The Electric Ant was far the most reality bending, mind-blowing acid trip of a story I have ever read. Reality is a very baffling aspect of life that can never be explained, and the nature of it’s complex facet can be seen through Philip K Dick’s short story The Electric Ant. After reading such tale, my mind was engulfed and flummoxed by the amount of ideas and theories The Electric Ant entertained with.
Electric Ant has its own rhythm, its own slow grind towards Dick’s proselytizing of reality as a sustained and consensual hallucination. In broad strokes, Garson Poole wakes after an horrendous accident. It’s the near future, and yet. The loss of a hand, something Garson has ostensibly suffered, is still a setback. A slow dread mounts as Garson prepares himself for living with the best prosthesis future-money can buy. And yet, the absence of pain, and the absence of phantom-limb complex allows for an entirely other kind of dread to steadily mount. Why is there no pain?
Garson Poole of course is the titular Electric Ant, parlance for an organic robot. Garson Poole is an object, property that is owned, that has been traded, positioned into an artificial life, and ultimately is replaceable. His steady relationship with his partner, his friendship with his corporation’s CFO; these are nothing more than controls implemented by Poole’s perennially unseen owners.
How scary is having to reconfigure your life after the loss of a limb? It really is nothing compared with the deletion of a history. It was 1969 and PKD crafted a tale of pure terror. Electric Ant was and remains an exhilarating ride into fear, where perpetually unseen forces dehumanize the human spirit. Electric Ant is also the unfurling of the human spirit. Taking his existence into his own hands, Garson Poole begins to manipulate the paper reel that runs his punch-card code that controls his reality. Garson Poole, on the terms of his new existence, begins to edit the code that represents his reality. And he slips anonymously away from objecthood into personhood. Very literally, Garson Poole re-humanizes himself. There is an indomitable refrain that appears. Not just in Poole’s courage to manipulate reality, but in PKD also. It is 1969. And PKD’s idea of reality being locked into place as a perception of a wide spectrum of possibility, narrowed to one code that must constantly re-run is 15 years ahead of Kanerva’s famous algorithm of distributed memory. It can be obviously dictated that the impact of PKD’s work is immense. It is a wave, reaching backwards in time as far as it crests forward.
However, with all this said there is also another theory that has unraveled itself through research of PKD himself. The theory of how there is a parallel that can be observed through the story of The Electric Ant with hallucinatory drug experimentation. PKD acquired a reputation as a “psychedelic writer” during the late sixties because of his fiction. In a interview, he even stated that he had a big drug problem, however it was only from prescription amphetamine abuse. To paraphrase from his explanation of his experience from lsd, the landscape froze over. God was judging him as a sinner and it went on for a thousand years. He could only speak Latin and the only part that captivated him was that when he looked in the refrigerator he saw that it was full of stalactites and stalagmites. Convenient and interesting how such a simply experiment can relate to so much of the experience explained within Electric Ant. Although many people including myself may prefer the first theory of PKD being ages ahead of his time, it doesn’t dispute the second theory that maybe he just got lucky with all the drug experimentation. However, no matter what PKD still transcended time with his story writing and opened up a whole new landscape of fiction and theory.