In this interview, Philip K. Dick describes a breakthrough he had when “probing the phenomenal” world.
I have one search and one search only. Let me preface it by saying that I use to search for personal happiness, fulfillment and joy. Since all those things have been denied me, and it’s obvious that they will never happen, I also hope to make a lot of money, but that’s also been denied me. And yet by default one search which I will never give up on and which I feel is within my power to succeed at and is to determine once and for all, to my own satisfaction – not necessarily to the satisfaction of anyone else, but to my own satisfaction – what is the actual nature of reality around us as compared, as contrasted to the apparent, evident, phenomenological reality that we perceive. I have, as you know, written about this for 27 years, in the form of questions. I’ve probed the phenomenal world looking for something behind it, which is why I took LSD. I only took LSD three times and didn’t find any answers through it, so I gave up on that.
But within the last three and a half years, for reasons which I do not know, I made a fantastic breakthrough to a perception of what appears to me to be, I mean what I construe to be, the actual world, in a sense that Plato distinguished the real world from the merely evident world, or empirical world. But I made a fantastic breakthrough. I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know what caused it. But since then I have done nothing but attempt to develop a coherent explanation of what I saw. That is, it is nothing that I thought, it is not an idea. It is actually a perception. The model would be as follows. Let’s say that we are all sitting in a theater watching a live play. And for some reason, it doesn’t matter what reason, we are all so naïve that we think that the play is factually true, that it’s real, it’s not a play. And we’re sitting there, and we’ve watched maybe two acts, and we believe that the actors are the characters that they’re performing. We believe the characters are real. Let’s say it’s a play about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and there’s an actor with a beard, and he’s playing Lincoln. And we really believe he’s Lincoln, you know, and this other guy is John Wilkes Boothe. And we’re sitting there and we’re watching this, and we believe that it’s all real. And all of a sudden, the whole back scenery falls over flat. And now that we see stagehands, with robes and dice and people half in costume and somebody studying their script. Well, this is a –
Right, right. Exactly. Lights and sandbags to counterweight the curtain. Then immediately about sixteen hundred people rush up and push all the scenery back up on the stage and hope that the audience happened to all be asleep at that moment.
Well, this is what happened to me in regards to the phenomenal world, that for a period of about three and a half days it was as if the scenery had, for some reason, fallen over flat, revealing to me the nature of the reality behind it. But the reality behind it was so different from the phenomenal world, that I couldn’t use language to describe it. That is, I could not find words. I can’t say I saw X, Y, Z – here inserting some semantic associative. And I’ve taken about 300,000 words of notes on it, and done tremendous research. Because I feel if it happened to me it must have happened to somebody else. I can’t be the only person in the entire history of human consciousness to have ever seen the world as it really is. I’ve discovered, for instance, that Plotinus, the neo-Platonist, had this experience. That some of the Sufi have had this experience. And some of the Christian Mystics, like Origen, have had this experience. And Driesch, the German vitalist philosopher, and Bergson. I find indications in India, especially in the Hindu religion, in Brahmanism. Emerson appears to have had this experience. Wordsworth appears to have had this experience. And it doesn’t resemble anything, very closely, that I’ve ever read by even such people as the father of Alexandria. You know, it’s a little like Plato. That is why I gave the image of watching a play. You can say it’s similar to Plato’s image of the pictures shown on the walls of the cave.
In three and a half years of reflecting on my experience and doing research, all I have learned is that it has something to do with time, that apparently time is not what we think it is. It’s something else. There’s a new Soviet theory about time, by Kozyrev, Dr. Nikolai Kozyrev, the great Soviet astrophysicist. His theory is that time has an energy, that it’s the primary energy of the universe. He says time is an energy poured into a material system and the material system is the universe. Well, apparently what happened is I got rephased in terms of linear time in such a way that, instead of linear time flashing by me like the frames in a movie projector flash by, I got past the progressiveness of linear time and saw things outside of their temporal progressions.