This is the third and final post of a three part series that explores some issues and ideas proposed to me by Mack Hassler as part of the independent study that he’s conducting for me on the works of Philip K. Dick.
What would Philip K. Dick do with a blog? How might he have revolutionized the way we engage and think about belief and our perception of reality had he had a less restrictive method of communicating with fans and passers-by alike?
I use my blog as a means of connecting with people personally as well as professionally. Originally intended as a personal blog about my travels abroad in the UK, it changed over time along with my own professional transformation into a PhD student and active participant in professional organizations. It allowed me to hone my writing ability through additional practice, and it facilitated feedback from those persons who happened to by blog by the almighty digital deity, Google. Also, it is a self-promotion of sorts, not unlike those by SF authors such as Cory Doctorow or John Scalzi, but it represents my life and work as a professional academic who critically thinks about the relationship between science, technology, and culture. It’s more than a calling card–it’s a bulletin board that I organize and run that facilitates a communal response to my observations and thoughts.
Philip K. Dick would undoubtedly have had a different kind of blog than Doctorow, Scalzi, or I. In his work, he questions the nature of reality and the human mind’s ability to perceive and react to the external world. He realized, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, that our relationship to the external world is made possible by our senses and the interpretation of that sensory data by our mind. Thus, the supposed external world is actually a simulation that is ever present in our mind. Dick questions, problematizes, and critiques our relationship to the external world in his myriad works, but it’s the latter works that specifically deal with perception and the questions of belief that Shelley raised in the early 18th century.
Shelley argued that the only ways in which one may believe in a Deity is directly through our senses, reason, and the experience of others. He quickly dispenses with the last two as being unequivocally insufficient for proof in God. However, the first, direct sensory perception is the only sure way to prove that God exists, for the individual. It is here that Dick steps into the picture one and three-quarter centuries later.
In his last works exploratory works, VALIS and the Exegesis, Dick describes his own direct sensory perception of a Deity, or more accurately, a Gnostic revelatory experience. In these works, which would have been the pinnacle of blog writing had he had a digital outlet for communicating his experiences, he describes on the page what he remembers of the experiences of 2-4-74 as well as his reasoning through those experiences. Dick follows what Shelley described two centuries before as the mind actively clarifying the sensory perception. And as a reflective person, Dick offered many interpretations and counter-interpretations for his sensory experience in order to find his own way of understanding the experience. From the extended process of reasoning, Dick arrived at his own set of beliefs surrounding the experience, but he conceded that they were his experiences, and despite sharing them, one must arrive at that kind of belief on their own. Additionally, he envisioned a future with less organized religion and more personal belief based on individualized experiences. In this sense, Dick is taking Shelley to task by establishing his own beliefs in a Deity.
I wonder what Dick would have concluded had he explored these ideas online through blogging. According to Sutin’s biography of Dick, Divine Invasions, Dick corresponded with friends and colleagues, but “he was blue because it seemed there was no one to talk with about the ideas that mattered to him” (273). Those ideas were those that he recorded as his verbose self-dialog in the Exegesis. However, interpersonal communication with friends is a somewhat different dynamic than the largely anonymous online communication (hence the recent flame war initiated by the new SFRA troll). Would an online community foster or impede Dick’s personal exploration of his unique sensory experiences? In addition to the voluminous writing that he was doing at that time regarding his experience, an online forum would necessitate a certain level of response and tailoring subsequent material to his readership. Perhaps this would have enhanced or altered his reasoning based on the suggestions and theories of others. However, as Shelley pointed out, we cannot wholly trust the reports of others in our own interpretation of sensory experiences. I’m confident that Dick would have been aware of this, but it would certainly have had some influence, however insignificant but subtle, on his own thinking.
There are certainly issues today with online communication and the dissemination of ideologies and systems of belief. I have heard anecdotally that online systems of communication assist individuals in finding or establishing smaller groups that share similar beliefs. Hence, Republicans find other Republicans, and Science Fiction fans find other Science Fiction fans. However, there’s certainly a cross pollination where, for example, Republicans find their way to the Science Fiction fan enclaves and either comment positively or negatively on something a SF fan has said, and vice versa. It’s these interactions between borders that I find interesting, because a synthesis at best or a culture war at worst is taking place at these imaginary or invisible dividing lines. Shelley and Dick would probably have found themselves on the same side, looking across the border at the unreflective infidels, and they would most assuredly have “guest blogged” on each other’s site.
One final thought–what would Shelley have done with a blog? In his day, he used his wealth to print phamplets and he distributed them himself in London. Was this an early form of blogging? Perhaps the analogy might be that he was pushing an antiquated RSS feed to the masses (at least to the literate bourgeoise). It’s interesting to consider the ways in which technology facilitated the ideas of Shelley and Dick, as well as to conjecture the ways in which our contemporary technology might have played a part in the further development or alteration to their ideas.