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Altering the Mind Mundanely: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the Work that Inspired Total Recall

Updated on March 3, 2013

The Total Recall Movie (both of them) Never Really Touched the Real Themes within the Work of Philip K. Dick

Even those with a merely passing interest in science-fiction are familiar with the classic 1990 film TOTAL RECALL. Even after nearly 25 years, the film still resonates with audiences even if the recent 2012 remake does not. The remake was not awful per se, but it lacked the fun and style of the original.

A Pulp Style Short Story Turns into a Huge Money Machine....Decades Later

At least people are familiar with the remake. The same cannot be said of the brilliant short story on which it is based. We Can Remember It for You Wholesale remains one of Philip K. Dick's most admired short works of prose among the late author's growing cult of fans. The legendary science-fiction visionary is also known for his other great works that have been turned into cinematic classics with the most notable bing Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep which would become the 1982 classic Blade Runner. As far as his short works of fiction, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale might be his most well received short works and, quite honestly, the Total Recall movie earned far more at the box office than Blade Runner.

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale follows many of the same themes present in Dick's writing. One additional benefit to this particular short story would be the fact it is not as dark or morosely cynical as his other works. There is a sense of mystery, suspense and fun to the tail of Douglas Quail and his slow realization he really did not always live a boring life as he was once a master spy and assassin who killed a rebel leader on the planet Mars.

Actually, he still is all of those things which is why triggering his repressed memories has gotten him into a lot of trouble. While there are more than a few differences between the short story and the Total Recall movie, the general plot is the same.

The Subtext of the Subconscious Mind

While the over the top plot of the short story is something to marvel at, the greatest value of the work is the subtext of the themes motivating the action of the plot.

What distinguished Dick from so many other science-fiction authors was he was not writing high adventure in his work. (Dick referred to the common commercial space opera work as not really science-fiction as much as it was the western genre transported to the future) His futuristic work was, ironically, not as futuristic as you might think. While the world of the story exists in a dark future, many of the characters are contemporary in their conflicts. Dick worked very hard at examining the human condition from the science-fiction genre, which was considered unheard of at the time of his writing.

Within the first two pages of the short story, Dick makes a rather profound, expositional statement to the reader:

''Was this the answer? After all, an illusion, no matter how convincing, remained nothing more than an illusion. At least objectively. But subjectively, at least the opposite entirely.''

In other words, whether something really happened or you just believe it happened, can sometimes be indistinguishable in terms of how a person reacts. Memories and experiences are recorded in the mind and then play a huge role in shaping the personality of an individual. A real memory is, certainly, not the same thing as a false memory. However, the impact on shaping a person's mind can be the same. Whether real or false a memory or, for that matter, a real or false perception can shape a person's mental state, outlook on life, and so on.

This is why so many people look to engage in altered states. Visiting Rekall is really no different than using mind altering drugs. (Not so ironically, prior to undergoing the memory implant, Rekall clients are drugged) While using drugs as a means of altering thoughts, memories and perceptions has been commonplace in society for generations, there are other more mundane, but equally effective, means of altering ones mind. The book Buying In greatly details how we try to shape who we are and our perceptions of ourselves through our consumer purchasing decisions. While we do not change our memories through buying into what the current culture promotes to us, we can change how others look at us through creating a ready made image of ourselves in their mind. Through making simple purchases, much like Quail's buying the implanted memory of a trip to Mars, reality is altered. When you ''buy into'' something, you are absorbing into your life and, in some instances, your purchases can have a profound effect.


The Paths of Altering the Mind Take Many Routes

The paths to altering our own mind on a subjective level through memory implants is not reliant on a service such as Rekall. It could be said that we alter our own memories through implanted memories of an alternate life throughout excursions in entertainment.

While it is not Dick's thematic theory, the argument could be made that reading fiction or watching a motion picture is a form of memory implantation. Obviously, no one will be subconsciously altering your memory to believe you were a character in a film or a novel. The person enjoying the work, however, may subconsciously identify with a character or an experience and make a connection with it deep below the surface. Perhaps deep in the subconscious, the person being entertained has a mind that does not distinguish between reality and the work of fiction. Therefore, false memories of an experiential nature can be created and implanted.

The Moral and Common Sense Ambiguity of an Implanted Memory

Is there anything wrong with attempting to alter one's memories? Whether there are any serious moral misgivings to the process is irrelevant because it is going to happen anyway. In the short story, it is in Quail's nature to be obsessed with a trip to Mars so no attempts to wipe his memory ever actually work. It is simply his nature to always seek out his hidden memories about Mars.

In the real world, it will always be human nature to twist, alter and change memories and perceptions even if the steps to do so involve something as mundane as reading a strange science-fiction story.

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