The Universe Of Philip K. Dick – Systemic Analysis

Thanks to Frank Bertrand for contibuting this thesis

by Gilbert De Meester

Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen
Department Germaanse Filologie

Ingediend Tot
Het Verwerven Van De Graad Van
Licentiaat In De Germaanse
Filologie Door

Luk De Vos



Thanks to the invaluable help of my promotor,
Luk De Vos, I have been given the opportunity to do this dissertation on my
favorite SF author.
He has provided me with reading material (both primary and secondary) to
enlarge my basic knowledge of the work of Philip K. Dick and has been my mentor
throughout the process of writing and re-writing.
Thanks to my second reader, Manuel Aguirre, I have been able to find system in
Dick’s universe, which has been both new and satisfactory. If it hadn’t been
for him, I never would have thought the system was there.
For a lot more, to the both of them: thanks.


This dissertation contains a systemic
analysis of a literary corpus. System theory can be, and has been,1
used to get a new or better insight into a variety of subjects: the study of
biology, sociology, physics, linguistics, literature, etc.
A systemic analysis is an analysis in terms of systems. This can take on
different forms: all aspects in the field of study can be regarded with special
attention to their relations, in this case explanations will be given mainly in
terms of subsystems, parallels, contrasts and evolution; or all aspects will be
reduced to three basic systems: equilibrium, homeostatic, and process systems.
Naturally, this doesn’t rule out the possibility to look for relations or
evolution, as can be seen in this dissertation.
Splitting up themes, motifs, symbols into three basic categories can certainly
give interesting results, provided the special angle of vision is justified
with a view to the specific (literary) corpus. For the generality of this
framework makes it easy to impose on any corpus, violating the original order
to make it fit in the framework, and thus, getting highly irrelevant
Because of the nature of the division, a classification in equilibrium,
homeostatic and process systems is more evident within the field of science
fiction than in any other, but even then it could be seen as a violation of the
truth to say that this framework brings a deeper insight into the ideas of
every science fiction author. Only when we find as much evidence – e.g. in the
use of the very terminology – for the relevancy of the framework as we do in
the case of Philip K. Dick, only then can we say that a systemic analysis can
bring us insight into the (concept of) universe of an author.
First we will have a look at the three basic systems, in how far they are
represented and what specific, or even special, forms they take on and then we
will try to give a (simplified) graphic representation of Dick’s universe. The
main part of this dissertation will consist of further evidence and exemplary
detailed analyses.

To be more precise, this means a closer look at Galactic Pot-Healer with
special interest in equilibrium systems, at The Simulacra with a view to
getting a better insight into homeostatic systems and, finally, at A Maze of
with special attention to process systems. Of course, our interest
will only go to the different systems in the concrete forms they take in Dick’s
work, and not to the systems as such.
The last chapter will be a kind of a verification of the validity of the
presented theses in the novel VALIS, which was published after the main
ideas of this dissertation had already been conceived.

1 Numbers refer to the notes following each section.


1 Cfr. the titles mentioned in the bibliography by Koehler and Mainz
for system theory in biology; McLaughlin and Stevick: linguistics; Buckley:
sociology; von Bertalanffy: physics and biology.

The three basic systems and Dick’s universe

Equilibrium systems

These are the systems that already have
reached or that are moving towards perfect equilibrium. They are ruled by the
second law of thermodynamics, according to which “a system moves toward
equilibrium; it tends to run down, that is, its differentiated structures tend
to move toward dissolution as the elements composing them become arranged in
random disorder.”1 In other words, the energy needed to keep up
the organization gets lost until the final stage, where no energy is needed, is
reached. This loss of energy is called entropy.

In all of Dick’s novels, “the natural tendency of a universe stripped of
creative human meaning is entropic regression toward a state of chaos and
anomie, and he sees the tendency everywhere”2 as in the
evergrowing heaps of “kipple” in Do Androids Dream of Electric
, the sound Manfred Steiner makes in Martian Time-Slip and
which becomes the book’s new word for entropy3, and so on. The –
consciously chosen – importance given to entropy can also be seen in the use of
entropy as a powerful symbol in many novels (especially Galactic Pot-Healer)
and some short stories (e.g. “Pay for the Printer”).
Finally, one aspect of the deity in A Maze of Death, viz. the Form
Destroyer and the evil god which is at the root of destruction in the story
“Faith of Our Fathers” give entropy its place in a theological or
philosophical framework. This supports the idea that we can really get some
insight into Dick’s concept of the universe by making a systemic analysis. (see
also the religions under process systems)

Homestatic systems

Here we have an organization which must be
maintained at all costs. To do so, only precisely enough energy is added to
keep a certain organization going and no more.
At first sight, they are the foremost reason for optimism in Dick’s universe,
because they withstand the forces of entropy in their continuity.
Throughout Dick’s work we can find this continuity present in the – be it often
incidental – appearance of mechanical devices, ranging from poisonous
homeotropic darts4 over newspapers that edit themselves (the
so-called homeopapes5) up to self-regulating cars with a bad or wise
character6 and even a robot ‘who’ has written a theological pamphlet7.
The last show Dick’s interest in borderline cases (with the higher systems),
which is further developed in the theme of the simulacra8.

Process systems

Process systems have a more complex organization,
which they do not try to defend at all costs, but which they want to alter,
elaborate and make more complex instead. Whereas homeostatic systems suffice
with enough energy to withstand the entropy, process systems need more energy
than the total amount of entropy working against the system. Examples are these
sociological organizations that take more (energy) out of their environment
than they put into it (or lose to it). The change is not necessarily constantly
for the better; a system may have to fall into complete disorganization before
a new and higher organization can come into existence. Culture can be seen as
one of the most obvious examples of a process system; in Dick’s work it will
take an important symbolic place, e.g. in the many pots and vases as examples
of creativity9 (which is in fact bringing a new form of organization
into being). The energy needed to cope with entropy and to do much more
besides, is called negative entropy.
It is the main hypothesis of this dissertation that Philip K. Dick has
developed a very special form of negative entropy (or shorter: negentropy) to
play a major part in his work. Beside that, it can give an explanation for
Dick’s persistent optimism in such an otherwise decaying and malignent universe.
The basic negentropy in Dick’s novels lies in the characters’ shared reality,
which is in fact a shared construction of reality. In the first place this is
possible (in a literary-technical sense) because for Dick a novel is “A
story told by the characters to one another.”10
In systemic terms this special form of negentropy can be explained as taking
place in a system where every part (every individual) takes more out of the
system than its or his individual contribution which is possible because the
whole has more to offer than the sum of the parts. This is indeed not a very
felicitous formulation11 but there is more in the system than each
of its members actively (meaning: with a loss of personal energy) brings to it,
such as the potential organization(s).

Also, the shared (insight into) reality makes it possible for the system to
take more out of the environment than other more closed systems (isolated
elements or individuals) can. In the words of Darko Suvin12:
“The politically powerless turn the tables on the powerful by means of
their greater sensitivity. This allows them a much deeper understanding of
people and things, inner and outer nature…” The result is that artists
or small groups with an obviously shared reality have access to or even
generate negative entropy.
The most obvious example of the negentropic force in shared reality can be
found in A Maze of Death (1970) in the polyencephalic dreams, a first
study of which was already made in Eye in the Sky (1957). The same can
be found throughout Dick’s work in the point of view of narration (with the
exception of We Can Build You. As further proof in Dick’s work we can
state (1) that schizophrenic Manfred Steiner in Martian Time-Slip who
doesn’t take part in the shared reality can only see human beings as decaying
(equilibrium systems) or as robot-like (homeostatic systems) and that he ends
up as half robot, half decaying body when he should still be in his prime, as
the negentropic force can’t reach or help him; (2) that the test for
discriminating between humans and near-human androids in Do Androids Dream
of Electric Sheep?
is based on the human beings’ capacity for empathy which
is a form of partaking in a shared reality.

To get a more precise idea of Dick’s concept of the universe we have to take
into account one last datum, viz. that the characters’ construction of reality
with the help of negentropy is not simply linear; it goes through cycles, as
Dick said: “exposing layers of progressively greater Being.”13
This is reflected in many mandalic structures and symbols14, e.g.
the religions in A Maze of Death15 and Counter-Clock World16
and in the endings of many novels, where we find a repetition of – at least
part of – the plot plus a transformation of the known status in which the
beginning or creation of a new cycle finds its justification. “At the end
of each novel, Dick leaves his readers with at least the seeds of such a new
Now, we can undertake the graphical representation of Dick’s universe. The
scheme is adapted from W. Buckley:18


1 D. Katz and R.L. Kahn, “Common Characteristics of Open
Systems”, p. 91.
2 Angus Taylor, Philip K. Dick & The Umbrella of Light,
part one.

3 “Gubble” is the inarticulate sound the boy makes; it is
immediately associated with “gubbish” (rubbish) and both words are
used to indicate a state of decay.
4 E.g. in The Penultimate Truth.
5 These appear in many short stories (e.g. “If there were no
Benny Cemoli”) and novels (e.g. The Crack in Space).
6 Such as Joe Schilling’s ever-complaining auto-auto Max in The
Game-Players of Titan
or the wise cab which acts as a marital counsellor
for Dr. Sweetscent at the end of Now Wait for Last Year.

7 See also the section about Galactic Pot-Healer.
8 The theme of the simulacra is part of the background of many
novels and short stories; besides, it plays an important part in The
and We Can Build You and in the short story “The Mold
of Yancy”.
9 E.g. in Galactic Pot-Healer, Flow My Tears, the
Policeman Said
and in the short story “Pay for the Printer”. It
may even go so far that the creator or hobbyist at first seems to lose himself
completely (subjectively), but in the end it turns out that he has given a new
shape to the ‘objective’ reality, as in the stories “Small Town,”
“The Builder” and “Exhibit Piece”.

10 Dick in his Vancouver Speech; quoted from A. Taylor’s booklet
11 As Angyal states in his “Precedents to Systems Theory”.
12 Darko Suvin, “P.K. Dick’s Opus” in: Science-Fiction
, p. 167.
13 Philip K. Dick in “Man, Android and Machine”, intended
as a speech at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (in: Peter

14 For more information and examples, see: Mary Kay Bray in: Extrapolation
15 “With each greater circle the power, good and knowledge on
the part of God weakened, so that at the periphery of the greatest circle his
good was weak, his knowledge was weak – too weak for him too observe the Form
Destroyer” (p. 9).
16 “The universe consists of concentric rings of reality; […]
These concentric rings finally wind up as God […]” (p. 144).
17 Mary K. Bray, op. cit. p. 149.

18 Walter Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, p.

“The seeds of a new creation” –
or: is there any real progress?

If the best reason for optimism in Dick’s
universe comes from the fact that negentropic forces are persistently present
in his novels, then we have even more reason – hence more proof for our
hypothesis that the very personal form of negative entropy we have argued above
is a major theme in Dick’s work – when we can show that negentropy goes on
beyond the plot (e.g. in symbols and the ‘floating’ point of view) or even
beyond the book, which would be the case whenever a new cycle can be entered at
the end of a book, in other words whenever the reader is invited or challenged
to a new creation, i.e. a negentropic act.
In this chapter the endings of Dick’s novels1 will be dealt with in
order to see in how far and in what way they give support to our hypothesis.

In order to incite the creation leading to a new cycle the ending of a book
should contain both repetition and some kind of transformation (cfr. supra).
As the negentropy goes on and on, it is important to see that we (can) only
have seeds, beginnings or the pointing out of the direction. Hence the
following last lines: “To keep on moving on…”2,
“Let’s get to work!”3, “He considered that a good
sign too.”4, “We’re going to have to get accustomed to
them.”5, “Because we will not allow you.”6,
“But of what he could not yet tell.”7, “This was just
the beginning.”8, “To begin to pack.”9 Or
the same in a more symbolic way: “The ship rushed on, nearer and nearer
Earth.”10, “The cab soared on toward the Tijuana Fur

& Dye Corporation.”11, “The car flew on silently, in the
direction of the city receiving hospital.”12

Solar Lottery (1955): In this first novel we immediately find our
first example.
The entering of a new cycle in important matters is (mainly!) confined to the
central character Ted Benteley, who is again – for the third time – under oath
by the end of the book (repetition) but this time to himself, which is a major
change (transformation). For the rest of the characters we have only
Cartwright’s belief that “that might catch on” (p. 179).
Also, the ‘religion’ of the book, made explicit in John Preston’s ideas,
propagandizes a form of negentropy, which is called “the highest goal of
man – the need to grow and advance…to find new things…to expand.” (p.
188) The fact that the book ends with this speech helps create the feeling that
not only the prestonites are addressed, but the reader as well.

The World Jones Made (1956): This novel ends, as it began, in a refuge.
The difference lies in the changed background situation: in the beginning the
refuge was built for ‘aliens’ on earth, in the end for human beings in an alien
atmosphere. This is also an exponent of that form of negentropy which can be
expressed in the S.F.-cliché: “the stars our destination!”

Other important items can be found in Cussick’s last thoughts on Jones:
“The new religion. The crucified god, slain for the glory of man…a death
not in vain.” (p. 151) They both provoke the reader (make him think about
Christ in a new way – i.e. repetition and transformation) and introduce one of
Dick’s recurring themes: the Second Coming13.

The Man Who Japed (1956): It would be stretching the point to say we
can find seeds for a new creation in this novel. On the other hand, the open
ending always invites some kind of creativity on the part of the reader. The
same goes for the next novel:

Eye in the Sky (1957): This is an important book though, because it
contains the first example of Dick’s own idea about negentropy and at the same
time the ultimate, explicit form of his ‘floating’ point of view in the shared
building up of reality – and, chapter by chapter, of the plot.

The Cosmic Puppets (1957): It has been impossible to find this book.

Time Out of Joint (1959): Obviously an open ending, but not much more
than that.

Dr. Futurity (1960): Again, not much more than an open ending.

Vulcan’s Hammer (1960): More or less the same, except for some thoughts
on the last page, propagandizing the value of negentropy over homeostatic
systems in the words: “But at least the living elements, the human beings,
had survived. And the mechanical ones had not. That was a good sign, a step in
the right direction.”

The Man in the High Castle (1962): This is one of Dick’s best novels and
certainly one of his most consciously written. So, surely, we ought to find
evidence for our hypothesis here. And indeed, many critics14 agree
on the fact that, though the focus point of the plot is elaborated completely,
the author’s intentions go beyond the last page. Viz., when Julia finds out
that “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” contains truth – be it Inner Truth
– this holds challenge to the reader’s creativeness. Especially when we see
that “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” has almost the same relation to the
reality the characters share, as The Man in the High Castle has to the
reality the readers share, because then what is true for Julia is true for us,
readers, too.15

The Game-Players of Titan (1963): The situation in the end is open to
many different conclusions of the plot. Besides, there is an obvious message
for the reader when the players of earth see themselves as the vugs see them.
“This is how reality appears to you, and it’s just as real as our own
view.” (p. 150) Seeing the relativity of reality certainly helps the
reader to enter a new cycle, closer to Reality (beyond relativity).

Martian Time-Slip (1964): This novel leaves the reader with a question,
viz. after we have seen some aspects of the future (already cycles beyond the
book), but how will things develop now that the Bleekmen have altered the
future through their help in Manfred Steiner’s escape? This is one seed for a new
creation – be it inexplicit – but there’s more to support our hypothesis. E.g.
the visual representation of the necessity of shared reality for negentropy in
the figure of the decayed, half-mechanized Manfred Steiner (cfr. supra) and the
fact that only Bleekmen could set him free, as they are the only ones who share
his reality.

The Simulacra (1964): The most important conclusion this book seems to
offer is that sub-human creatures (the “chuppers”) are still more
valuable than highly sophisticated simulacra, among other things because the
“chuppers” have some kind of culture (always a sign of negentropic
forces at work).

The Penultimate Truth (1964): The last page contains both repetition
(copywriter Adams is convinced they will find a new way to keep humanity quiet)
and transformation (Nicholas – the representative of easily fooled humanity –
is determined not to let it happen). It is also important that precisely these
two are suggested to have an influence on the future, because they are the ones
with the shared reality closest to the truth. And finally, the title is all too
clearly proof of the cyclic pattern.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965): Possible seeds can be
found in the question where and how Palmer Eldritch (a very strange crusader
indeed!) will next show up.

Dr. Bloodmoney (1965): The most important message (as the subtitle
stresses) seems to be: life goes on, but the best way to survive is in small
communities – where shared reality is of the utmost importance. This concept of
shared (construction of) reality is probably the reason why Dick never answers
the question whether Dr. Bluthgeld really causes the catastrophe and whether he
really reaches Dangerfield in his satellite.

The Crack in Space (1966): Here, we are left with hardly any room for

Now Wait for Last Year (1966): This novel contains a lot of both
repetition and transformation. Repetition we find in the proliferation of the
main characters who depend on their multiple existences for survival.
Transformation in the fact that the plot is changed every time they meet one of
their other ‘selves’ and in the conclusion that things will go on changing
(after the last page) because some of the meetings are still in the future for
one of the ‘selves’. Besides that, we can find repetition in the last page (Dr.
Sweetscent returns to his wife) as well as transformation (his wife is, by
then, a braindamaged woman).

The Unteleported Man (1966): The form in which it has been published is
only half of the novel Dick wrote. The other half rests, still in manuscript,
in the University of California. So, we can hardly discuss the end.

Counter-Clock World (1967): At the end of this novel Sebastian Hermes
again is confronted with ‘deaders’ or ‘old-born’ wanting to be dug up (repetition),
but all of them at once (which transforms the plot). Note also that the symbol
of rebirth stands for the beginning of a new cycle. In Dick there are hardly
any deaths, but if there are, even they are part of the process of going to
Reality or Being.16

The Zap Gun (1967): In this novel the transformation of the plot (in the
last chapter) is pushed to its extremes. The fate of Don Packard is obvious –
mainly because the last chapter is a very close repetition of the previous one,
which already was a repetition in itself – but the reason why this should
happen or the instigator behind this attack are completely obscure. This leaves
the reader a lot of freedom and at the same time makes it very clear that the
novel is not complete without some creativity on the part of the reader.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968): Although this novel is
rather complete (the plot is elaborated as far as can be, at least) it contains
an interesting symbol of shared reality as a negentropic force. Again the
religion illustrates Dick’s views on negentropy – so we might as well say that
his ideas about the way negentropic force comes into being are close to his
personal philosophy. In this religion people make use of empathy boxes in order
to come into contact with Mercer (their ‘prophet’). It also brings them into
contact with each other and on p. 176 we find the following: “Mercer isn’t
a fake. Unless reality is a fake.” This means that reality only exists
because of empathy between people and this is these people’s religion, their
way to survive on a higher plain, in other words their negentropic force.

Ubik (1969): Here also, as in The Zap Gun, the last (short)
chapter transforms the plot in an extreme way. A channel of influence in a new
direction is opened. Note also that dying in this novel is simply a step on the
way to Being.17

Galactic Pot-Healer (1969): Though the plot as such does not evoke
further creativity, the last chapter certainly symbolizes negentropy plus the
advantage it has over simply making new what was broken (a kind of
homeostasis): creating pots gives Joe Fernwright a purpose in life whereas
pot-healing never was enough for him.18 The fact that his first work
of art was a failure doesn’t seem to bother him: creativity is always better
than restoration.

A Maze of Death (1970): In one of the next chapters this novel will be
examined in more detail. Suffice it to say here than the end again transforms
the plot in extreme ways.

Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970): There’s not much to base yourself on
for further creations in the last chapter of the novel. But clearly a direction
of the process to Reality is given, viz. as follows: things are getting more
and more complex until a climax is reached and a new stage, then they get more
and more simple, etc. In the story the ‘New Men’ are getting smarter and
smarter which helps them on, in the end they are getting simpler and simpler
which helps them grasp something as complex as God by seeing it in a simple
statuette. Of course this is only a simplified account of negentropic processes
(close to the scheme in the introduction) and Dick knows this, as can be seen
e.g. in the analysis of A Maze of Death.
We Can Build You (1972): The story is fairly complete. It is interesting, perhaps, to see how two people can influence each other, so that here, too, shared reality means shared building up of reality, or breaking down if you’re in contact (as the I-protagonist is) with a schizophrenic who has no access to negentropy.19

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (1974): Part four (the epilog) leaves no room for speculation. But as in the previous novel we get a fine example of the necessity of empathy as a negentropic force, even a more extreme example: whether Jason Taverner exists or not depends on the fact whether Alys Buckman dreams about him or not.

A Scanner Darkly (1974): At the end of this novel the results of the battle against the drug-maffia still have to show themselves, though the hint is clear enough. Looking for seeds, we can find plenty of them in the scene at the end of the book – both literal and figurative.
The impact of empathy on reality is symbolized here in Bob Arctor’s split personality: as two groups of people know him as two different (even opposite) characters, his brain, too, splits in two. Besides, in a speech20 Dick said that one hemisphere partakes in the collective (un)consciousness, the noösphere, so that’s where the novel is pointing at, as well.

Valis (1981): The next step that has to take place after the last pages of the book is the ultimate (so far): the author of the book and the main character in a way are one and the same person but still they are miles apart (literally and figuratively) and have to come together one way or another.


1. Change in Dick’s novels:
It is clear from the foregoing that in all of Dick’s novels there is some change by the end; if not important changes from the point of view of the plot, then certainly a step forward from a psychological or systemic angle.
2. Evolution:
In the novels where we find the so-called seeds for a new creation very outspokenly, there is also an evolution noticeable. In The Man in the High Castle (1962) the reader is left with some conclusions to draw concerning the relation between the novel and the novel-within-the-novel and between the realities depicted in both.

In Martian Time-Slip (1964) the reader can find some reasons to have doubts about the rest of the history, but nothing explicit. In The Zap Gun (1967) it is made explicit that something in the plot has been left unresolved.
In Ubik (1969) it becomes explicit which part of the plot has been left unsolved.
In A Maze of Death (1970) the reader is left with information which is obviously in contradiction with the central idea of the plot.

Finally, in VALIS (1981) even the stability of author and characters is shaken.
So, the nature of reality becomes gradually less clear (and obvious!) whereas the reader’s creativity plays an ever greater part. This can be mentioned in evidence of (1) that negentropy gets more important even beyond the work and (2) that Dick consciously intends to write about the process (!) of going towards Reality or Being.
3. Empathy:
From the distribution of this motive throughout Dick’s novels, it has become clear that the shared building up of reality is one of Dick’s major preoccupations and also that it’s linked up closely with – even (to a large extent) makes up – negentropy in his work.


1 The scope of the short stories usually is too limited and the stories as such, from a literary-technical viewpoint, too shallow and commercial to be interpreted along these lines.
2 Solar Lottery, p. 188.
3 Eye in the Sky, p. 256.
4 Vulcan’s Hammer, p. 154.

5 The Simulacra, p. 220.
6 The Penultimate Truth, p. 207.
7 Clans of the Alphane Moon, p. 205.
8 Ubik, p. 208.

9 A Maze of Death, p. 190.
10 The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, p. 204.
11 Now Wait for Last Year, p. 224.
12 Counter-Clock World, p. 158.

13 Cussick’s last thoughts on Jones are highly sarcastic; they express the idea that the second coming is not necessarily something to rejoice at, especially not if the second Christ-Figure is (nearly) inhuman. This comes close to W.B. Yeats, who, in his poem “The Second Coming”, wrote: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Which is not very surprising when we know that Yeats wanted to express his cyclic worldview in that poem and that Dick was familiar with the poetry Yeats has written – portions of one poem are quoted in three different novels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p. 5), Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 97) and Our Friends from Frolix 8 (p. 187).
The theme of the second coming also turns up (in other forms) in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and VALIS (1981).

14 Among others David Ketterer, Patricia Warrick and Brian W. Aldiss.
15 The novel-within-the-novel is used as a nice symbol for the negentropy which can penetrate the cyclic structure of the universe.
16 Cfr. also Ubik (1969) and A Maze of Death (1970).

17 Note also that on page 176 of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? it is suggested that empathy (shared reality) makes people immortal: “But if I’m Mercer, he thought, I can never die…”
18 The same idea is expressed in the short story “Pay for the Printer”.
19 See also the account of Manfred Steiner’s situation, above.
20 “Man, Android and Machine” (in: Peter Nicholls)

Galactic Pot-Healer and equilibrium systems

Galactic Pot-Healer is one of Dick’s novels which is most outspokenly concerend with entropy, or the struggle against it, to begin with the word “healer” in the title1.
Already in the first chapter, it becomes clear that entropy has also a metaphysical meaning in this novel: entropy is not only at work in the office the protagonist, Joe Fernwright, lives in (“cartons – empty – lay piled” p. 5), in the city where he lives (“a cracked and unrepaired sidewalk” p. 6), in the “planetwide Party apparatus […]which[…]clasped them in a hug of death” (p. 6), in the economic life (“nearly worthless inflationary trading stamps” p. 7), but also – and this is the entropy working in someone for whom life has lost its meaning (“It’s gone…The energy [!], the capacity to fiddle away a lifetime without dignified work” p. 11) and who is losing life as such, as a consequence (“I am dying, he said to himself” p. 14). So obviously, this novel will deal with this metaphysical kind of entropy too.
The next important thing that we can find in the first chapter lies in the fact that Joe is determined to fight against this entropy all around him, once he can play an important part in someone else’s life. Only when he gets a message from someone who needs his help, does he make up his mind not to “voluntarily die”, to “want to stay alive. And wait. And wait.” (p. 15) Which is a very important decision, as “Dick’s heroes rely on instinct and persistence (several of them, such as Jack in Martian Time-Slip or Nick in The Penultimate Truth are characterized as permanently ‘going to keep trying’)”2.

From that moment onwards entropy is constantly seen at work, in various degrees, and usually it is interpreted as a challenge. Chapter two and three confirm in a somewhat elaborate way the main ideas we could already find in the first chapter – which functions as a kind of programme for the rest of the novel.
In chapter two entropy is omnipresent. We can find it in Joe’s marriage, because his wife “had taught him to loathe himself, and then, having done that, she had left him”3 (p. 16). There is entropy in the prediction of his financial situation: he will be paid in crumbles, i.e. “in other words fine debris” (p. 19). It is only in a dream that “without him the system [!] would break apart”4 (p. 22). In short, entropy is present in the whole of society, where “everyone is aced out in the end” (p. 26).
Chapter three, on the other hand, begins with an uplifting moment – and one which, once again, stresses the metaphysical dimension – viz., when Joe is told: “Your wife will signify something” (p. 26). This is so important for Joe that from that moment on he is “going to keep trying”, despite the growing importance of entropy. For Joe’s future hardly looks any better than the concrete situation on earth does. After all, his future job means contact with the sunken Heldscella (p. 28) and with Glimmung who is said to be senile (p. 29) and indeed appears to be rather ‘rundown’ (pp. 39-41). Furthermore, Joe’s thoughts on p. 34: “I’ve gone mad from inactivity” and p. 42: “A man is an angel that has become deranged” make it clear that he even sees entropy as inherent to his own constitution and to mankind’s suffering existence.
Joe’s situation in this respect is exemplary for the many reasons for pessimism in Dick’s universe and he himself is a very Dickian hero because of his persistence.

Going through the rest of the novel, we can find the different aspects of entropy in Dick’s universe:
(1) Entropy is a necessary part of the physical world. The examples speak for themselves: “a weak sun” (p. 63), “Each living entity passes through periods of expansion and periods of contracting,” (p. 76) and, explicitly: “entropy […] is the ultimate fate of everything” (p. 90). This, of course, is nothing new. It is merely the second law of thermodynamics in other words.
(2) Entropy has a psychological dimension, too. E.g. in the whole of chapter one and on p. 76: ” ‘When I am depressed’ ‘But that’s when your energy is low’ “. This psychological dimension is characterized as the result of the impact of physical entropy on the human psyche.
(3) Entropy has a metaphysical dimension as well. This is not a result of the physical entropy, but rather the deeper reason for it; physical entropy is merely the outward reflection of this metaphysical dimension5. Hence, “The flood is a symbol for everything that eats away structures” (p. 81). So, entropy in its metaphysical dimension can be called: “Death, in some indistinct form” (p. 82).
This aspect can be expressed on a super-human level – which is the case when we see that an evil goddess6, Borel, is at the roots of entropy (p. 93) – as well as on a human level – in that case entropy has to do with the deepest, primordial fears of mankind: “I am feeling a fear that is millions of years old” p. 99. The next aspect is the most striking and the most meaningful in Dick’s work:

(4) Entropy is closely linked up with process systems. For this there are enough examples throughout Dick’s work7 to justify our graphical representation of his universe-concept.
There are different possibilities in this relationship. For one, entropy can simply be seen as the necessary counterpart of process systems. This is the case when we are confronted with Black Glimmungs “with the form-destroying principle motivating them” (p. 100), the existence of Joe’s corpse during his own lifetime (p. 101) and the Black Cathedral (p. 105). Also, it is put explicitly on p. 76: “Each living entity passes through periods of expansion and periods of contraction”.
Next, entropy can be one of the results of a process (system), as is said on p. 93, viz. when Amalita, the creative god, brings Borel, the destructive goddess, into existence8.
Entropy can be a useful intermediate in a given process (when chaos is a possibility between a certain cosmos and a better ordered one). In that case entropy is not absolute; the equilibrium is not reached for the whole system, but only for a part of it. This becomes clear in Glimmung’s remark on p. 77: “Failure will tell me as much about myself as will success. Self-knowledge, that is what I will achieve”. In other words, though part of Glimmung may have to give way to entropy (his vanity, for instance), the whole of his personality can come closer to Reality, because of the failure.
Entropy can even be a necessary step – which is something to expect in a cyclic universe where death is needed to get a rebirth9. The example is self-evident: “Let’s die for this.” (p. 78). Put differently, this means that negentropy is the resultant of some energy vectors – cfr. our graphical representation – , which are not simply – as our presentation – going a little to the left, followed by a movement to the right, ad infinitum; the vectors are pointing in every direction, allowing for the existence of negative energy vectors, representing entropy. In systemic terms: it can be necessary to break down a certain (limited) organisation to elaborate on it. We will meet with the same phenomenon in the analysis of A Maze of Death.

Joe’s doubt on p. 55 probably has to be classified among the last two properties, viz. when he says: “I’m going to my death. Or is it life, for the first time? The process [!] of being born?”
We can conclude from the foregoing that entropy plays an important part in Dick’s work, not only as a constitutive part of the background situation, but even as a representative of the equilibrium system that takes a place in his concept of the universe. Besides that, this is in such a close relationship with process systems that we have to look for its eventual meaning in a discussion of these process systems.

Homestatic systems:

Looking for these – scarce though they are – we find new reasons to believe our graphical representation is correct.
First, in the close relationship between homeostatic and process systems – nearly all of the examples are borderline cases, from an angry bed on pp. 22-23 to the robot Willis who crosses the border on p. 89 when he says: “You first have to say – aw, the hell with it” and then is developed into an extreme example.

And second, in the fact that process are valued higher10.

Process systems

Already a lot has been said about process systems in relation to other systems. It needn’t be repeated. Still, there are some meaningful things left to be said about the explicit nature of these systems as they are shown in Galactic Pot-Healer.
For one thing, process systems are seen as on the way to Reality or Being: “everyone will be [!]” (p. 45) and “A man must do what aids his humanity” (p. 118). Next, they are on their way to the centre, to find Truth: “He knew. About my life. He knew it from the inside” (p. 52). The centre the process systems are headed for lies in a cyclic structure. This becomes clear when we see that knowing the truth is equated with putting “the separate bits in superimposition over one another” (p. 68).
In The Game11 we have a symbol for the whole of Dick’s universe – be it simplified: the translation of meaningful pieces of language by computer, in such a way that the organization (or meaning) gets lost reflects the equilibrium systems; the restoration of the original internal organization exemplifies homeostatic systems; the fact that The Game can bring negentropy into a social context, as Joe thinks: “Contact with others […]; through The Game our isolation is lanced and its body broken” (p. 11) represents process systems.

And indeed, the “contact with others”, the shared reality is shown to be the major negentropic force in this novel: e.g. “I – need you. All of you” (p. 136) and “I need you to live, as separate entities combined within my one somatic presence” (p. 140).
Also a second, and even a third, instance of negentropy (equally typical for Dick) are given in the advice for Joe on p. 155: “Be creative. Work against fate. Try.”
To conclude we can say that these last words convey the overall impression the novel makes. It is the same as with most of the other novels (cfr. supra) and it relates, to put it in systemic terms, the importance and higher value of process systems.


1 This explicit concern with entropy (or the battle against it) is expressed in five titles.
Galactic Pot-Healer – the word ‘healer’ immediately implies a disease, in other words entropy at work – also relates the novel to the drug culture Dick was familiar with. The same can be said about Time Out of Joint. Both point at the possibility of getting to an alternate universe by means of drugs (in the second example, literally), which is a recurring theme in Dick’s novels and stories.

Martian Time-Slip and The Crack in Space are the most literal examples of the other possible way of reaching an alternate universe, viz. by the disruption of Kant’s basic categories time and space.
A Maze of Death suggests different interpretations: as a whole it relates the novel to the prevailing imminent threat of entropy, the pun on ‘amaze’ in the first words already shows a possible negentropic force (staying amazed might imply trying to find a solution and keeping on trying) and the word ‘death’ may refer to LSD – as in A Scanner Darkly.
(Of course, “the time is out of joint” is a quotation from Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act. I, sc. 5, line 188)

2 Darko Suvin, “P.K. Dick’s Opus,” in: R.D. Mullen & D. Suvin (eds.), p. 174.
3 The hard, destructive woman appears in many of Dick’s (later) novels. She represents entropy, but she’s also linked up with the classic idea of the ‘femme fatale’ and Jung’s destructive anima-figure.
4 This is a foreshadowing of Glimmung’s words on p. 139: “Only you can give it to me.”
5 In a letter of comment to SF Commentary, Dick proclaims that this reflects his personal philosophy: “entropy…is the real and ultimate force which is destroying the protagonist’s private world…Now, I personally conceive the form destroyer as personified, as an active evil, the evil, force…Yes, it is an anti-God” (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, p. 32)

6 As in the short story “Faith of Our Fathers” and in A Maze of Death.
7 Cfr. also the section on A Maze of Death and process systems.
8 As an analogue appears in A Maze of Death, this problem will be dealt with, in more detail, in the section on that novel.

9 Also in Ubik, A Maze of Death and (implicitly) Counter-Clock World.
10 Even Willis, the robot, is disturbed by the immediate alternation of commercials for devices to regulate a certain homeostasis and classical music – which stands for culture as a negentropic force.

11 The concept of game plays an important role in Dick’s work. Though it cannot be examined in depth in all its aspects within the scope of this dissertation, one aspect is worth looking into. It boils down to the fact that some of the properties of games – and game theory – are used as a kind of negentropy.
In Solar Lottery chance and unpredictability are used to obtain a better form of government (cfr. the link between totalitarian governments, homeostasis and predictability in the next section).
The same goes for The Game-Players of Titan.

In the short story “Shell Game” chance is used by the characters to get a better insight into themselves.
The aspect of rule-following in games in a means for the manipulation of a planet-wide economic structure in the story “War Game”.
In The Zap Gun identification by the characters with pawns in a game can be put to the defense of earth – besides, the society depicted in that novel is based on a mock armament race.
This property of identification is also the force behind the story “The Days of Perky Pat”.
Furthermore, the following aspects can be found: chance in the consultation of the I Ching in The Man in the High Castle; rule-following in the stories “A Game of Unchance” and “Return Match”; assumption, pretence and roleplaying in the stories “Second Variety”, “The Electric Ant”, “The War with the Fnools”, “The Father-Thing”, “Colony”, “Impostor” and “The Mold of Yancy” as well as in the android and simulacrum motifs.

The Simulacra and homeostatic systems

In this novel there are quite a few instances of homeostatic systems and the title suggests that they are among the novel’s main concerns. There are homeostatic systems on different levels and each level has another appreciation (though not every evaluation can be found explicitly). They cover a wide range of complexity. To begin with simple mechanical devices like the F-a2 recording system (p. 5), the “homeostatic beam” as a way of traffic control (p. 43), the papoola, used for propaganda purposes (p. 52) or cabs with a “self-guidance system” (p. 71). Then there is the use of drug therapy for mental illness (p. 8). More complex are the persons who convey a homeostatic constitution, e.g. the harsh, egocentric Julie, who “would […] not deteriorate” (p. 34) and Nicole, “the most synthetic object in our milieu” (p. 98) and “An illusion. Something synthetic, unreal.” (p. 119). There is even homeostasis in the social structures of the communal appartments – crf. their idea!
ls in the prayer1 on p. 16 – as well as in the governmental form of the USEA, which depends on the simulacra to keep up distinctions between the Ges, who make up policy, and the Bes. who carry out orders (pp. 36-37). As a result of the homeostasis in society, the USEA has nothing but “Norms Standards.” (p. 48)
In none of Dick’s novels and short stories there is enough material concerning homeostatic systems to deduce their basic properties from. But, fortunately, there is the so-called Vancouver Speech2 in which we can find six very important remarks for the understanding of homeostatic systems in Dick:

(1) “has he not also, in this process [of introjection of the living quality into his own head], reified – that is, made into a thing – other people?”3
(2) “our men – made world of machines […], interlinking homeostatic components – all that is in fact beginning more and more to possess […] animation.”4
(3) “what machines do may resemble what we do, but certainly they do not have intent in the sense that we have; they have tropisms, they have purpose in the sense that we build them to accomplish certain ends and to react to certain stimuli.”5

(4) “[to be an android] means to be pounded down, manipulated, made into a means […] And, most of all, predictability.”6
(5) “there is a certain parallel between what I call the ‘android’ personality and the schizoid. Both have a mechanical, reflex quality.”7
(6) “Another quality of the android mind is an inability to make exceptions.”8

In these statements there are seven basic properties9 of homeostatic systems in Dick’s universe:

(a) they have tropisms to protect their inner organization, in (3);
(b) these tropisms act as a necessity, in (3) and (6);
(c) they are open in so far that they depend on stimuli, in (3);
(d) there is a necessary response to the stimuli, and hence, predictability, in (2), (3) and (4);
(e) homeostatic systems can be used as a means, as an intermediate, in (3) and (4);
(f) concering the border with process systems, there is reification of human beings in the ‘negative’ or outward direction, in (1) and (4);
(g) in the ‘positive’ or inward direction, we find homeostatic systems turning into process systems, in (2).

There are examples for these seven properties throughout the novel. We find that tropisms to protect the inner organization (a) are possible on different levels; on an individual level in Richard Kongrosian’s exclamation: “I’ve got to be invisible! It’s the only way I protect my life!” (p. 96) and on a social level in the compulsive ways of the government, e.g. in the need for the next der Alte “to keep the system creaking along a while longer” (p. 143).
The fact that these tropisms act as a necessity (b) is illustrated by the “obnoxiously persistent reporting” machines )p. 7) with “their blind, efficient mechanical way” (p. 205). It is more openly implied on p. 51: “The tropism being established, the papoola trudged after her”.

The dependence on stimuli (c) can be seen in the workings of the F-a2 recording equipment: “[it] went into a state of extreme activity, then, utilizing the sunlight and the water; its metabolic processes stimulated” (p. 6).
The predictability as a result of necessary response to the stimuli (d) is the reason why the simulacra have a “cold, logical appraisal of reality” (p. 58). It is also part of the efficiency of the auto-cab: “its mechanism gears changed as the cab creakely adjusted to the new conditions” (p. 100).
Homeostatic systems can be used as a means, as an intermediate (e). Hence, the degrading remarks “that nonentity, der Alte” (p. 7) and “It’s a fake, a simulacrum […] I can control it” (p. 54).
Most interesting in Dick’s novels though, are the borderline cases: the homeostatic systems evolving into process systems (g) and the human beings who are showing a homeostatic constitution in their reification of other people (f). The latter can be found in Julie’s attitude: “She was writing off another human being, severing herself from Vince […] as if she had returned a book borrowed from the building’s library.”10 (p. 33). The former is exemplified by the “dead [!] Theodorus Nitz Commercial”11 (p. 209).

Evaluation and the relation with process systems

The way homeostatic systems are evaluated in this novel depends on the level they operate on. As mere technical devices they are free from evaluation. This is probably because as such they can be used to good ends (propaganda for liberating space travel) as well as bad (to keep the illegal government going). On more sophisticated levels they are favoured less than process systems – among other things, because they are more open. So e.g. personal therapy is claimed to be better than chemical therapy and harsh women are found difficult to live with12. Furthermore, on a political level this homeostasis gives rise to a totalitarian13 mentality (with a “uniformed public” p. 86). On an abstract, ideological level aspirations are more honourable than norms and standards (p. 48).

On the whole, process systems again turn out to be more important, which may explain the ‘victory’ of the cultural, ethnic group of “chuppers” over the policy-dictating simulacra.
Again, process systems are suggested to be part of a cyclic structure, viz.: “Perhaps, he thought, what I must seek then is a rebirth.” (p. 125)
The overall impression this novel leaves us with is mainly the same as the conclusions we had to draw from Galactic Pot-Healer: Dick presents us a universe where both entropy and, more ambiguously, homeostasis threaten humanity and human values, but negentropy turns out to be – or is promised to become – more powerful, so that his novels usually strike a note of optimism, as well.


1 “Heavenly father…we ask that in your mercy you enable us to raise the funds for the roof repairs which seem imperative. We ask that our sick be healed…We further ask that no outsiders get in and disrupt our law-abiding, orderly lives and we ask in particular that lastly, if it be thy will, that Nicole Thibodeaux be free of her sinus headaches”.
2 Philip K. Dick, “The Android and the Human”, a speech delivered at the Vancouver SF Convention, and at the University of British Columbia, March, 1972, in: Bruce Gillespie, Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, Best of SF Commentary; Number 1.
3 Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 53.

4 Ibid., p. 53.
5 Ibid., p. 54.
6 Ibid., p. 57.
7 Ibid., p. 63.
8 Ibid., p. 63.

9 (a) – (e) are properties which are taken from system theory as such; (f) and (g), on the other hand, are idiosyncratic for Dick and therefore they are most persistently present in his novels and short stories.
10 Especially in Dick’s later novels, we can find more (female) examples for this attitude, with Pris Frauenzimmer in We Can Build You as the extreme.
11 There are many instances of this phenomenon. In addition to the already mentioned robot Willis and angry or wise cars, there are drug cabinets (The Game-Players of Titan), Lazy Brown Dogs (Now Wait for Last Year) up to the androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Besides, the transition from homeostatic systems to process sytems makes up the plot of some short stories, e.g. “The Defenders”, “Second Variety”, “Autofac”, “The Electric Ant” and (to some extent) “Nanny”.
12 In other words, what is android-like or homeostatic on the personal, individual level is depreciated because it gives rise to entropy in the inter-personal, relational field.
13 Seen like this, it is easier to understand how creative individuals, who are open to the new possibilities can mean an important danger to totalitarian regimes in Dick’s work.
See also Darko Suvin’s remark, quoted in the first section.

A Maze of Death and process systems

The first thing we had better do is ask ourselves whether this book is really concerned with process systems and not, as might be suggested, with homeostatic systems. Is the crew of the Persus 9 trying to restore the diminishing contact between the members or are they doing more than simply trying to lift up entropy? With the appearance of the Intercessor and Seth Morley’s reaction “But we invented you!” (p. 187), it turns out that the negentropic force of the polyencephalic undertaking is so strong that even ‘objective’ reality is touched by it. So, we are dealing with process sytems, at any rate.

The relation with entropy

On p. 97 the title of this novel is explained as follows: “As if we’re rats in a maze with death; rodents confined with the ultimate adversary, to die one by one until none are left.” This depicts the threatening force of entropy, which is – cfr. supra – only a reflection of equilibrium1 systems in Dick’s metaphysical concept of the universe, as expressed in the book’s religion (p. 9). There, entropy is seen as (possibly) a result of the processes at work. Elsewhere, it is characterized as the opposite of process systems, which tells us at the same time something about negentropy. E.g. on p. 8: “a creative job at last, and just when he […] was nearing a break” and on p. 37: “That’s the difficulty […] We have no common purpose”. The most striking aspect of entropy though, lies in the plot of the novel. It confirms what we have already said in relation to Galactic Pot-Healer: entropy can be a necessary intermediate in a process system. Indeed, t!
he destructive maze is merely constructed for the benefit of the group – despite the loss of personal qualities (mainly aggression) – so that the system as a whole can develop a new and higher form of organization. The resultant of the forces at work is, as we have seen, a negentropic, or positive vector, but the components are positive vectors, pointing in different directions, as well as negative – more exactly: usually negative. Hence all the misfortunes and killings with only little hopeful moments. The plot, in fact, is this: entropy can be used to fight entropy and result in negentropy. As an Indian tantra says: “Through change eat change”. Build in all kinds of changes to overcome the natural, negative, change2.

The relation with homeostatic systems

There are not so many instances of homeostatic systems in this novel, but still we can confirm some of the aspects already mentioned in the previous section. The data we are provided with can be brought together in three items:
(1) the homeostatic system of the computer linked together with the polyencephalic cylinders and the homeostatic ‘activities’ in the printing of the “tench”3;
(2) Ben Tallchief’s thoughts on p. 11:
“I decay and the Form Destroyer has me.
God, he thought, help me.
But not by replacing me. That would be fine from a cosmological standpoint”;

(3) the fact that Tony Dunkelwelt, who “lives for his mystical insights, his schizophrenic trances” (p. 79) sees the Form Destroyer in an old man, who he kills (p. 120).
From (1) and (2) we can conclude that homeostatic systems can take up a position between the others. In (1) we find examples of mechanical devices on and over the border to process systems: the computer generates a religion which manifests itself in reality and the “tench” answers questions next to the reprinting of objects. (2) implies that process systems are the favoured, the higher ones. Tony Dunkelwelt’s situation, in (3), is another instance of the parallel between schizoid personalities and homeostasis; he can be compared with the already mentioned Pris Frauenzimmer (We Can Build You) and – in a quite similar situation even – Manfred Steiner (Martian Time-Slip).

Properties of process systems

We already saw in Galactic Pot-Healer that process systems are going toward Being – hence, p. 45: “everyone will be”. This idea is repeated in A Maze of Death, with some further explications of how this can be reached according to Dick, viz. on p. 10: “I want to be! I want to act and accomplish something”.

So, process systems involve acting and being creative: “help me find something more creative and stimulating” (p. 7). The goal of process systems can also be called (Inner) Truth or Reality: “[we are] prisoners of our own preconceptions and expectations […] without ever seeing reality as it actually is.” (p. 102) – and, of course, shared reality does not have such disadvantages.
This reality is covered by layers of lesser reality and illusion: “[Pray] for the veil of illusion to rise to expose the reality beneath” (p. 107).
Again, Reality lies in the middle of a cyclic structure. The psychological reflection of this ‘basic truth’ can be found in Seth Morley’s words: “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” (p. 22) The cyclic structure is, once more, symbolized by rebirth, though this time more explicitly rebirth in a higher circle, one closer to Reality: “I should be looking for a clear, white light, the proper womb in which to be reborn.” (pp. 141-142)
Finally, the negentropic force in these process systems lies in the shared building up of reality by the characters4. This shared reality can withstand entropy: “He died alone, but if we had been there he could have been saved.” (p. 62). But it can also build something new: “it had to be a joint projection from all of them; otherwise […] it would rapidly disintegrate.” (p. 185)
These properties are not only found in the ideas and philosophy the novel relates; they are inherent to the working of this novel – and most of Dick’s novels – as such.

Proof for this can be found in a great many mandalic structures and repetitions (always with transgression or transformation of the previous stage).
To give only some examples:
(1) the relation between the table of contents (p. 5) and the rest of the novel is one of repetition and strong transgression. When we abstract the real meaning of the situations in the table of contents from their ‘pastoral drama’ context, we find exactly the same as we see in the rest of the novel in other concrete contexts, like the detective story, the horror genre, the metaphysical exposition, the surrealistic description, etc.:
(2) the worked out repetition of the conversation of pp. 28-29 on pp. 38-39;
(3) the glimpses of ‘objective’ reality in the polyencephalic dream (e.g. the “tench”, some of the jobs of the main characters, the name Persus 9), which are always seen in another perspective;
(4) lots of ironical foreshadowings – e.g. on p. 25 Seth Morely says he’s going to Delmak-O on his own and his wife, who reacts to this idea, will do so herself in chapter sixteen;
(5) the relation between the dream and the reality, especially the influence of the dream on reality.
These examples and the way Dick’s novels as a whole function, can be put in a model, which is taken from the description of process systems and reflects a way of information processing:

It is important to see that in the end of the novel a new direction is pointed out, but not yet completely mapped.
When we take as an example the relation between the first sixteen chapters on the one hand and chapter seventeen on the other, we obtain (as only one way of representation) the following:

In this model, the main events are presented by capitals.

a: Seth Morley’s journey

b: Mary Morley’s journey
c: group colonialization
d: the projected religion
e: the religion ‘come through’,

Dynamic versus (homeo)static universe

Although we have always based ourselves on the notion that Dick’s universes is reigned by negentropy, there are some elements in his cosmogeny that would fit better in a static universe, e.g. the creation theory in Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 93).

The two extremes can be found in (one) the Catholic interpretation of the Bible, where everything began with the perfect unity of God, to which everything will return (homeostasis) and (two) the religion of the Edda, where even the (defective) gods can be replaced, so that a real dynamic process is possible.
There is a development in the four cases of cosmogeny in Dick’s novels. Often Dick is not very clear about it though, insofar that the workings of his novels pre-suppose a dynamic universe and the cosmogeny can sometimes be seen as inclusive, which implies a static universe.
In Counter-Clock World (pp. 144-145) the creation is inclusive and the universe concentric, with the rings gaining more reality as they get smaller. In this universe there can be no evolution – from the part of God everything “is as it was and shall be” – although a dynamic concentric universe is possible, and often implied in Dick’s work, e.g. in the representation we gave of A Maze of Death, resembling information processing.
The cosmogeny in Galactic Pot-Healer (p. 93) is not very clear. The description looks static but dynamism is brought in when the creative god suddenly turns out to be – or seems to be – overcome.

A Maze of Death provides us with references to both the static universe of the Bible and the dynamic universe of the Edda. On p. 10 we find homeostasis: “The mentufacturer…can abort the decay process by replacing the decaying object with a new one”. There is incertitude concerning the cosmogeny on p. 9: “The origin of the Form Destroyer is unclear; it is, for instance, not possible to declare whether (one) he was a separate entity from God from the start, uncreated by God by also self-ceating, as is God, or (two) whether the Form Destroyer is an aspect of God, there being nothing –”.
The reconciliation of every living thing with the “original Deity from whose unity of being everything has come” (p. 61) again stands for a static universe.
In the second half of the novel though, everything speaks for a dynamic universe – which can be seen as the evolution in Dick as such. We find that “the Deity does not know everything.” (p. 87). This evidently leaves room for progress and change.
The Walker-on-Earth is compared to the Wanderer, “Wotan, who had but one eye” (p. 129). Wotan, or Odin, is the highest god in the Edda.
On p. 103 then, the dynamism is mentioned explicitly and further specified as “the dialectic of the universe”.
His latest (and probably last) cosmogeny is explained in the appendix to VALIS. It brings us a dynamic universe, which is compared to information processing:

“The Mind lets in the light, then the dark, in interaction; so time is generated.” (p. 215) can be put next to “the dialectic of the universe”. So can the “Two source cosmogeny” which is compared with “the Yin and Yang of Taoism” (p. 223).
The process systems are represented in: “The universe is information” (p. 216) and “in fact […] really information and information-processing”.
Now, as this appendix forms Dick’s most outspoken and latest cosmogeny, we have reason to believe that he has undergone an evolution to a dynamic cosmogeny; anyway his novels always pre-suppose a dynamic universe.


1 Bruce Gillespie, “The Real Thing”:
“What I sought […] was the centre of the wheel around which all of Dick’s other ideas revolve. I’ve not read […] theories about entropy, so I cannot spin a neat theory in terms of Philip Dick’s self-acknowledged sources.” (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 40)
2 As Stanislaw Lem says in “Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case – With Exceptions”: “[Dick] has invented an extremely refined tactic: he uses elements of trash […] so that he leads a gradual RESURRECTION of the long-extinct, metaphysical-exotic values. In a way, he makes trash battle against trash.” (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 79)

3 In this way, the “tench” is a repetition of the printers in the short story “Pay for the Printer”. It (he) transcends their possibilities, though.
4 Dick in his Vancouver Speech:
“Reality, to me, is not so much something that you perceive, but something you make.” (in: Bruce Gillespie (ed.), p. 65)
5 Cfr. section two “The seeds of a new creation” and the analyses of Galactic Pot-Healer and The Simulacra.

VALIS as a testing ground – by way of conclusion

This novel will be used as a testing ground for the main theses of this dissertation, but only to some extent, as there is no reason to repeat all the properties of the three systems by showing how they appear in VALIS.
Suffice it to defend our graphical representation of Dick’s universe and to point out the reappearance of some of the most idiosyncratic properties – with some overlapping of these two, of course. It is meaningful that we need the first twenty pages only to do so.
To begin with the importance of entropy, we can immediately find this force at work throughout the first chapters and it is mentioned explicitly as the cover-term for all the misfortunes and frustrations: “Eventually he forgot what event had started off his decline into entropy.” (p. 3).

Homeostatic systems are represented on different levels: the individual in the person of Gloria Knudson (p. 2) and the social in “establishment” (p. 4).
Process systems can be found from the very beginning: in the title and the explanation of the title in the motto of the book. This already proves their superior importance.
Furthermore, we have deduced a cyclic, concentric universe. For this we find an example on p. 19: “Fat had long been in the part of the cycle where they reel you back in.”
Also, there are links between entropy and negentropy on p. 8: “It’s a technique to break down the personality […] Then they can build up a new personality” and between entropy and homeostasis on p. 2: “Gloria Knudson had wrecked him, her friend, along with her own brain […] [she was] a reflex-arc thing on the other side of the phone line.”
So much for Dick’s universe; it confirms everything we have found in earlier novels.
The really idiosyncratic properties of systems hang closely together with the concept of the universe. We have already mentioned the reappearance of the link between equilibrium and process systems (p. 8) and the introduction of entropy in the inter-personal field by a schizoid, homeostatic-like individual (p. 2).
Then, there is the connection between homeostasis and totalitarian regimes on p. 4: “They wanted to put all persons who were not clones of the establishment away. The authorities were filled with hate.”
Most important though, are the ways entropy may work: through shared reality or, to give a more complex paraphrase, “Vast Active Living Intelligence System!”, and, secondary in importance, through art: “The means by which Sherrie brought Horselover Fat to God was by means of a little clay pot which she threw on her kickwheel” (p. 11)
We are already familiar with the negentropic workings of pots (as symbols for art and culture), but the power of the shared (building up of) reality was never before so explicitly mentioned as forming a “negentropic vortex” comparable with the “arrangement of information!” (cfr. the motto of the book).

The fact that the negentropic force is related to a “system”, together with the other instances in this novel (and in others) where the terms are used explicitly, justify our systemic approach to the universe of Philip K. Dick.
Doing so, we have found a number of insights into the work of this author, which could be placed in a coherent system, so that we can also give explanations e.g. for the evolution of the ‘floating’ point of view and the split personality in VALIS, as well as for the coherence in Dick’s work.


I Primary: Philip K. Dick

(the used editions are pointed out between brackets; Dick has been published by Gollancz, Rapp & Whiting, Sidgwick and Sphere in the U.K. and Ace, Berkley, Daw and Doubleday in the USA)


Solar Lottery, 1955. (Arrow books, London)
The World Jones Made, 1956.
The Man Who Japed, 1956. (Ace)
Eye in the Sky, 1957. (Arrow)
The Cosmic Puppets, 1957.

Time Out of Joint, 1959. (Penguin)
Dr. Futurity, 1960. (Methuen Paperbacks, London)
Vulcan’s Hammer, 1960. (Arrow)
The Man in the High Castle, 1962. (Penguin)
The Game-Players of Titan, 1963. (Sphere)
Martian Time-Slip, 1964. (Del Rey Books, New York)

The Simulacra, 1964. (Methuen)
The Penultimate Truth, 1964. (Panther)
Clans of the Alphane Moon, 1964. (Panther)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, 1965. (Panther)
Dr. Bloodmoney, 1965. (Arrow)
The Crack in Space, 1966. (Methuen)

Now Wait for Last Year, 1966. (Panther)
The Unteleported Man, 1966. (Methuen)
Counter-Clock World, 1967. (Coronet Books, New York)
The Zap Gun, 1967. (Panther)
The Ganymede Takeover, 1967. (Arrow) with Ray Nelson

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968. (Panther)
Ubik, 1969. (Dell Books, New York)
Galactic Pot-Healer, 1969. (Pan Books, London)
A Maze of Death, 1970. (Pan)
Our Friends from Frolix 8, 1970. (Panther)

We Can Build You, 1972. (Daw)
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, 1974. (Panther)
A Scanner Darkly, 1974. (Panther)
Deus Irae, 1976. with Roger Zelazny

Confessions of a Crap Artist. his mainstream novel
VALIS, 1981. (Bantam Books, New York)

Short Stories:

A handful of Darkness, 1955. (Panther)
The Variable Man, 1957.

The Preserving Machine, 1969. (Pan)
The Turning Wheel, 1973. (Coronet)
The Golden Man, 1980. (Methuen)

“Faith of Our Fathers”, in: Harlan Ellison (ed.), Dangerous Visions, Doubleday, 1967.
“The Electric Ant”, in: B.W. Aldiss & H. Harrison (eds.), Decade: the 1960s, Pan, 1977.

II Secondary

1. Concerning SF and Philip K. Dick:

Brian W. Aldiss, Billion Year Spree, London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1973.
Kingsley Amis, New Maps of Hell, London, Gollancz, 1961.
Mary Kay Bray, “Mandalic Activism: An Approach to Structure, Theme, and Tone in Four Novels by Philip K. Dick”, in: Extrapolation (1980) 21, 146-157.

Bruce Gillespie (ed.), Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, Melbourne, Nostrilia Press, 1975, 106 pp.
David Ketterer, New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction and American Literature, London, Indiana University Press, 1975.
Peter Nicholls (ed.), Extrapolations of the Marvellous, Glasgow, Fontana, 1978. (Paperback edition of Science Fiction at Large, London, Gollancz, 1976.)
Patrick Parrinder (ed.), Science Fiction: A Critical Guide, London-New York, Longman, 1979.

Robert Scholes & Eric S. Rabkin, Science Fiction: History, Science, Vision, New York, Oxford University Press, 1977.
R.D. Mullen & Darko Suvin (eds.), Science Fiction Studies, Boston, Gregg Press (G.K. Hall & Co), 1976, 159-232.
Angus Taylor, Philip K. Dick & The Umbrella of Light, Baltimore, T-K Graphics, 1975, 52 pp.
Patricia Warrick, “The Encounter of Taoism and Fascism in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle“, in: Science Fiction Studies, (1980) 21, 174-190.

2. Concerning systems and systems thinking:

Manuel Aguirre, “The Structure and the System”, in: Restant, 1978 VII 2, 105-115.
A. Angyal, “A Logic of Systems”, in: F.E. Emery (ed.), Systems Thinking, Hardmonsworth – New York, Penguin, 1969, 17-29.
L. von Bertalanffy, “The Theory of Open Systems in Physics and Biology”, in: F.E. Emery (ed.), 70-85.
W. Buckley, Sociology and Modern Systems Theory, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1967.

D. Katz & R.L. Kahn, “Common Characteristics of Open Systems”, in: F.E. Emery (ed.), 86-104.
W. Koehler, “Closed and Open Systems”, in F.E. Emery (ed.), 59-69.
Mc. Loughlin, Aspects of the History of English, Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1970.
F. Mainz, “Foundations of Biology” in: O. Neurath, R. Carnap & Ch. Morris (eds.), Foundations of the Unity of Science, University of Chicago Press, 1955, 569-653.
R.D. Stevick, “The Biological Model and Historical Linguistics”, in: Language (1963) 39:2, 159-169.

3 thoughts on “The Universe Of Philip K. Dick – Systemic Analysis

  1. An excellent thesis,if dense and a little vague at times in explaining the full meaning in “the wizard of speculative literature’s” themes.The article and the author’s brilliant stuff,reminds me very much of the so-called “laws of attraction”,that of course means if you have only negative thoughts,it will pull impulses into your life with similar results,and likewise with positive ones.It seems to parallel your discussion of entropy and negentropy in the deeply complex structure of his strange works.

    This also places entropy and it’s opposite force in the context of metaphysics rather than purely scientific thought,which needless to say is closer to Dick’s unique themes.His universe,prehaps like our own then,is supposed to respond to our needs and thoughts,and reciprocates in kind.Ben Tallchief,in the first page of a Maze of Death,prays for a job that will take him away from the monotony of his present one,and is answered with uncanny promptness.

    Of course,this is a novel,like The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch,Counter-Clock World,Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,Ubik and the novelette Faith of Our Fathers ,where religious experience has become commonplace and sundry,where “God” is factual while a little later in a A Maze of Death,Seth Morley,the character with the most faith,is approached by The Walker on Earth[an avatar of,but not,the Holy Ghost]not to buy a vessel which would have led to his death,while further prove of his identity is proved by his knowledge of the man’s dead cat’s name.Later in the novel,he is saved,unlike his collegues,by a similar deity[another aspect of the same one],who he has faith in despite supposedly manufactured from the characters’ minds,and this can be seen as another example of course of negentropy a pseudo scientific or metaphysical faith that brings salvation.

    Faith plus love and empathy of course,are truly Dickian aspects of what makes a creature or person human in his fiction.The divine substance Ubik in the novel with the same name,requires faith to restore a world where entropy works to age people,places and organic materials in hours if not days.In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,the fake messiah Wilbur Mercer,is real because of the strength of faith and empathy of the so-called “Chickenhead”Jack Isodore,which the radio d.j.who “exposes” him lacks,and he recreates the world decimated by radioactive entropy,while Rick Decard the android bounty hunter has a similair experience,by fusing spirits with Mercer.

    Those then with the greatest faith and positive outlook then,will be the ones to succeed or survive in the weird and diabolical Dickian universe.

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