaches of a single sort of torus shaped galaxy which contained uncountable universes which in turn were in it’s own galaxy or Universe of tori.. There is certainly enough Reality(space) for every sentient being in our tiny universe and all universes in their various forms to make infinite possibilities real forever…Oh, by the way the Alpha version does get to experience everything…

  • ∞&#9809∞ says:

    I’m so sorry, I should have explained further… Everything beyond our known Universe and within are Reality, Reality goes on forever, it is never ending there is nothing outside of it and no extreme border. It does not matter if you do not believe this because it may be too hard for you to understand, to me this is the simplest and most basic answer to the questions about space, reality, how we got here(it’s also very simple), Time and gravity are all very easily explained without math, but math will help those who are unable to see the obvious, for instance I will explain Gravity.. Space is vast and places where gravity seem to exist are small, such as planets, the vastness of space as we well know contains billions of galaxies which are moving about space which can be considered interstaller weather of sorts, which in turn creates a minute in terms of comparison to it’s surroundings a force that pushes down on the many remote objects where the supposed gravity is taking place, thus a Black Hole is a much more greatly affected area of the force, which we can still call gravity but science needs to re-imagine it.. our atmosphere is as it is due to our living planet fighting back against this force , this is a bit harder to explain until you understand what “gravity” actually is and also would explain why not all bodies in space have different “gravities” and atmospheres.. We will be able to observe the tightly contained atmosphere of a black hole which is itself striving to break free into the surrounding space only when the force of that surrounding space is no longer greater than the force of the atmosphere of the black hole.. it is a never ending cycle… I’ll free up some time to discuss “Time” some other time..

  • ∞&#9809∞ says:

    Oops, where I said “this is a bit harder to explain until you understand what “gravity” actually is and also would explain why not all bodies in space have different “gravities” and atmospheres” I meant to say why all bodies in space “Do” have different “gravities” and atmospheres.. darn..

  • Tyson Kalender says:

    Well thanks for giving away the twist in The Man In The High Castle in the first paragraph. Ruined it for me!

  • Robert says:

    Okay so my biggest conjecture against the idea that we are living in a simulation or computer program reality would be what’s the agency behind this? A lot of people say it’s aliens which doesn’t really describe where the aliens came from or who created them so I guess I stand on the fundamental premise in the Bible that God created all. He is in control of the anomalies we see in science and nature he is ultimately in control of all creation

  • Shane Dahnka says:

    No, not Deems – this isn’t from deems.
    This comes from long long periods of sleep deprivation through the abuse of amphetamine.

    This has been termed “amphetamine psychosis”, mainly because science doesn’t know how else to label these types of visions, so psychiatry slaps a label and slanders – they don’t know what else to do or how to categorize this.

    I experienced visions like this back in 93. I wasn’t on amphetamines at the time, but I had kicked 3 days prior during which time I was running a fever of 106: hot enough to have my roommate trying to treat me with ice baths. She thought i was going to die, but was afraid to take me to the hospital.

    I had “an experience” – like nothing else I’ve ever experienced on any substance before or since (pretty much all of them). It started as an overwhelming bass frequency vibration, similar to the way a bass ampler feeds back. The walls seemed to have turned to liquid and were vibrating with the frequency. I looked up and above me looked like illuminated liquid mercury, swirling and vibrating with the frequency as well. It was absolutely mindbending , as in my mind could not process what I was experiencing – at some point (I had no sense of time) my brain settled on it either being God, aliens, or a nuclear missile attack.
    It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced, anywhere, ever.
    It wasn’t just the initial experience either – it was weird “nightmares” for weeks afterwards as well. The subject: the rise of nazi authoritarianism here in the US

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