Penn State

Mark D. Shriver - Associate Professor of Anthropology, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Counterfeit Unrealities

Author: Philip K. Dick

Book Description:

One author who has substantially affected me was not formally a scientist, a historian, or a philosopher, but a science fiction writer (and in actuality all of the above): Philip K. Dick. A fan of science fiction since grade school, I first encountered Dick in college when the burly owner of a used book store near my university in Stony Brook, New York gave me a copy of Ubik. True to the story, I suddenly began seeing Dick books everywhere and was compelled to read as many as I could, finding important messages within each. For me this has been an ongoing process as Dick was quite prolific, writing 36 novels and more than 100 short stories. As such, it's hard to recommend a single book, and so I have chosen to recommend Counterfeit Unrealities, a compilation of four of Dick's best novels: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Ubik, and A Scanner Darkly. Dick's characters often have transformative experiences that cause them to reevaluate their self conceptions and other aspects of their most basic understandings of the universe. Such moments are central to the creative process, which is essential to science, art, and even simply developing as a person. Generally, we have some starting perspective (maybe even a very solid and definite view) on whatever issue we are considering, but at the same time, we should not believe our view with too much confidence or at least remember that it can and should change. Science is not just facts and formulae, but just as much a way of thinking (natural and inherent our species) about what might be. The 'scientific method' is simply a formalization of our innate ability to speculate and experiment. Speculating requires that we learn to access the irrational, appreciate the paradox, grok the koan, and ride the mobius strip. Immerse yourself in these stories and follow the master speculator and his troop of empathetic humans, androids, and animated household appliances off into the near future on a search for who we are and from where we've come.

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