Friday, March 19, 2021

Eye/Pie In the Sky

It has probably not escaped everyone's attention that we live in an era when individuals growing up within western cultures are generally unafraid to assert their own truths, which need not be all that factual. It's called lived experience. Feel like a victim? Well, you are, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. 

Back in the 1950s Phillip K Dick discovered a pair of Greek terms used by clever men with beards, which may help us to understand this better. Koinos Kosmos and Idios Kosmos

The former refers to what used to be known as objective reality but is now recognised to be something more like a social convention. The latter is the particular vision of the world that each of us has in our head. Lived experience. 

The title of this post was also the title of a story Dick had published in 1957. The Eye part at least. It features a technological MacGuffin called a Bevatron that accidentally zaps a six million volt proton beam at eight unfortunate individuals standing on a nearby observation platform.

It existed...

The victims appear to regain consciousness, and return home apparently none the worse for the experience. But then the Koinos Kosmos starts to go on the blink, at least from the point of view of this group. In short, their collective experience of reality is hijacked by the far more personal Idios Kosmos of one of these unfortunates, and then another, and another. 

First they experience the world through the recovering consciousness of a religious nutjob, from answered prayers to biblical plagues, then an old woman whose mind subtracts from reality pretty much everything that annoys her, from car horns, through genitalia and door to door salesmen to atonal music. Next up a young person mired in paranoia. Her personal reality is one in which everything has the potential for danger and deceit. 

Then Dick outlines what happens when a fourth victim starts to customise their collective world — a militant communist. This was the 1950s after all, but for today's purposes one could rejig the story to accommodate an archetypally woke liberal (and the joke that they are actually still asleep within the Bevatron might then work even better.) 

None of the eight are quite sure which member of the group has dumped them into this grotesque environment where all the wealth is controlled by heartless bloodsucking plutocrats and children roam the dumps looking for scraps. 

Amongst them there's a husband who has always suspected that his wife Marsha has been secretly attending those meetings. The author of course resolves the mystery differently, revealing in the end that the authoritarian head of security not the tender-hearted housewife was the secret Soviet sympathiser. Dick always understood where totalitarianism came from. 

He sent a copy to Scruggs, the FBI agent who dropped round regularly with his dog for a chat. Scruggs didn't get the fun philosophical payload of this tale at all; he just wanted to know if Dick believed the Russians might be developing their very own Bevatron capable of transmogrifying reality based on socialist psychological biases. 

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