Saturday 1 August 2020

Doubt thoroughly, and every thought leads to infinity - From Philip K Dick's Exegesis

If you have ever done any sustained metaphysical thinking - i.e. thinking about the ultimate nature of reality - then you will soon have reached the point of either 'It Just Is', or an infinite regress - infinities of infinities...

I don't think there can be any other terminus of thinking.

If we keep asking why, seeking explanations; it seems we must always reach a point at which we just must accept 'because that's the way things are'. Or, if we cannot or will not accept some kind of 'first cause' that Just Is; then we arrive at some kind of infinite regress along the lines of of :"this, because that, because another, and another, and another - without end...".

What does this mean? Well, for Philip K Dick (at least in some moods) it meant that infinite-regression was how God appeared to us; it was the evidence for God - but not evidence in the form of a conclusive proof; but as a kind of soft, probablistic, practical matter.

Since this problem does not go-away and cannot be eluded, we must either engage in a kind of systematic self-blinding and refusal even to ask the questions (which is the course taken by the modern world) - or else must consciously make an assumption relating to the purpose and meaning of reality (or the lack of purpose and meaning).

The problem does not go away, the assumptions stay 'assumed' - we are always pushed-back onto our own responsibility - or, most often,  our own refusal to take responsibility; our self-chosen enslavement of soul.

On November 17, 1980; Philip K Dick made this exploration in his Exegesis notebooks (1:262) - published 2011. I have lightly edited this for clarity: 

God manifested himself to me as the infinite void; but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven, with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was loving and kind and he had personality. 

He said, “You suffer a little now in life; it is little compared with the great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in my theodicy [i.e. that discourse on the justic of God, relating to goodness and suffering] would allow you to suffer greatly in proportion to your reward?” He made me aware, then, of the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet. 

He said, “I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am. Construct lines of reasoning by which to understand your mystical-religious experience in 1974. I will enter the field against their shifting nature. You think they are logical but they are not; they are infinitely creative.” 

I thought a thought and then an infinite regression of theses and countertheses came into being. God said, “Here I am; here is infinity.” 

I thought another explanation; again an infinite series of thoughts split-off in dialectical antithetical interaction. God said, “Here is infinity; here I am.” 

I thought, then, an infinite number of explanations, in succession, that explained the experiences of 1974; each single one of them yielded up an infinite progression of flipflops, of thesis and antithesis, forever. Each time, God said, “Here is infin- ity. Here, then, I am.” 

I tried for an infinite number of times; each time an infinite regress was set off and each time God said, “Infinity. Hence I am here.” 

Then he said, “Every thought loads to infinity, does it not? Find one that doesn’t.” I tried forever. All led to an infinitude of regress, of the dialectic, of thesis, antithe- sis and new synthesis. Each time, God said, “Here is infinity; here am I. Try again.” 

I tried forever. Always it ended with God saying, “Infinity and myself; I am here.” 

I saw, then, a Hebrew letter with many shafts, and all the shafts led to a common outlet; that outlet or conclusion was infinity. God said, “That is myself. I am infinity. Where infinity is, there am I; where I am, there is infinity. 

"All roads - all explanations for 1974 - lead to an infinity of Yes-No, This or That, On-Off, One- Zero, Yin-Yang, the dialectic, infinity upon infinity; an infinity of infinities. 

"I am everywhere and all roads lead to me; omniae viae ad Deum ducent [all roads lead to God]. Try again. Think of another possible explanation for 1974.” I did; it led to an infinity of regress, of thesis and antithesis and new synthesis. 

"This is not logic,” God said. “Do not think in terms of absolute theories; think instead in terms of probabilities. Watch where the piles heap-up, of the same theory essentially repeating itself. Count the number of punch cards in each pile. Which pile is highest? 

"You can never know for sure what 1974 was. What, then, is statistically most probable? Which is to say, which pile is highest? 

"Here is your clue: every theory leads to an infinity (of regression, of thesis and antithesis and new synthesis). 

"What, then, is the probability that I am the cause of 1974, since, where infinity is, there I am? 

"You doubt; you are the doubt as in: They reckon ill who leave me out; When me they fly I am the wings. I am the doubter and the doubt [From the poem “Brahma” by Ralph Waldo Emerson]. 

“You are not the doubter; you are the doubt itself. So do not try to know; you cannot know. 

"Guess on the basis of the highest pile of computer punch cards. There is an infinite stack in the heap marked INFINITY, and I have equated infinity with me. What, then, in the chance that it is me? 

"You cannot be positive; you will doubt. But what is your guess?” 

I said, “Probably it is you, since there is an infinity of Infinities forming before me.” 

There is the answer, the only one you will ever have,” God said.


Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Was PKD prone to headaches? Reading that gave me one. It Just Is is much more satisfying, once you get there. Interesting that he refers to 1974. I remember '74 as a pretty scrambled year, if not so scrambled as 2020 is so far.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - " It Just Is is much more satisfying" - I agree - but for some people the terminus of infinities seems to be necessary.

A said...

Thank you for digging through and sharing this aspect of PKD. I loved his fiction works, but had never known of his spiritual insights.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MA. It's only in this private work that PKD could be fully true to himself. In conversation he would adjust to the other person, in fiction to the story. He was really serious in his theology, especially about the "problem of pain" question. However, he never gets near own Mormon influenced pluralist developmental theology... I don't read him because I agree with his conclusions - but because he is an absolutely honest and diligent enquirer, and weirdly likeable!

Hamish said...

This type of thinking induces a type of vertigo in me. I remember as a young boy asking my mother if the universe has some limit to it size and her reply that it probably doesn’t disturbed me greatly. I have felt the same about these types of questions ever since. The only way I could get a grasp back onto things is to stop and make an intuitive leap that there is a structure and purpose behind things and that it is ‘all ok and right’. I could accept this quite easily, but the main difficulty I had with Christian belief for along time is how this infinite mystery related to me personally.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hamish - The rouble is that nowadays the culture encourages people just to give up on these matters. For example, a scientist looks only at one, or maybe two, preceding causes - leading up to what he is investigating. But where does this all start? Back and back, and the mind starts spinning - but rather than trying to understand why, people give-up - forever!

Or maybe in a vast circles where everything is caused by everything else, round and round forever...

For me, all chains of causes have a primary cause - an uncaused cause, an agent - but not one single and universal cause (because I am a pluralist).

But these questions ought to be asked, because our standard theory that everyone takes for granted - is obvious incoherent nonsense, and the prime cause of the incoherent nonsense of our society: and incoherent nonsese is necessarily evil.

Given that that which is spontaneous and unconscious to modern people is evil, I don't see any alternative but to think metaphysics - and keep thinking!