On This Day: Philip K. Dick Meets VALIS

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It was on February 20, 1974 that science-fiction author Philip K. Dick first “met” the supposed otherworldly intelligence that he would later identify as “VALIS”—Vast Active Living Intelligence System.

According to Dick, he was at home recovering from a very painful toothache when the delivery person from the pharmacy arrived with a package of Darvon. She was a beautiful young woman who wore a golden fish pendant around her neck. When he asked her what the pendant represented, she said it was the symbol of the Early Christians—a symbol he referred to as the “vesicle pisces.”

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a retelling of the tale by Robert Crumb

As she spoke, sunlight glinted off the pendant—triggering off a “pink light” that mesmerized him and made him feel like information was being transferred directly to his brain by an intelligent entity. This event triggered off a series of strange experiences throughout February and March of that year, experiences he called “2-3-74.”

In an effort to understand these experiences—and the contact he believed he had with the entity variously referred to by him as “Zebra,” “VALIS,” and even simply, “God”—Dick spent the rest of his life writing what would become a nearly 9,000-page work called his Exegesis.

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What was that which Dick really saw, and communicated with? I speculate a little about it in my post “Divine Invasions: Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson and Alien Contact In The 1970s.” But the possible reasons are manifold: everything from mental illness, a nefarious Russian “thought beam” experiment, and even one side of his brain talking to the other.

But whatever that all was…it dramatically shaped the rest of his life and work.

I guess that’s the way it rolls, sometimes.

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