Precognitive Scientific Information in the Fiction of Philip K. Dick: Will the Real Ubik Please Stand Up?
New Genesis Institute, Arlington, MA 02474
Science fiction is a literature of technological and societal speculation. Not surprisingly, some of its prognostications have proved remarkably accurate, particularly in works of “hard” science fiction, a genre that strives for technical accuracy. Authors of hard science fiction typically have backgrounds in the hard sciences. The late Philip K. Dick – arguably the foremost science fiction author of the past 50 years – was not a member of this club. Dick was an autodidact with no training in science, who wrote speculative fiction focusing on altered states of consciousness, metaphysics, and even theology. From his writing it is evident that he had a layman’s familiarity with some concepts of physics, neuroscience, and psychiatry, but not chemistry. It is therefore all the more astonishing to find accurate biochemical detail, on a subject about which Dick almost certainly knew nothing, embedded in one of his most renowned novels, Ubik. In Ubik, written in late 1966, some characters exist in a state halfway between life and death. When their world begins deteriorating, they are subjected to accelerated aging, fatigue, and loss of muscular strength; all that can reverse their deterioration is a mysterious substance named Ubik. Later in the text, it is revealed that the name derives from the Latin word ubique, meaning everywhere. But this description of Ubik closely matches that of ubiquinone, a substance more familiar to the public as CoQ10. Ubiquinone was named in 1957 by one of its discoverers, R.A. Morton of the University of Liverpool, who established the nomenclature by combining the Latin word ubique with the chemical term quinone; the name thus means omnipresent quinone. Ubiquinone occupies a key locus in the mitochondrial electron transport chain and is vital for energy generation. It also functions as a lipid-soluble antioxidant and free radical quencher. In recent years ubiquinone has shown promise for retarding senescence. Genetic deficiencies in the ubiquinone pathway typically manifest in muscle weakness; there is also evidence for ubiquinone deficiency in chronic fatigue syndrome. Thus, the description of Ubik provided in Dick’s eponymous novel bears a striking resemblance to the known properties of ubiquinone. The first trials of ubiquinone for human disease were begun in 1967, after Dick had already submitted the novel to his literary agency, and its role in aging was not elucidated until a decade later. Ubiquinone remained solely the province of biochemists until the mid-1980s, a few years after Dick’s untimely death, when it finally began acquiring widespread public recognition as CoQ10. Given this timing and the lack of any knowledge of cellular energetics on Dick’s part, it is exceedingly unlikely that Philip K. Dick had ever heard of ubiquinone before writing his novel. Instead, given his well known history of precognitive experiences and mystical visions, it is likely that Dick simply intuited the name and its properties; he unwittingly became a channel for scientific information. Although there are predictive elements throughout his writing, his description of Ubik stands out as an example of intuitive gnosis for which no conventional explanation can suffice.