Philip K Dick, the science fiction writer, underwent an experience of mental intrusion and enlightenment, in an altered state of consciousness induced while taking painkillers, which he proceeded to interrogate over the last eight years of his life. The result, a million pages of journal writing which he titled 'Exegesis', will be edited and published in two volumes next year.
According to Bryan Appleyard, in a subtle book, Aliens: Why They Are Here, Dick came to believe the Roman Empire had never fallen, and found its current expression in rampant materialist capitalism. He also believed that a Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS) orbits the Earth, using symbols such as the Christian fish sign to disinhibit people to whom it wishes to communicate. Appleyard writes:
Dick glimpsed the centrality of the alien in the postwar world. He was himself a stranger in a strange land, a troubled drifter. In his madness he lived in the third realm of aliens and angels. The world was alien to him and he was alien to it. He understood the eternal truth that we don't fit and he saw how modernity had heightened and dramatized our discomfort.
'The fish sign causes you to remember,' he wrote in his exegesis, 'Remember what?... Your celestial origins; this has to do with the DNA because the memory is located in the DNA... You remember your real nature... The Gnostic Gnosis: You are here in this world in a thrown condition, but are not of this world.'I can identify with Dick the drifter, not least because I can see my own in his experiences in altered states of consciousness. I particularly like Appleyard's suggestion that making sense of his experiences required him to move into a third realm where the supernatural, or extraterrestrial at least, was commonplace. My own experiences precipitated a similar search for explanation, which I tried to find in Evangelical Christianity, and I'm very sure I wasn't the only one there to make such a journey.
I'm less happy with the suggestion that alienation is an eternal truth, in the sense that having realised we are here in a thrown condition, we can do no more about it than pick up the pieces and start walking. My subsequent journey has been about the discovery that if we are all aliens, then we are aliens nurtured by the world we have been born into - that has evolved us to be who we are. We are social aliens with four billion years worth of fine-tuned mutual space-suit around us.
I'd like to suggest that alienation is only half the picture: familial warmth provides the rest. The Gnostic sense of thrownness is there, but so is rootedness: my learning path, hereon in, is about using each to critique and expand my appreciation of the other.
I think this expands Appleyard's third realm to the breadth of the cosmos. That is to say, there is no third realm worth speaking of, the first (physical) and the second (mental) having always fallen away by the time we pause to analyse them. Or to put it another way, we are all of us born into the third realm, where the unknown stands side by side with the known, and as we grow we turn first to the physical and then to the mental (maybe vice versa) to make sense of it all.
I guess we all have to journey the full length of our journey. Quick fixes and permanent stop-offs in realms along the way are not an option. Dick's Exegesis, which I would like to read, will prove no more (or less) than a map of his particular path through life.