What if God was a zebra? That's what the protagonist of Philip K. Dick
thinks it is. He has his reasons: The benign power that invades the world is some rational intervention upon an irrational world, and that power allows the protagonist to see it:
Normally it remained camouflaged. Normally when it appeared no one could distinguish it from ground ? set to ground, as Fat correctly expressed it. He had a name for it.
Zebra. Because it blended. The name for this is mimesis. Another name is mimicry. Certain insects do this; they mimic other things: sometimes other insects-poisonous ones-or twigs and the like. Certain biologists and naturalists have speculated that higher forms of mimicry might exist, since lower forms ? which is to say, forms which fool those intended to be fooled but not us ? have been found all over the world. (Valis, 69)
This is one of three texts that are sitting underneath the fourth episode of the fourth season, "Eggtown," itself supposedly a Depression-era euphemism for a town that doesn't offer a salesperson any good sales (nothing but eggs, which spoil quickly). Locke delivers Ben's copy of Philip K. Dick's Valis to Ben with breakfast, Sawyer is spotted reading Adolfo Bioy Casares' phantastic novella The Invention of Morel (which Jorge Luis Borges described as having a perfect plot), and there is a return to the philosopher John Locke's Second Treatise of Government.
The obvious text to start with ? and the one with possibly the richest cache of data to mine and gets the most attention here ? is Valis, the first book in a trilogy Dick wrote in the 1970's. "Valis" stands for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, and it comes from a film in the book. The novel itself is a strange hybrid fiction that does double-duty as fiction and biography, voicing of PKD's own ideas and experiences thorugh the mouth a literary mirror twin he constructs for the purpose. But a little background: Most people know PKD even if they don't think they do. If you've seen the films Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall, or Minority Report, you've seen adaptations of his work. (PKD only lived to see the production of Blade Runner; he died from a stroke before the film hit the theaters in 1982.) If you've seen The Matrix, any of its sequels, or any Matrix-like films (precursors like 12 Monkeys ? and La Jetée before that, or Donnie Darko, or Abre los Ojos), you've seen a story that's either in the writer's debt or is taking part in the same conversations.
Dick had interests in the fields of philosophy, science fiction, psychology, pharmaceutics, theology, and mysticism, which he worked into his recurrent themes of paranoia, conspiracies, psyches splitting into component parts, and the persistent questioning of the nature of reality. To those who study the intersections of those subjects, PKD is a kind of mad saint. One thing that sets his work apart from something like Los. Bros. Wachowski, though, is how consistent the questioning of reality is in his works. Consider The Matrix: Neo is shown the actual Chicago, "Welcome to the desert of the real" and all that, and goes off with Morpheus to download jujitsu into his noggin. The problem is that Neo doesn't question if the world Morpheus shows him is yet another illusion (after all, if there's one...). PKD's narratives, if not his characters, are not as naïve. Once they come to some breakthrough in their understanding of reality, that understanding is the next thing to get interrogated and questioned. It's a skeptical move made consistently throughout the first volume of Valis, and is something we're getting increasingly used to in Lost.
For a good introduction to the impulse behind Valis, the artist R. Crumb has a short comic called "The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick" in the 17th issue of Weirdo (1986). It depicts some of the events that lead up to Dick's writing the book. Crumb's economic use of text/image conveys what follows better than I can in words alone, and can be read online. But I'll try, and I'll weave in Dick's biography with what he does with Valis; it's a famous tale among PKD fans.
Much of the material from Valis comes from PKD's experiences between 1974-76. Dick was never fully certain whether he was undergoing some transcendent experience or going mad, or whether there was a difference. The fact that Dick tweaked his brain to the edge with amphetamines didn't help matters, and he was quite aware that he was not in a good position to judge whether what he was going through was paranoid hallucination or actual experience. But the information he amassed about cosmology and cosmogony during that period shaped the rest of his life and work, and he presents that information through the cipher of of his protagonist, Horselover Fat. It's never quite clear which details are PKD's shot trough HLF, and which are elaborations as a way of working out what he experienced. What's more, a science fiction writer named Phil appears in his own book and is the narrator who talks with HLF. Phil is eventually confronted about how he and HLF are the same person: Philip > philo: Greek for love; Philip > hippos: Greek for horse; Dick > means fat in German. Philip becomes a contraction for the Greek terms, yielding horselover, and Fat is just a play on Dick's last name. Dick effectively creates his own mirror twin and as the two interact in the novel. One could go through PKD's "exegesis" to piece apart the biography from the fiction. The exegesis are notes he took about his ideas, but there's some 8,000 pages of them, some are absurd and show an unbalanced mind, some are incredibly insightful, but who's to say how much of that is biography and how much is fiction... HLF has a similar exegesis.
In 1974 PKD had an impacted wisdom tooth removed, and was administered sodium pentothal for the procedure (the truth drug, also used as an anesthetic). He wasn't given anything for the post-op pain, and after some mind-numbing suffering, he called the pharmacy for some painkillers. When the delivery woman arrived at his home with the painkillers, he opened the door and was struck; she wore a gold vesica piscis pendant, a Jesus fish, and the light bounced off it in a strange pink hue and struck him in the head (more on this symbol in a moment; it's hardly just a fish). He was transfixed, and then his world started to fall apart; the scene outside his door disappeared, and instead looking out on a southern California town, he was looking out at the early Christian world, when Christians were still persecuted; people spoke Greek and they wore the piscis as a secret symbol to each other. It's all a bit like Desmond's flashes. Horselover Fat goes through the same experience in Valis, and starts hearing language in koine Greek; HLF did not know Greek, but the words he transcribes turn out to be accurate Greek phrases.
Dick/Fat explained this wasn't a hallucination; he called it a kind of anamnesis, the loss of forgetfulness, and he experienced it time and again in the following year. (Speaking of loss of forgetfulness, this is essentially what Faraday was working on when he was trying to recall which playing cards Charlotte laid out.) PKD felt his mind had been invaded by some greater intelligence, and he was remembering through this intelligence experiences he shared with that intelligence, but didn't know about. Over the next two years while this intelligence remained, PKD got his life together like never before. He came to understand that this other intelligence was an early Christian, from 2,000 years before. But this other person ? he called him Thomas (twin) ? had been also other people. Furthermore, these past times weren't really past; they were occurring right then and there:
"Thomas," Fat told me, "is smarter than I am, and he knows more than I do. Of the two of us Thomas is the master personality." He considered that good; woe unto someone who has an evil or stupid other-personality in his head!
I said, "You mean once you were Thomas. You're a reincarnation of him and you remembered him and his--"
"No, he's living now. Living in ancient Rome now. And he is not me. Reincarnation has nothing to do with it."
"But your body," I said.
Fat stared at me, nodding. "Right. It means my body is either in two space-time continua simultaneously, or else my body is nowhere at all." (109)
Sound familiar? In entry #35 of his own exegesis, HLF parses the Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal, when Gurnemanz explains to Parsifal that in the forest maze, time turns into space. Read on for a familiar theme and name:
(The whole landscape becomes indistinct. A forest ebbs out and a wall of rough rock ebbs in, through which can be seen a gateway. The two men pass through the gateway. What happened to the forest? The two men did not really move; they did not really go anywhere, and yet they are not now where they originally were. Here time turns into space. Wagner began Parsifal in 1845. He died in 1873, long before Hermann Minkowski postulated four-dimensional space-time (1908). The source-basis for Parsifal consisted of Celtic legends, and Wagner's research into Buddhism for his never-written opera about the Buddha to be called "The Victors" (Die Sieger). Where did Richard Wagner get the notion that time could turn into space?)
And if time can turn into space, can space turn into time? (40-41)
PKD/HLF came to believe that Thomas was also Elijah, John the Baptist, Dionysos, the Buddha, and many others, all at once. They were, according the HLF, homoplasmates ? living human embodiments of the Logos, the Logos being not simply the word of God through Christ, but living information, which was also a secret to transcend time. HLF called the Logos plasmate, and believed this secret was a technology for eternal life that the early Christians understood, as well as the Rosicrucian Order, the Renaissance alchemists, Apollonius of Tyana, Elijah, Dionysos, the Dogon of western Sudan, the Gnostics as recorded in the Nag Hammadi library, and others. The fish symbol, as well as being a representation of the age of Pisces, was a geometrical symbol of two circles with the same radius that each have their centers intersecting with the other circle's circumference. The center of that intersection is the fish symbol. Take just that central intersection image and twist it, and you get the double helix of DNA.
While spending time in a mental institution, HLF tells his doctor that the Logos, or plasmate, was living information that once in a person, would travel up the optic nerve and then over to the pineal gland ? which some identify as the proverbial third eye. The Romans, HLF explains, hunted down all the people who were homoplasmates, because they were intent on freeing humanity from the grip of the empire. But the plasmate went dormant within the gnostic texts of the Nag Hammadi library. When the texts were discovered in 1945, the plasmate was set free. (It may be worth paying attention to what kind of conversations Hurley ends up having in his flashes at the mental institution.)
(Quick word on the pineal gland: This may be one of the more enigmatic parts of the brain. It helps regulate sleep and dreams, and according to psychiatrist Dr. Richard Strassman, it may also produce the chemical dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a naturally-occurring chemical found both in the human body and some plants that causes consciousness to fully transcend known reality, like in dreams. Dr. Strassman conducted the first clinical research on DMT, which he published in his 2001 book DMT: The Spirit Molecule. Odd how this seems to rhyme with Horselover Fat's description of plasmate, or living information.)
So how did Horselover Fat (or Philip K. Dick) become a homoplasmate channel, a conduit for living information? HLF's friend Kevin suggests it was the intense pain he experienced with the wisdom tooth that brought it on. Many cultures use intense pain as a way to ritually transcend the human dimension and access whatever it is that is beyond our normal experience. Kevin talks about the Australian Aborigines accessing the Dream Time, which is another way of saying they access living information, or the Logos. If you saw A Man Called Horse, you saw the Sioux Sun Dance ritual, a particularly grueling version of a ritual common to many of the U.S. Plains Indians. In this version, a man has his chest pierced by bones attached to ropes, which are in turn attached to a pole. The man is in effect nearly suspended by the bones through his flesh. The ritual consists of dancing and prayer to the Great Spirit, and at a designated time, the man has to run backwards until the bones tear through his flesh. The ritual can take days, and it puts the person into a transcendent state in which he can commune with the Great Spirit. Such rituals go back thousands of years, and are common around the world. Kevin believes that the combination of the intense pain HLF experiences and the vision of the vesica piscis put HLF past this world into some larger communication, which HLF understands as the plasmate, or Logos.
For Horselover Fat, the gnostic texts are the hook, particularly Valentinus, an early Gnostic Christian theologian from Rome who lived in the second century CE. Valentinus had a monistic rather than dualistic world view, and after his death much of his work was wiped out by the church. But one of the Valentinian texts, The Gospel of Truth, was discovered in the Nag Hammadi library. The gnostic texts describe a variety of transcendent beings who, much like in Hinduism, seem to symbolically represent aspects of human psyche, emotions, and consciousness. The Gospel of Truth is a creation myth describing how the fall of Sophia (wisdom) gave rise to evil and error. When wisdom falls/fails, ignorance reigns; ignorance is fertile ground for fear, and fear and anguish grew into a fog that blinds people and leads to error.
HLF explains to his doctor that the creator of this world isn't the entity whom we consider to be God ? that's an error. The creator of this world was a demiurge that was created when Sophia fell; it's name is Yaldabaoth, and it is deranged. Yaldabaoth is blind, HLF explains, and believes it is the only deity. Because it is deranged, the world it created ? our world ? is full of error and misinformation; the result is that the divine within all people is trapped in materiality. This trap of materiality is what HLF calls the black iron prison, and is what the Roman empire maintained; HLF further realizes that the prison is all around us, and that the empire never ended. Yaldabaoth, the manifestation of error, either doesn't realize it has trapped the divine in people within materiality or may have malevolent intentions, so the greater demiurge ? what HLF calls Zebra ? sent down Jesus to "enlighten" people, thereby freeing them. This angers error (presumably Yaldabaoth ? the Valentinus text doesn't give the name, just calls it error), who then has Jesus nailed to a tree. Horselover Fat believes the secret knowledge possessed by the Gnostics, the alchemists, the Greek mystics and pre-Socratics, etc. was just that living information, or plasmate, and accessing that technology would lift the veil of error, dismantle the black iron prison, and result in eternal life. His evidence is the presence of the intelligence that invaded his mind, an intelligence that accessed the plasmate to become homoplasmate and eternal.
By the way, Yaldabaoth is depicted as having a serpent body and a monstrous, lion-like head; considering that Yaldabaoth is said to have introduced a kind of fog of fear that leads to error, and that it's depicted as serpent-like, Yaldabaoth may have an echo in our smoke monster. That's not to say the smoke monster is Yaldabaoth, just that there are some interesting rhymes.
Valis is dense and rewarding, but isn't necessarily easy. This entire discussion could but shouldn't revolve just around Valis, so a couple points of closure: In entry #32 of his exegesis, HLF notes that what we experience as the world is the unfolding of a narrative about a woman who died long ago. He's talking about Sophia, the gnostic personification of wisdom, which is part of the divine syzygy comprised of wisdom and logos, Sophia and Christ. That's a great word, syzygy, and in this case it means she was part of a set of divine twins who together made a transcendent unified whole, rather like yin and yang. If I understand this correctly (and I'm leaving a lot out), the Sophia briefly left the logos and the divine syzygy and fell to our world. That's when things went a bit haywire; when she crashed into the material world, the result was the birth of Yaldabaoth and all that other stuff mentioned above. So syzygy is a kind of twin, but it also has another meaning; in astronomical terms, it's the alignment of three celestial bodies found in the same gravitation plane in a straight line. The sun, moon and earth would constitute the three bodies, and a eclipse would be a celestial syzygy. Coincidentally, on February 20th, the night before "Eggtown" aired, a total lunar eclipse ? a syzygy ? was visible in the Americas and parts of Europe and Africa.
Lastly, there is a section of Valis that takes on a very Lost-like mirror twin structure, when HLF sees a kind of psychedelic sci-fi film called Valis that depicts nearly everything he has experienced since the toothache, from the strange light that kicked off the invasion of the greater intelligence to the fish symbol and many parts between. The Vast Active Living Intelligence System of the film is controlled by a satellite that is never directly shown in the film, but upon further viewings, pops up in a calendar picture, in elements of montages, as a toy, in a flash cut, and elsewhere. Kevin tells HLF that they all have to see the film again because "ninety percent of the details are designed to go by you the first time-actually only go by your conscious mind; they register in your unconscious. I'd like to study the film frame by frame," (146). That could be the narrative model of Lost itself, which requires a similar kind of active scrutiny. Like Locke says to Ben when he gives him the copy of Valis, "You might catch something you missed the second time around" (like the name of HLF/PKD's group, the Siddhartha Society).
Valis wasn't the only book in "Eggtown"; in an HD moment, Sawyer is reading something while Hurley puts on Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu." The shot is just the blurred image of the top of the book (most likely sharper in high def), and the book is the Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel (1940). This slim psychological novella is told from the point of view of an escaped fugitive who finds his way out to what he believes is a deserted island. After some time, though, he discovers he's not alone on the island, but what he believes are a group of well-off vacationers (he calls them intruders) turn out to be something quite different. The narrative is conveyed in an impressionistic fashion, not unlike Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and it deals with some themes in common with both Valis and Lost; deceptions, immortality, messing with time and space, and meta-narrative questioning of narrative authority, all with a near magical-realist sci-fi aspect underpinning the narrative machinery. (The book was also the inspiration for Alain Reanais' 1961 film Last Year at Marienbad.)
Casares often worked with Jorge Luis Borges, who wrote the prologue for the book. They would have made a great writing team for Lost; they sometimes ghost-wrote for each other, and even collaborated on projects they ascribed to non-existent authors, or talked about non-existent authors as if they were just unknown, and then created some work by that author to prove his existence. These diversions were in their way alternate reality games, where they wove apocryphal texts of their own invention into some larger canon of their own construction. For all we know, Borges may have had a hand in writing The Invention of Morel; he states outright in the prologue that he discussed the details of the plot in depth the Casares. The footnotes that accompany the text provide a meta-commentary that question the fugitive's facts and assumptions, and it's not clear if those are by Casares or not.
The unnamed fugitive protagonist first carefully watches the vacationers he discovers from afar, and finds himself entranced by a woman, Faustine, who frequents a beach. He eventually discovers their hotel, but it takes him some time before he can bring himself to make any contact. As the fugitive continues his explorations, he overhears discussion of some disease on the island, and wonders why he's the only one who notices there are now two suns in the sky. How the fugitive sees the intruders isn't a far cry from how Horselover Fat perceives his flashes of the ancient world superimposed over California; they're ghostly images, like a secondary cell of film superimposed over a primary cell of film. The fugitive, unwilling to really approach anyone else on the island, is faced with the "nightmare of thinking" that the intruders, the ghostly images, the multiple suns, and the rest is a trap to capture him and send him back to prison. Of course he's operating with limited information, living in a fog of fear and error.
One of the intruders, Dr. Morel, has invented something that he wants to introduce to the others. It's a device similar to a film camera, but rather than just capturing a two-dimensional image, it can capture and replay a scene in its entirety, complete with texture and depth. "Imagine a stage on which our life during these seven days is acted out, complete in every detail. We are the actors. All our actions have been recorded," (66). Morel's idea is to record a scene of life that one would hope to live again in full, and with his machine, a person could relive that moment again and again, in perpetuity. Morel himself wants to relive a certain set of days with the vacationers/intruders and recorded them.
To say more would give up too much of the plot, so no more should be said at this point. But for those who are interested, a key scene occurs in the engine room that powers Morel's invention. Much like how the DHARMA Initiative chose the Lost island for its anomalous electromagnetic properties, Morel chose his island because of certain tidal currents that can be used to generate enough power for his invention. When the fugitive finds the engine room, he also learns something about mistaking illusion for reality (a very gnostic idea and Lost-like theme).
The fugitive and Horselover Fat aren't the only ones working through a fog of fear and error. Locke has seen better days. He earned what might be called political capital when he became the de facto leader of the Lostaways on the beach in the third season, but he uses his authority to frighten a faction of the group into following him to Otherville, and then admits to Kate that he's not running a dictatorship, but neither is it a democracy. What's interesting here is the premise of the split: Locke convinced some of the people that the unknown quantity just off their shores (the freighter folk) were a danger to be avoided at all costs. Jack and the rest chose to engage that threat and understand it, while Locke used it to sow fear and establish greater authority.
In his Second Treatise of Government, the philosopher John Locke discusses his version of the social contract, in which people give up some of their natural rights in exchange for protection, property, and protection of property. Locke's ideas were a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, but Locke was not as averse to a monarchy as Jefferson; if the community determined a king best served their common social goals, then a monarchy was as preferable as a democracy; it's not a democracy, it's not a dictatorship, and the people remain the ultimate sovereign. When the leadership no longer reflects the will of the people, they've shifted out of the social contract and back to the state of nature, and the people have the right to rebel. A key point of the Lockean social contract is that punishments should fit the crime; if a leader's punishment exceeds the crime, that leader is abusing authority and shifting pack to a state of nature. Is shoving a live grenade in Miles' big mouth an appropriate punishment for his violation of Island Locke's law? And if not, are we seeing Locke sow the seeds of his own overthrow? He may have spent all the political capital he had.
Last thing: Recently Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof cleared up some questions about what they can do post-strike, and what that break provided them. They noted that had there not been a strike, they would have been working on the finale now, but now have an opportunity to react and adjust to audience response. That's great; the narrative remains a two-way street, and we can be sure that many of the theories floating around out there right now will be either confirmed or quickly quashed. Take Naomi's bracelet: They acknowledged that the bracelets only looked similar, but meant nothing more. Sayid's scene on the golf course did not take place after the Elsa scenes: "If we're going to jump time, we're not going to jump narrative order within the time jumps, too." So that clears that up. They stated they are PRO-spacetime-bending, but ANTI-paradox. I hope to come back to that, because it was a major point of David Lewis's possible worlds theory. Maybe one of the most interesting things Cuselof said, though, is that the future chronologies are in relationship with each other, but they're leaving it to the audience to create that larger chronology and identify those relationships. So keep your eyes peeled, kids: Jack said in court that only eight survived the crash; is Abaddon looking for the other 30-some survivors? What empires in Lost never ended?
(And with the Sayid confirmation, you know the writers are checking out what the audience has to say; we're not just passive data, we're participants.)