Selections

This essay was taken from the book, The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick, editied by Lawrence Sutin. Vintage Edition, 1995.

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"Schizophrenia and The Book of Changes"

By Philip K. Dick

In many species of life forms, such as the grazing animals, a newborn individual is more or less thrust out into the koinos kosmos (the shared world) immediately. For a lamb or a pony, the idios kosmos (the personal world) ceases when the first light hits his eyes--but a human child, at birth, still has years of a kind of semireal existence ahead of him: semireal in the sense that until he is fifteen or sixteen years old he is able to some degree to remain not thoroughly born, not entirely on his own; fragments of the idios kosmos remain, and not all or even very much of the koinos kosmos has been forced onto him as yet. The full burden of the koinos kosmos does not weigh until what is delightfully referred to as "psychosexual maturity" strikes, which means those lovely days during high school epiotmized by asking that cute girl in the row ahead of you if she'd like to go get a soda after school, and she saying "NO". That's it. The koinos kosmos has set in. Prepare, young man, for a long winter. Much more--and worse--lie ahead.

The preschizophrenic personality is generally called "schizoid affective", which means that as an adolescent he still hopes that he won't have to ask the cute chick (or boy) in the next row for a date. Speaking in terms of my own schizoid-affective experience, one gazes at her for a year or so, mentally detailing all possible outcomes; the good ones go under the rubric "daydreams," the bad ones under "phobia." This bipolar internal war goes on endlessly; meanwhile the actual girl has no idea you're alive (and guess why: You're not). If the phobias win out (suppose I ask her and she says, "With you?" etc.), then the schizoid-affective kid physically bolts from the classroom with agoraphobia, which gradually widens into true schizophrenia avoidance of all human contact, or withdraws into phantasy, becomes, so to speak, his own Abe Merritt [a popular SF writer of the 1920s and 1930s]--or, if things go further wrong, his own H. P. Lovecraft. In any case, the girl is forgotten and the leap to psychosexual maturity never takes place, which wouldn't be bad in itself because really there are other things in life besides pretty girls (or so I'm told, anyhow). But it's the implication that's so ominous. What has happened will repeat itself again and again, wherever the kid runs head on into the koinos kosmos. And these are the years (fifteen years old to twenty-two) when he can no longer keep from running into it on almost every occasion. (Phone the dentist, Charley, and make an appointment to get that cavity patched, etc.) The idios kosmos is leaking away; he is gradually being thrust out of the postwomb womb. Biological aging is taking place, and he can't hold it back. His efforts to do so, if they continue, will later be called "an attempt to retreat from adult responsibility and reality," and if he is later diagnosed as schizophrenic, it will be said that he has "escaped from the real world into a phantasy one." This, while almost true, is just not quite correct. Because reality has an attribute that, if you'll ponder on't, you'll realize is the attribute that causes us to so designate it as reality: It can't be escaped. As a matter of fact, during his preschizophrenic life, during the schizoid-affective period, he has been somewhat doing this; he is now no longer able to. The deadly appearance, around nineteen, of schizophrenia, is not a retreat from reality, but on the contrary: the breaking out of reality all around him; its presence, not its absence from his vicinity. The lifelong fight to avoid it has ended in failure; he is engulfed in it. Gak!

What distinguishes schizophrenic existence from that which the rest of us like to imagine we enjoy is the element of time. The schizophrenic is having it all now, whether he wants it or not; the whole can of film has descended on him, whereas we watch it progress frame by frame. So for him, causality does not exist. Instead, the acausal connective principle that Wolfgang Pauli called synchronicity is operating in all situations--not merely as only one factor at work, as with us. Like a person under LSD, the schizophrenic is engulfed in an endless now. It's not too much fun.

At this point the I Ching (The Book of Changes) enters, since it works on the basis of synchronicity--and is a device by which synchronicity can be handled. maybe you prefer the word "coincidence" to Pauli's word. Anyhow, both terms refer to acausal connectives, or rather events linked in that manner, events occurring outside of time. Not a chain passing from yesterday to today to tomorrow but all taking place now. All chiming away now, like Leibnitz's preset clocks. And yet none having any causal connection with any of the others.

That events can take place outside of time is a discovery that strikes me as dismal. My first reaction was, "Good God, I was right; when you're at the dentist it does last forever." I'll let the mystics dilate on more favorable possibilities, such as eternal bliss. Anyhow, LSD has made this discovery available to everyone, and hence subject to consensual validation, hence within the realm of knowledge, hence a scientific fact (or just plain fact, if you prefer). Anybody can get into this state now, not just the schizophrenic. Yes, friends, you, too, can suffer forever; simply take 150 mg of LSD--and enjoy! If not satisfied, simply mail in--but enough. Because after two thousand years under LSD, participating in the Day of Judgement, one probably will be rather apathetic to asking for one's five dollars back.

But at least one has now learned what life is like during the catatonic schizophrenic state, and one does return from LSD within a short time period as computed within the koinos kosmos (roughly ten hours), however much longer it is in the idios kosmos (to rather understate the matter). For the catatonic schizophrenic the duration of this state is not only forever idios kosmoswise but also, unless lucky, koinoskosmoswise. To put it in zen terms, under LSD you experience eternity for only a short period (or, as Planet Stories used to phrase it, "Such-and-such," he screamed under his breath). So, within a nontime interval, all manner of elaborate and peculiar events can take place; whole epics can unfold in the fashion of the recent movie Ben Hur. (If you'd prefer to undergo the experience of LSD without taking it, imagine sitting through Ben Hur twenty times without the midpoint intermission. Got it? Keep it.)

This unfolding is not in any sense a causal progression; it is the vertical opening forth of synchronicity rather than the horizontal cause-and-effect sequence that we experience by clock time, and since it is timeless, it is unlimited in extent; it has no built-in end. So the universe of the schizophrenic is, again to understate it, somewhat large. Much too large. Ours, like the twice-daily measured squirt of toothpaste, is controlled and finite; we rub up against only as much reality as we can handle--or think we can handle, to be more accurate. Anyhow, we seem to manage to control its rate, just as, for example, we decide not to go on the freeway during rush-hour traffic but take that good old back road that nobody knows about except us. Well, it goes without saying that we eventually err; we take a wrong turn, generally when we're about sixty-five years of age; we drop dead from cardiac arrest, and despite years of experience in managing the flow of reality, we're just as dead as the psychotic stuck in the eternal now.

But, to repeat, this merely lies ahead of us, in the future; we haven't failed to get that annual medical checkup yet, or if we have, it wouldn't have revealed anything this time, except the usual ulcer. Our partial knowledge of reality is sufficient to get us by--for a while longer. Cause and effect bumble on, and we go with them; like good middle-class Americans we keep paying on our insurance policies, hoping to outbet the actuary tables. What will destroy us in the end is synchronicity; eventually we will arrive in a blind intersection at 4:00 A.M. the same time another idiot does, also tanked up with beer; both of us will then depart for the next life, with probably the same outcome there, too. Synchronicity, you see, can't be anticipated; that's one of its aspects.

Or can it? If it could...imagine being able to plot in advance, in systematic fashion, the approach of all meaningful coincidences. Is that a priori, by the very meaning of the word, not a contradiction? After all, a coincidence, or as Pauli called it, a manifestation of synchronicity, is by its very nature not dependent on the past; hence nothing exists as a harbinger of it (cf. David Hume on the topic; in particular the train whistle versus the train). This state, not knowing what is going to happen next and therefore having no way of controlling it, is the sine qua non of the unhappy world of the schizophrenic; he is helpless, passive, and instead of doing things, he is done to. Reality happens to him--a sort of perpetual auto accident, going on and on without relief.

Schizophrenics don't write and mail letters, don't go anywhere, don't make phone calls: They are written to by angry creditors and authority figures such as the San Francisco Police Department; they are phoned up by hostile relatives; every so often they are forcibly hauled off to the barber shop or dentist or funny farm. If, by some miracle, they hoist themselves into an active state, call HI 4-1234 and ask for a cab so they can visit their good friend the pope, a garbage truck will run into the taxi, and if, after getting out of the hospital (vide Horace Gold's experience a few years ago), another taxi is called and they try one more time, another garbage truck will appear and ram them again. They know this. They've had it happen. Synchronicity has been going on all the time; it's only news to us that such coincedences can happen.

Okay; so what can be done? For a schizophrenic, any method by which synchronicity can be coped with means possible survival; for us, it would be a great assist in the job of temporarily surviving...we both could use such a beat-the-house system.

This is what the I Ching, for three thousand years, has been and still is. It works (roughly 80 percent of the time, according to those such as Pauli who have analyzed it on a statistical basis). John Cage, the composer, uses it to derive chord progressions. Several physicists use it to plot the behavior of subatomic particles--thus getting around Heisenberg's unfortunate principle. I've used it to develop the direction of a novel (please reserve your comments for Yandro, if you will). Jung used it with patients to get around their psychological blind spots. Leibnitz based his binary system on it, the open-and-shut-gate idea, if not his entire philosophy of monadology...for what that's worth.

You, too, can use it: for betting on heavyweight bouts or getting your girl to acquiesce, for anything, in fact, that you want--except for foretelling the future. That, it can't do; it is not a fortune telling device, despite what's been believed about it for centuries both in China and by Richard Wilhelm, who did the German translation now available in the Pantheon Press edition in an English version. (Helmut, Richard's son, who is also a Sinologist, has demonstrated this in articles in the Eranos Jahrbucher and in lectures; also available in English from Pantheon. And Legge, in the first English version circa 1900, demonstrated that, then.) True, the book seems to deal with the future; it lays before your eyes, for your scrutiny, a gestalt of the forces in operation that will determine the future. But these forces are at work now; they exist, so to speak, outside of time, as does the ablative absolute case in Latin. The book is analytical and diagnostic, not predictive. But so is a multiphasic physical exam; it tells you what is going on now in your body--and out of a knowledge of that, a competent doctor may possibly be able, to some extent, to predict what may happen in the future. ("Get that artery replaced, Mr McNit, or next week or maybe even on the way home this afternoon you'll probably drop dead.")

By means of the I Ching the total configuration of the koinos kosmos can be scrutinized--which is why King Wen, in prison in 1100 B.C., composed it; he wasn't interested in the future: He wanted to know what was happening outside his cell that moment, what was becoming of his kingdom at the instant he cast the yarrow stalks and derived a hexagram. Knowledge of this sort is obviously of vast value to anyone, since, by means of it, a fairly good guess (repeat: guess) can be made about the future, and so one can decide what one ought to do (stay home all day, go outside briefly, go visit the pope, etc.).

However, if one is schizophrenic to any extent, and it is now resignedly realized by the psychiatric profession that a hell of a lot of us are, many more than once realized, knowledge of this type, this absolute, total presentation of a pattern representing the entire koinos kosmos at this Augenblick [moment], consists of total knowledge period, in view of the fact that for the schizophrenic there is no future anyhow. So in proportion to the degree of schizophrenic involvement in time that we're stuck with--or in--we can gain yield from the I Ching. For a person who is completely schizophrenic (which is impossible, but let's imagine it, for purposes here), the derived hexagram is everything; when he has studied it plus all texts appended to it, he knows--literally--all there is to know. He can relax if the hexagram is favorable; if not, then he can feel worse: His fears are justified. Things are unendurable, as well as hopeless, as well as beyond his control. He may, for example, with complete justification ask the book, "Am I dead?" and the book will answer. We would ask, "Am I going to get killed in the near future?," and in reading our hexagram get some kind of insight--if we read the judgement, "Misfortune. Nothing that would further," we might decide not to shoot out into commuter traffic that evening on the way to North Beach--and we might thereby keep alive a few years longer, which certainly has utility value to anyone, schizophrenic or not.

But we can't live by the damn book, because to try to would be to surrender ourselves to static time--as King Wen was forced to do by losing his throne and being imprisoned for the rest of his life, and as present-day schizophrenics must, along with those of us nutty enough to belt down a draft of LSD. But we can make partial use of it; partial, as its ability to "forecast coming events" is highly partial--if not in the strict sense, as I just now said, nonexistent. Sure, we can tinker around and fix matters up so that it does depict the future precisely. But that would be to become schizophrenic, or anyhow more schizophrenic. It would be a greater loss than gain; we would have induced our future into being consumed by the present: To understand the future totally would be to have it now. Try that, and see how it feels. Because once the future is gone, the possibility of free, effective action of any kind is abolished. This, of course, is a theme that appears in SF constantly; if no other instance crosses your mind, recall my own novel The World Jones Made. By being a precog, Jones ultimately lost the power to act entirely; instead of being freed by his talent, he was paralyzed by it. You catchum?

It occurs to me to sum up this observation by saying this. If you're totally schizophrenic now, by all means use the I Ching for everything including telling you when to take a bath and when to open a can of cat tuna for your cat Rover. If you're partially schizophrenic (no names, please), then use it for some situations--but sparingly; don't rely on it inordinately: save it for the Big Questions, such as, "Should I marry her or merely keep on living with her in sin?" etc. If you're not a schizophrenic at all (those in this class step to the foot of the room, or however the expression, made up by you nonschizophrenics, goes), kindly use the book a very, measured little--in controlled doses, along the lines of your wise, middle-class use of Gleam, or whatever that damn toothpaste calls itself. Use the book as a sort of (ugh) fun thing. Ask it the opposite sort of questions from what we partial schizophrenics do; don't ask it, "How can I extricate myself from the dreadful circumstances of complete decay into which I've for the fiftieth tme fallen, due to my own stupidity?," etc., but on this line instead, "What happened to Atlantis?" or, "Where did I mislay the sporting green this morning?" Ask it questions the outcome of which can have no genuine bearing on your life, or even on your immediate conduct; in other words, don't "act out" on the basis of what the book hands you--comport yourself strictly as you should under LSD: Observe and enjoy what you see (or, if it's the hell world, observe and suffer through silence and immobility), but let that be all, white man; you begin to act out in real life on basis of what you see and we put you in Shanghai's People's Democratic Funny Farm doing stoop labor at harvest time.

I speak from experience. The Oracle--the I Ching--told me to write this piece. (True, this is a zen way out, being told by the I Ching to write a piece explaining why not to do what the I Ching advises. But for me, it's too late; the book hooked me years ago. Got any suggestions as to how I can extricate myself from my morbid dependence on the book? Maybe I ought to ask it that. Hmmm. Excuse me; I'll be back at the typewriter sometime next year. If not later.) (I never could make out the future too well.)