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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