Kant’s “Noumenal Self” and Doppelganger in P.K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly

By Frank C. Bertrand


The two-in-one character Arctor/Fred in P.K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (1977), in conjunction with several of the ancillary characters therein, pose explicit and implicit notions about Character, personality, and self (Being) that are both informative and problematic for reaching an understanding of the novel as a whole. Three of these are Arctor/Fred as Doppelganger, schizophrenic, and symbolic personification of Kant’s idea that there are two wills or selves in Man, the phenomenal and noumenal self. Individually and in combination these reflect Dick’s long standing concern with the nature of Reality and the interaction between Man and Reality.


Most obvious of the aforementioned is that of Arctor/Fred as doppelganger, double, or composite character, a literary motif that generally represents the faces of good and evil within a single individual as objectified in two characters at war with each other. Arctor/Fred, however, is not the stereotypical doppelganger as originally conceived by Jean Paul Richter in the late eighteenth century for his novel Siebenkas (1796-97). Unlike Golyadkin Sr. and Golyadkin Jr. in Dostoevsky’s The Double (1864), or Schwendy and Habeland in E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Doubles” (1821), Arctor/Fred is a psychological rather than physical double; he is a split-personality, a second-self reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Of his book Stevenson wrote, in his essay “A Chapter on Dreams” (1888), that he “had long been trying to write a story…to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man’s double being which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature.” Thus it is that the dignified Dr. Jekyll, impeccable in respectability, immaculate of reputation, seeks relief for his repressed instincts in the guise of another identity. His transformation into Mr. Hyde is deliberate and depends, initially at least, on the drugs which he has concocted. As Dr. Jekyll states in the written note he leaves before he kills himself, “man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point…I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man.”

Arctor/Fred’s situation in A Scanner Darkly is similar to the extent that his “transformation” is also accomplished by drugs, specifically use of the drug Substance D. But, use of the drug is not deliberate to effect transformation. The nature and extent of his split-personality, his neurosis, stems from use of Substance D as Arctor, the undercover persona of Fred, while investigating drug users and pushers in general and the source(s) of Substance D in particular. In fact it is intimated near the end of A Scanner Darkly that Arctor was deliberately addicted to Substance D as a part of a larger scheme to discover those responsible for manufacturing and distributing the drug. At one point Donna says to Mike Westaway, “now he hasn’t any ideas. You know that as well as I do. And he will never again in his life, as long as he lives, have any ideas. Only reflexes. And this didn’t happen accidentally; it was supposed to happen.” (p. 203) It is also suggested that Arctor/Fred is being used to trap Jim Barris. Hank, Fred’s superior, says, “We really are interested in Barris, not you; the scanning of the house was primarily to keep on Barris.” (p. 182) Whether this is part of Arctor/Fred’s being deliberately addicted to Substance D is not clear. What is evident is that it contributes to and symbolizes his split-personality, that is, Fred as Arctor spying on Arctor and, in turn, unknowingly setting up Barris.


Arctor/Fred’s awareness and assessment of his situation, however, is not nearly as acute as that by Dr. Jekyll of his. Fred notes that “When you get down to it, I’m Arctor…I’m the man on the scanners…I’m slushed, my brain is slushed. This is not real. I’m not believing this, watching what is me, is Fred — that was Fred down there without his scramble suit; that’s how Fred appears without the suit!” (p. 132) Earlier in the novel Arctor wonders “how many Bob Arctors are there? A weird and XXXXed-up thought. Two that I can think of…The one called Fred, who will be watching the other one, called Bob. The same person. Or is it? Is Fred actually the same as Bob? Does anybody know? I would know, if anyone did, because I’m the only person in the world that knows that Fred is Bob Arctor. But…who am I? Which one of them is me?” (pp. 74-75) And then there is what Barris says about Arctor, “There’s a great deal about Bob Arctor you’re not aware of…That none of us are. Your view is simplistic and naïve, and you believe about him what he wants you to…I have come…to distinguish in him certain contradictions. Both in terms of personality structure and behavior. In his total relatedness to life. In, so to speak, his innate style.” (Pp. 32-33)


Simplistic our view would appear to be, indeed, and contradictions there are. As early in the novel as page seventeen one finds “In his scramble suit, Fred, who was also Robert Arctor, whatever” (p. 18), which phrase is repeated on the next page. Then, Fred thinks “he always had a strange feeling as to who he was…What is identity?…Where does the act end? Nobody knows.” (Pp. 20-21) Also on page twenty is the phrase “Arctor-Fred-Whatever-Godknew.” The Arctor/Fred character in Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, therefore, is aware of his two personas, but as Arctor says “which of them is me?” (emphasis mine) That is, which persona is the real one? Which is original and which is the split personality?

Note that there is a progression, of sorts, from “Fred, who was also Robert Arctor” to “Fred, Robert Arctor” to “Fred, Robert Arctor, whatever” to “Arctor-Fred-Whatever-Godknew.” Further, the Arctor/Fred character first appears in A Scanner Darkly in reaction to being introduced as “the vague blur” by the host at a Anaheim Lions Club: “In his scramble suit, Fred, who was also Robert Arctor, groaned and thought: This is terrible.” (p. 17, emphasis added) But this is the narrator speaking, not Arctor or Fred. Four paragraphs later one finds this exchange:


”But to be serious for just a moment,” the host


said, “this man here…” He paused, trying to


remember.

”Fred,” Bob Arctor said. “S.A. Fred.” (p. 17)


Again, this is narrative identification, as are those in the progression mentioned, all of which intimates that the narrator is an unsure as Arctor/Fred. The implication, though, is that the original persona is Bob Arctor. But, Arctor doesn’t know this. Or does he? “…Fred in his scramble suit naturally reported on himself. If he did not, his superior — and through him the whole law-enforcement apparatus — would become aware of who Fred was, suit or not. The agency plants would report back, and very soon he as Bob Arctor…” (p. 44, emphasis added) One could infer from this that Fred is the original persona and is well aware of his undercover role as “Bob Arctor.” Yet, this is at best a simplistic conclusion not conclusively supported by facts. True, we are told a lot more about Bob Arctor than S.A. (Special Agent) Fred and Arctor is “on stage” in the novel a majority of the time. We learn that Arctor “in former days” (p. 48) had a wife, two small daughters and worked as an insurance investigator until he “hit his head in the kitchen while getting out the corn popper and…found a better solution.” (p. 72) He realizes that his “life had been too safe. All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected.” (p. 49) In the “dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wonderous thing spilled out of him constantly; he could count on nothing.” (p. 49) Does the bump and cut in his scalp from the corner of a kitchen cabinet have anything to do with Arctor/Fred’s split personality? Indirectly, apparently. It is almost too easy to postulate that Bob Arctor, in whose life “nothing new could ever be expected,” opts for a job as an undercover narcotics agent with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, S.A. Fred being his cover, and becomes the Bob Arctor who “could count on nothing.” Note too, that Fred, while talking with two fellow agents, says, “I’ve got two kids…two little girls.” (p. 159) Bob Arctor and Fred are obviously the same person, yet, it is still not conclusive that Arctor is the original persona. It is equally plausible that Fred, a narcotics agent, has assumed an undercover role named “Bob Arctor” complete with background life and then due to use of the drug Substance D, while undercover, finds it more and more difficult to keep his two identities separate.


What is certain is that neither Bob Arctor nor Fred knows for sure. As Alice says, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), when the caterpillar challenges her to explain herself, “I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir…because I’m not myself, you see.” And neither is Arctor/Fred himself after using Substance D. Arctor/Fred is, in this respect, similar to Pellig, a character in Dick’s first novel, Solar Lottery (1955). Though an artificial android, Pellig acquires “some kind of multiple mind” when human personalities/minds are electronically transferred into him for the purposes of control. But the results are chaos and Pellig becomes “a fractured personality artificially segmented into unattached complexes, each with its own drives, characteristics and strategy.” (p. 132) Arctor/Fred’s experience, as is Pellig’s, is a chilling enactment, in part, of what Harry Haller, in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf (1927), learns from the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf.” This treatise informs Harry that men have an inborn need to regard the self as a unit:

And if ever the suspicion of their manifold being


dawns upon men of unusual powers and of


unusually delicate perceptions, so that, as all


genius must, they break through the illusion


of the unity of the personality and perceive


that the self is made up of a bundle of selves,


they have only to say so and at once the


majority puts them under lock and key, calls


science to aid, establishes schizomania and

protects humanity from the necessity of


hearing the cry of truth from the lips of these


unfortunate persons.


Arctor/Fred is not a man of unusual powers nor of unusually delicate perceptions, but due to the drug Substance D he is “forced,” as it were, to break through the illusion of the unity of personality and in doing so experiences “schizomania.” And it is his schizomania that best indicates the nature of Arctor/Fred as doppelganger in A Scanner Darkly.


The schizophrenia (a term coined in 1911 by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler) literally means split personality; in Greek, schizein means, “to split.” And, as one medical deputy in A Scanner Darkly explains to Fred, “In many of those taking Substance D, a split between the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere of the brain occurs. There is a loss of proper gestalting, which is a defect within both the percept and cognitive systems, although apparently the cognitive system continues to function normally.” (p. 86) One can experience “thoughts not your own, as if another person or mind were thinking. But different from the way you would think.” (p. 87) Thus, at one point, “the other side of his head opened up and spoke to him more calmly, like another self with a simpler message…” (p. 135) This is reminiscent of the way R.D. Laing describes schizophrenia in his book The Divided Self (1969): “the term schizoid refers to an individual the totality of whose experience is split in two main ways: in the first place, there is a rent in his relation with his world and, in the second, there is a disruption of his relation with himself…he does not experience himself as a complete person but rather as “split” in various ways, perhaps as a mind more or less tenuously linked to a body, as two or more selves, and so on.”

It is not unexpected then, that Arctor/Fred develops schizophrenia, that he becomes a split personality. He exhibits, in fact, behavior characteristic of hebephrenic and paranoid schizophrenia. The former involves loosing touch with reality as all major functions become increasingly disorganized and distorted while the latter is comprised of poorly organized, internally illogical, changeable delusions often accompanied by vivid hallucinations. Two incidents in particular exemplify Arctor/Fred’s paranoia. The first is an auditory hallucinations as Arctor “felt, in his head, loud voices singing: terrible music, as if the reality around him had gone sour…it all had a rancid quality, as if, throughout, his world had putrefied…as if rotting away, stinking in sight and sound and odor.” (p. 63) This is echoed, several paragraphs later, by “A thousand little voices crying out their strangeness…” (p. 64) The second, and more intriguing, incident is a visual hallucination that Arctor experiences initially. During a night with a “cute little needle freak” named Connie, he “turned towards the girl beside him and saw Donna Hawthorne…He could make out her face clearly…He still stared at her, and then by degrees he saw Connie again…Connie and not Donna; one girl, not the other.” (p. 125) This first-hand encounter is repeated later, second-hand, by Fred as he sits watching playbacks on holo scanner monitor five — “…then he noticed something he had not noticed. That doesn’t look like anybody else but Donna Hawthorne!…It does compute…He ran the tape back, then forward again. Bob Arctor and a chick, but not Donna!…And then…Connie’s hard features melted and faded into softness, and into Donna Hawthorne’s face.” (Pp. 135-36) This thoroughly puzzles Fred. He replays the tape, freezes one frame in an enlarger, walks into the three-dimensional holo projection to scrutinize the girl’s face, and decides he’s either been fed fake tape or cross-printing (cross-talk) has occurred. But then, when he runs it once again, he notices Arctor “staring on and on at the sleeping girl” and realizes that “Arctor saw it too.” (p. 137) In connection with Fred’s thought about crosstalk it should be noted that on two different occasions the medical deputies mention almost the same thing. “Are you getting any cross-chatter?” (p. 87) “Cross-cuing, we call it. Related to split-brain phenomena.” (p. 168) These repeated images and cross-references forcefully depict by their very nature (they are themselves of a schizo quality) the extent of Arctor/Fred’s disintegration, his schizophrenia. There is a significant subject-object split here, a polarization between one’s self (first Arctor, then Fred) and one’s image on the holo scanner (the scanner darkly on the novel’s title), a splitting and merging or isolation and merging, which, according to R.D. Laing, is the final stage of schizophrenia. The holo scanner, in effect, makes the subject (Arctor) into the object of someone else’s observation (Fred’s), whether that someone else is actually another person, or, in this instance, a schizophrenic other-self. As Arctor prophetically wonders at one point in A Scanner Darkly, “What does a scanner see?…Does a passive infrared scanner…see into me — into us — clearly or darkly?” (p. 146)


Auditory hallucinations are also common to hebephrenia. The “thousand little voices” Arctor hears, therefore, serve a dual function. More important, however, is that in hebephrenia the ultimate disintegration of the personality is greater than in other types of schizophrenia. And Arctor/Fred’s personality clearly evidences near complete disintegration, climaxing starkly (darkly!), in chapter thirteen of A Scanner Darkly. His sexual fantasizing about the girl in the tight blue sweater, “If I did bang her and she got pregnant…the babies — not faces. Just blurs” (p. 173), his bewildering last meeting with Hank, “I’m Bob Arctor? He could not believe it. It made no sense to him. It did not fit anything he had done or thought; it was grotesque,” (p. 181) and the drive to New-Path with Donna, “I can’t make love. My thing’s disappeared,” (p. 187) are all indicative of Arctor/Fred’s hebephrenic disintegration — a disintegration graphically illustrated when two New-Path staff members stand “surveying the thing on their floor that lay puking and shivering and fouling itself…” (p. 188)


Now, it should be remembered that Arctor/Fred’s schizophrenia is caused, or at least strongly accelerated (enhanced), by the use of the drug Substance D. There are, though, two instances in A Scanner Darkly which imply that his schizophrenia is perhaps induced, or aggravated, by his surroundings, his environment. “Roaming aimlessly along like this on the public street with all kinds of people, he always has a strange feeling as to who he was.” (p. 20) And, “But then later Fred evolved into Bob Arctor, somewhere along the sidewalk between the Pizza Hut and the Arco gas station…and the terrible colors seeped back into him whether he liked it or not.” (p. 44) Being that the settings of A Scanner Darkly include two distinct cultural groups, the “Dopers” and “Straights,” each with their own life styles and value systems, it is worthwhile to ask whether the setting is meant to symbolically mirror Arctor/Fred’s schizophrenia, or does Arctor/Fred mirror the setting? That is, did Arctor/Fred have schizophrenia before first using Substance D? In this regard, it is useful to recount one of the major points in Michel Foucault’s book, Madness and Civilization (tr., 1965). In discussing use of the words “reality” and “sanity” as terms of approbation, reserved for culturally approved modes of being, Foucault states that a culture which makes such an absolute dichotomy in its experience of the world — approving a major chunk of it, disapproving and consequently repressing another chunk of it — is itself mad, is schizophrenic, in that it chooses to fragment its experience and seal certain areas off from each other. This is an apt description of Arctor/Fred’s world in A Scanner Darkly, southern California circa 1994, a place and time that chooses to fragment its experience and seal certain areas off from each other, i.e., the “straights” fortified shopping centers and compartment complexes that seal them off from the “dopers.” That literature can and frequently does emulate Foucault’s notion of schizophrenic culture is confirmed by John Vernon’s fascinating book, The Garden and the Map (1973), wherein he states that the “division of the world into reified movement and sealed-off areas is an important structural element of the naturalistic novel.” (p. 17) Further, the “realistic and naturalistic novel, partakes of a virtual subject-object schizophrenia, and expresses this schizophrenia through the framework of objective space.” (p. 43)

Supportive of both Faucault and Vernon’s thesis is an erudite treatise titled The Social Construction of Reality (1966), by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckman. (Just so happens there is a character named Luckman in A Scanner Darkly.) In their book, Berger and Luckman posit that:


…every institution has a body of transmitted


recipe knowledge, that is, knowledge that supplies


the institutionally appropriate rules of conduct…


Since this knowledge is socially objectivated as


knowledge, that is, as a body of generally valid

truths about reality, any radical deviance from


the institutional order appears as a departure


from reality.


Their “institutional order” is analogous to Foucault’s “culturally approved modes of being,” both of which can be equated with the “straights” in A Scanner Darkly. Arctor/Fred’s drug addiction is, therefore, for the “straights” a “radical deviance,” a departure from their reality. Yet they, “straight” society, are responsible for his addiction to Substance D, using him to try and find those manufacturing the drug. In a sense, then, yes, Arctor/Fred’s schizoid condition is aggravated, if not initially generated, by his environment, one part of which is Fred’s “Straight” society and the other Arctor’s “doper” society, and subsequently accelerated by Substance D. An analogous explication occurs in Dick’s Martian Time-Slip (1964). Therein, while Jack Bohlen is fixing an android teaching machine, he conjectures that:


…schizophrenia was a major illness which touched

sooner or later almost every family. It meant,


simply, a person who could not live out the drives


implanted in him by his society. The reality


which the schizophrenic fell away from — or never


incorporates in the first place — was the reality


of interpersonal living, of life in a given culture


with given values…(p. 64)


This notion and Arctor/Fred’s situation are reminiscent of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s fundamental antithesis between Society and Man, where Man is alienated from his original nature and prevented from being his real self by the artificial uniformity of behavior Society imposes causing appearance and reality to be constantly at variance. And, as “Bruce,” Arctor/Fred is the opposite of Rousseau’s “noble-savage,” one who is largely self-sufficient, who knows how to live in accordance with is own innate needs.


Instead, not only is Arctor/Fred a doppelganger and schizophrenic but a metaphoric personification of Kant’s phenomenal and noumenal self. This concept, which Kant posited in part to help explicate self-consciousness and is also an important element in his ethical works, states that as there are phenomena (objects of actual and possible sense-experience) there is also a sensible or “phenomenal self,” in effect, people as they appear. And, as there are noumena (objects of intelligence and not human experience) there is an intelligible or “noumenal self,” in effect, people in themselves. The former is an empirical persistent self, the latter a real non-temporal self. It is the empirical, phenomenal self that can be said to hope, fear, love, approve, take a walk, perform an experiment, make an observation, i.e., the idiosyncrasies that make one the person they are, are all dispositions and characteristics of the empirical self. But, according to Kant, this phenomenal self is merely the appearance of one’s real, noumenal self, the noumenal self being the seat of one’s rational faculty, i.e., engaged in certain activities which generate empirical consciousness, objective unity, and the experience of a world of objects. Or, in terms of self-consciousness, as P.F. Strawson notes in his seminal study The Bounds of Sense (1966), the phenomenal/empirical self “yields the only knowledge of myself available to me; I am conscious of myself only as I appear to myself, not as I am in myself.” On the other hand, the noumenal/non-temporal self gives consciousness of “myself not as I appear to myself nor as I am in myself but only that I am.” That is, one’s noumenal self is oneself as it really is and one’s empirical self is oneself as it appears to one under the form of time.

With this in mind it is possible to categorize the Fred half of Arctor/Fred as its noumenal/non-temporal self and the Arctor half as its phenomenal/empirical self in that Robert Arctor is conscious of himself only as he appears to himself, whereas Fred is conscious only that he is. True, this should not be considered a clear-cut distinction; there is some of each self in both Arctor and Fred. Nonetheless, the fact that Arctor can think or say things, like, “How many Bob Arctors are there?…Two that I can think of…The one called Fred, who will be watching the other one, called Bob” (p. 74), or, Fred say, “I’m Bob Arctor? He could not believe it. It made no sense to him. It did not fit anything he had done or thought; it was grotesque,” (p. 181) suggests an affinity with Kant’s phenomenal and noumenal selves. That is affinity is at all implicit in A Scanner Darkly is made plausible when we note that Philip K. Dick alludes to Kant in at least six of his other novels, from “the Ding an sich, as Kant said,” in Time Out Of Joint (1959), to “Nobody sees reality as it actually is…as Kant proved,” in A Maze Of Death (1970). Also, in a letter by P.K. Dick published in SF Commentary 9, February 1970, Dick writes that “Kant’s concept of the Ding-an-sich has influenced me, too,” as well as, “I’m merely repeating Kant when he says that we, i.e., our brains, organize incoming data in order to structure it in a way that we can control.” Kan’ts theory of the Ding-an-sich (the thing in itself) is, therefore, an apparently important part of the philosophical foundation of Dick’s novels, to the extent that in A Scanner Darkly it implicitly generates the quandary experienced by the main character, Arctor/Fred. Which is the thing in itself, Arctor or Fred?

An explicit answer to this, however, is not to be found in A Scanner Darkly. Arctor/Fred as doppelganger, schizophrenic, and phenomenal/noumenal self, while significantly depicting the confrontation between internal and external reality, the dissolution of personality, and search for self-identity, does not fully resolve any of these. P.K. Dick’s notions about personality and self in this novel are, in the end, problematic and pessimistic.

Publishing History:

  • “Digressioni su uno studio su “A Scanner Darkly” di Philip K. Dick no. 4,”

    tr. Rino Schiavone. Australia Speculative Fiction, no. 13/14, October 1980,Pp. 38-44.

  • “Kant’s “Noumenal Self” and Doppelganger in P.K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.”

    Philosophical Speculations in Science Fiction & Fantasy, no. 2, Summer 1981, Pp. 69-80.

  • “Substance Mort de P.K. Dick: une approche kantienne,” trs. Didier Gras &

    Benoit Domis. Demons & Merveilles, no. 7, September/October, 1986,

    Pp. 15-20.

2 thoughts on “Kant’s “Noumenal Self” and Doppelganger in P.K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly

  1. Interesting article, thought provoking stuff.

    Is Fred the noumenal self? I mean sure his appearance to the outsider is that of a “vague blur”, but he still has thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. He still has representations in inner sense.

    I think Dick is trying to show that there must be a thing-in-itself to make sense of such startling shifts that can take place in our representations of ourself i.e. if we characterise the self in terms of appearance then clearly we’re all schizophrenic.

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