Thanks to Frank Bertrand for contibuting this thesis to philipKdick.com. Read some of his own essays at Frank Views.

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THE UNIVERSE OF PHILIP K. DICK - SYSTEMIC ANALYSIS


by Gilbert De Meester


Universiteit Antwerpen
Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen
Department Germaanse Filologie


Eindverhandeling Ingediend Tot
Het Verwerven Van De Graad Van
Licentiaat In De Germaanse
Filologie Door


Promotor: Luk De Vos


Wilrijk 1982


Acknowledgements

Thanks to the invaluable help of my promotor, Luk De Vos, I have been given the opportunity to do this dissertation on my favorite SF author.
He has provided me with reading material (both primary and secondary) to enlarge my basic knowledge of the work of Philip K. Dick and has been my mentor throughout the process of writing and re-writing.
Thanks to my second reader, Manuel Aguirre, I have been able to find system in Dick's universe, which has been both new and satisfactory. If it hadn't been for him, I never would have thought the system was there.
For a lot more, to the both of them: thanks.

Foreword

This dissertation contains a systemic analysis of a literary corpus. System theory can be, and has been,1 used to get a new or better insight into a variety of subjects: the study of biology, sociology, physics, linguistics, literature, etc.
A systemic analysis is an analysis in terms of systems. This can take on different forms: all aspects in the field of study can be regarded with special attention to their relations, in this case explanations will be given mainly in terms of subsystems, parallels, contrasts and evolution; or all aspects will be reduced to three basic systems: equilibrium, homeostatic, and process systems. Naturally, this doesn't rule out the possibility to look for relations or evolution, as can be seen in this dissertation.
Splitting up themes, motifs, symbols into three basic categories can certainly give interesting results, provided the special angle of vision is justified with a view to the specific (literary) corpus. For the generality of this framework makes it easy to impose on any corpus, violating the original order to make it fit in the framework, and thus, getting highly irrelevant conclusions.
Because of the nature of the division, a classification in equilibrium, homeostatic and process systems is more evident within the field of science fiction than in any other, but even then it could be seen as a violation of the truth to say that this framework brings a deeper insight into the ideas of every science fiction author. Only when we find as much evidence - e.g. in the use of the very terminology - for the relevancy of the framework as we do in the case of Philip K. Dick, only then can we say that a systemic analysis can bring us insight into the (concept of) universe of an author.
First we will have a look at the three basic systems, in how far they are represented and what specific, or even special, forms they take on and then we will try to give a (simplified) graphic representation of Dick's universe. The main part of this dissertation will consist of further evidence and exemplary detailed analyses.
To be more precise, this means a closer look at Galactic Pot-Healer with special interest in equilibrium systems, at The Simulacra with a view to getting a better insight into homeostatic systems and, finally, at A Maze of Death with special attention to process systems. Of course, our interest will only go to the different systems in the concrete forms they take in Dick's work, and not to the systems as such.
The last chapter will be a kind of a verification of the validity of the presented theses in the novel VALIS, which was published after the main ideas of this dissertation had already been conceived.

1 Numbers refer to the notes following each section.

Notes

1 Cfr. the titles mentioned in the bibliography by Koehler and Mainz for system theory in biology; McLaughlin and Stevick: linguistics; Buckley: sociology; von Bertalanffy: physics and biology.

The three basic systems and Dick's universe

Equilibrium systems

These are the systems that already have reached or that are moving towards perfect equilibrium. They are ruled by the second law of thermodynamics, according to which "a system moves toward equilibrium; it tends to run down, that is, its differentiated structures tend to move toward dissolution as the elements composing them become arranged in random disorder."1 In other words, the energy needed to keep up the organization gets lost until the final stage, where no energy is needed, is reached. This loss of energy is called entropy.
In all of Dick's novels, "the natural tendency of a universe stripped of creative human meaning is entropic regression toward a state of chaos and anomie, and he sees the tendency everywhere"2 as in the evergrowing heaps of "kipple" in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the sound Manfred Steiner makes in Martian Time-Slip and which becomes the book's new word for entropy3, and so on. The - consciously chosen - importance given to entropy can also be seen in the use of entropy as a powerful symbol in many novels (especially Galactic Pot-Healer) and some short stories (e.g. "Pay for the Printer").
Finally, one aspect of the deity in A Maze of Death, viz. the Form Destroyer and the evil god which is at the root of destruction in the story "Faith of Our Fathers" give entropy its place in a theological or philosophical framework. This supports the idea that we can really get some insight into Dick's concept of the universe by making a systemic analysis. (see also the religions under process systems)

Homestatic systems

Here we have an organization which must be maintained at all costs. To do so, only precisely enough energy is added to keep a certain organization going and no more.
At first sight, they are the foremost reason for optimism in Dick's universe, because they withstand the forces of entropy in their continuity.
Throughout Dick's work we can find this continuity present in the - be it often incidental - appearance of mechanical devices, ranging from poisonous homeotropic darts4 over newspapers that edit themselves (the so-called homeopapes5) up to self-regulating cars with a bad or wise character6 and even a robot 'who' has written a theological pamphlet7. The last show Dick's interest in borderline cases (with the higher systems), which is further developed in the theme of the simulacra8.

Process systems

Process systems have a more complex organization, which they do not try to defend at all costs, but which they want to alter, elaborate and make more complex instead. Whereas homeostatic systems suffice with enough energy to withstand the entropy, process systems need more energy than the total amount of entropy working against the system. Examples are these sociological organizations that take more (energy) out of their environment than they put into it (or lose to it). The change is not necessarily constantly for the better; a system may have to fall into complete disorganization before a new and higher organization can come into existence. Culture can be seen as one of the most obvious examples of a process system; in Dick's work it will take an important symbolic place, e.g. in the many pots and vases as examples of creativity9 (which is in fact bringing a new form of organization into being). The energy needed to cope with entropy and to do much more besides, is called negative entropy.
It is the main hypothesis of this dissertation that Philip K. Dick has developed a very special form of negative entropy (or shorter: negentropy) to play a major part in his work. Beside that, it can give an explanation for Dick's persistent optimism in such an otherwise decaying and malignent universe.
The basic negentropy in Dick's novels lies in the characters' shared reality, which is in fact a shared construction of reality. In the first place this is possible (in a literary-technical sense) because for Dick a novel is "A story told by the characters to one another."10
In systemic terms this special form of negentropy can be explained as taking place in a system where every part (every individual) takes more out of the system than its or his individual contribution which is possible because the whole has more to offer than the sum of the parts. This is indeed not a very felicitous formulation11 but there is more in the system than each of its members actively (meaning: with a loss of personal energy) brings to it, such as the potential organization(s).
Also, the shared (insight into) reality makes it possible for the system to take more out of the environment than other more closed systems (isolated elements or individuals) can. In the words of Darko Suvin12: "The politically powerless turn the tables on the powerful by means of their greater sensitivity. This allows them a much deeper understanding of people and things, inner and outer nature..." The result is that artists or small groups with an obviously shared reality have access to or even generate negative entropy.
The most obvious example of the negentropic force in shared reality can be found in A Maze of Death (1970) in the polyencephalic dreams, a first study of which was already made in Eye in the Sky (1957). The same can be found throughout Dick's work in the point of view of narration (with the exception of We Can Build You. As further proof in Dick's work we can state (1) that schizophrenic Manfred Steiner in Martian Time-Slip who doesn't take part in the shared reality can only see human beings as decaying (equilibrium systems) or as robot-like (homeostatic systems) and that he ends up as half robot, half decaying body when he should still be in his prime, as the negentropic force can't reach or help him; (2) that the test for discriminating between humans and near-human androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is based on the human beings' capacity for empathy which is a form of partaking in a shared reality.
To get a more precise idea of Dick's concept of the universe we have to take into account one last datum, viz. that the characters' construction of reality with the help of negentropy is not simply linear; it goes through cycles, as Dick said: "exposing layers of progressively greater Being."13
This is reflected in many mandalic structures and symbols14, e.g. the religions in A Maze of Death15 and Counter-Clock World16 and in the endings of many novels, where we find a repetition of - at least part of - the plot plus a transformation of the known status in which the beginning or creation of a new cycle finds its justification. "At the end of each novel, Dick leaves his readers with at least the seeds of such a new creation."17
Now, we can undertake the graphical representation of Dick's universe. The scheme is adapted from W. Buckley:18

Notes

1 D. Katz and R.L. Kahn, "Common Characteristics of Open Systems", p. 91.
2 Angus Taylor, Philip K. Dick & The Umbrella of Light, part one.
3 "Gubble" is the inarticulate sound the boy makes; it is immediately associated with "gubbish" (rubbish) and both words are used to indicate a state of decay.
4 E.g. in The Penultimate Truth.
5 These appear in many short stories (e.g. "If there were no Benny Cemoli") and novels (e.g. The Crack in Space).
6 Such as Joe Schilling's ever-complaining auto-auto Max in The Game-Players of Titan or the wise cab which acts as a marital counsellor for Dr. Sweetscent at the end of Now Wait for Last Year.
7 See also the section about Galactic Pot-Healer.
8 The theme of the simulacra is part of the background of many novels and short stories; besides, it plays an important part in The Simulacra and We Can Build You and in the short story "The Mold of Yancy".
9 E.g. in Galactic Pot-Healer, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and in the short story "Pay for the Printer". It may even go so far that the creator or hobbyist at first seems to lose himself completely (subjectively), but in the end it turns out that he has given a new shape to the 'objective' reality, as in the stories "Small Town," "The Builder" and "Exhibit Piece".
10 Dick in his Vancouver Speech; quoted from A. Taylor's booklet (1975).
11 As Angyal states in his "Precedents to Systems Theory".
12 Darko Suvin, "P.K. Dick's Opus" in: Science-Fiction Studies, p. 167.
13 Philip K. Dick in "Man, Android and Machine", intended as a speech at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (in: Peter Nicholls).
14 For more information and examples, see: Mary Kay Bray in: Extrapolation (1980).
15 "With each greater circle the power, good and knowledge on the part of God weakened, so that at the periphery of the greatest circle his good was weak, his knowledge was weak - too weak for him too observe the Form Destroyer" (p. 9).
16 "The universe consists of concentric rings of reality; [...] These concentric rings finally wind up as God [...]" (p. 144).
17 Mary K. Bray, op. cit. p. 149.
18 Walter Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, p. 40.

"The seeds of a new creation" - or: is there any real progress?

If the best reason for optimism in Dick's universe comes from the fact that negentropic forces are persistently present in his novels, then we have even more reason - hence more proof for our hypothesis that the very personal form of negative entropy we have argued above is a major theme in Dick's work - when we can show that negentropy goes on beyond the plot (e.g. in symbols and the 'floating' point of view) or even beyond the book, which would be the case whenever a new cycle can be entered at the end of a book, in other words whenever the reader is invited or challenged to a new creation, i.e. a negentropic act.
In this chapter the endings of Dick's novels1 will be dealt with in order to see in how far and in what way they give support to our hypothesis.
In order to incite the creation leading to a new cycle the ending of a book should contain both repetition and some kind of transformation (cfr. supra).
As the negentropy goes on and on, it is important to see that we (can) only have seeds, beginnings or the pointing out of the direction. Hence the following last lines: "To keep on moving on..."2, "Let's get to work!"3, "He considered that a good sign too."4, "We're going to have to get accustomed to them."5, "Because we will not allow you."6, "But of what he could not yet tell."7, "This was just the beginning."8, "To begin to pack."9 Or the same in a more symbolic way: "The ship rushed on, nearer and nearer Earth."10, "The cab soared on toward the Tijuana Fur & Dye Corporation."11, "The car flew on silently, in the direction of the city receiving hospital."12

Solar Lottery (1955): In this first novel we immediately find our first example.
The entering of a new cycle in important matters is (mainly!) confined to the central character Ted Benteley, who is again - for the third time - under oath by the end of the book (repetition) but this time to himself, which is a major change (transformation). For the rest of the characters we have only Cartwright's belief that "that might catch on" (p. 179).
Also, the 'religion' of the book, made explicit in John Preston's ideas, propagandizes a form of negentropy, which is called "the highest goal of man - the need to grow and advance...to find new things...to expand." (p. 188) The fact that the book ends with this speech helps create the feeling that not only the prestonites are addressed, but the reader as well.

The World Jones Made (1956): This novel ends, as it began, in a refuge. The difference lies in the changed background situation: in the beginning the refuge was built for 'aliens' on earth, in the end for human beings in an alien atmosphere. This is also an exponent of that form of negentropy which can be expressed in the S.F.-cliché: "the stars our destination!"
Other important items can be found in Cussick's last thoughts on Jones: "The new religion. The crucified god, slain for the glory of man...a death not in vain." (p. 151) They both provoke the reader (make him think about Christ in a new way - i.e. repetition and transformation) and introduce one of Dick's recurring themes: the Second Coming13.

The Man Who Japed (1956): It would be stretching the point to say we can find seeds for a new creation in this novel. On the other hand, the open ending always invites some kind of creativity on the part of the reader. The same goes for the next novel:

Eye in the Sky (1957): This is an important book though, because it contains the first example of Dick's own idea about negentropy and at the same time the ultimate, explicit form of his 'floating' point of view in the shared building up of reality - and, chapter by chapter, of the plot.

The Cosmic Puppets (1957): It has been impossible to find this book.

Time Out of Joint (1959): Obviously an open ending, but not much more than that.

Dr. Futurity (1960): Again, not much more than an open ending.

Vulcan's Hammer (1960): More or less the same, except for some thoughts on the last page, propagandizing the value of negentropy over homeostatic systems in the words: "But at least the living elements, the human beings, had survived. And the mechanical ones had not. That was a good sign, a step in the right direction."

The Man in the High Castle (1962): This is one of Dick's best novels and certainly one of his most consciously written. So, surely, we ought to find evidence for our hypothesis here. And indeed, many critics14 agree on the fact that, though the focus point of the plot is elaborated completely, the author's intentions go beyond the last page. Viz., when Julia finds out that "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" contains truth - be it Inner Truth - this holds challenge to the reader's creativeness. Especially when we see that "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" has almost the same relation to the reality the characters share, as The Man in the High Castle has to the reality the readers share, because then what is true for Julia is true for us, readers, too.15

The Game-Players of Titan (1963): The situation in the end is open to many different conclusions of the plot. Besides, there is an obvious message for the reader when the players of earth see themselves as the vugs see them. "This is how reality appears to you, and it's just as real as our own view." (p. 150) Seeing the relativity of reality certainly helps the reader to enter a new cycle, closer to Reality (beyond relativity).

Martian Time-Slip (1964): This novel leaves the reader with a question, viz. after we have seen some aspects of the future (already cycles beyond the book), but how will things develop now that the Bleekmen have altered the future through their help in Manfred Steiner's escape? This is one seed for a new creation - be it inexplicit - but there's more to support our hypothesis. E.g. the visual representation of the necessity of shared reality for negentropy in the figure of the decayed, half-mechanized Manfred Steiner (cfr. supra) and the fact that only Bleekmen could set him free, as they are the only ones who share his reality.

The Simulacra (1964): The most important conclusion this book seems to offer is that sub-human creatures (the "chuppers") are still more valuable than highly sophisticated simulacra, among other things because the "chuppers" have some kind of culture (always a sign of negentropic forces at work).

The Penultimate Truth (1964): The last page contains both repetition (copywriter Adams is convinced they will find a new way to keep humanity quiet) and transformation (Nicholas - the representative of easily fooled humanity - is determined not to let it happen). It is also important that precisely these two are suggested to have an influence on the future, because they are the ones with the shared reality closest to the truth. And finally, the title is all too clearly proof of the cyclic pattern.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965): Possible seeds can be found in the question where and how Palmer Eldritch (a very strange crusader indeed!) will next show up.

Dr. Bloodmoney (1965): The most important message (as the subtitle stresses) seems to be: life goes on, but the best way to survive is in small communities - where shared reality is of the utmost importance. This concept of shared (construction of) reality is probably the reason why Dick never answers the question whether Dr. Bluthgeld really causes the catastrophe and whether he really reaches Dangerfield in his satellite.

The Crack in Space (1966): Here, we are left with hardly any room for speculation.

Now Wait for Last Year (1966): This novel contains a lot of both repetition and transformation. Repetition we find in the proliferation of the main characters who depend on their multiple existences for survival. Transformation in the fact that the plot is changed every time they meet one of their other 'selves' and in the conclusion that things will go on changing (after the last page) because some of the meetings are still in the future for one of the 'selves'. Besides that, we can find repetition in the last page (Dr. Sweetscent returns to his wife) as well as transformation (his wife is, by then, a braindamaged woman).

The Unteleported Man (1966): The form in which it has been published is only half of the novel Dick wrote. The other half rests, still in manuscript, in the University of California. So, we can hardly discuss the end.

Counter-Clock World (1967): At the end of this novel Sebastian Hermes again is confronted with 'deaders' or 'old-born' wanting to be dug up (repetition), but all of them at once (which transforms the plot). Note also that the symbol of rebirth stands for the beginning of a new cycle. In Dick there are hardly any deaths, but if there are, even they are part of the process of going to Reality or Being.16

The Zap Gun (1967): In this novel the transformation of the plot (in the last chapter) is pushed to its extremes. The fate of Don Packard is obvious - mainly because the last chapter is a very close repetition of the previous one, which already was a repetition in itself - but the reason why this should happen or the instigator behind this attack are completely obscure. This leaves the reader a lot of freedom and at the same time makes it very clear that the novel is not complete without some creativity on the part of the reader.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968): Although this novel is rather complete (the plot is elaborated as far as can be, at least) it contains an interesting symbol of shared reality as a negentropic force. Again the religion illustrates Dick's views on negentropy - so we might as well say that his ideas about the way negentropic force comes into being are close to his personal philosophy. In this religion people make use of empathy boxes in order to come into contact with Mercer (their 'prophet'). It also brings them into contact with each other and on p. 176 we find the following: "Mercer isn't a fake. Unless reality is a fake." This means that reality only exists because of empathy between people and this is these people's religion, their way to survive on a higher plain, in other words their negentropic force.

Ubik (1969): Here also, as in The Zap Gun, the last (short) chapter transforms the plot in an extreme way. A channel of influence in a new direction is opened. Note also that dying in this novel is simply a step on the way to Being.17

Galactic Pot-Healer (1969): Though the plot as such does not evoke further creativity, the last chapter certainly symbolizes negentropy plus the advantage it has over simply making new what was broken (a kind of homeostasis): creating pots gives Joe Fernwright a purpose in life whereas pot-healing never was enough for him.18 The fact that his first work of art was a failure doesn't seem to bother him: creativity is always better than restoration.

A Maze of Death (1970): In one of the next chapters this novel will be examined in more detail. Suffice it to say here than the end again transforms the plot in extreme ways.

Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970): There's not much to base yourself on for further creations in the last chapter of the novel. But clearly a direction of the process to Reality is given, viz. as follows: things are getting more and more complex until a climax is reached and a new stage, then they get more and more simple, etc. In the story the 'New Men' are getting smarter and smarter which helps them on, in the end they are getting simpler and simpler which helps them grasp something as complex as God by seeing it in a simple statuette. Of course this is only a simplified account of negentropic processes (close to the scheme in the introduction) and Dick knows this, as can be seen e.g. in the analysis of A Maze of Death.

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