Wednesday 11 December 2019

The wisdom of PKD (Philip K Dick): The Maze (i.e. the Matrix, or Virtuality)

I am continuing to read-/ listen-through Philip K Dick's journal Exegesis (2011); and continuing to find it just what I need, just now. Indeed, of its kind (a private document of spiritual examination and speculation) I can only compare it with Pascal's Pensees, or Wittgenstein's notebooks.

Especially in its first four years; the Exegesis has the advantage and disadvantage of being genuinely private notations, for personal consumption - whereas Pascal and Wittgenstein were writing with an eye on future publication - this means the Exegesis is honest to the point of being embarrassing (like watching somebody else's dreams).

I am struck by the fact that PKD was (and is) surrounded by non-religious, non-Christians - who have consistently failed to take seriously the Christian revelations of his last eight years (described by author Brian Aldiss as that God and Madness 'got him'); while orthodox Christians are (understandably!) repelled by Dick's record as five-times married, drug abuser and addict, parasuicide and mental patient etc.

Anyway, the outcome is that PKD was working alone, and that his post-mortem admirers and critics explain Exegesis by (essentially) explaining-it-away - or at least never taking his revelatory experiences as qualitatively how Dick himself regarded them. 

In section 22:24 - about 44% through the volume, and in 1978) PKD is speculating on the covert significance of his novel A Maze of Death (1970); which I happened to finish yesterday. Here he uses the word Maze to refer to what we might term the Matrix, or (my term) Virtuality - which is the man-made world of images, ideas, propaganda, officialdom and bureaucracy and (in general) mass/ social media. I've added explanatory links and emphases; my cuts are indicated thus...


[22:24] It is the nature of the maze, which is quasi-alive, to thwart knowledge. Maze and knowledge are antithetical; also maze and reality are antithetical. Out of this I derive: knowledge and reality are interrelated. 

So we can expect the active deceptivity of the maze to interfere with our ability to know, which means that it will perpetually occlude us in every way possible... Further, that we are occluded will be a fact occluded off from us...

Yaldabaoth is the quasi-mind of the maze, not its creator—since in fact it does not really exist; it is a condition or state we’ve been put in, not a world or place at all; all it really consists of is info fired by the two info-processing sources. 

The quasi-mind of the maze is as if insane, senselessly generating and destroying: it is like a wizard generating illusion upon illusion which shift and change constantly (thus giving rise to the spurious impression of the passage of time). 

It is the plan of the maze to establish and maintain disorder, because out of disorder arises the senseless—a condition which promotes intellectual confusion on our part, which aids in defeating our attempt to understand—which is to say, possess knowledge: the essential thing we must have if we are to triumph over the maze. Thus maze equals disorder or anti-Gnosis. 

No system of thought derived through our senses or a priori is going to be correct due to the calculated noise or inexplicability generated by the maze—only revealed Gnosis emanating from outside the maze—i.e., by/through Zebra—will be of any use. 

What is required of us is that we abandon both our reasoning power (as occluded or impaired) and our percept-system results (likewise) and try to hear the “low, murmuring voice” from outside the maze. This requires the ordeal of terror and destruction of our false self...

“Outward” explicability and inner occlusion are the twin weapons of the maze: that [process] which makes no sense, is fed to that percept and cognitive system which is (unknown to itself) impaired. 

The result is hopeless confusion, the antithesis of Gnosis. You have a deliberately damaged mind trying hopelessly to make sense out of a reality (and process) which adds up to nothing anyhow: a lethal combination, but quite in keeping with the purpose and nature of the maze and its quasi-mind; this is why we should speak of it as a maze—and a good one! 

Every hypostasis, intellectual or moral, is doomed to prove a failure; events will defeat it and expose its inaccuracy. Even nihilism and pessimism don’t always accurately depict the real situation: calculated runs of moral and intellectual order are introduced to cause us to keep trying to make sense out of what we are compelled to live through. Irony and paradox abound, and a constant calculated frustration of expectation and hope, a purposeful ruin of plans. 

The maze’s quasi-mind acts in a perverse way, but it is not malignant or malicious, just “insane”—which is to say irrational. This is why virtually every system of human thought simultaneously works and does not quite (perfectly) work. 

Until finally you get into ultimate absurdities, as “the theory alters the reality it describes,”... which, when you uncover this, you are faced with the obvious impossibility of ever correctly formulating a workable world view—without knowing why you can’t!


This strikes me as a brilliant prefiguring of what has become much more obvious in the past forty years - the public/ media/ bureaucratic 'Matrix' world as we now experience it.

Elsewhere, PKD describes how we brilliantly constructed the Maze so that it would be realer-than-real and could fool us, and then we voluntarily entered the Maze with the hubristic conviction that 'I' am too smart to be fooled by it; then unsurprisingly, once inside we took it for real - and were trapped. Trapped, until or if there is some outside intervention that will take us out from the Maze - i.e. Jesus Christ.    

I would add that the Maze is only half the story; and the other half is that - having reduced the populations of The West to the state of chronic stunned perplexity and angst; the same System that has made the virtuality then offers an arbitrary but mandatory structure of order: international laws, micro-regulations and coercive enforcements; underpinned by methods of onmi-surveillance - leading to the modern form of totalitarianism that we see unfolding on a daily basis.

And that is the mainstream dominant-culture choice: live in permanently confusing chaos, or accept arbitrary tyranny (or some combination of chaos and tyranny - which , indeed, seems to work best).


Faculty X said...

Sounds like Gnosticsm. For reasons that are never well articulated many Christians declare Gnosticism a heresy.

Jesus often sounded like a Gnostic. The Bible is explicit that this world is run by the powers of deception.

Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - yes, that's where the link from Yaldabaoth takes you. PKD knew a lot about 'Gnosticism' (including from his friend Bishop James Pike - the model for Timothy Archer in his last novel). The Exegisis is about as far from a work of systematic theology is imaginable - and types of Gnosticism are given consideratio among many other ideas. For me, Gnosticism is just a slightly more extreme version of mainstream Christian theology, based-on and shaped-by the previous and existing pagan Greek and Roman philosophers, especially Plato.

I feel the appeal of Platonism, but now consider both mainstream and Gnosticism to be theological errors: post-hoc distortions.

I suppose the essential difference between the mainstream of Christian churches and the Gnostics, is that the mainstream was applicable to be a ruling 'temple' religion and became absorbed into the ruling structures of the Roman - Byzantine Empire; while the Gnostics were (as mystery cults) left-out/ stamped-out.

Space said...

This screams of Joseph P Farrell's Topological Metaphor where as soon as we think we have learnt anything, even partially about our world, entropy takes hold and what was perfect understanding in a single moment soon degenerates though its continued iterations in the world.

We are but humble men sailing the currents of reality to and fro and what is a good sailor without a strong canvas, compass, anchor and who could forget his most important tool of all, his trusty smoking pipe and tobacco pouch.

Michael D. said...

That reminds me of Russell Kirk's (mysteriously, completely unknown and unread) final novel, Lord of the Hollow Dark, with its surprising treatment of gnosticism and maze symbolism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MD - I would not like anyone to take away the impression that Exegesis is 'about' Gnosticism. If it was, I would not be enjoying it as much as I am; because I find people harping on Gnosticism to be tedious - whether pro or contra.