God & Technology (Philip K. Dick)

dick theology

A double surprise, the appearance of God in Katherine Hayle’s How We Became Posthuman as well as the appearance of same in Philp K. Dick, of cyber-punk sci-fi fame. The place of God in Dick’s imaginative universe makes perfect sense. Its place in Hayle’s work is a little less obvious, and for all that, perhaps even more obscure.

Hayles’ cites this testimony by Dick, who seems to have come into direct (?!) communication with the Deity in 1980 (earlier visions in 1974 were attributed to the VALIS or Vast Active Living Intelligent System). Hayles wants to explain away these visions as the effect of mini-strokes related to extreme hypertension. No matter, since, as she herself will explain, the boundary between a hallucination and reality was not one that bothered Dick overmuch.

I might try to plow through Dick’s theological magnum opus, the 900+ page Exegesis; but then again, I might spare myself the aggravation. Here’s, though, the bit that caught my attention. God is the speaker speaking to the author.

Construct lines of reasoning by which to understand your 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 regress 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.” (Hayles p.190)

And here’s Hayles’ very comment: “For Dick, the construction of the observer cannot fully be separated from the construction of reality. Both end at the same point, in infinite regresses that, for mystical reasons, he chose to call God rather than a Maturanian reality that stands outside the compass of human knowing. In this way, Dick constructs and outside, authorized the name of god and made invulnerable by continuing to infinity, an outside that is safe from being co-opted and forced to become an ‘inside.’ The irony of course, is that this very construction may itself have been precipitated by a physical event in his head” (ibid.).

After this nice bit of exegesis, Hayles seeks to change the subject. She prefers instead the non-theistic, more ethically humane vision at the end of Do Andfroids Dream, involving a more “modest accommodation” that includes  artificial flies and an electric toad (p.190-1). But the metaphysical horse has been let out the door. What I like about this little bit of theology is the notion of deity as interactive intelligence, as counterpoint, tensions between inside and outside and lines of passage between, and that little bit of biblical cadence (“here I am” or hinneni). Hayle’s brief mention of God suggests that the endless, regressive hall of mirror-imaging that constitutes our information age at some point lets out onto the idea of deity as a point of egress.

An interesting place for a philosopher to start talking about God. Simon Critchley wrote a 3 part series at the NYT Opinionator about Dick, philosophy, and religious vision:




Critchley plays it cool here. He keeps his hand to himself, never explaining what might be full blown naturalism and full blown occultism.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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