Compiled by Andrew May
Science fiction is an ideal medium for philosophical speculation.
Probably the first person to exploit its full potential in this regard was A E van Vogt, whose
1945 novel The World of Null-A is a brilliantly worked-out exposition of the principles of
General Semantics (an early precursor of both Deconstruction and Neurolinguistic Programming). By
the early ’50s Van Vogt’s career had moved away from fiction, and the torch was passed to the young
Philip K Dick, who rapidly established himself as the metaphysical SF writer par excellence.
To give a flavor of Dick’s versatility as both writer and thinker, I’ve compiled the following
selection of philosophically-oriented quotations – one from each of his SF novels. To trace the subtle way
that PKD’s ideas evolved over time, I’ve grouped the quotations under seven roughly
- Belief systems
- Counterfeit worlds
- Knowledge is power
- What is human?
- Shifting realities
- Theological speculations
1. BELIEF SYSTEMS
Solar Lottery (1955)
People lost faith in natural law itself. Nothing seemed stable or fixed; the universe was a
sliding flux. Nobody knew what came next. Nobody could count on anything. Statistical
prediction became popular… People lost faith in the belief that they could control their
environment; all that remained was probable sequence: good odds in a universe of random chance.
The World Jones Made (1956)
"To me, the spectacle of demagogues sending millions of people to their deaths,
wrecking the world with holy wars and bloodshed, tearing down nations to put over some
religious or political ‘truth’ is -" He shrugged. "Obscene. Filthy – they’re the
opinions of absolutist individuals forced on whole continents. And it has nothing to do with
the sincerity of the leader. Or the followers. The fact that they believe it makes it even more
obscene. The fact that they could kill each other and die voluntarily over meaningless
The Man Who Japed (1956)
"The domino method operates on the assumption that people believe what their group
believes, no more and no less. One unique individual would foul it up. One man who originated
his own idea, instead of getting it from his domino block." Mrs Frost said: "How
interesting. An idea out of nothing." "Out of the individual human mind," Allen
said, aware that he wasn’t being politic, but feeling, at the same time, that Mrs Frost
respected him and really wanted to hear what he had to offer. "A rare situation," he
admitted. "But it could occur."
Vulcan’s Hammer (1956)
The dissatisfaction of the masses is not based on economic deprivation but on a sense of
ineffectuality. Not an increased standard of living, but more social power, is their
fundamental goal. Because of their emotional orientation, they arise and act when a powerful
leader-figure can coordinate them into a functioning unit rather than a chaotic mass of
2. COUNTERFEIT WORLDS
The Cosmic Puppets (1956)
The headline seemed to hang a few feet in front of his face, the black type, yellow paper.
Scarlet fever strikes again: Second child dies… The second child was Ted Barton. He
hadn’t moved out of Millgate on October 9, 1935. He had died of scarlet fever. But it wasn’t
possible! He was alive. Sitting here in his Packard…Maybe he wasn’t Ted Barton. False
memories. Even his name, his identity. The whole contents of his mind – everything. Falsified,
by someone or something. His hands gripped the wheel desperately. But if he wasn’t Ted Barton
– then who was he?
Eye in the Sky (1957)
"We’re subject to the logic of a religious crank, an old man who picked up a screwball
cult in Chicago in the ‘thirties. We’re in his universe, where all his ignorant and pious
superstitions function. We’re in the man’s head". He gestured. "This
landscape. This terrain. The convolutions of a brain; the hills and valleys of Silvester’s
Time Out of Joint (1959)
"I want to see the factory; not the photograph or the model, but the thing itself.
The Ding an sich, as Kant said. It’s too bad you’re not interested in philosophy,"
he said to Vic. "Sometimes I am," Vic said… "The other night coming home on
the bus I got a look at how things really are. I saw through the illusion. The other people on
the bus were nothing but scarecrows propped up in their seats. The bus itself
" He made a sweeping motion with his hands. "A hollow shell, nothing but a few
upright supports, plus my seat and the driver’s seat. A real driver though, really driving me
home. Just me."
The Man in the High Castle (1962)
"But," Paul said, "it deals with alternate present. Many well-known
science fiction novels of that sort." To Robert he explained, "Pardon my insistence
in this, but as my wife knows I was for a long time a science fiction enthusiast. I began that
hobby early in my life; I was merely twelve. It was during the early days of the war."
"I see," Robert Childan said, with politeness… Still holding a copy of The
Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Robert said, "What sort of alternate present does this book
describe?" Betty, after a moment, said, "One in which Germany and Japan lost the war.
The Game Players of Titan (1963)
Junk, like a billion golf balls, cascaded brightly, replacing the familiar reality of
substantial forms. It was, Joe Schilling thought, like a fundamental breakdown of the act of
perception itself… "I’m scared -
what is this?" He did not understand and he reached out groping in the stream of
atom-like sub-particles that surged everywhere. Is this the understructure of the universe
itself? he wondered. The world outside of space and time, beyond the modes of cognition?
Dr Futurity (1960)
All the tampering had already been done. That was his theory. And, by going back, he
would simply observe, not alter. The past had been tampered with up to the hilt, but none of
them, not Loris, not even Corith, had recognized it. The portrait of Drake, with the skin
darkened, the beard and mustache removed, would have looked very much like a portrait of Al
Dr Bloodmoney (1964)
Now it must begin again, Bruno Bluthgeld thought to himself. The war. Because there is
no choice; it is forced on me. I am sorry for the people. All of them will have to suffer, but
perhaps out of it they will be redeemed. Perhaps in the long run it is a good thing. He seated
himself, folded his hands, shut his eyes and concentrated on the task of assembling his powers.
Grow, he said to them, the forces at his command everywhere in the world. Join and become
potent, as you were in former times. There is need for you again, all ye agencies.
Martian Time-Slip (1964)
Down the hall, another teaching machine was addressing a group of children; its voice
came from a distance, echoing and metallic. Jack strained to listen. "Gubble gubble,"
it was saying to the children. He closed his eyes. He knew in a moment of perfect awareness
that his own psyche, his own perceptions, had not misinformed him; it was happening, what he
heard and saw. Manfred Steiner’s presence had invaded the structure of the Public School,
penetrated its deepest being.
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1964)
What we have here, he realized, is not an invasion of Earth by Proxmen, beings from
another system. Not an invasion by the legions of a pseudo-human race. No. It’s Palmer Eldritch
who’s everywhere, growing and growing like a mad weed….With vast trailing arms he extended
from the Proxima Centaurus system to Terra itself, and he was not human; this was not a man who
had returned. And he had great power. He could overcome death.
From the instant that Bunny Hentman’s ship appeared the slime mold had become apprehensive;
its thoughts, reaching Chuck Rittersdorf, were saturated with concern, now. "I am
receiving ghastly malappraisals of the recent events," the slime mold thought to Chuck.
"All emanating from the Hentman ship; he and his staff, and in particular the several
Alphanes around him, have dreamed up a philosophy which places you, Mr Rittersdorf, dead center
in the fictitious conspiracy against them."
The Simulacra (1964)
I could tell him, McRae thought. Ease his pain. But why? He did not like Karp, who had built
and now maintained the simulacrum, kept it functioning as it had to function – without even a
trace of hesitation. Any failure would have betrayed the secret, the Geheimnis, which
distinguished the elite, the establishment…. Their possession of one or more secrets made
them into Geheimnisträger, bearers of the secret, rather than
Befehlträger, mere carry-outers of instructions. But all this to McRae was
The Penultimate Truth (1964)
What would it be like, to have the earth open up and millions of humans, imprisoned
subsurface for fifteen years, believing in a radioactive waste above, with missiles and
bacteria and rubble and warring armies – the demesne system would sustain a death blow and the
great park over which he flapped twice daily would become a densely populated civilization once
more, nor quite as before the war, but close enough. Roads would reappear. Cities. And –
ultimately there would be another war. That was the rationale. The masses had egged their
leaders on to war in both Wes-Dem and Pac-Peop. But once the masses were out of the way,
stuffed down below into antiseptic tanks, the ruling elite of both East and West were free to
conclude a deal…
The Zap Gun (1965)
"Your conscious quandary as to the spuriousness of your so-called weapons designs is
an artificial, false issue. It obscures the psychological reality beneath. You know perfectly
well, as any sane human would, that there is absolutely no argument for producing genuine
weapons, either in Wes-Bloc or Peep-East. Mankind was saved from destruction when the two
monoliths secretly met at plenipotentiary level in Fairfax, Iceland in 1992."
The Crack in Space (1966)
This was a difficult situation. Myra Sands was not the sort who could endure
uncertainty; for her things had to be either this or that, either A or not-A – Myra made
use of Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle like no-one else he knew.
The Ganymede Takeover (1967, with Ray Nelson) I’m still thinking, Paul Rivers told himself early that morning. He then heaved a wistful
5.WHAT IS HUMAN?
sigh and rolled over to give his belly the same opportunity to acquire a sunburn as his back
had. Here I lie, surrounded by the silent flesh of my fellow human beings, he said to himself
with a trace of bitterness, and my mind goes nattering on, as if I were back at the university
lecturing to some slightly dense class of undergraduates. My body is here but my mind…
perhaps, students, the central problem of man is that he is never where he is, but always where
he is going or where he has come from. Thus when I am alone I am not really alone. And when I
am with someone I am not really with them. How, he asked himself almost angrily, do I get my
mind to shut its big energetic mouth?
The Ganymede Takeover (1967, with Ray Nelson)
I’m still thinking, Paul Rivers told himself early that morning. He then heaved a wistful
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
He had wondered, as had most people at one time or another, precisely why an android bounced
helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test. Empathy, evidently, existed only
within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every
phylum and order including the arachnida.
We Can Build You (1969)
I didn’t catch the alienness, the otherness, with the simulacrum that I had caught
with Pris… Her main fear, I could see, was of closeness to other people. And that fear
bordered on suspicion of them, assigning motives to their actions which they didn’t actually
Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970)
"But you see," Provoni said, "they’re the same way. There is an
invasion of Earth by nonterrestrials, and everyone – everyone! – wants merely to continue
living… Do you know what the French gentry were afraid of during the Revolution? They were
afraid someone would come in and smash their pianos. Their narrow vision…" He broke off.
"Which even I share," he said aloud, "to an extent".
Now Wait for Last Year (1966) Across from him Don Festenburg leaned back, said, "You’re lucky. But I’d better
6. SHIFTING REALITIES
explain this. Here. The calendar." He pushed a brass object; across the desk Eric saw.
"You’ve moved slightly over one year ahead." Eric stared. Sightlessly. Ornate
inscriptions. "This is June 17, 2056. You’re one of the happy few the drug affects this
way. Most of them wander off into the past and get bogged down in manufacturing alternate
universes; you know, playing God…"
Now Wait for Last Year (1966)
Across from him Don Festenburg leaned back, said, "You’re lucky. But I’d better
Counter Clock World (1967)
He walked a short distance away, listening, sensing the cemetery and the dead beneath
the headstones, the corruptible, as Paul had called them, who, one day, like Mrs Benton, would
put on incorruption. And this mortal, he thought; must put on immortality. And then the saying
that is written, he thought, will come to pass. Death is swallowed up in victory. Grave, where
is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting? And so forth. He roamed on, using his flashlight
to avoid tripping over headstones…Nothing was more profoundly optimistic, more powerful in
its momentum of good, than this re-forming of bodies which had, as Paul put it, corrupted
away, and now, with the Hobart phase at work, reversing the corruption.
Galactic Pot Healer (1969)
She turned to face him, her eyes burning with exasperation. "It is recorded
first," she said, as steadily as she could manage. "The Kalends spin the story;
they enter it in the ever-changing book without a title, and it comes about, finally… That
raises a question. Which is cause? Which is effect? The Kalends wove in their altering,
evolving script that the Fog-Things would pass away. Did then the Kalends make them pass
Jory had told the truth; he had constructed – not this world – but the world, or rather its
phantasmagoric counterpart, of their own time. Decomposition back to these forms was not of his
doing; they happened despite his efforts. These are natural atavisms, Joe realized, happening
mechanically as Jory’s strength wanes. As the boy says, it’s an enormous effort. This is
perhaps the first time he has created a world this diverse, for so many people at once.
Flow My Tears the Policeman Said (1974)
In the living room of Ruth Rae’s lavish, lovely, newly built apartment in the Fireflash
District of Las Vegas, Jason Taverner said, "I’m reasonably sure I can count on
forty-eight hours on the outside and twenty-four on the inside. So I feel fairly certain that
I don’t have to get out of here immediately." And if our revolutionary new principle is
correct, he thought, then this assumption will modify the situation to my advantage. I will
be safe. The theory changes the reality it describes.
7. THEOLOGICAL SPECULATIONS
A Maze of Death (1970)
" God contains all categories of being. Therefore God can be absolutely-not-God, which
transcends human reason and logic. But we intuitively feel it to be so…" He eyed her.
"What do you think about that?" he asked, a little timidly. "I think it’s
wonderful," Susie said, with enthusiasm. "It must be so great to have trances and
perceive what you perceive. You should write a book saying that what Specktowsky says is
wrong." "It’s not wrong," Tony said. "It’s transcended by what I see.
When you get to that level, two opposite things can be equal. That’s what I’m trying to
Deus Irae (1976, with Roger Zelazny)
"How did man and God get separated?" Like a child, she listened attentively,
awaiting the true tale. Pete said cryptically, "A quarrel so old the story is garbled.
Somehow God set man up where He could reach man daily, regularly; they were in direct touch,
the way you and I are now. But something happened and somehow they wound up like Leibnitz’s
windowless monads, near each other but unable to perceive anything outside; only able to
scrutinize their own beings… Evidently man did something, or anyhow God thought he had. We
don’t know precisely what it was. He was corrupted, anyhow, through nature or some natural
substance; something made by God and part of His creation. So man sank our of direct contact
and down to the level of mere creation. And we have to make our way back."
Man and the true God are identical – as the Logos and the true God are – but a lunatic
blind creator and his screwed-up world separate man from God. That the blind creator sincerely
imagines that he is the true God only reveals the extent of his occlusion. This is Gnosticism.
In Gnosticism, man belongs with God against the world and the creator of the world (both of
which are crazy, whether they realize it or not). The answer to Fat’s question, "Is the
universe irrational, and is it irrational because an irrational mind governs it?" receives
the answer, via Dr Stone, "Yes it is, the universe is irrational; the mind governing it
is irrational; but above them lies another God, the true God, and He is not irrational; in
addition that true God has outwitted the powers of this world, ventured here to help us, and we
know Him as the Logos," which, according to Fat, is living information.
The Divine Invasion (1981)
"The Ape of God", Elias said. "A Medieval theory about the Devil.
That he apes God’s legitimate creation with spurious interpolations of his own. That’s really
an exceedingly sophisticated idea, epistemologically speaking. Does it mean that parts of the
world are spurious? Or that sometimes the whole world is spurious? Or that there are plural
worlds of which one is real and the others are not? Is there essentially one matrix world from
which people derive differing perceptions? So that the world you see is not the world I