The rich philosophical questions posed by Gnosticism seemingly lie untouched since Phil Dick’s death. The language he invented, or rather updated – a hodgepodge of Christian theology, metaphysics, philosophy (both contemporary and classical), linguistics, etc. – explodes with a kind of possibility that I have seldom seen. It has the potential to transcend the academic, the religious, the literary, and address some major ideas in a new way. At his best – in my opinion, of course – Dick managed to shake away the trappings of religion which often permeated his thinking and focus on the pure information encoded in his experiences. His process – the constantly changing interpretations; letting go of religiousness for a moment, then clinging to it even harder – is beautiful. His uncertainty is beautiful. I wish more of us possessed that capacity. I’ve seen others with a bent toward the Gnostic, who have had or claim to have had some sort of revelatory experience, convince themselves that their work is done, that Gnosis is Knowing, plain and simple. But knowing something of the truth is only a start. Understanding it, contextualizing it, knowing the details, figuring out what to do with it – these all lie ahead of that initial moment. Being Gnostic means being Agnostic – about everything. This uncertainty gives no comfort. And so it is often disposed of entirely.
I think the lack of obvious answer to that question is what makes the slide into religion so easy. If you have a savior, you have salvation. Gnosticism without this can tend to appear horrific – hopeless at best, suicidal at worst. Is the answer the total destruction of everything we know? Is there no answer at all? Is there a way out?
There’s also something frighteningly dull at the core of Gnosis. What if Cold-Pak or the Matrix aren’t literalizations of larger truths? What if they’re more or less accurate? What if our entire universe is just an old SF plot?
One must confront these issues, as unpleasant as they may be, and not simply search for an appealing answer. I don’t know how to deal with these things, but that doesn’t change the standing of those things in reality. If Dick was mad, it was a madness brought on by the veracity of his investigations. He did not back away from the void. And, if in the end the void proved itself to be what was real, he did not disavow it.
In the end, separating Gnostic thought from religious thought is about giving it the freedom to flourish because it is valid, rather than because it is appealing – the way science does, in an ideal world. We don’t wring our hands when physics tells us something odd or uncertain about the universe – or maybe we do. But that doesn’t make anyone stop doing physics.
I’m not talking shit on religion, believe it or not. I don’t even think there’s anything inherently wrong with it – or rather, there is, but there is also much that is inherently good within it as well. And if these things have led anyone to an understanding that is religious, I’m not judging that. I simply feel it is part of my own process to be stringent about these things, to really attempt to understand them outside that context. Perhaps we really are talking about the same thing; perhaps I’m splitting hairs in my differentiations. But to me, that’s responsible philosophy. It’s rigorous skepticism balanced by rigorous openness.
It’s starting to look like the basic conceits of Gnostic cosmology might not be so far-fetched. Science certainly hasn’t proven that a Gnostic view of reality is correct, but perhaps it will one day. This Oxford philosopher thinks the odds of our reality being computer-simulated are pretty high. There’s some science that reveals, ahem, the crack in space; there’s also some that points out that our resolution could be better.
I’m not saying any of these things are certain. I’m just saying. There are crazier ideas to have.