Thursday, February 20, 2014

Humans and Androids in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

For the sake of forthrightness, I’d like to say that I’ve read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick in its entirety prior to taking this course. Therefore, my analysis will inevitably draw on events occurring beyond the assigned reading. That being said, the first six chapters are a good exposition for the book. Already, I can see development of some of the major themes of the novel. My favorite theme of Androids (and perhaps any science fiction novel about robots) is the difference between humans and their creations.
            Right off the bat, Dick assaults the line between humans and machines by automating emotions. In chapter one, Rick and Iran Deckard own a Penfield mood organ. They can control their emotions with the push of a button. They call it “dialing,” as if their feelings are as complex as a telephone. This kind of technology suggests that the humans in this world are not entirely organic themselves. Rick must have a device implanted in his brain that can alter neurotransmitter levels. For happy feelings, this device must promote dopamine and serotonin reuptake. For depressed feelings, it must inhibit their reuptake.
            This technology must be similar to the machinery responsible for emotions in androids in this world. The rest of the android body has been engineered to resemble the human body such that a simple x-ray would not be able to pick up on its electric nature. Bounty hunters must rely on empathy tests and close examination of bone marrow in order to tell humans apart from androids. If the android brain is as similar to that of a human as the rest of its body, and if it uses the same technology as the Deckards’ mood organ to simulate emotions, then what is the true difference between humans and androids in this world?
            Even the empathy test is not always accurate. The Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test can declare humans with mental disorders affecting their reactions to social stimuli (schizophrenia is mentioned, but there is a wide array of disorders with similar affects) androids simply because their autonomic nervous system does not react to the stimulus questions. Presumably, humans with mental disorders such as aphasia that affect their comprehension of speech would fail the Voigt-Kampff as well. It is even plausible that someone who grew up isolated from society and therefore did not have the chance to internalize American cultural values would fail the test as well. Indeed, before determining that Rachel Rosen was an android, Rick believed that the test had failed for that very reason.

            In many other subtle ways, the line between human and android is blurred. John R. Isidore, a “chickenhead,” would be considered less intelligent than the new Nexus-6 model. Rick is as dissatisfied with his living wife as he is with his electric sheep. Androids can believe themselves human because of false memories provided by their maker. Humans can believe themselves androids. It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between an animal and an electric animal. And, if you don’t know the difference, is it so important? In a world as empty as that of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? electric people and animals can fill the void.

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