The Who2 Blog

Philip K. Dick: ‘Garage Philosopher’ or Madman?

Professor Simon Critchley kicks off a three part series on the philosophy of sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick:

Everything turns here on an event that “Dickheads” refer to with the shorthand “the golden fish.” On Feb. 20, 1974, Dick was hit with the force of an extraordinary revelation after a visit to the dentist for an impacted wisdom tooth for which he had received a dose of sodium pentothal. A young woman delivered a bottle of Davron tablets to his apartment in Fullerton, Calif. She was wearing a necklace with the pendant of a golden fish, an ancient Christian symbol that had been adopted by the Jesus counterculture movement of the late 1960s.

The fish pendant, on Dick’s account, began to emit a golden ray of light, and Dick suddenly experienced what he called, with a nod to Plato, anamnesis: the recollection or total recall of the entire sum of knowledge.

A cartoon image of the author Philip K. Dick, with energy lines emanating from his head

(Cartoonist R. Crumb did a magnificent rendering of Dick’s golden fish experience in Weirdo #17 in 1986.)

Critchley comes down firmly on the side of genius, not madness:

Dick was an amateur philosopher or, to borrow a phrase from one of the editors of “Exegesis,” Erik Davis, he was that most splendid of things: a garage philosopher.

Dick had his own take on the topic:

“I’m what they call an ‘acosmic pan-enthiest,’ which means that I don’t believe that the universe exists… That’s the premise I start from in my work, that so-called ‘reality’ is an mass delusion that we’ve all been required to believe for reasons totally obscure.”

See our Philip K. Dick biography »

Related Biographies

Share this: