Philip K Dick vs Descartes

I think therefore I am a Philip K Dick fan.

In 1637 the French philosopher Descartes wrote his most famous line – I think therefore I am.It may seem like a trivial statement of the obvious but what is represents is an attempt to understand what we can be sure of, what is absolutely certain. For Descartes the senses could be wrong. They could be presenting an entirely false view of the world. If we are thinking however, there is something doing the thinking and that something can be sure of its own existence. I think therefore I am.

And then came Philip K Dick. The work of Philip K Dick is full of characters struggling with reality, trying to work out what is real and what is not.

Sometimes the struggle is with a world that is not all it seems. In his 1974 novel, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, the main character, wakes up in a world where he is unknown to everyone he was previously close to. 

Often the struggle is with the intersection of mind and reality. In the movie Total Recall, which is an adaption of one of his short stories, the main character is never sure if he is acting in the world or in his own mind following a trip to a company that sells lucid dreaming.

In the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The main character is a bounty hunter who chases down androids that try to avoid being “retired”. At one point in the novel the bounty hunter is unsure of whether he is an android himself. This raises the question of whether “I think therefore I am” does really prove existence.

The bounty hunter comes to the conclusion that “The electrical things have their lives too, paltry as those lives are”. 

The recent adaption of Westworld plays with this same dilemma. Although not a Philip K Dick work it is full of the spirit of his work. 

Descartes used his statement as a foundation stone to build out a view of what was real. Like most philosophers looking for absolute truth, it could be argued that he built out beyond sound logic and rationality. Philip K Dick took the same concept and showed the eternal doubt and uncertainty at its heart, but he does make it an entertaining ride.

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