When my friend loaned me his copy of The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (2011), he hoped I would recognize a kindred spirit in the novelist. We do share similar interests. Phillip K. Dick was interested in Jungian psychology, Gnostic religious thought, and synchronicity. He recorded his dreams and attempted to understand them, how they related to his waking experiences. All these things were hopeful signs. The book is a collection of Dick’s written attempts to find the meaning of some visionary experiences which he had in February and March of 1974. Dick refers to this time as 2-3-74, as a kind of code for the phenomena.
The first thing that struck me in wading into the text was the presence of what Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious. This spiritually interactive phenomenon is comprised of psychic matrices. Jung called these the archetypes, after Plato’s use of the term for the ancient patterns. These matrices appear to have both consciousness and purpose. They have been interacting with human consciousness for millions of years. No one knows whether these archetypes are inter-gallactic in nature. Certainly they could be, since they are considered to be Divine. They interact using the ancient picture language of symbols, the universal language of the human psyche. This is one of the reasons a good dream interpreter must be aware of the mythological and religious symbolism of the human race. The Divine communicates using these symbols through giving us dreams, visions, and synchronous experiences. The world’s religions are filled with accounts of these phenomena.
John A. Sanford caught America’s attention in 1968 with his book Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language. Written from the perspective of a parish priest, Sanford was able to connect the world of his congregation with the religious meaning of symbols. The Bible is filled with references to dreams, visions, and other messages from the Divine, so it provides a great text with which to introduce Jung’s insights. The most important thing to remember is that symbols speak metaphorically, not literally. This basic foundational understanding of Carl Jung’s work is difficult to remember when we are caught by the magic of the unconscious. And Philip K. Dick was no exception to the general tendency of science and its methodology to look for literal explanations of psychic phenomena. Dick was after all a science fiction writer, someone who created possible futures in his novels.
When Dick has a series of dreams in which a large blue book is presented to him to read, he focuses on the details of the dreams and begins searching his library for the book. He says of this quest, in a letter to Claudia Bush, July 5, 1974, “I had the keen intuition that when I at last found it I would have in my hands a mystic or occult or religious book of wisdom which would be a doorway to the absolute reality behind the whole universe (p. 15).” This is a common feeling one has when possessed by the magic of the unconscious. I certainly can relate to Dick’s attitude. I felt the same way during a similar quest in 1976, but I had a Jungian mentor at the time who could remind me about the nature of the psyche. Malcolm Dana would redirect me toward a metaphoric interpretation by asking me questions like “What does this say about your inner process? How do the images speak to you as if they were a magic mirror? What are the symbols recommending to you? What are they talking about?” If we apply such questions to Dick’s visions, we see that the Divine Dream Maker is presenting him with a book of wisdom which he should be reading, one “singed by fire on all sides”. After three months of searching he finds a very boring literal book The Shadow of Blooming Grove and concludes “it goes to show you that you should never take your dreams too seriously. Or else it shows that the unconscious or the universe or God or whatever can put you on. (pp. 15-16)” But he doesn’t stop there, he returns to the magic and pursues it again.
A week later he writes to his friend about several dream symbols in addition to the big blue book. “The sibyl. Who knows and sees everything. . .The deeds of men, especially. The cyclops (in the same dream as above). Contributing the seeing Eye. A friend called “Paul” holding up galley proofs for me to read, which I am told consist of a “book of prophecies”, and in which I find a passage about myself. The word “sintonic”, which I am told to be. (p. 16)” He wakes up and starts searching for the word, which turns out to be Greek “meaning self-harmony, etc. In harmony with, etc. A key term in Pythagorean thought, also Roman.” The Greek word is syntonic and Philip gets its meaning. He is to be this way, he is to find a way to be in harmony with himself. This shouldn’t surprise a Jungian scholar. The main function of dreams is to compensate for the dreamer’s conscious attitude. Dick is too focused on the analytic and scientific, so the dreams are mythological and symbolic. The sibyl is a form of prophesy, an oracle. She knows the future, what Philip should be doing in order to attain “self-harmony”. He gets a lot of the meaning in his dreams. The cyclops however is unable to have binocular vision. He has no depth perception. Humans have two eyes, each connected to different hemispheres of the brain, which makes balancing the two images necessary. This seems to me to be the meaning of the cyclops, that the dreamer’s vision is not human. He doesn’t see the depth in the symbolism, much as a giant cyclops would have difficulty with the bicameral mind.
Dick pursues his quest by taking the Greek and Roman leads as directions. This is a great idea as it is often how the Divine communicates with us. The Dream Maker knows the dreamer’s tendencies from the inside out and sure enough, Philip goes to the Roman poet Virgil’s work Aeneid. There he finds rich material about the cyclops and the Sibyl, who takes Aeneas through “Blissful Groves”. Here is a further amplification. The big, blue book is not a literal one. The unconscious often uses things which sound alike in order to communicate. “Blooming Grove” sounds like “Blissful Groves” and Philip is impressed by the association. He doesn’t seem to remember that his name is that of one of Jesus’ disciples and that the great interpreter of the visionary experience in earliest Christian times was the Apostle Paul. Paul is holding up pages of prophesy about the author. And what is prophesy? Possible futures. The dreams are trying to show the dreamer how intimately connected the Divine Dream Maker is to the dreamer. Destiny is written on the galley pages, if only Philip will look at them symbolically. But he doesn’t.
Philip K. Dick was fascinated by the synchronicity of the dreams and the way they seemed to be trying to show him something. He is discovering what Jung and every dream interpreter has discovered throughout the millenia. God communicates in a forgotten language, the language of symbols. Just how forgotten it is can be seen in the way Dick rummaged through all the trails and clues left by the Divine. He concluded that his dreams meant “This is prophetic knowledge. Which is to say, I can take what comes and has already come as accurate prophecy. (p.17)” He is now becoming inflated. His inner feminine (the Sibyl) is taken to provide knowledge about literal events, the burglaries of his home had to do with his claim to have knowledge about James Pike, his friend, the Episcopal Bishop of San Francisco, to died in the Middle Eastern desert. In the dream world he becomes Jim Pike.
This is a very interesting motif, the way the repressed parts of the psyche come to the forefront of consciousness. Jung called this the Shadow. Philip’s Shadow is projected onto Bishop Pike, the Latin scholar and religious leader, who insisted on a stain glass window in his Cathedral of Albert Einstein. This is a perfect part of the science fiction novelist’s repressed side. All of the things Philip is not, James is. This manifests in several fascinating ways. First is the interest in the polar opposites, which Dick finds in Zoroaster’s teachings, “The God of Light versus the Master of the Lie”. Here is the religious aspect of Philip K. Dick coming out. He says, “The greatest thing in the Persian system of course was its affirmation of life, the value of life, the joy of life, the justice possible in this world and not in the next, the value of trying. It put down passivity, resignation, despair, and I’m glad to say once released from the power of the Lie I saw passivity, resignation and despair as intended by-products of the Lie (p. 18).” These are the things Dick suffered, depression and despair. The polar opposites are what must be harmonized. This is the teaching of Pythagoras about syntonic resonance. The opposites must be held in a paradoxical balancing act. That is the essence of what Jung called Individuation. But that is not what happens when one is caught up in an inflation. The dreams are showing the dreamer that he is out of balance and getting very dangerously close to identifying with the Deity instead of having the proper humility.
Then the Shadow took control. The personality of Philip K. Dick is possessed by the spirit of Bishop James Pike. Philip’s behavior changes abruptly. He drinks beer instead of his favorite, red wine. He becomes shrewd and fires his agent, thus making lots more money. His musical taste shifts back to Bach and the classics. He turns off his television when his favorite show comes on. He would rather listen to Bach. He says of this change, “To explain the totally different tone and attitude of my letters I told my agent I had my father-in-law, a CPA, working with me. At the time this was to my mind a lie, but looking back I can see a thread of truth in it. Someone was and is working with me on all business matters, making my attitude tough and shrewd and suspicious. I am hard boiled and I never regret my decisive actions. I can say No whenever I want to. Jim was that way—no sentimentality. He was the shrewdest Bishop I ever knew (pp. 24-25).”
Instead of seeing himself as evolving, as integrating his repressed Shadow qualities into his personality, Philip talks as if there were some fragment or spirit which is dominating him. This is a very difficult situation, to give up the old ways of being, to “slay the ego” as it is referred to in the Eastern traditions. The ego is a conglomerate of memories and attitudes, always able to dissolve and reconfigure itself, if allowed to do so naturally. But when we become too identified with a certain way of being, we get stuck there and natural change/growth is felt to be threatening. Letting go of old patterns and ways of defining ourselves is necessary if we are to integrate the Shadow, to grow into who we are to become. The dreams show us what needs to happen, where we are out of balance, and how to achieve integration. But in order to understand our dreams we must remember that they are symbolic in character, not literal. The Exegesis is an excellent example of what can go wrong when we don’t have a mentor with whom to consult, we get trapped in the labyrinth of analysis, focused on our own shit and unable to grow. That’s the beginning of the end. Phillip K. Dick died of a stroke eight years later at age 56.