Friday, September 16, 2011

PKD on language virus theory of William S. Burroughs

Dick spent some time thinking about the information virus theory of William Burroughs, which he uses here to clarify his own thinking about "living information." Burroughs' theory interests and troubles him, as he indicates by praising Burroughs for getting the problem right. But he ends up disagreeing with Burroughs about the nature of the entity, and takes the opportunity to distinguish his own view in contrast to Burroughs. As is not uncommon in passages like this, Dick proceeds beyond the general theoretical question to speculate about his own experiences. I find this kind of passage beautiful and picturesquely Dickian. He is weaving a tense and compelling portrait, almost Lovecraftian in its description of the theoretical attraction and squeamish repulsion he feels for Burroughs' notion, of his work on the information paradox.

"I cannot accept Burroughs' view that we have been invaded by an alien virus, an information virus, yet on the other hand I cannot readily dismiss this bizarre theory as mere paranoia on his part. I think he is onto something real and important, and that his statements do more good--far more good--than harm (that is, he states the problem correctly, although perhaps his analysis of the cause is faulty; still, merely to be aware of the problem is to achieve a great deal). Now, I have been able to find accounts in ancient times of what seems to be a thinking or perceptual dysfunction or perhaps the thinking or perceptual dysfunction.

...Burroughs may have indeed detected an "information virus" or something like an information virus, but my supposition is that, if you grant its existence, it is of long-standing. World mythology supports this. Not just Christian.

Where Burroughs and I sharply disagree is that my supposition is that if--if--and information life form exists (and this is indeed a bizarre and wild supposition), it is benign; it does not occlude us; on the contrary: it informs us (or perhaps it has no interest in doing either, but simply rides our own information traffic, using our media as a carrier; that is entirely possible. That I myself saw this living information in the spring of 1974 is not something I wish to claim; on the other hand, I will not deny it. The issue is important, vital, and also elusive. If you grant an occluding information virus, are you not then yourself occluded in your very analysis of it, as well as your perception of its existence? There is a paradox involved. I'm sure you can see that. And I try to deal with it in VALIS."

Selected Letters of PKD 1980-1982, p.146

Here's a link to Burroughs on Language as a Virus from Outer Space

Here's a recent article explaining the history of the concept of information

From Dick's Exegesis:

 "[15:100] What if the proto-story in Tears is a sort of living DNA? That guides an entelechy through its growth steps? Are we the intended entelechy? Bateson's55 immanent mind that narrates information to each living entity ... Tears—the latent story therein—shows "bench marks" of the mind that fashioned me and all other life; it is mind perhaps, exerted directly on the novel (incised form) as if not through me—it is direct arrangement. (Like tea leaves, or animal entrails.) (Cf. Burroughs' cut-up message pieces latent meaning-extraction method.) This being replicates itself through—as—information. [...] I think it acted as a booster—i.e., first received, then transmitted. It acted like the divine wafer, the species of the eucharist. A living word-entity is here with us, taking us over via messages we receive; we act as hosts to it (perhaps temporarily). We become it."


  1. I think one of the major differences between Dick and Burroughs is that channeling seems to be Dick's sole obsession while Burroughs' skepticism to such an idea still holds a certain degree of weight but is buried and blamed almost solely on drug usage or written matriculation. Much of what I feel defines Burroughs is that cynicism and while this is not without having been many experiences of actually having experienced higher levels of consciousness, I believe that he believed, at least for most of his life, that most of this had more to do with him being fucked up.

  2. WSB and PKD both have pieces of the puzzle as to language as piggy back carrier for behavioral instruction encasement. Combine them both with a dash of Vonnegut and a pinch of Gibson and I think we got ourselves a sci- fi-futurist unified theory.

  3. I think both PKD and WSB were unto something here, regarding this living information. The problem, perhaps, is that they didn't have the CTMU (short for Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe) to help them get it right. Of course, PKD's views seem to be logically consistent, but only lacked the objective, logical structure to ground it. In the CTMU, that living information is described as all of Reality, which is both informational and cognitive (Info-Cognitive), and take the form of a Self-Configuring, Self-Processing Language (or SCSPL for short).