A Not-So Distant Voice: My Brief Encounter With (the spirit of) Philip K. Dick
A True Story by Jason Koornick
Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Not by someone in the room or your plane of view but by a force that has greater control over the world than you do. Most of the time, this is a benevolent force that plays harmless games to amuse itself and never does anything dangerous but rather little things to annoy you. Like making every traffic light turn red just before you can drive through it or giving your phone number to telemarketing companies. This is the same force that can also bestow good things upon you such as finding the perfect parking space or hearing from two long lost friends on the same day. Whatever this “entity” is, it seems to act randomly, without reason or purpose often giving conflicting signs towards what is real and what we experience.
We all live our lives experiencing small coincidences every day without even thinking about it. However every once in a while there comes a series of events which makes you do a double take. There are just too many backwards (and forward) connections among disparate elements that you can’t deny the existence of an outside force, one we can’t see or interact with but seems to be able to communicate with us through different and often indirect means. An appliance that mysteriously doesn’t work, a TV show with an esoteric message or real-life events that coincide with a book you are reading. While the whole series of synchronicities may be harmless and void of any practical meaning you just hope that the advantage will be shifted in your favor instead of the reverse.
For this guy, a group of events which occurred in a short period of time (less than 6 hours) confirmed his suspicion that there was a force manipulating these events. It caused a flurry of bizarre coincidences which otherwise would have been completely unrelated. That this force may have been manipulated by SF writer Philip K. Dick from another reality (the real PKD died in 1982, I have never met him) is completely speculative but considering the author’s playful personality and outlandish sense of irony, it certainly can’t be ruled out.
I had been reading the book by D. Scott Apel called Philip K. Dick: The Dream Connection in which the author writes a true story about trying to make sense of a series of dreams and coincidences involving Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author who wrote more than 52 novels of mind-bending psychological SF that explored metaphysical themes. I have even briefly corresponded with D. Scott by e-mail about promoting his book on my web site. I had just finished part in the book where the author tells about after a session of channeling the apparent spirit of Philip K. Dick his tape recorder stopped instantly as if it had known exactly when the session was over. The night before I even told my girlfriend about the incident in the book. She calmly agreed and said, “That’s nice, honey. Good night”. So I went to sleep. Here’s what happened the next night (Nov, 9 1999):
What was supposed to be an uneventful night of domestic living turned into an unexpected encounter with a force outside our ordinary realm of existence. Depending on how you look at it, it could either be a bunch of meaningless coincidences or domestic bliss plunged into utter turmoil.
It was an unusually warm night for November in Vermont and I was expecting my girlfriend to come over for a homemade dinner of baked chicken and vegetables. But when I switched the oven on, it wouldn’t heat up. The oven was broken and the food was all ready to cook! It may have been as simple as the pilot light having blown out but it was really annoying and changed my plans for the evening. The stove had never been broken in the two years that I had lived there. I didn’t think anything of it at the time except frustration but this was just the first manifestation of weirdness that the night had to offer.
Quickly I changed my plan for the evening gathering my belongings to spend the night at my girlfriend’s house. We grabbed the pan of uncooked food and drove over there. At least she had an oven that worked!
When we arrived, I put a blank tape into the VCR to tape the evening’s episode of Dilbert, the second of the new season. As soon as I hit record, we switched the channel to watch another show. No big deal until the end of the show as we switched back to watch the last few seconds of Dilbert. Exactly as the show ended the tape stopped because it ran out. Less than a second delay. The timing was perfect! OK, weird but I still didn’t think much about it because things like that happen to everyone now and then. Except not that often to people who had just read about an almost identical situation in a book about Philip K. Dick. I didn’t even realize that this may have been some kind of sign about the material on the tape. Oh well . . . I would later though.
Dinner was excellent (thank you) and after we ate, as we were watching television, the next bit of synchronicity occurred – the TV shut off all by itself. We both saw it with our very eyes. The remote was in her lap, neither of us touched it and the TV turned off. Maybe it didn’t like the show (it was an uneventful new drama called “Now and Then” – pretty lame really) but this had also never happened before and it wasn’t broken – I switched it right back on. The TV seemed to have a mind if its own. (The name of the brand is Quasar in case you’re interested ) We just looked at each other with stunned expressions and were baffled.
The rest of the night progressed uneventfully until I decided to watch the episode of Dilbert which I recorded earlier. I guess technically you could call it a rerun since it had aired an hour ago but it was still fresh to us. Turns out that the episode finds our geeky friend in existential turmoil as he has not one by two near-death experiences (Alice says, “You’ve died again. Dilbert, it’s getting old”.) When he sees an afterlife of eternity in a cubicle, Dilbert begins to question the nature of consciousness and how it influences what we perceive as reality. Believe me there’s no one that thinks it’s more pathetic to take philosophical cues from a cartoon character but this episode seemed different from the others that I have seen. Really . . .
Dilbert even sees two versions of the afterlife, depending with whom he associates before he dies. It’s pretty funny when he gets knocked in the head by a worshipper of the cult of Wally and sees the afterlife as spending eternity in a cubicle with the office loser himself. In order to make sense of his metaphysical nightmare, Dilbert even consults a psychic and ends up talking to a recorded message (“Have you known someone who died in the past 15 years named John, or Bill or Steve or Tom?”)
The episode ends with Dilbert speculating about “another level of existence, a dimension parallel to or beyond the one we live in now”. Dogbert, who earlier represented a manipulative demiurge closes the show by saying and I paraphrase:
“It’s all a big illusion that we perpetuate or is being perpetuated upon us. When we believe, we engage the illusion and when we stop believing we shatter the illusion and we shatter ourselves in the process because we are part of illusion”. – Dogbert.
Pretty heavy words for a Palm-Pilot-carrying animated dog. As far as I am concerned this Dilbert episode could have been written by the master of science fiction himself, Philip K. Dick. It paints our engineering hero in a metaphysical box where what he sees and experiences does not coincide with his rational, scientific beliefs. It raises more questions than it answers just like Dick’s profound sci-fi. When it was over the tape stopped exactly at the end and started rewinding. “Oh that,” I remembered. What was happening here? I was a little confused and I didn’t fully realize what had just hit me.
OK, now we were tired. Time to go to bed, my head was still a bit dazzled. We went upstairs to her room to crash for the night. As soon as we walked in the room we both noticed a funny smell. It was strong and not entirely unpleasant but still made the room smell funny. Like bloodhounds, we sniffed around the room trying to identify the odor to no avail. “Oh well,” I thought. “We’ll just have to open the windows to air this room out.” It was a very warm night anyway.
The we realized that the heater was not working correctly. It was running constantly even though the thermostat was turned down all the way. Now we knew that we were going to leave the windows open.
It’s not as if the heating element hadn’t broken before. It had been in a constant state of mechanical half-life for a few weeks up to that point. It turned off sometimes but most of the time there had been heat coming from those floor boards, no matter what the temperature. It was as if the thermostat had a mind of its own. What made it kind of creepy was that we had thought that the problem had fixed itself a few days before when the heat resorted to proper functionality for no apparent reason. Turns out we were wrong.
At this point, we had to go to bed. As if there weren’t enough coincidences that had occurred that evening, I noticed one last thing before we turned the light off. The only thing on my girlfriend’s night table was a newsletter from a local psychic entitled “Bending Reality”. “How long has this been here?” I asked.
She told me that the brochure had come in the mail the day before and that she hadn’t read it yet. The newsletter feature was a transcript of a channeling session which brought forth the spirit of a medieval knight who explains the nature of consciousness. I wondered if Philip K. Dick knows this knight and they sit around a cup of warm rum discussing the existential plight of beings in the earthly realm.
I thought about all the things that had happened that night and what they all meant. I then became ultra suspicious of everything. I listened closely to the wind, the doors closing and the barking of the dog for any sign that might make sense of the jumbled synchronicities. The signs were very clearly in front of me, I just had to acknowledge that someone or something was in control of my surrounding energy that night and they were trying to tell me something. Perhaps its best to forget about these things since the one who is constantly searching for the smallest clues may not be seeing the big picture of what really lays before them. “Ahh, forget about it,” I thought to myself, frustrated.
I had enough then and I wanted to enter the dream world. I’ll probably have lots of crazy dreams tonight, I thought. I had my notebook, pen and light by the side of the bed in case I dreamed something that was worth remembering. Among the stale odor and artificial heat, I drifted off to sleep prepared for any encounter . . .
When I woke up in the middle of the night and then in the morning, my mind was a blank slate. Not a single memory or faint recollection of my dreams the night before. When I sniffed the air, the smell was completely gone. Only then did I put it all together and realize that all the events of the previous evening did have something in common.
The changing of my evening plans, the three broken appliances, the tape stopping at the end of the program like in the book I was reading, the metaphysical subject matter of the taped program, the unexplainable odor and the channeling newsletter would all seem perfectly normal if they happened on their own and didn’t occur all in the same evening. It pointed towards one possible and perfectly rational explanation.
As I finally was able to see that they were somehow related, the connectedness was lost. The randomly coincidental occurrences ceased as soon as I acknowledged that they were not random or coincidental. When I thought, “Something is definitely happening around me”, it stopped happening. Life was back to normal, the sun was coming up like it had every other day before and my brief encounter with what I thought might be the spirit of Philip K. Dick was over. If it had even happened at all.
All I could say was, “Goodbye, old buddy. I have a feeling this isn’t over yet”.