Lee Braver on Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik” as Postmodern Gnosticism

By such a title I do not mean to imply that Dick or Braver are religious gnostics or obscurantists by any means, but rather that they affirm a cybernetic positive-feedback loop of information and communication with a “more than rational” notion of time, self, and cosmos. More of a secular and ironic twist to gnostic thought than an affirmation of some acosmic God. Or as with most anti-realists secularites of the pomo mode they harbor a intertextual or poststructuralist sense of being cut off in the prison house of culture. Shadows of shadows flowing in a world of signs in a solipsistic universe without access to the real world. Children of Kant and the turn toward subjectivity and subjectivation they seek ways back out of the maze and traps of a catastrophe that is also a fall into language.

The Philip K. Dick as Braver portrays him in Coin-Operated Doors and God: A Gnostic Reading of Philip K. Dick’s Ubikoffers us a Gnostic adventurer whose early works already prefigured the war between good and evil in the linguistiverse of rhetorical gestures, where humans are half-lifers in a scripted story ruled by a false demiurgic half-wit kid whose mission is to cannibalize the energy of these locked away zombies like virtual drones in frozen tombs dreaming they are alive and in ultra-paradise. Happy Campers that believe they are safe and secure until they begin receiving disturbing interventions from a strange object: the Ubik.  I’ll let you read the book and Braver’s essay for the details…

Such a reading shows just how difficult it is to reduce our inner experience or outer environmental systems to a verbal universe through art or science, religion or fiction. We live on the borderlands of truth rather than at its core, and everything is caught in the act of change rather than in the static field of static contemplation. We know in part, not whole; our minds are but the slow and selective evolutionary machines that have adapted to environmental pressures over millions of years that have in our age become disconnected from their early frames of reference. We now live in artificial worlds of our own making and suffer the consequences of these made habitats of meaning. A world where “heuristics” or models or reality that are partial, based on statistics and probability, rather than philosophical presuppositions; and, are more mathematical and organized by Set and Synthetic theory than by either Intellect or Sensation. In fact it is the main issue of our time that our “theories of meaning” or collapsing, are breaking down and leading us into what my friend Scott Bakker terms the ‘crash space’ of the symbolic apocalypse. Nick Land will associate it with the driving force at the core of capitalism that is accelerating us toward the closure of human history and time as Chronos. Let us venture into a world of fictive hyperstition, meme and egregore.

My friend Dirk (dmf) sent me a copy of Lee Braver’s* essay on Philip K. Dick’s use of Gnosticism in his science fiction novels. Of course many who have read his later novels such as the Valis trilogy or Radio Free Albemuth, as well as his 8,000 page Exegesis which is Dick’s mish-mash private journal, commentary, spiritual or agnostic adventures into the event in his life that occurred that many refer to as “the golden fish”.

On Feb. 20, 1974, Dick was hit with the force of an extraordinary revelation after a visit to the dentist for an impacted wisdom tooth for which he had received a dose of sodium pentothal. A young woman delivered a bottle of Darvon tablets to his apartment in Fullerton, Calif. She was wearing a necklace with the pendant of a golden fish, an ancient Christian symbol that had been adopted by the Jesus counterculture movement of the late 1960s.

The Sceptical Turn:  Postmodern Irony and Undecidability as Rhetorical Doomfest

To be honest my own interest in Gnosticism and heresies in general came about from a few of my own personal experiences during a troubling period of my life during and after the Viet Nam war. Like Dick I’ve never been able to quite explain satisfactorily to myself or others what I experienced during a series of events. Were they real? Psychological: psychotic episodes, schizoanalytical adventures in a more than rational ‘crash space’? Metaphysical motions on the wheel of cognitive disassociation? Lapses into older animistic and magical neuroblasts from evolution? Encounters with future intelligences?

In a sense my whole life from 1969 onward has been a search for a theory of meaning that would satisfy my restless mind concerning this series of inexplicable events transpiring over a number of years from 1969 to 1976. This is not the place to describe this period of my life in detail (I’m doing that in a fictional novel), just to note that my interest in both scientific explanations and philosophical speculations began in that timeframe. I’ve pushed both inner experience (Bataille) and rational and scientific explanandum from every angle of both ancient, modern, and postmodern forms of thought. Scoured libraries, friends, enemies, stars, lizards, madness to discover the underlying truth hidden in these events. Discovering that truth after all is relative to one’s socio-cultural perspective (i.e., Symbolic Order – Lacan/Zizek), rather than some eternal part of the order of things. Even Badiou/Meillassoux matheme’s are open to change and events, so that such truths are immanent to the world as process or even future retroactive intervention, rather than eternal Ideas inhabiting some external Outside. Below I’ll deal with Deleuze’s notions of virtual Ideas and intensities, etc. Let’s leave this for now.

Even now like Dick I remain both open and skeptical of human systems of meaning which have never quite explained to me such invasions of the Real into my early life’s existence. All such ‘Theories of Everything’ seem like dark horse scenarios for some dogmatic worldview that would enclose us in some Utopian tyranny. No. My experiences go against such things. To say I went through an existential crisis is an understatement. To say that like those ancient physicians who stated: “Healer heal thyself!” Or Nietzsche’s apply the “spear to your own wound”, etc. is to say I pushed myself to the breaking point, entered the abyss and came out the other side a changed being. One who would no longer be bound by any specific creed, dogma, or philosophical system. Or as William Blake would say: “Create your own system, or be enslaved by another man’s.”

Even now as I parade fare from Slavoj Zizek to Nick Land, Badiou to Deleuze, etc. I am not convinced of any of them totally or wholeheartedly. As it should be. In some ways philosophy has become theory-fiction in our time, a way of framing questions against the backdrop of two-thousand years of speculation on the universe and mind without reducing it to some essential or crystalized, eternal “truth”. Against Badiou I do not believe in such immanent or even transcendent truths. We live in a universe that we are for the most part blind too. Relying on brains that were developed over millions of years of interaction with local environments to provide both efficient survival and selective breeding interactions, etc. (Of course that is to accept the premise that the sciences are as good a story of the past as religious testimonies. And one better: because for the most part their theories are based on testability unlike the absolutes of religion.) A part of it is simple: I’ve never been able to accept and explanation on the faith of any form of authority, just because it is an authority. Maybe this is why such philosophers as Nietzsche became so embedded early on in my thinking life, not that I agree wholeheartedly with his reactionary views on politics and ethics etc.; no, but because he taught me to think through things for myself, and not to be lazy or accept opinion and doxa from others – received wisdom or tradition, as if it were the last word on reality.

And that cuts to the chase, for it is our theories of meaning and concern with the explanandum of reality that have been central both in religion, philosophy, and now the sciences. In some ways our politics is and has always been based on this undecidable relation to the Real. I use the “Real” a Lacanian (and, obviously if you know me, Zizekian term) to link the anomalous intrusion of those disturbing infestations from elsewhere – what many now term after Meillassoux: the “Great Outdoors” of Being. It’s this “gap” between our socio-cultural views of reality that come from religious, scientific, or philosophical vocabularies, frameworks, and theories of meaning as against what cannot be reduced to those systems of meaning that we term the Real. The Real is the undecidable or impossible that breaks into our systems of meaning and disturb and antagonize its self-satisfied “explanans” (An explanandum (a Latin term) is a phenomenon that needs to be explained and its explanans is the explanation of that phenomenon.).

The point of relativism is this inability to accept any one system of meaning as the total truth about reality (socio-cultural) or the Real (the anomalous). This was the point of Nietzsche’s “perspectivism”. The rest of the battles have been over transcendent or immanent relations to the Real. On the one side are the spiritualist who seek since Kant to either formulate a radical idealism which imputes ideas internally (subjective idealism: Fichte), externally (objective idealism: Schelling, Naturephilosophe), or in the gap in-between (dialectical idealism: Hegel); and, the materialists in which ideas are immanent not transcendent (non-Platonic or eternal): and, these various materialisms fall into two strands – either reductionist (modern non-dialectical scientific physicalism, naturalism etc. or philosophical materialism), or irreductionist (dialectical or Transcendental (autonomous) Materialism). As well as every shade and schism between these various strains of explanatory frameworks.

Ubik: The Anti-Realist as Postmodern Gnostic

Lee Braver in his essay Coin-Operated Doors and God: A Gnostic Reading of Philip K. Dick’s Ubik will take up an earlier work of Dick’s oeuvre, Ubik rather than the more explicit later works such as Valis etc. in his explication of the use of Gnosticism in Dick’s fiction and Exegesis.  In his Exegesis Dick will write that “My exegesis, then, is an attempt to understand my own understanding.” An impossible task in itself. Going back to Kant’s division of the Mind that distinguishes between two fundamental powers of cognition, sensibility and understanding (intelligence). Kant argues that sensibility and understanding are directed at two different worlds: sensibility gives us access to the sensible world, while understanding enables us to grasp a distinct intelligible world. These two worlds are related in that what the understanding grasps in the intelligible world is the “paradigm” of “NOUMENAL PERFECTION,” which is “a common measure for all other things in so far as they are realities.”1

For Dick a self-reflexive exegesis of “understanding” entails this sense of grasping information from the intelligible world: “Ubik talks to us from the future, from the end state to which everything is moving; thus Ubik is not here— which is to say now— but will be, and what we get is information about and from Ubik, as we receive TV or radio signals from transmitters located in other spaces in this time continuum.”2 What’s interesting in this passage of Dick’s is both the notion that the future is invading history, imparting information to historical agents from some as yet to be determined entity, thing, source: Ubik being the hyperbolic or metaphoric mask of this undecidable and anomalous force or intelligent agent of information being sent back from the future.

One could mention many authors, scientists, or philosophers in this regard. The Peripheral uses quantum theory to allow for the transfer of information between quantum servers in a two-way system, etc. Others like Nick Land who has for the past twenty years promoted this notion of a future entity or intelligence invasive to the capitalist system as its driving force. In Templexity he’ll use the movie Looper to describe the inner workings of temporal and quantum anomalies and distortions this way:

A ‘city of the future’ is Gibsonian in precisely this sense. That is nothing new, nor could it be. It has always leaked back, in coincidence with modernity. Tomorrow is a social magnet, as has been known for some considerable time, at first merely reflectively, but ever increasingly as a techno-responsive object. … Civilization is an accelerating process, not a steady state. As its name suggests, it is channeled primarily through cities (which explode). The incandescent intensity of a hypergrowth-dominated urban future consumes our historical horizon , and an exceptionally impressive perspective on this developing spectacle is to be found in 21st century Shanghai – a fact Hollywood has no real choice but to relay.2

Land describes templexity as indistinguishable from unbounded real recursion, so it cannot be lucidly anticipated independently of a historical completion – or ‘closure’ (apprehended in the multitudinous sense noted in the text to follow). There could only have been a beginning – a prolegomenon to the rigorous formulation of templexity as a question – and the topic itself retracts this, even before its proposal. The real process is not the resolution of the problem at the level it appears – dramatically – to have been initially posed, but its re-absorption into the alien cognitive matrix which inherits it. ‘Templexity’ – as a sign – marks the suspicion that, if we are waiting for this to happen, we still understand nothing. (Templexity, KL 58-63) This sense that the future is acting as a strange attractor upon our socio-cultural systems, shaping them, accelerating their social and technological processes is connected to many strands of speculative philosophy. In this short essay I do not have time to detail out all the threads of this narrative. I’ve posted other essays on this here, here, and here. So I’ll not take time to reiterate this again. I’ll also not delve into the depths of Gnosticism itself which I’ve written of in many places on the blog, and in particular here.

Dick himself will be non-committal toward every explanation, saying that for him Ubik is in a sense a joke or ironizing of what is essentially undecidable:

In a sense I am joking, of course, but in a sense I am not. I don’t feel I was “picked” by a Future Force, as its instrument, etc., bidden to make manifest its word, etc., any more than when you are watching a TV program the transmitter has picked you. It is broadcast; it just radiates out in all directions and some people tune in, some do not; some like what they see and hear, some reject it. All I did was to transduce, as all creatures do. I just gave what I received a local habitation and a name, as Shakespeare put it.3

Braver referring to Jean-Noel Dumont who argues that Dick’s irony, his putting forth answers without necessarily believing them, is “a desperate coldness that accepts questions but refuses to answer them. Erudition then becomes the means of  pushing off answers” (Mullen et al. 242). Dick’s bizarre twists are ways “to make an avowal without looking as if one believes in that avowal” (Mullen et al. 242). Dumont finds these ruses cowardly; instead of boldly committing himself to a theory and following it out, Dick cynically throws out theory after theory without believing in any of them. However, I value this feature of Dick’s writing. I think his agnosticism captures an important aspect of postmodern experience and renders Dick’s complex works endlessly fascinating, giving us a new form of Gnosticism.4

Dick on the Brain as Quantum Information and Communication Device

Dick will treat his brain as a quantum computer (“tachyon divice”), saying,

One aspect of regarding this as an information transmission and reception-transduction system (like a teletype) might at last throw some light on the otherwise puzzling phenomenon of glossolalia when seized by the “Holy Spirit.” In my reception of tachyon bombardment (assuming this is what it is, of course) I frequently either fail to transduce properly (error at the receiving end) or else there is a lapse of accurate transmission (as if the teletype operator has his fingers on the wrong line of keys, etc.). (Exegesis, KL 458)

One thinks of the Macy Conferences, of the early pioneers in cybernetic theory, of noise and sound theory, etc. As Katherine N. Hayles will tell us Dick in his novels between 1962 and 1966 drew on the scientific literature on cybernetics, Dick’s narratives extend the scope of inquiry by staging connections between cybernetics and a wide range of concerns, including a devastating critique of capitalism, a view of gender relations that ties together females and androids, an idiosyncratic connection between entropy and schizophrenic delusion, and a persistent suspicion that the objects surrounding us—and indeed reality itself—are fakes.5 As Hayles describes it in her How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics most communications theory of the period before, during, and after the Macy Conferences was centered on statistical and probability theory:

Statistical and quantum mechanics deal with uncertainty on the microscale; communication reflects and embodies it on the macroscale. Envisioning relations on the macroscale as acts of communication was thus tantamount to extending the reach of probability into the social world of agents and actors. (Hayles, p. 90)

In his unique history of cybernetic history Andrew Pickering in The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future describing the work of Ross Ashby who pioneered the first homeostat, and what Time magazine would call “The Thinking Machine”:

Ashby … argued that almost all the systems described by science are state-determined systems, one can begin to see what I mean by the instability of the referent of his cybernetics: though he was trying to understand the brain as a machine, from the outset his concept of a machine was more or less coextensive with all of the contents of the universe.6

Pickering will add that “my general suggestion then is that, as the lines of Ashby’s research specifically directed toward the brain ran out of steam in the 1950s, so the cybernetic worldview in general came to the fore. And this shift in emphasis in his research was only reinforced by the range of disparate systems that Ashby described and analyzed in enriching his intuition about the properties of state-determined machines.” (Pickering, p. 146)

Another piece of the puzzle is information and communication theory. A definition of information, formalized by Claude Shannon and Norbert Wiener, that conceptualized information as an entity distinct from the substrates carrying it. From this formulation, it was a small step to think of information as a kind of bodiless fluid that could flow between different substrates without loss of meaning or form. Writing nearly four decades after Turing, Hans Moravec proposed that human identity is essentially an informational pattern rather than an embodied enaction. The proposition can be demonstrated, he suggested, by downloading human consciousness into a computer, and he imagined a scenario designed to show that this was in principle possible. (ibid., Hayles)

So that for Dick as well as Land such a future entity might work through quantum processes or templexity to move forward or backward on the timespace continuum because – as Deleuze and other philosophers, plus many scientists note – that there are two forms of time, cyclic and linear. Deleuze would describe Aion as “the eternal truth of time: pure empty form of time, which has freed itself of its present corporeal content and has thereby unwound its own circle, stretching itself out into a straight line.” It is in Logic of Sense, Deleuze describes two times taken from the Stoics: Chronos and Aiôn. For Deleuze the past and the future as dimensions of the present, in Chronos; the past and the present as dimensions of the future, in Aiôn; and the present and the future as dimensions of the past, in the relation between Aiôn and Chronos, as mediated through intensity.7 This interactive relation among the movements of the two modes of time as “mediated through intensity” and incarnated in a historical agent under the aegis of Chronos is at the heart of Dick’s Exegesis and science fiction.

It’s in Chapter 3 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia that Deleuze and Guattari lay out a dynamic genesis that moves from an encounter with intensity in sensation to the thinking of virtual Ideas. Intensity and virtuality, occupy two different places within his conception of dynamic genesis. Intensity is the characteristic of the encounter, and sets off the process of thinking, while virtuality is the characteristic of the Idea. Bare with me on this. Tying together the themes of difference, multiplicity, virtuality and intensity, at the heart of Difference and Repetition we find a theory of Ideas (dialectics) based neither on an essential model of identity (Plato), nor a regulative model of unity (Kant), nor a dialectical model of contradiction (Hegel), but rather on a problematic and genetic model of difference. From these examples we can see that Ideas structure the intensive processes that give rise to the behavior patterns of systems, and their singularities mark the thresholds at which systems change behavior patterns. In a word, the virtual Idea is the transformation matrix for material systems or bodies.8

At the heart of Deleuze’s system is a battle against the deep-seated privilege of identity over difference he perceived in philosophers of presence, etc. Against Kant and his progeny – as Smith and Protevi will argue, Deleuze characterized his own work as a philosophy of immanence, arguing that Kant himself had failed to realize fully the ambitions of his critique, for at least two reasons: first, the failure to pursue a fully immanent critique, and second, the failure to propose a genetic account of real experience, resting content with the account of the conditions of possible experience. (ibid., Deleuze’s Readings of Other Philosophers).

If we translate this immanent critique and genetic account into Dick’s terms we get the odd notion (Stoic, Spinozistic, and Vitalistic) that there is an immanent Mind working through things to produce order in the universe, etc. As he tells it:

Virgil in Book Six says:

… for immanent Mind,
flowing through all its parts
and leaving its mass,
Makes the universe work.

Obviously “Immanent Mind” could be called “extraterrestrial intelligence.” So there is nothing new in what I’ve experienced, just new terms. Basically this is a religious experience, but also it is more because we are no longer a religious world; I am a secular person in a secular society and must understand my experiences in this context. Otherwise even if I understand them I can’t communicate them. (Exegesis, KL 1236)

In many ways this all comes back to desire and the death drive. As Land will remark of it:

The death drive is not a desire for death, but rather a hydraulic tendency to the dissipation of intensities. In its primary dynamics it is utterly alien to everything human, not least the three great pettinesses of representation, egoism, and hatred. The death drive is Freud’s beautiful account of how creativity occurs without the least effort, how life is propelled into its extravagances by the blindest and simplest of tendencies, how desire is no more problematic than a river’s search for the sea.9

The point here being that the creative force shaping our desires bottom-up (immanently) from the future is none other than entropy or the “hydraulic tendency to the dissipation of intensities”. The creative and productive power drawing us onward at ever accelerating speeds toward the closure of historical time (Chronos) in a collapse of apocalypse of the Real (Aion). “So much positive feedback fast-forward that speed converges with itself on the event horizon of an artificial time-extinction.” (Land, KL 4612) Or elsewhere (Land):

Since confluent zero consummates fiction, reprogramming arrival from the terminus, everything that has happened escapes its sediment of human interpretation, disorganizationally integrating historical patterns as the embryogenesis of an alien hyperintelligence… Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human, and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end [of history]. (Fanged Noumena, KL 4924-4831).

Both Dick and Land use hyperstitional fictions and narratives to induce and bring about the closure of time and history, the collapse of Chronos into Aion.

For Dick it is a neuroscientific fiction of the process by which chronical time and hyperchaotic time, or the thermospasm (Land) reunify within the pneumatic man: The absolutely basic key to Gnosticism is the encounter with the familiar in the midst of the alien landscape: the partial self recognizes something that it has seen before and yet cannot have seen before because by definition this is a fremd (unfamiliar) landscape, not the self: “own.” With this recognition comes unavoidable returned (restored) memory, which is memory of what it— the self— once was. What it is remembering is its true nature. (The relation to Orphism is obvious.) But it is missing half of itself; it now knows itself to be a partial fragment of a once intact self that is now somehow scattered. Thus although anamnesis is not primary— it is predicated on recognizing something familiar in the uncanny world— it is the crucial event, because it is in and through anamnesis that the parts of the self, separated for aeons, come back together. This means that all the pieces comprising the total, restored, intact self are somehow “in” the self in some way, as if split or dormant or mutually estranged. (Exegisis, KL 15904-911)

Dick will explain “fremd” speaking of the alien invasion of his Mind from the future, saying, “One reason for this was (perhaps due to experience with psychedelics in the past) that instead of experiencing the episode as weird or “Fremd” or frightening, as a collapse of my world, I experienced this collapse (of my maladaptive idios kosmos) as good, and the vast divine kosmos rushing in as lovely, awe-inspiring, comforting and transforming.” (Dick, KL 5084) So that instead of metaphysics we get Dick’s version of schizoanalysis:

So in a way I have battled against schizophrenia by seeking a philosophical framework which will (1) accept as real these disruptive data; and (2) account for them. 2-3-74, then, can be viewed as the catalytic triumph or payoff— i.e., the success— of decades of observation and analysis and theorizing. I have had to deal with deluding, irreal, conflicting, chaotic and fremd material, and just plain hung in there conceptually, taking the view that some explanation must exist, although it would have to be radical and far-reaching. (Exegesis, KL 10481-484)

In the above we get the same reaction from Dick we receive from the Romantic poet, John Keats on “negative capability“. In a letter to his brothers, George and Thomas Keats, on 21 December 1817, Keats used the phrase negative capability for the only time. He did so in criticism of Coleridge, who he thought sought knowledge over beauty:

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration. (Negative Capability)

This sense of standing in the midst of the abyss without reducing one’s experience to some symbolic framework of scientific, religious, philosophical, sociological or any other form of the Symbolic Order that seeks to explain the anomalous and discordant antagonisms one might confront is at the core of both Dick’s fictional stance and his -if you want to term it that, Postmodern Gnosticism. If gnosis is as Harold Bloom once suggested a “more than rational knowledge” that one receives directly from elsewhere (future, past?) then it cannot be reduced to rational systems without losing or missing something in translation. This has always been a sticklish point for both rationalist scientists and philosophers who reject that anything could remain outside Logos or the ratios of Reason and Intellect.

In fact in Dick’s Ubick the very term “Ubick” becomes the central motif for this irrational element that cannot be subsumed into any rational explanation. As Braver will relate:

This issue of eccentric messages actually has tremendous importance for
Dick’s entire oeuvre. … And these messages appear in the genre science fiction, which, as he was acutely aware, was discounted by “serious” readers, making it perfect “trash” camouflage. (Braver, pp. 13-14)

From the time of Marconi’s introduction of wireless telegraph to the most sophisticated satellites information and communication technologies (ICT’s) have dominated and transformed both our political, social, and cosmic perspectives. During the twentieth century it would dominate cybernetic theory up to now. And if we remember the etymological derivation of cybernetics as coined in 1948 by U.S. mathematician Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) from Greek kybernetes “steersman” (metaphorically “guide, governor”) + -ics; perhaps based on 1830s French cybernétique “the art of governing.”

At the core of this notion of “the art of governing” is as Land tells it the notion of capitalism itself:

There is nothing peculiarly occult or mysterious about such a tendency since it finds its most highly accelerated phase in our contemporary marketisation of social transactions: the phased transition from traditional Geopolitical authorization or legitimacy to an impersonal, cybernetically automated efficiency. …Wiener is the great theoretician of stability cybernetics, integrating the sciences of communication and control in their modern or managerial-technocratic form. But it is this new science plus its unmanaged escalation through the real that is for the first time cybernetics as the exponential source of its own propaganda, programming us. Cyberpositive intensities recirculate through our post-scientific techno-jargon as a fanaticism for the future: as a danger that is not only real but inexorable. We are programmed from where Cyberia has already happened. (Fanged Noumena)

This is Land’s core narrative line, the vision of communication and technology converging toward the closure of human history in the Singularity beyond whose horizon we only see a collapse coming like a freight train toward us from the future. Programmed by alien systems of advanced timeworlds that we are barely able to register much less understand, humans have formulated the messages received into frameworks of magic, religion, and now secular scientific terms and vocabularies. This notion that our socio-cultural matrix or mainframe is being programmed by an advanced civilization from our future using quantum servers to communicate and implement its instensive designs for possible outcomes of to their and our history through retroactive insertion of information and control techiques is at the core of both Land and Dick’s writings. Call it poetry, call it speculation, call it madness (“more than rational”), etc., call it what you will – it’s both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. In a world where nightly mass entertainment TV has Ghost Hunters and Alien Invasions from alternate realties, etc. presented as fact on History and Travel Channels one wonders what brave new world awaits us. Like psychonauts we enact our fictive hyperstitions to enable the very truths we imaginatively frame within our universe of discourse seeking to accelerate processes both impersonal and alien toward some point of no return. Why? Do fiction and truth blur in the figure of such strange attractors? Are we agents of intensities and multiplicities we think are our own powers? Are we following a design set for us ages hence from alien progeny of our own future? Fiction, metaphor, hyperbolic display, hyperstition, meme, egregore? Is there a difference that makes a difference here? Or is this just a way of dealing with time, meaning, and death? Or its abolition? The central myth of the Gnostics was that knowledge (gnosis) would free us from the burden of Time’s dominion… entropy and its slow decay into the turnstile near absolute zero, where it will turn for eternity in the frozen oasis of an infernal paradise of lifelessness.


  1. Rohlf, Michael, “Immanuel Kant“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  2. Land, Nick (2014-11-05). Templexity: Disordered Loops through Shanghai Time (Kindle Locations 375-378). Urbanatomy Electronic. Kindle Edition.
  3. Dick, Philip K. (2011-11-08). The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick (Kindle Locations 454-458). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  4. Braver, Lee. Coin-Operated Doors and God: A Gnostic Reading of Philip K. Dick’s UbikExtrapolation, vol. 56, no. 1 (2015)
  5. Hayles, N. Katherine (1999-02-15). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (p. 161). University of Chicago Press – A. Kindle Edition.
  6. Pickering, Andrew (2010-04-15). The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future (pp. 145-146). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
  7. Williams, James. Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (February 23, 2011). (p. 138).
  8. Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John, “Gilles Deleuze“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  9. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 3833-3836). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

*Braver’s A Thing of This World: a History of Continental Anti-Realism. (Northwestern University Press: 2007) is well known advocate of the Postmodern Turn and its critical and theoretical approach as against the newer generations proclivities to speculative materialism or realisms: vitalist, naturalist, non-dialectical or dialectical returns to any transcendental idealism or irreductionist autonomy, etc..

8 thoughts on “Lee Braver on Philip K. Dick’s “Ubik” as Postmodern Gnosticism

    • Yea, the difference between such notions portrayed on that site and Dick, Land, or others is that New Age obscurantists literalize alien intrusion, whereas Dick and Land use it as fictive hyperstition to enact a scientific and philosophical vision. A subtle but major difference!


      • S.C;

        On The History channel, there’s a show called Ancient Aliens. In each episode they interview these ‘experts’ called Ancient Alien Theorists. I wonder what ‘university’ someone attends to get that degree? :>)


  1. I discovered your blog about half a year ago and since the I am a regular reader enjoying it very much and gaining a lot. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Especially those concerning science fiction and horror and their relationship to philosophy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yes, I hop to begin doing more in that direction. Been reading various science fiction and horror writers of late and plan a series of essays. Who would you like to see in this type of appreciation?


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