Valis, Philip K. Dick, and the Evolution of Humanity
When Philip K. Dick went to the dentist in February 1974, the acclaimed science fiction author did not know that his view of reality was about to change. He was in a lot of pain with what turned out to be an impacted wisdom tooth, and was sedated with sodium pentothal while the dentist removed the tooth. The pain afterwards was fairly severe, so the dentist ordered a painkiller, Darvon, for delivery to his patient’s home later that day.
When the courier arrived, Dick answered the door and was suddenly taken aback by a pendant she was wearing. It was a fish ornament, which she explained Christians adopted as a symbol of their religion. He saw a “red and gold plasmic entity” coming from the pendant and, as he reported it, immediately experienced “crystal clear” vision and “sudden exposure to a vast amount of knowledge.”
This was not his first experience with visions and hearing voices. The voice he heard was the same voice he had heard years before while in college. He also began channeling an alien presence he called “Vast Active Living Intelligence System,” or “Valis” for short. The intense visions lasted for two months, leading him to refer to this period of his life as “2-3-74,” for February and March 1974. During the next eight years, he wrote thousands of pages about his visions and voices. His novels were more autobiographical than they were science fiction.
Dick died suddenly in 1982, shortly before the release of the movie “Blade Runner" based on Dick’s book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Many of his other books are now movies, as well. He is now known as the “most influential writer of science fiction in the past half century.”
But, was it all science fiction? He received multiple communications from Valis, had dreams and visions about the future, and spent the rest of his life trying to understand why he gained such supreme knowledge. He claimed to have “total recall of the future.”
Philip K. Dick: The Pre-Valis Years
Philip Kindred Dick was born in December 1928 during the cold Chicago winter. He had a twin sister, Jane, who lived for only about eight weeks. She died mysteriously, some saying she had an allergy to her mother’s breast milk. Whatever happened, Dick went through his life always missing his sister and blaming his mother for her death. His father left the family when he was only 5 years old. Shortly after that, he and his mother moved to Berkeley, California, where he lived most of his life.
First published when he was just a teenager, his first short story marked the beginning of a prolific writing career. Although he successfully published a number of his stories, he was not such a success financially. He was always running out of money and seemed to live from advance to advance.
Dick’s life was not emotionally easy and he seemed troubled throughout his entire life: married five times with three children, thought to use drugs and experiment with LSD, and frequent visions of his own death. Despite drug use allegations, he was able to continue writing. By the time of his death, he had published more than 120 short stories and 44 novels.
As early as 1954, Dick wrote about precognition in his novel, “The World Jones Made.” Based on his own experiences, the main character in that book was a “precog” who could see one year into the future. His books often referenced precognition, and Dick believed he himself had this ability.
He also heard voices, or at least a voice. As a young man taking the physics portion of a college entrance exam, Dick found that he did not understand eight of the 10 questions. Suddenly, he heard the voice explain to him, in a completely understandable way, what he needed to know. As a result, he received a perfect score on the test.
He heard the same voice again years later, when it explained to him what was happening in a television documentary that he had had difficulty understanding. In 1974, the same voice returned when he had his life-changing vision in response to the fish-pendant worn by the pharmacy delivery girl and he began his regular communications with Valis.
Philip K. Dick: The Valis Years
Although Dick reported only sporadic communications with the voice until 1974, after that date, the communications became fairly frequent and routine. Valis gave him advice on improving his health, his appearance and his financial situation. Dick credited the voice with saving the life of his young son by describing the medical condition the boy suffered from and urging Dick to get the child immediately to a doctor. He convinced his wife of the need to take their seemingly healthy boy to the doctor where they discovered the child had the exact condition the voice described to Dick. Prompt surgery saved the boy’s life.
Dick believed the voice he heard was from God, or at least from some higher power. He wrote continuously about what he experienced. He ended up writing thousands of pages and hundreds of thousands of words in his attempt to make sense of it.
He intended his 1981 book “Valis” to be a trilogy. It was more of a biographical presentation of Dick’s visions and voices than it was a book that fit in the science fiction genre. As one reviewer put it, “He’s not looking for aliens; he’s looking for the meaning of life.” Due to his sudden death in 1982, at the age of 54, Dick never completed the trilogy.
The Death of Philip K. Dick
In February 1975, Dick wrote a letter to a friend telling her about a dream he had just had where he saw “a stark single horrifying scene, inert but not still; a man lay dead, on his face, in a living room between the coffee table and the couch.” He followed the letter with another one in May 1975 in which he said he was “scared.” He added, “What scares me most Claudia, is that I can often recall the future.”
Almost exactly seven years after the first letter, Philip K. Dick’s dead body was found face down in his living room, wedged between the coffee table and the couch. Without realizing it, he had accurately predicted the circumstances surrounding his own death. Some reports say he died of a stroke. Others claim it was congestive heart failure. Others regale in the mystery of why he died so young.
Philip K. Dick left behind, in addition to his short stories and novels, his influence on other sci-fi writers and pop culture, as well as many mind-bending films. Unfortunately, he did not live to see his work on the big screen. He died before the release of his first movie, “Blade Runner;" however he saw about 20 minutes of the finished product and seemed pleased that the filmmaker preserved Dick’s vision. Other movies based on his books that were made after his death include: “Minority Report,” “Total Recall,” “A Scanner Darkly” and several others.
He also left behind more than 8,000 pages about his experiences with Valis since his 1974 vision. The pages had narrow margins and were mostly single spaced with numerous handwritten journal entries. Dick referred to this body of work as his Exegesis. The papers were edited and published in 2011 as “The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.”
Was Philip K. Dick more than just a legendary science fiction author? Check out Mysteries of the Solar System, part of Gaia's Deep Space series, and watch the conversation between Open Mind’s host Regina Meredith and her guest, Anthony Peake, on Scanning the Future with Philip K. Dick.