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How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later (1978) (urbigenous.net)
203 points by okareaman 41 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

A quote that could certainly apply to research on biological systems. Just because you think you're smart, doesn't mean you can out think the system or even understand it.

In this essay, he mentions not knowing what a schizophrenic experiences, and then talks about his preoccupation with what is real, how reality seems fake, and startling coincidences that seem like precognition.

These actually are most of the core experiences of schizophrenia for some people; people don't realize this because the stereotype (of hearing voices and so on) exists semi-independently of the illness and is self-reinforcing.

Probably there are many people who are more or less what is called "schizotypal" and don't have an episode that leads to hospitalization or other crisis so they never identify with the people who experience psychosis.

There was a former judge who was institutionalized a long time ago, and was still able to write a great deal about what he experienced, named Daniel Paul Schreber.


Perhaps these are just fundamentals of human experience. Jung for example held that experiencing synchronicity was normal and healthy. What is real and not is a question that has occupied thinkers for literal millennia; some degree of solipsism seems like a natural outcome of considering critically how knowledge can be obtained by someone limited by her senses and beliefs. It's just sound ontology if it doesn't manifest as debilitating illness.

>Perhaps these are just fundamentals of human experience

I think they are fundamentals of human experience. Especially because people are culturally influenced by those with more pronounced experiences than they themselves have had.

> In this essay, he mentions not knowing what a schizophrenic experiences, and then talks about his preoccupation with what is real, how reality seems fake, and startling coincidences that seem like precognition.

The sense that some things are real and other things are fake is present in virtually all philosophy and is probably part of being human. Sometimes, in philosophy, the empirical world (the way things appear to us) is fake and thought/categories/essences/ideal objects are real. Other times this is reversed, categories are seen as mere conventions, and reality is just empirical measurements with no "real" way to order them.

>probably part of being human

Of course it's part of being human, aren't schizophrenics human?

Dehumanizing other members of homo sapiens is also fundamentally part of being human, no question in my mind.

This is my favorite PKD quote.

Nothing is as perfect as you believe it to be.

Especially childhood heroes :(

That's similar to "Science is true whether or not you believe in it", which is attributed to Neil deGrasse Tyson. Both are probably based on some far older remark.

There’s also ’ For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled’ by Feynman

“Science is true”? Seems quite an odd thing to say

I am very suspicious of self-proclaimed defenders of science in the media. They may know some science, but they are too close to ideology and propaganda outlets and too far from genuine research.

When political opponents can be labeled as dumb right-wing extremists, then, of course, the message is "we are friends of science and science is true". When actual scientists reveal inconvenient facts regarding current policies, then that is proclaimed as disinformation and censured.

Well, that's the point, that it ISN'T the no-nonsense scientist statement it's often used as.

In context, there were a lot of things in PKD's life that didn't go away even though he tried his best to not believe in them.

Some past threads:

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, Philip K. Dick - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23500469 - June 2020 (117 comments)

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later (1978) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20207585 - June 2019 (19 comments)

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later (1978) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9943609 - July 2015 (12 comments)

How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later by Philip K. Dick, 1978 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=451981 - Jan 2009 (3 comments)

Have you automated this or do you still manually type it out every time?

Automate in the sense that when an article that has been reposted hits the front page, a post like the above is auto generated, looking back at previous submissions of the same post

It's in between: not automatically generated, but I use software to save the typing.

Past explanations if anyone cares: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28441182


it is automated in the sense that there is a "past" link on every article

The essay is in general pretty good and I enjoyed the style of it. It swerved way too far into Christianity for me though. I did enjoy the philosophical questions and takes after managing to swallow the religious rhetoric.

Having precognition-like situations has happened to a lot of people and I'll disagree with other commenters that this makes them close to schizophrenia. That's a strange thing to say IMO; most people I ever talked with had weird dreams with very specific details which they proceeded to see/hear years later randomly, long after they forgot the dream.

Is most of humanity suffering from schizophrenia then? Or maybe time as we have postulated it does not exist indeed? Who knows.

> There is something enormously powerful in a child’s ability to withstand the fraudulent.

I wish that was 100% true. There's a whole generation of kids out there who never even played with material objects save for smartphones / tablets. I dread what's ahead of them after they grow up. But maybe I am a pessimist here; humans have the unique ability to "wing it" whenever push comes to shove. That's something I admire in the human race.

The first mention of Christianity is one in which it is rejected

"In Plato’s Timaeus, God does not create the universe, as does the Christian God; He simply finds it one day. It is in a state of total chaos. God sets to work to transform the chaos into order. That idea appeals to me, and I have adapted it to fit my own intellectual needs: What if our universe started out as not quite real, a sort of illusion, as the Hindu religion teaches, and God, out of love and kindness for us, is slowly transmuting it, slowly and secretly, into something real?"

PKD saw himself as a bit of an edgy gnostic, but in the end he was a lot more orthodox than he thought. His ideas are closer to the gospel of John than the historical gnostics.

He, like many still, have a bit of an idealized image of the gnostics, and overlook those of their ideas that are more alien today.

I am afraid the child's ability to withstand the fraudulent has been evaded by this:

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words."

This has been learned and applied by all sorts of actors. It would be well if this power, and the tendency to abuse it, were better known, so that more of us would be on guard. Unfortunately, most people seem all too willing to allow the determined to take control of the language.

> Is most of humanity suffering from schizophrenia then?

This question has been asked before. Look into the 1976 book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes.


"But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups — and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener"

I wonder what he would think of today's world

Has there ever been a society that was not full of manufactured realities? People just get distributed when the new ones are different than the ones they grew up with, but shit doesn’t change.

"J. Edgar Hoover is the man of the hour, all that he needs is just a little more power / How do I know? I read it in the daily news." - Daily News, Tom Paxon

There are probably more means now than ever to construct and promote a few dominating common themes in people's subjective experiences. Perhaps before mass media realities were more diverse or more limited by that which people themselves had a chance to experience.

I think you're spot-on here. Authoritarian-made realities seem to be the historical norm. Just look at the Roman Catholic Church at the height of its power. If anything, we were under a Dunning-Kruger effect before. We have more opportunity to realize now that truth is actually very difficult to pin down.

What is interesting about the Roman Catholic Church in this context is that its internal power was never as large as when its political power was at its lowest, and vice versa: the doctrin of papal infallibility was made official by the First Vatican Council that had to flee Rome when in 1870 the troops of Vittorio Emanuele II. concered the church state that had subsequently been dissolved (until the Vatican as a political entity was reinstituted by Mussolini in 1929). In contrast, during the Middle Ages, when the pope's political power was at its peak, papal power had always been challenged externally by secular powers and internally by antipopes, heretics, numerous reform movements and the majority belief that a general council is superior to the pope.

That people finally can choose in which pseudo-world they will live, but they still do not because it’s much easier not to?

This is a long read and I fully intend to digest it, but I must say that my favorite thing about the PKD books that I have read[0][1] is usually that part when the universe literally and/or figuratively falls apart. In other words, his science fiction novels tend to present a plot that involves radical changes to our understanding of how the world works. Upon skimming this submission, there are also twists in the stories he tells here which subvert our understanding of conventional things.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubik

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valis_(novel)

My fascination with PKD is his fascination with the nature of reality which I share. "How to Build a Universe..." is a long read but packs in a lot of ideas in essay format. I feel like most of his core beliefs are contained in it. My favorite quality of PKD is that he does not present any idea as something true or something he wants us to believe in. He merely reports what he experiences and then asks himself and us if this could be real and if so how?

Between PKD's "If you find this world bad, you should see some of the others" talk (https://youtu.be/Q7SxTm_LQW4) predicted the plot of The Matrix back in 1977, and his letters in "Exegesis," his secret to world building was based on remembering it from visions.

I don't like his writing, but I do like his ideas. (I even wrote a song about it: https://soundcloud.com/n-gram-music/exegesis )

Welt Am Draht "predicted" The Matrix in 1973, and it was based on Simulacron-3 which also "predicted" The Matrix, written in 1964.

The Matrix was not a specifically unique concept, it was just unfamiliar to audiences at the time. That isn't to say that there isn't something especially good and powerful in it's blend of the aesthetics and themes that Welt Am Draht and the remake The Thirteenth Floor didn't have.

It was also referenced in a 1976 Dr. Who series. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrix_(Doctor_Who)

What an absolutely brilliant, incongruent piece. In the first part of his essay PKD breaks down all the myriad ways we ourselves as well as third parties create fictional narratives, only to jump into one of those narratives in the second part, balls deep. PKD was a mad genius, with the balance tilting in both directions frequently. The central questions of this piece are: "what is real?" and "what does it mean to be an authentic being?", and the piece seems to fold itself & encompass itself like a piece of recursive code. Was PKD describing the reality as he understood it, giving an authentic description of the world through the lenses of his schizophernic mind, or was he illustrating the point he made in the first part of this piece? I know too little about him to make up my mind, and I wonder if he himself could. Thank you for posting this brillianty insane piece

> So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.

Made me think of the meta verse that I have been hearing so much about lately.

With Mark Zuckerberg as the demiurge.

For Heraclitus reality was like random pixels on a screen, constantly changing. Parmenides was looking at the same screen far away, from infinity, a gray homogenous screen. Both were right, and the screen exists.

An interesting connection:

"This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance." - PKD (1978)

"The ultimate weapon has always existed. Every man, every woman, and every child owns it. It's the ability to say No and take the consequences." - Robert Anton Wilson (1975)

I wonder if PKD read Leviathan?

And then there were none by Eric Frank Russell, 1951:

Gleed examined it, turning it over and over between his fingers. It was nothing more than an oblong strip of substance resembling ivory. One side was polished and bare. The other bore three letters deeply engraved in bold style:


Glancing up at Baines, his features puzzled, he said, ‘You call this a weapon?’


‘Then I don’t get it.’ He passed the plaque to Harrison. ‘Do you?’

‘No.’ Harrison examined it with care. ‘What does this F.—I.W. mean?’

‘Initial-slang,’ informed Baines. ‘Made correct by common usage. It has become a worldwide motto. You’ll see it all over the place if you haven’t noticed it already.’ [...]

‘It didn’t mean anything to me.’

‘It means plenty,’ said Jeff, ‘Freedom-I won’t!’


That RAW quote is simply incredible. Any idea what work it is from?

Leviathan is the third volume of the Illuminatus trilogy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Illuminatus!_Trilogy

Please, I would appreciate, someone who knows more Philip K. Dick work, is this autobiographical story, or work of fiction?

I mean is it like "The Blair Witch Project" where they made horror to deliberately look like a documentary.

This to me looks like fiction/autobiography made deliberately to like a fiction/reality fractal, sentences look like personal experience but again I have a feeling Philip is trying deliberately to push our psyche deep into the spiraling rabbit hole or unknown.

Is this autobiographical or a work of fiction? Yes. He does not trust in the reality of his own words. Why should you?

I have read much of his writing, though far from even most of it. Even if I had read all of it, I know my answer would be the same.

I feel like being lost halfway when the essay went into Christianity and established connections between Bible and his fictions and realities. It does not make much sense to me, probably because the examples and coincidences he refereed to were so "tiny" and insufficient to support his view.

I guess if the reader had experienced similar amamnesis as of the author, these ideas would strongly appeal to them then.

edit: well...maybe the intrigue part of this article is that I, as a reader, cannot tell the context - whether it is fiction or essay?

Wow that got... weird.

Hmm yesterday the post had PKD's name in the description, now it's gone. Could be important. I, for one, wouldn't have clicked on it without the name.

Ah yes, a knob to adjust the fine constant, another for Pi, and for g and how many more that all seem to have been already tweaked to = now - will there ever be a reboot?

Wild (in a good way).

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