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VALIS and the Stupid Universe Theorem

beyond the black iron prison
beyond the black iron prison
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Thursday, 23 June 2016

If I believed in the Law of Attraction, today would have been a great day. Two evenings ago I was sitting on the couch thinking intently that the windows needed cleaning, and how great it would be if somehow a window cleaner heard my wish and appeared at the door. So, today at 10:15 the bell rang. There was the professional window cleaner, with van and hose and ladder and brush, asking if our windows needed cleaning, because a woman with a bike and a child seat asked for his services on No68. Now, as a rational being trained to examine occurrences scientifically, what should I suppose? This was obviously a mistake, albeit a cunning one. Otherwise, there’s the paranoid version: He could have been lying. He saw with his professional eye the dirty window, assumed the bike was mine, or, even worse, stalked me, and made his attempt to gain another customer. There are more scenarios concerning his ultimate motive, but we don’t really want to go down that rabbit hole, now do we?

Anyway, whether he made a mistake or made it up, there are only two possible explanations to the connection of this event with me recently thinking about it: They are either not connected at all, which leaves us with a perhaps not so striking coincidence, or they have a causative relationship, meaning that the action happened because I thought about it. By the way, this is called magical thinking and is considered a sign of mental illness.

    However, I am equally suspicious of chance as the underlying cause for such strange coincidences, especially as I recognize the same pattern in a number of other people’s stories I can personally verify. Easy desire realization is a very common fantasy, and a look at popular literature tells me that most people have at least one relevant experience. I admit I had to consider the option of the universe conspiring to give me what I wanted, as the countless fans of The Alchemist, The Secret and various gods have done. So, if these weren’t two random events where my mind got hinged at to play its tricks, I concluded, this must be a really stupid universe. No other kind of universe would assume that, from all the things it could have given me, a window cleaner is what I needed the most. But, perhaps, “stupid” wasn’t exactly the right word.

And that was the thought that led me back to VALIS. When I had started reading VALIS, I had found it amusing, having no idea what it was about. As the story evolved and started losing its coherence and literary character, I realized this wasn’t just a mix of humorous sci-fi with streaks of philosophical truth and rambling, but that the author actually believed to a certain extend, if not fully, the things he wrote about. Philip K. Dick was trying to share some of his wisdom – or madness – as was attested in numerous accounts of his life that I read afterwards.

There are many progressive ideas in the book, such as the sense that mental illness is a matter of perspective, as, in a world ruled by madness, the deranged majority deems the rational ones crazy. The ancestral battle of good and evil, with the edges of the two much more blurry than western philosophy and religion allow, is thus transferred to the realm of logic vs madness and to the plane of universal clashing forces. In the book, the rational is represented by VALIS – a system we may call God – which is set up by the Albemuthians in an attempt to impose logic into madness, or order into chaos, and help us, their kin, to break out of the Black Iron Prison.

Principally, I think that VALIS is an excellent example of how our personal fears build our stories: In this case, it’s the fear of the irrational – of losing one’s mind, to put it simply – that led Dick to paint irrationality and chaos with dark colors, while he envisioned logic and order as inherently good. From all the ideas in the book – yes, more than the idea of the benevolent extraterrestrials trying to save us – there was one I had found ground-breaking and worth exploring as a concept. According to the leading character, Horselover Fat, the universe was irrational and merciless: As he put it so poetically, “from loss and grief the Mind has become deranged.”

For the record, my husband, who opened the door, skipped the whole train of thought and sent the cleaner away, certain that this was a mistake. The windows are still dirty.

 
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Thursday, 23 June 2016 13:39
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