A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick

What the fuck? Where’s my fucking review gone? I wrote a whole review, took me hours, it had all this great shit in it, I’m not just imagining it. And now there’s all these fucking straight people looking at me like I don’t fucking know what I’m saying. That happened to Manny. He THOUGHT he’d written a review of it, but they had to lock him up, he hadn’t even read the book.

AJ thinks he’s written a review, but he doesn’t fucking get it, he thinks it’s funny but it isn’t, it’s true and I just want to say right here –

Shit. That’s some hot chick walking past there….thinks….hmmm.

So where was I? I was saying something. Wasn’t I? I mean, it was important. It was something important and I was saying it and then –

Oh yeah, then this fucking chick walked past and completely ruined my train of thought….thinks…hmmm

So where WAS I? Can anybody remember what I was saying? Not if you’re a cop, if you’re a cop, don’t even read this and if you do, don’t get any big ideas about what it means, nothing’s fucking around with my brain.

But if you aren’t a cop or a straight and you can help me out here. Just remind me where I was up to and then I’ll be able to finish this properly and then –

Hey. Foxy chicks everywhere today…thinks…hmmm….

Despite being mean with stars, nonetheless sometimes a six star book comes along and one has only five with which to endow it.

I don’t know if you have to have lived the life to understand that this is all true. If you understand it is all true, you will also understand that it is only funny because it is not. A review is beyond me. Or behind me. The book, in any case, deserves far more than I could hope to write.

For a serious look at the novel:

In the novel, Fred’s mind and brain are regularly tested by police department psychologists, owing to the stress of both maintaining a dual identity, and taking drugs as part of his undercover life. Dick avoids the off-the-shelf cliché’s of ink-blots and electric shocks, as the author describes realistic test scenarios and recognisable neuropsychological tests. Worryingly for Fred, the results of divided visual field and embedded figures tests suggest that his cortical hemispheres are becoming functionally separate, as they gradually lose the ability to communicate and fail to integrate information.

Here, the author melds science-fiction with science-fact, with an inspired reading of Sperry’s work on split-brain patients. Dick was fascinated by Sperry’s discovery that patients with surgically disconnected cerebral hemispheres (a treatment for otherwise untreatable epilepsy)seemed to show a dual or partitioned consciousness. Where previously it was thought that the right side of the brain was largely ‘silent’ and relied on the dominant left, new research suggested that each hemisphere “appeared to be using its own percepts, mental images, associations and ideas” (Sperry, 1993). In Dick’s novel, ‘Substance D’ induces a similar splitbrain disconnection (directly referencing Sperry in some passages), providing an explanation for the protagonist’s increasingly fractionated and incoherent self-consciousness.

Far from being a fantastical notion of a far-flung plot, the idea that psychosis might result from a disengagement of the hemispheres was subsequently discussed in the scientific literature and is still influential today. Dimond (1979) for example, compared patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and split-brain patients, arguing that in both conditions “there is a fundamental failure of in the transfer of information between the two hemispheres”, suggesting “split-brain symptoms are present in schizophrenia”. Although the resemblances between psychosis and the effects of split-brain operations are no longer regarded so highly, clear evidence for differences in the structure and function of the hemispheres in psychosis remains (Gur and Chin, 1999; Pantelis et al., 2003). Perhaps ironically, ideas that many people might have dismissed as imaginative plot, turned out to be reasonable and well informed scientific speculation.

It is from Bell, V. (2006) Through A Scanner Darkly: Neuropsychology and psychosis in Philip K. Dick’s novel “A Scanner Darkly”. The Psychologist, 19 (8), 488-489. You can see the whole article online: http://cogprints.org/5021/1/VaughanBell_ThroughAScannerDarkly.pdf

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