The Gospel of VALIS

Not too long ago I dated a man who asked “why do you spend so much time on the internet? You do realize you don’t know these people”. Well it turns out it was him who I did not know. When he said “I love you” what he really was saying was,” I like what I’m getting out of this relationship”. Once he had to put some effort into it he was gone.

I agree we don’t always know other people, but I will argue there are different degrees of knowing someone. Sharing ideas and reading other people’s work is a way to get to know someone else. Sadly, no I would not know many of you if we passed on the street, but I know you enough to want to spend time reading your work and joking with you on Twitter. I consider you my friends. So with that in mind I’m sharing a piece of me.This is my way of saying thank you for being there when I called out for encouragement.

This is a short essay I wrote for class. The class is titled “Literature and Religious Imagination”. This is the first graduate class in which the professor has asked us for short concise essays. I am not sure what I am mastering in this class other than the skill of brevity.

For those of you unfamiliar with Philip K Dick, he was a science fiction writer, whose best known for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The book is the basis for the movie Blade Runner. Dick wrote VALIS at at time in his life when he was suffering from a self diagnosed mental break-down. VALIS is the first in a series of books in which Dick explores religious ideas and fuses them with self confessions. As much as I enjoyed the book, and recommend it, I must confess, I felt he did go off the deep end in this book. The core premise is what kept me up at night; what if our creator was insane?

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The Gospel of VALIS

            To paraphrase reverend Horselover Fat, “The universe is the physical manifestation of an irrational mind”. Fat is not too far off from what many philosophers and scientist have been arguing for thousands of years, though he is the first to say irrational mind. Plato believed the universe and everything in it is the physical manifestation of perfect nonphysical “forms”. That everything we see and experience are imperfect copies of perfect metaphysical forms.  Yet, what if the physical is imperfect because the non-physical is also imperfect? Could we not argue that we are imperfect because there is no other way to be? Plato was wrong to call his forms perfect, because perfect cannot make imperfect. If it did, it would no longer be perfect.

Professor Paul Davies argues in his book The mind of God that, “the universe is a kind of gigantic computer”.(16). He goes on to argue that the universe is no minor byproduct of mindless forces. That it works as if it is a mind. Davies does not believe that a god created the universe for his pleasure, rather the universe is the mind of what we in the West call God and what the Hindus call Brahman. Hindu philosophy says Brahman is the universe and everything in it are bits and pieces of Brahman. Taken as a whole, everything makes up Brahman.

Professor Amit Goswami argues in his book The Self-Aware Universe, how consciousness creates the material world, that consciousness affects how atoms behave. They act rational because a rational consciousness controls them. Quantum physics tells us atoms and partials do not always act rational. Could this be because the consciousness that controls them is irrational? This could explain the odd behavior of quantum mechanics.

The reverend Horselover Fat, I call him reverend because he shares his new religion with anyone who will listen, believes that the universe is made up of living information able to replicate itself. “Replicating not through information, information as information.”(225) Fat argues that atoms are living information that come together to create the universe. He believes Plato’s forms and the Greek Logos are living information, or as Professor Goswami would say “consciousness”. Because Fat considers himself and everyone around him crazy, he goes to say, “A streak of the irrational permeated the entire universe, all the way of up to God.”(201). He believes that “God” or the “Ultimate Mind” suffered a terrible loss and that “From loss and grief the mind has become deranged. Therefore we, as part of the universe are partly deranged.”(201) We need to keep in mind it is Fat who suffered a terrible loss, and from this loss came his revelations and new found religious beliefs. Even so, could he be on to something? Let us look at his idea through two viewpoints; that of religion and science. Let us argue his points for him.

Let us suppose the universe is the physical manifestation of a mind so advanced that its very thoughts became living information; that all matter is made up of this information. We will call this mind God. If our supposition were right, this would explain why we humans are irrational beings and why we cannot get along. Our emotions are irrational! We act as we are, irrational beings living in an irrational universe. It is hard for many to believe a perfect mind would create such irrational beings yet this is what we are told. This creator, if we are to believe the stories, at times is irrational. He places the Tree of Knowledge on the Garden of Eden then tells his creations no to eat from it. If he did not want them to eat from it, why did he put it there in the first place? This is not rational. He gives his creations free will then punishes them with destruction for using free will. He tells a group of his creations they are now his chosen group and then instructs them to kill another group of his creations. None of this is rational behavior. If this is all playing out in the Ultimate Mind, we must assume the Ultimate mind is deranged just as Fat tells us.

If we assume the Big Bang was consciousness creating matter as Professor Goswami says or the universe is played out in a gigantic computer as Davies tells us, then we must ask, what kind of mind is this? The stars and planets are unstable; quantum mechanic laws vary depending on observation. Science believes quantum mechanics to be unstable. Is this because the mind or consciousness that created them is itself unstable? Could it be that we humans are irrational because of this unstable mind? Or as Fat thinks, are there some things that this mind cannot control? If so, it would be yet another argument for an unstable mind, one that cannot control its own physically manifested thoughts.

How often have we looked around and observed that the world is irrational? We pacify ourselves with the idea that we are imperfect creatures and have come up with rational explanations for our imperfections. We use medical science, psychology and sociology to justify our irrational behavior. Natural science explains our unstable planet, yet none of this adequately explains the deeper question of “why does this have to be so”? Why do we have to have mental illness, why do we have to have earthquakes? Why is the universe in all its glory so irrational and unstable? Reverend Horselover Fat is on to something when he preaches the universe is the physical manifestation of an irrational mind.

Works Cited

Davies, Paul. The Mind of God. New York: Touchstone, 2001.

Dick, Philip K. VALIS. New York: The Library of America, 2000.

Goswami, Amit. The Self-Aware Universe how consciousness creates the material world. New York: Putnam Books, 1993.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

3 thoughts on “The Gospel of VALIS”

  1. I’m reminded of the metaphysical platitude: “There are two ways to spread the light; to be the candle, or to be the mirror that reflects it.”

    Is the world truly irrational? Is a derangement of the creators mind necessary to explain the happenings of our universe?

    Or does the world appear to be irrational because it’s viewed through the eyes of an irrational being? Is our God irrational because we, it’s creators, are irrational?

    Do the shadows in Plato’s cave misrepresent the figures that cause them to dance? Or do they only fail to give us a complete picture?

    Fat, it seems, was onto something and I have many questions, which is the best possible outcome for such an essay. And I thank you for sharing. You’ve given me much to think about.

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  2. Martin,
    This is a subject for a starry night and bottle of wine. I think we could talk for hours about this stuff. It’s too bad we aren’t able to talk about this in more depth. I wish we both had read VALIS and The Mind of God.

    I personally think the Biblical god is irrational because his human creator is irrational. This would be my argument but yet I feel Reverend Fat mentally sitting here on my shoulder saying “irrational men may have invented an irrational god, but this does not explain who created the men who created the Biblical god. Something begat it all… Sometimes Fat did argue in circles, yet always had a biting point.

    Do we see the world as irrational because we are? Could the cosmos and natural laws be perfect, but because we are not, we cannot comprehend the perfect? Can imperfect comprehend perfection?
    I meant it when I said we could talk for hours about this.
    What I originally wanted to talk about in my essay was the mechanical laws behind Fat’s ideas. How this living information is put together and what it means for sentient beings and then compare his ideas to Davies. I quickly realized this would have taken me deep into the weeds and not at all what my Professor would want to read. He honestly said he was too busy to read long involved essays. (Picture Donald Southerland in Animal House and you may have an idea of the personality type I am dealing with).

    If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend VALIS to you. I think you would enjoy it, aliens and all .

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog post. I cringe though, as this may be my best blog post (your words not mine), but it is far from my best essay. My favorite is a conversation between Plato and God. I should go try to dig that one up….

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  3. A thought-provoking read, thank you!

    I’ve read a few PKD novels, even reviewed some of them, but not, as yet, Valis. I have found his work attractive but frustrating with its layers of reality like bubbles within bubbles, fragile and ready to burst at any moment.

    Ubik is a novel which I find hard to review, and I suspect that, with my feeble intellect, Valis could well be another. Still, sometime…

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