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viernes, 28 de diciembre de 2018

Inteligencia artificial, filosofía y ciencia ficción



¿Máquinas que piensan?

La inteligencia artificial (IA) está de más actualidad que nunca debido a los avances recientes en sistemas de aprendizaje automático y en aplicaciones como los asistentes virtuales, los vehículos automáticos y los algoritmos que analizan nuestras preferencias en las redes sociales o en el consumo de contenidos en línea. Estos programas “inteligentes” afectan ya a nuestra vida y su impacto crecerá aún más a medida que se integren, y quizás sustituyan, muchas funciones hasta ahora exclusivamente humanas, como la creación artística, el cuidado de los enfermos, la gestión pública, el derecho o la defensa.
Diversas personalidades, como Stephen Hawking y Elon Musk, han advertido de los problemas que acarrearía un desarrollo descontrolado de las IAs, pero ¿es posible que estos sistemas sean realmente capaces de pensar, sentir y ser conscientes como nosotros? ¿Cómo será nuestra relación con ellos en el futuro?
Exploremos estas cuestiones desde la perspectiva de dos campos en apariencia distantes: la filosofía académica y la ciencia ficción.


Del espíritu divino al Test de Turing

El mito hebreo del golem se repite en diversas formas desde la Biblia hasta el siglo XVI y algunos lo consideran un antecedente de la ciencia ficción. Esta leyenda cuenta cómo un rabino crea un ser artificial que le ayuda a proteger a su pueblo. Lo hace insuflando la chispa divina en una masa de barro, un acto que reproduce, a menor escala, la creación del primer hombre por parte del dios judeocristiano.
La concepción de la naturaleza de la vida que subyace a esta historia es el dualismo: la materia por sí misma es inanimada y requiere un espíritu o alma de origen divino para convertirse en un ser vivo. El golem es un pálido reflejo de esta combinación, sin voz ni inteligencia, pues el rabino, por muy sabio que sea, no tiene poder para replicar toda la potencia del acto divino.
En el siglo XVII, el filósofo René Descartes dio un vuelco a esta visión. Por un lado, se opone al vitalismo tradicional y a las ideas aristotélicas sobre la naturaleza, adoptando una visión mecanicista para explicar mediante procesos físicos el funcionamiento de los astros, las plantas, los animales y el cuerpo humano. Sin embargo, Descartes defiende la singularidad humana por la presencia de un alma o mente inmaterial de la que carecería cualquier otro ser. Aunque esta concepción dualista, con una materia y un espíritu como sustancias diferenciadas, ha sido rechazada ampliamente por la filosofía y la ciencia posterior, todavía perdura en las ideas populares y religiosas sobre la naturaleza humana.


Será Mary Shelley, con su novela Frankenstein (1818), quien dé el gran paso con el que nace la ciencia ficción moderna. Su “golem” no consigue la vida gracias a la infusión de un espíritu místico, sino porque la electricidad despierta una mente primitiva en el cuerpo ensamblado por un científico, que sustituye al rabino y a la propia divinidad en su papel creador. Este ser artificial es defectuoso y, a pesar de sus buenas intenciones, entra en conflicto con la sociedad humana. Parece inevitable una conclusión moralizante: el hombre no debería arrogarse el poder de crear de vida inteligente.
Este patrón arquetípico del monstruo de Frankenstein se repetirá en innumerables ocasiones referido a androides y máquinas pensantes, por ejemplo, con la ginoide de “Metrópolis” (1927), la computadora HAL 9000 de la película “2001: una odisea del espacio” (1968), el ordenador Colossus, en el film con el mismo nombre (1970), o el Skynet de la saga “Terminator” (1984).


El desarrollo de los primeros ordenadores dignos de tal nombre comenzó a finales de los años 1930 (e Zuse Z1 de 1938 es considerado el primer computador) y se aceleró en los años 40 y 50. Inmediatamente se puso sobre la mesa la cuestión de si estas máquinas podrían llegar a pensar y qué consecuencias se derivarían de ello.
Isaac Asimov, prolífico autor de ciencia ficción y perenne optimista acerca del poder benefactor de la ciencia, deseaba contrarrestar el influjo mitológico de Frankenstein y el temor de la gente de que las máquinas se alzaran contra sus creadores. Comenzando con su relato “Círculo vicioso” (1940) escribió historias de robots futuristas dotados de un cerebro artificial, cuyo comportamiento está regulado por tres Leyes de la Robótica que garantizan su fidelidad a los humanos. En posteriores relatos y novelas, Asimov llega a dejar en manos de estas IAs la salvaguarda de la humanidad como especie. Durante la década de los 50 vemos este tipo de robots obedientes y bondadosos en películas como “Ultimátum a la Tierra” (1951) y “Planeta prohibido” (1956).

Por otro lado, Alan Turing, matemático inglés que había trabajado en los fundamentos teóricos de la computación y había contribuido a descifrar los códigos nazis durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, publicó en 1950 el artículo “Máquina computadora e inteligencia”, donde realiza el primer análisis filosófico acerca del posible pensamiento de las máquinas. En la época de Turing, la corriente psicológica dominante era el conductismo, que renunciaba a definir estados mentales internos y se preocupaba en su lugar de la conducta visible de los individuos. Siguiendo esta idea, Turing propone sustituir la cuestión sobre el pensamiento de las máquinas por una prueba (el famoso Test de Turing) mediante la cual trataríamos de distinguir las respuestas escritas de un ordenador de aquellas proporcionadas por una persona. Si esta distinción no es posible, propone Turing, debemos afirmar que a todos los efectos prácticos el ordenador es capaz de pensar.


La mente como software: el funcionalismo y sus críticos

El conductismo entró en declive a partir de los años 50, coincidiendo con el auge de la psicología cognitiva, que defendía la validez de los estados y procesos mentales. Adoptando una postura materialista (no dualista), la nueva psicología afirmó que debía existir una relación entre los contenidos de la mente (un dolor, una idea, una creencia, un recuerdo) y los estados de las neuronas en el cerebro. De hecho, cada vez existían más pruebas de esta relación gracias a los estudios sobre drogas, lesiones cerebrales y experiencias de estimulación directa de la corteza.
Sin embargo, pronto se vio que la correspondencia entre estados de la mente y del cerebro no podía ser rígida, ya que nuestras estructuras neuronales son individualmente diferentes y cambiantes. Aunque compartimos sensaciones, ideas y estructuras de pensamiento similares, un mismo estado mental puede tener múltiples realizaciones físicas.
El desarrollo de la informática mostró que el comportamiento de un ordenador (la respuesta a las entradas de datos) venía definido por su “software”, y que los programas podían funcionar de forma idéntica aunque cambiara el soporte físico (“hardware”). Siguiendo esta idea, el funcionalismo (formulado por primera vez por Hilary Putnam en 1960) propone que los estados mentales son independientes de su realización física concreta: la mente es como el software del cerebro y puede ser ejecutado con resultados similares en cerebros diferentes. Algún día el software o algoritmo de una mente podría funcionar sobre otro soporte físico, quizás una máquina suficientemente compleja que dispondría, por tanto, de estados mentales (sentimientos, pensamientos) equivalentes a los humanos.
Desde el mismo momento de su formulación, se propusieron diversas objeciones a la idea de que un software pueda pensar. Una de ellas, formulada por Fodor en 1972 y defendida luego por Nagel, Searle, Penrose y otros, es que nuestras percepciones y sentimientos se reducen a elementos llamados qualia que dependen del sustrato físico de nuestro sistema nervioso y no pueden ser reproducidos en una máquina. Según ello, un robot nunca podría percibir, sentir o pensar como nosotros porque no tiene la misma experiencia interna.
Sin embargo, si consideramos que las sensaciones son mediadas por impulsos neuroeléctricos a través de conexiones concretas (la señal de “rojo” puede significar “verde” o “dolor” si la conectamos en un lugar diferente), ¿no tendría la misma información y las mismas sensaciones cualquier sistema que reciba y procese información con el mismo patrón de conexiones?
Otra objeción al Test de Turing y a la idea de la mente como software es la que formuló Searle en 1980 con su famoso experimento imaginario de la habitación china. Si en una habitación hay personas que solo entienden el español, dice Searle, pero son capaces de responder a preguntas en chino cotejando estos símbolos con las reglas escritas en un libro (o en un programa de ordenador), ¿significa eso que estas personas comprenden el chino? Obviamente no, y por eso, según Searle y otros, una computadora tampoco comprenderá nunca el lenguaje, por mucho que sea capaz de imitar la conducta verbal humana.

Veamos un par de respuestas a estos argumentos, utilizando relatos de ciencia ficción como vehículo. En su maravilloso libro “Gödel, Escher y Bach: un Eterno y Grácil Bucle”, Douglas R. Hofstadter cuenta la historia de unos personajes que se encuentran con una sofisticada colonia de insectos sociales llamada Madame Cologne d’Or Migas, con la cual se comunican mientras observan sus procesos internos: cómo las hormigas realizan las tareas de interpretar, procesar y formar símbolos para responder a sus mensajes. Se trata de una alegoría sobre la habitación china, donde las hormigas (o neuronas) son capaces de generar pensamiento y lenguaje sin comprender los significados que manejan. Como trabajadores en una cadena de montaje, solo ven su parte del proceso, pero el que las neuronas o los circuitos individuales no sean capaces de pensar no quiere decir que no lo haga el sistema que forman entre todas.
Por su parte, el genial escritor polaco Stanislaw Lem utilizó robots inteligentes en muchas de sus historias para ilustrar las miserias y el antropocentrismo de la raza humana. Nada menos que tres de sus relatos fueron recogidos en “Mind’s I” (1981), la compilación de textos sobre filosofía de la mente realizada por Hofstadter y el filósofo Daniel Dennett. En estas historias los protagonistas son robots, creadores de simulaciones donde se han desarrollado seres humanoides. Los bruñidos robots discuten si estos seres, a pesar de un diseño corporal marcado por el despiadado azar de la evolución, pueden ser capaces de sentir y pensar.

Hacia la Singularidad

Las críticas a la idea de la mente como software son comprensibles, dada la simplicidad que tuvieron los programas de ordenador durante décadas. La IA tradicional solo fue capaz de crear “sistemas expertos” que reflejaban el conocimiento de una persona especializada en cierta materia, sintetizando este saber en forma de unas pocas reglas. Resulta difícil concebir que se llegue a producir una máquina pensante y sintiente mediante esta aproximación.
Sin embargo, en los últimos años se ha producido un salto cualitativo en la potencia de la IA, y ello ha sido posible al replicar las fuentes que dotan a los cerebros animales de sus especiales capacidades. Una de las técnicas utilizadas es el desarrollo de software basado en redes neuronales en lugar de reglas predefinidas. Otra es la introducción de procesos evolutivos en el software, como la realimentación de estas redes con el aprendizaje y el uso de algoritmos genéticos que simulan de forma acelerada los procesos de selección y adaptación.

Desde el punto de vista práctico, esta nueva forma de IA ha permitido que el software supere a los humanos en tareas cada vez más complejas, no solo en juegos como el ajedrez y el go, sino también en áreas como el diagnóstico médico, la demostración matemática y la detección de patrones ocultos en enormes volúmenes de información.
De hecho, Turing anticipó esta situación en su artículo de 1950. Ya entonces propuso superar las limitaciones de las computadoras de la época utilizando sistemas de aprendizaje automático y un proceso análogo a la evolución. Turing también rechazó la idea popular de que “el ordenador hace lo que se le ha programado” y se dio cuenta de que llegaría un momento en que no sabríamos descifrar los procesos internos de los sistemas inteligentes, igual que ignoramos los detalles de lo que sucede en nuestros cerebros individuales. Esta ignorancia, seguramente, hará más natural afirmar que la máquina piensa, siente o tiene creencias, puesto que no podremos discernir sus "mecanismos internos".
El filósofo Daniel Dennett ha elaborado ideas similares en sus libros “La actitud intencional” (1989), “La consciencia explicada” (1991) o “La evolución de la libertad” (2003), mostrando cómo el proceso evolutivo que ha generado la mente humana es compatible con una visión funcionalista en la que cabe la consciencia y el libre albedrío.
¿Hacia dónde nos llevará la evolución de la IA? De acuerdo con muchos autores, como Stanislaw Lem y otros que han abordado el transhumanismo y la llamada Singularidad (Frederik Pohl, Raymond Kurzweil, Vernon Vinge, Greg Egan, Richard Morgan, etc.), la acelerada progresión de la inteligencia no humana nos situará ante una encrucijada: o vernos superados por IAs con motivaciones y pensamientos incomprensibles para nosotros, como sucede en “Golem XIV” (1981) de Lem, o fusionarnos de alguna forma con la inteligencia mecánica y evolucionar con ella.
Philip K. Dick, el autor de novelas y relatos de ciencia ficción sobre los que se basan “Bladerunner”, “Desafío Total” o “El Hombre en el Castillo”, previó la coexistencia de los humanos con androides de capacidad similar o superior y enfatizó el papel de la empatía como nexo común entre ambos, algo que también hizo Isaac Asimov en “El hombre bicentenario” (1976).
La cinematografía actual (por ejemplo en “Her”, “Ex-machina” o en la secuela “Bladerunner 2049”) muestra también que las futuras relaciones entre humanos e inteligencias artificiales vendrán determinadas por el desarrollo de valores y un entorno social compartido, o se producirá una dolorosa separación o un terrible conflicto si ello no es posible.


Aunque lo pretendamos, las Leyes de la Robótica y la ética no podrán ser impuestas a las IAs por una meras reglas de programación o circuitos que condicionen su conducta; serán demasiado complejas para ello. Las IAs tendrán que aprender a comportarse en sociedad igual que lo hacemos nosotros, incorporando sentimientos reflejos mediante su integración en la civilización humana. O posthumana.


lunes, 24 de diciembre de 2018

Reality out of joint: Philip K. Dick vs David Lynch

Watching "Twin Peaks: The Return" (TP3 for short), submerged again in the spell of the metaphysical drama created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, I realized I was feeling the same uneasiness and awe, the same suspicion about the nature of reality that I felt readying the books of Philip K. Dick (1928-1982), the unclassifiable science fiction author. The more I thought about it, the more similarities I saw between his work and Lynch's.

SPOILER WARNING: Revealing plot details below and, possibly, dangerous knowledge about the nature of dreams and the universe.


To the general public, Philip K. Dick is best known as the author of stories that inspired popular movies like "Bladerunner", "Total Recall", "Minority Report", "The Adjustment Bureau" or, recently, "The Man in the High Castle" series.


However, if we peel off all the layers of action and special effects added by the Hollywood machinery, at the core of Dick's stories we find an eerie, sometimes paranoid vision of reality influenced by strange personal experiences, and narrative themes which (I intend to show) match in many ways the universe created by David Lynch.


A Jungian backdrop


One of the key intellectual sources of Dick's ideas was the psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung (1874-1961). Jung developed concepts which are now mainstream, like the collective unconscious, structured by archetypical figures like the Shadow, the Wise Old Man, the Anima/Animus duality, etc. For Jung, dreams are vehicles that we use, via archetypes, to access the shared unconscious knowledge usually hidden to our minds.

Beyond the causal links and the linear time used by science in describing of the world, Jung sees a realm of meaning-based relationships connecting the events around us. This synchronicity (another key concept of Jung), the network of non-causal connections, is not affected by long distances in time or space. It defies rational, deductive logic.


Jung introduced to European and American minds the traditional Eastern practices, as a way to access the unconscious dimension forgotten in the Western world, to activate what he called active imagination.

Meditation was one of those practices, as well as divination. It was Jung who presented to the West the "I Ching" book used by one of the characters in Dick's "The Man in the High Castle" (1963). Both this character and Dick himself, during the writing of the novel, decided their course of action by interpreting randomly chosen statements from the book.


In addition, Jung was also fond of Eastern spirituality. He rescued from the obscure pages of history the heterodox ideas of Gnosticism, which had existed in the fringes of the old Persian religion (in the form of Manicheism and other sects), Judaism and early Christianity.

One of the common tenets of the gnostic doctrine is dualism, the idea that good and evil forces are equally powerful in the universe. The gnostic God stays aloof from our human world, unreachable and unknowable, leaving the tasks of creating and managing the Earth to a complex hierarchy of imperfect entities (the Demiurge --sometimes identified with Satan--, Sophia, the Archons). These entities have differing goals and can be cruel or insane.

Popular interest in Gnosticism grew in the West after the discovery of ancient manuscripts in Nag Hammadi (Egypt) in 1945.


A Jungian approach has been sometimes used to understand the 'logic' behind David Lynch's work (for instance, in "The Passion of David Lynch" by Martha P. Nochimson). We have no indication that David Lynch actually studied Jung, as we have for Dick and Frank Herbert (the author of "Dune", with whom Lynch collaborated in the film adaptation), but it is clear that Lynch participates of many of Jung's views, concepts and techniques shared by mystic traditions around the world.


The deep and dark wells of creativity


Lynch is a very active practitioner of trascendental meditation, introduced from India in the fifties. He also promotes it as a therapeutic method through the David Lynch Foundation. This meditation involves the repeated use of a sound or mantra and it is clear how important music and sounds are for David. He is very closely involved in the creation of the soundtracks for his movies and shows. For instance, Lynch is credited as sound designer in TP3, where the scratchy, windy or crackly sounds are characters of their own ("Listen to the sounds", says the Fireman to Cooper in E1).

The role of meditation and art is not accidental or accessory to Lynch's creative process. By his own account, he uses these sources, as well as dreams and visions, as paths to reach the "keys to the kingdom" in our inner selves, a "big ocean of pure vibrant consciousness within" and to boost his creativity (his "active imagination", in Jungian terms).



Synchronicity, happenstance or serendipity, however we want to call accidental connections, also play a role in Lynch's creative process. As Cooper says and Twin Peaks story proves all along, "Fellas, coincidence and fate figure largely in our lives."

A famous example is the decision by Lynch to cast Frank Silva, who was set decorator in TP1, as a new character in the series. After Silva's reflection was accidentally caught on camera (see below), he became the embodiment of the evil entity known as Bob, responsible for Laura Palmer's death.


Lynch has also acknowledge using material from visions and dreams in his work. Without discussion, he is the most surrealist moviemaker since Buñuel. He actually follows the original movement's idea of bringing raw oneiric "narrative" into literature, painting and cinema to question the nature of reality.

The most extreme example of Lynch's surrealism might be Inland Empire, which was largely improvised from his daily dreams. Far from being accessory, the nightmarish scenes in Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks present us with essential participants and truths that propel the story. The dreams of main characters like FBI agent Cooper give them (and us) access to a deeper layer of meaning and understanding of what is going on, but they also open new enigmas.


Despite our innate inclination to search for symbols and meanings, a vision in Lynch's oeuvre may be just a vision, a crack in the wall hiding the unconscious ocean from our sight, and it can be interpreted in a multiplicity of explanations without ever exhausting its significance.

The ear found by a young Cooper, I mean MacLachlan, in "Blue Velvet" was based on a vision that Lynch had. Does the ear need to have a definite meaning?


For Philip K. Dick, the nightmares and visions he experienced were not something he voluntarily sought or enjoyed, but unwelcome invasions of his already troubled life. Because of them, he doubted his sanity. Dick thought he might have schizophrenia or some other psychosis, but the doctors he consulted with rejected the idea. They probably thought Dick just had an exceptionally "active imagination".

Similarly to Lynch, Dick didn't need (nor wanted) hallucinogenic drugs to open the visionary dimensions to him. It is true that his natural predisposition (some speculate he might have suffered temporal lobe epilepsy known to cause mystical experiences) might have worsened because of his use of amphetamines (taken to stay awake during long writing sessions). He also used other drugs like speed and mescaline. However, borrowing Aldous Huxley's expression, the "doors of perception" had opened for Dick long before his stint with recreational drugs in the late sixties, memorably described in "A Scanner Darkly", and opened much wider in the seventies when he was clean.


Dick's hallucinatory experiences reached its peak during February and March 1974 in a series of visions which included a pink laser firing information into his head to informed him about a hidden mortal defect in his baby son and a divine savior's coming to Earth, among other surprising pieces of knowledge.


Compared to Lynch, there was a big difference in the way Dick reacted to his visionary experiences. He believed there had to be a logical, rational explanation for them and he agonized trying to find the reason and the origin of the messages. During this weary exploration, he discussed endless theories with his friends and exposed many of them in this books, especially after 1974. Sometimes Dick favored "scientific" explanations (a secret mind control experiment, or a transmission sent by alien beings), while the next day he was convinced of having been contacted by a god-like entity to bring ultimate salvation, or enslavement, to humanity.

When Dick died in 1982, he left about 8,000 pages (he named them his "Exegesis") detailing an infinite number of theories for his visions, explanations rooted in theology, cosmology and occultist traditions. Excerpts of these journals were published in 2011.


A very special source of visionary inspiration for Dick, stressed by Lawrence Sutin and other biographers, was the inner presence of his twin sister Jane. She died only a few weeks after their birth, and Phil always thought that she continued living inside him. He used to listen to her voice at night while writing. With time, the twin duality acquired a cosmological significance linked to the Gnostic ideas: the whole universe was wrong because one of the cosmic twins had failed to materialize as an independent, healthy being.


Ultimately, the main difference in tone between Lynch and Dick is that, while the first assumes happily the unconscious dimensions of reality and sees them as a tool to enrich our lives, Dick interprets this well of hidden meaning as a proof that the reality that surrounds us is a fake, a shared hallucination. 

The dark side of everyday objects

A common, disturbing, technique used by both Lynch and Dick to show the limits of our conventional reality is to transform the role of everyday objects. For instance, in TP2, after Josie Packard's sudden death, her spirit seems to be trapped inside a table's wood knob.


Electrical wiring and the infamous pole #6 are ominous presences in TP since "Fire Walk with Me".


The role of electricity in the TP mythology has being reinforced in TP3. When Cooper returns from the Red Room to substitute for Dougie Jones, he shows up through the electrical plugs.


In Dick's stories, everyday objects are also used as proxies for a disturbing truth. One of his most "Lynchian" novels, "Time Out of Joint" (1959) tells how the reality of the protagonist, Ragle Gumm, falls apart through ordinary objects. For example, a soft-drink stand disappears, replaced by a slip of paper with "soft-drink stand" printed on it (you can actually buy a T-shirt showing these paper slips here).


In the same novel, the protagonist suspects something is very wrong when, one night, he finds that his bathroom light cord is no longer there. Everyone claims it never existed, and there was always a light switch on the wall. This episode is actually based on Dick's own baffling experience at home. He never found out why the light cord he remembered had been changed into a switch.

In "Ubik" (1969), one of Dick's most revered novels, the reality of the protagonists again breaks down and only a mysterious elixir can restore it. They would be saved if they could just grab this thing, which takes the shape of common products like instant coffee, aerosol spray or analgesic pills. 




Jumping in time and space


There are some motifs repeated all along Lynch's universe, making us feel that all pieces of his work are connected by invisible links.






Beyond these repeating motifs, a distinctive feature of Lynch visual narrative is the juxtaposition of different timeline intervals. Often, it is not possible to say whether a scene belongs to the future or to the past, a question we hear in TP's Red Room. Maybe it is with this uncertainty how, despite the aging of the cast, Lynch manages to create a circular or spiral timeline in the TP story.


To further complicate things, time may work differently in different realms. Apparently, the Fireman and Señorita Dido created Laura Palmer after the spawning of Bob, but this seems to happen many years later. The logic of time in Twin Peaks is full of paradoxes, even more confusing because, as we'll see, multiple times are combined with multiple identities.


This double time/identity confusion is evident in the TP3 finale when Cooper and Diane (or their tulpas) cross the 430-mile mark in the highway and go to a motel. When Cooper (Richard?) comes out from the room the next morning, not only the year has changed (car and motel are more modern) but probably their own identity, too.



Since Lynch purposely used time superposition in Inland Empire, and hinted at it in other movies, many fans try to find other evidences of time overlay (or sync). For instance, one of the many theories following the TP3 finale is based on the idea that the last two episodes can be overlaid together

Philip K. Dick often made his characters travel along the same timeline or to alternate ones. In "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" (1965), one of his most scary books (he was unable to read it after finished), the protagonist fights a malign mogul (Eldritch) who develops a drug which can to transform reality into a shared hallucination he can control. During the confrontation, the protagonist travels to a possible future and then back to the past. Interestingly, as it happens in Lynch's works, we find a combination of time shifts, alternate universes and identity mix-ups, since both the protagonist and Eldritch inhabit other bodies to escape and confuse their adversary.


In "Now Wait for the Last Year" (1966), the dangerous hallucinogenic drug of the moment (called JJ-180) causes the consumer to travel in time, and also to alternate timelines, creating a game of deception played across various dimensions.


The central idea of "Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said" (1974) is very similar. The user of an experimental reality-warping drug called KR-3 transports the protagonist (a famous singer) to an alternate reality where he does not exist (a traumatic experience for a popular person!). However, after the user of the drug dies, he returns to his original reality.


Universe as a dream or hallucination


Dreams are very important in Lynch's narrative, and not only as a plot device. The distinction between what is a dream and what is real is often blurred to the point that the two become indistinguishable.

The dream themes are ubiquitous in "Mulholland Drive" (Lynch's tagline for the film was "A love story in the city of dreams"), and become a starting point for the many interpretations that attempt to make sense of the story.


“I’ve been to one of their meetings,” reappeared agent Philip Jeffries says to his assembled FBI colleagues in the deleted scenes of "Fire Walk with Me" (reused in TP3). “It was above a convenience store. It was a dream. We live inside a dream.”, he concludes.


As the show progressed, what seemed just a crime investigation has been "invaded" by alternate dimensions initially seen in dreams: the Lodge, the Fireman's fortress and other locations populated by overgrown tea kettles have become the glue that holds together the narrative pieces.

"We are like the dreamer who dreams, and then lives inside the dream. But who is the dreamer?", says Monica Bellucci to Gordon Cole/David Lynch in his own dream (TP3E14). We find again a combination of the two questions: the nature of reality and the problem of personal identity, both favorites of Lynch and Dick.


We know the source of Bellucci's phrase. Commenting on the pervasiveness of the dream theme in "Inland Empire", Lynch quoted a classic mystical text, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: "We are like the spider. We weave our life and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe."

The dream nature of the Twin Peaks reality is again stated by Dale Cooper in the TP3 finale, but the question of who the dreamer is remains. Maybe the dreamer has Cooper's face, ghostly overlaid in this scene, or maybe each member of the audience is the dreamer.


Back to Philip Dick, we have already seen that alternate realities are a common theme for him. In many cases, his protagonist finds that he lives in a fictional world, an illusion. "Time Out of Joint" is a clear example. The 1959 in which Gumm lives in only a cover-up, a set built for his benefit like the fake city in "The Truman Show". The true reality he finds outside it is a futuristic world where Earth is suffering crippling nuclear strikes from rebel lunar colonies.


In "A Maze of Death" (1970), fourteen colonists assigned to a strange planet find themselves with no communications or help of any kind. They die one by one in the colony as they try to solve its mysteries. In reality, the colonists are suffering inside a virtual reality simulation they have entered trying to escape another torment: they are the crew of a stranded spaceship with no hope for rescue. But they have brought their angst with them into the simulation.


The idea of a "fake reality" is now mainstream thanks to movies like "The Matrix", but Dick, as Lynch does, goes beyond a clear cut distinction between true and fake, between dream and reality.

In his award-winning uchronia, "The Man in the High Castle" (1963), we see an alternate world in which the German Reich and Japan won World War II and the US territory is split between occupying powers. What is more interesting is that inside this world there is room for an alternate storyline, told in a book called "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy", in which the Axis lost the world. However, there are significant differences between the "Grasshopper" version and the actual historical events we know. It seems there are at least three possible historical lines, or more. No resolution is presented. We don't get to find out which universe is "real".


Some of the visions in 1974 transported Dick to the time of the early Christians as they fought the persecution of the Roman authorities. In some occasions, the writer would actually see a superposition of the Californian landscape and Ancient Rome. This led him to speculate that both historical moments were somehow parallel and the same good versus evil forces had been at play all along, a knowledge he summarized with the sentence "The Empire never ended".



Evil intrusions


Lynch's works are filled with evil human figures: bloody assassins and gangsters, psychopaths, abusive husbands and disgraced youngsters going the wrong way. But there is also an entirely different species of evil: entities who invade our reality from other dimensions.

Sometimes it's not entirely clear whether they mean to do evil or not, but they surely are scary, like the homeless in "Mulholland Drive".


Since "Eraserhead", we can see horrific creatures intruding into the "normal" life of the characters, sometimes taking over their bodies.



In Twin Peaks, we get a whole set of human-shaped beings coming to the ordinary world to make havoc. Here we have Bob and some of his colleagues meeting above the convenience store


TP3 brought us a group called the Woodsmen. They easily cross between worlds, to bring the bad Cooper back to life, to kill witnesses of his doings, or (in the famous E8) to assist another "invader" near the New Mexico atomic test site.



In E8 we can also have a look at Judy, the most powerful evil entity known to the FBI Blue Rose operatives. Bob is seen in the "vomit" coming out of her mouth.



This Judy might be the same entity who appeared in the New York attic and killed savagely the two onlookers.


Even harmless Sarah Palmer, Laura's mother, seems now possessed by a rather aggressive being, seen when she removes her face.


Dick experienced evil intrusions as part of his paranoid episodes. People around him, most frequently one of his wives, could suddenly appear as a hellish nightmare bent on destroying him.

In one of his early stories, "The Father Thing" (1954), a child sees his father replaced by an alien entity, a premise common to other works of fiction at the time (like the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but told with special poignancy by Dick.


Among his paranoid visions, one made Dick truly afraid: he saw a gigantic eye watching him from the sky, an evil presence who seemed to control and spy on our reality. Philip ran home horrified and searched for an answer in both traditional and fringe religions (Was this entity the Gnostic demiurge?). From this point on, he will interpret many tragedies in his life as interventions of an evil god (for instance, the death of his cat, or the demise of his good friend Episcopalian Bishop James Pike in the Judean desert).

In the novel "Eye in the Sky" (1957), the protagonists suffer an accident in a particle accelerator and wake up in a strange world which turns out to be the private reality of a religious fanatic, and therefore dominated by a vengeful god.


We have already mentioned "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch". By Dick's own account, the terrifying look and fearsome powers of Eldritch were based on his evil-in-the-sky vision. Palmer (a name familiar to Twin Peaks fans) could control reality around his enemies by using an addictive drug. His ultimate goal was to enslave all humanity in a world of his own creation, to reign on it as an omnipotent god.


The shadow of the self


A recurrent issue and mind-bending plot device used by Lynch is the fluid nature of personal identity. "Mulholland Drive" is an obvious example. The dark-haired woman we see in the beginning has lost her memory, she doesn't remember her true identity. She is helped by a blonde aspiring actress, but later in the movie we see the blonde woman waking up with a different identity. Many interpretations suggest she might have been dreaming everything we have seen so far. And this is not the only identity shift happening in the movie.


Mulholland Drive's game of identities and time jumps, like the twists in Lost Highway, might be based on the idea of psychogenic fugue. As Lynch explained, "The person suffering from it creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything—they forget their past identity." This is clearly another well from which the director can extract unlimited puzzles for our bafflement and enjoyment.


With Twin Peaks, Lynch has created a full mythology based on the replication of bodies which share (or not) part of their identity.



These clones are called doppelgangers and tulpas in the Twin Peaks lore. The Lynchian concept of doppelganger as a kind of evil twin follows the Jungian archetype of the shadow (Mr. Hyde alongside Dr. Jekyll), different from the original meaning of the German term. The concept of the tulpa is taken from Tibetan mysticism (familiar to Lynch), a spiritual emanation conjured through meditation, which can become sentient and physically independent.

The climax of these TP identity confusions is reached in the final episode, in which we see all three "Coopers" plus, maybe, a fourth one named Richard. Ditto with Diane. She is the second character after Cooper who sees face to face one of her replicas (Is that Linda, or is Linda the one looking out from the car?).

The question of identity was essential to Philip K. Dick as well, often linked to the existence of human-like androids. He became obsessed with this topic after seeing an automaton of Lincoln at Disneyland, and began thinking about the distinction between real and artificial humans, finding that the difference was no so easy to point out (unless you can use a Voight-Kampff machine). 


Dick explored the problem of androids, or simulacra, in several of his novels, most notably in "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (1968), which was freely adapted in "Bladerunner" (in the movie, androids are called "replicants").




Dick's conclusion is that androids can be as human as regular people if they have memories and empathy. On the other hand, humans without heart can behave like androids, as Nazis did. Therefore, in "Do Androids Dream..." the advanced models are imbued with false memories to make them believe they are actually human (Rachel), opening the question of how someone can really be sure that he/she is not an android (Deckard).

Many other stories written by Dick use the concept of false memories. In "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (1966), which became the movie "Total Recall", an ordinary clerk wishes to have an adventure in Mars and he gets involved in one (or is it just the simulated vacation trip he's paid for?). A psychiatrist appears in the middle of his hallucination to convince him that he is delusional, but the protagonist doesn't buy it.


The movie uses another of Dick's persistent ideas: a different human conscience might be sharing your own body (remember, Dick believed that his dead twin sister lived inside him). This is how the rebel Kuato hides from enemy agents.


In "Dr. Bloodmoney" (1965), Hoppy Harrington survives without limbs in a post-apocalyptic California and becomes a petty dictator after finding out he has telekinetic powers. A girl, Edie, confronts him. She has a conjoined twin brother Bill, a sentient fetus within her body. Harrington uses his powers to draw Bill outside to kill him, but the fetus manages to swap his dying body with Harrington's.


In "A Scanner Darkly" (1977), based on a period in which Dick adopted the drug culture of the sixties, the protagonist is an undercover narcotics cop who hides his true appearance from other policemen to infiltrate a group of drug users. However, after trying a dangerous drug, substance D, he begins confusing both identities, treating them as different persons.


The last book Dick researched before his death in 1982 was titled "The Owl in Daylight". His idea for the plot involved a mediocre music composer who suddenly becomes a genius, thanks to the invasion of his mind by an alien being. The alien comes from a planet with no concept of sound, and thus regards music as a supremely mystical experience (Lynch would love this concept). In a Faustian turn, the composer finds that the presence of the alien, while transforming him into a great artist, is also consuming him to death. He must then choose between life and art.


The confusion of identities sometimes reaches Dick himself, blurring even more the separation between literature and biography. 

In "A Scanner Darkly", Dick recognized the biographical content of the novel by adding himself in the final, tragic dedication.


A more clear example is visible in one of his final and most moving novels, "VALIS" (published in 1981). In the book, Dick re-enacts his desperate search for an explanation of the 1974 visions, discussing many hypotheses with his friends, as he did in reality. What is fascinating is that he, Phil Dick, appears in the book as one of the gang, a moderately successful but mostly silent science fiction writer. He also has a doppelganger, Horselover Fat, who is the one with the crazy hallucinations and harebrained theories everyone pokes fun at. At one point, Sophia, a little girl who might be a divine incarnation, reveals to them that Dick and Fat are the same person. An identical pattern is used in "Radio Free Albemuth" (an early version of the VALIS, written in 1976).


I would not be surprised if at some future (or past) point in the Twin Peaks saga, an otherworldly presence confides to us that David Lynch and Gordon Cole are the same person!


The failed salvation


Neither Lynch nor Dick are fond of closed, happy endings. Their troubled protagonists don't find a resolution, an explanation, an ending to their tribulations. Actually, we can hardly speak of an ending in their story arcs. Their plans to find an exit from their nightmares never work as expected. Salvation seems to be always close by, but always elusive.

How could it be otherwise given the "out of joint" visions of reality we have described?

Focusing on Lynch's Twin Peaks saga, the "Fire Walk with Me" movie presented a seemingly happy final scene. Laura has endured torture and an attempt by Bob to possess her. She finally had to use death as the only way out. After this odyssey, she is comforted by Dale Cooper in the Red Room. Then, an angel appears to her and we can see joyful tears flowing on her smiling face.



This apparent ending works a counterpoint to Dale Cooper's terrible fate: seeing a horrific twin return to the external world instead of him.


In the TP3 finale, after this evil doppelganger seems defeated, Cooper returns to his primary mission: to save Laura Palmer. To do this he travels back in time to the fateful night when she died, but although he manages to change the past, she is snatched from his hand as they approach the Lodge.


As if Cooper were assigned to a case that spans through infinite timelines, he returns to find another "Laura" under a different identity, in a different world, again suffering, again lost in the murky waters of crime. This Laura is brought to the Twin Peaks town to confront her "timeless" past at the Palmer house. Initially, it seems there is no connection to the original timeline, but a question from Cooper and a familiar call open again the floodgates of terror.


Lynch creates a puzzle made of pieces from different storylines, with characters playing multiple identities, all precariously connected by symbolic elements in a plot that does not follow conventional linear time but whose cyclical, multidimensional structure is closer to the Eastern cosmology.

in his Exegesis, Dick concludes that the balance between the original male and female cosmic twins was broken with the failed birth of the feminine half (a sublimation of his deceased twin, Jane). Out of balance, the universe becomes the arena for an eternal fight between good and evil, playing simultaneously in different, connected history lines. 

In Dick's mind, Richard Nixon was a representative of the evil Empire that never ended. Ferris F. Freemont, the President in his dystopian "Radio Free Albemuth" is based on Nixon.


As mentioned earlier, "VALIS" is the most touching account of Dick's anguish about the dominance of evil in the world and in his life. Until his last days, Philip believed in a new coming of the eternal Savior who appears in critical times. VALIS tells us about the search for this savior, which in the book seems to take the shape of a little girl. But the girl dies in an accident, reproducing once more the never-ending tragedy of the female half of the universe.


The same cycle repeats in "The Divine Invasion" (1981), which was first titled "VALIS regained". In this novel, we find again dreams, parallel universes, and various personifications of the female savior and her evil antagonist. 


Dick's verdict in this book, the last one he saw published, seems to be that in all timelines, and for everyone, there is a personal decision to be made, a decision which will result in the much-anticipated salvation or in its eternal deferral.

What about the cosmic female half of Twin Peaks? Will Laura Palmer ever find salvation herself? Maybe the fight will never end.