Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream Masterwork


—– Reuters, 1966

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard. Surprised – it always surprised him to find himself awake without prior notice – he rose from the bed, stood up in his multicolored pajamas, and stretched. Now, in her bed, his wife Iran opened her gray, unmerry eyes, blinked, then groaned and shut her eyes again.
—–“You set your Penfield too weak he said to her. “I’ll reset it and you’ll be awake and – ”
—–“Keep your hand off my settings.” Her voice held bitter sharpness. “I don’t want to be awake.”
—–He seated himself beside her, bent over her, and explained softly. “If you set the surge up high enough, you’ll be glad you’re awake; that’s the whole point. At setting C it overcomes the threshold barring consciousness, as it does for me.” Friendlily, because he felt well-disposed toward the world his setting had been at D – he patted her bare, pate shoulder.
—–“Get your crude cop’s hand away,” Iran said.
—–“I’m not a cop – ” He felt irritable, now, although he hadn’t dialed for it.
—–“You’re worse,” his wife said, her eyes still shut. “You’re a murderer hired by the cops.
—–“I’ve never killed a human being in my life.” His irritability had risen, now; had become outright hostility.
—–Iran said, “Just those poor andys.”

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was wrtten by Philip K. Dick in 1968 and filmed as Blade Runner by Ridley Scott in 1982. Many reprints appear under the title of the movie.

Dick’s novel was set in the depopulated, post-apocalyptic ”near future” San Francisco of 1992 (25 years after the novel was written) and centres on Rick Deckard, a detective cum bounty hunter tasked to track down and kill six androids – or ”andys” – who have killed their human masters on Mars and escaped to Earth where they are passing for human. Two androids have already been terminated by the senior bounty hunter, Holden, before a third critically injured him, rendering him unable to complete his mission; Deckard’s boss, Harry Bryant, then passed the remainder of the job onto him.

Deckard is motivated entirely by the bounty with which he plans to buy himself and his wife a real animal: fallout from World War Terminus has left most animal life extinct and real animals are status symbols. Deckard owns only an artificial sheep – the electric sheep of the title – which his neighbours are lead to believe is real.

Deckard’s task is complicated by the fact the androids are virtually indistinguishable from human beings, and doubts have been raised about the efficacy of the Voight-Kampff empathy test used to detect them. The androids supposed lack of empathy not only distinguishes them from human beings, it legitimates their sub-human legal status as slaves so there is much invested in the legitimacy  the test. It has also been suggested that some human beings – particularly the low-IQ  ”specials” who’s intelligence has been affected by the fallout –  may give false-positives.

——Bryant said thoughtfully, “Dave used the Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale in testing out the individuals he suspected. You realize – you ought to, anyhow – that this test isn’t specific for the new brain units. No test is; the Voigt scale, altered three years ago by Kampff, is all we have.” He paused, pondering. “Dave considered it accurate. Maybe it is. But I would suggest this, before you take out after these six.” Again he tapped the pile of notes. “Fly to Seattle and talk with the Rosen people. Have them supply you a representative sampling of types employing the new Nexus-6 unit.”
——“And put them through the Voigt-Kampff,” Rick said.
——“It sounds so easy,” Bryant said, half to himself.
——Bryant said, “I think I’ll talk to the Rosen organization myself, while you’re on your way.” He eyed Rick, then, silently. Finally he grunted, gnawed on a fingernail, and eventually decided on what he wanted to say. “I’m going to discuss with them the possibility of including several humans, as well as their new androids. But you won’t know. It’ll be my decision, in conjunction with the manufacturers. It should be set up by the time you get there.” He abruptly pointed at Rick, his face severe. “This is the first time you’ll be acting as senior bounty bunter. Dave knows a lot; he’s got years of experience behind him.”
——“So have I,” Rick said tensely.
——“You’ve handled assignments devolving to you from Dave’s schedule; he’s always decided exactly which ones to turn over to you and which not to. But now you’ve got six that he intended to retire himself – one of which managed to get him first. This one.” Bryant turned the notes around so that Rick could see. “Max Polokov,” Bryant said. “That’s what it calls itself, anyhow. Assuming Dave was right. Everything is based on that assumption, this entire list. And yet the Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale has only been administered to the first three, the two Dave retired and then Polokov. It was while Dave was administering the test; that’s when Polokov lasered him.”
——“Which proves that Dave was right,” Rick said. Otherwise he would not have been lasered; Polokov would have no motive.
——“You get started for Seattle,” Bryant said. “Don’t tell them first; I’ll handle it. Listen.” He rose to his feet, soberly confronted Rick. “When you run the Voigt-Kampff scale up there, if one of the humans fails to pass it – ”
——“That can’t happen,” Rick said.
——“One day, a few weeks ago, I talked with Dave about exactly that. He had been thinking along the same lines. I had a memo from the Soviet police, W.P.O. itself, circulated throughout Earth plus the colonies. A group of psychiatrists in Leningrad have approached W.P.O. with the following proposition. They want the latest and most accurate personality profile analytical tools used in determining the presence of an android – in other words the Voigt-Kampff scaleapplied to a carefully selected group of schizoid and schizophrenic human patients. Those, specifically, which reveal what’s called a ‘flattening of affect.’ You’ve heard of that.”
——Rick said, “That’s specifically what the scale measures.”
——“Then you understand what they’re worried about.”
——“This problem has always existed. Since we first encountered androids posing as humans. The consensus of police opinion is known to you in Lurie Kampff s article, written eight years ago. Roletaking Blockage in the Undeteriorated Schizophrenic. Kampff compared the diminished emphatic faculty found in human mental patients and a superficially similar but basically – ”
——“The Leningrad psychiatrists,” Bryant broke in brusquely, “think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If you tested them in line with police work you’d assess them as humanoid robots. You’d be wrong, but by then they’d be dead.” He was silent, now, waiting for Rick’s answer.
——“But these individuals,” Rick said, “would all be – ”
——“They’d be in institutions,” Bryant agreed. “They couldn’t conceivably function in the outside world; they certainly couldn’t go undetected as advanced psychotics – unless of course their breakdown had come recently and suddenly and no one had gotten around to noticing. But this could happen.”
——“A million to one odds,” Rick said. But he saw the point.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p.29-30)

Deckard is challenged by Eldon Rosen, head of the company Rosen Associates, which manufactures the androids, to demonstrate the accuracy of test on his ”niece” Rachael. When the results of the Voigt-Kampff test apparently prove that Rachael is an android Eldon Rosen attempts to convince Deckard that Rachael is a schizoid human who was raised on a deep space exploration vessel and had lacked human contact in her formative years but Deckard tricks the Rosens into admitting she is, indeed, an android.

——“I’m not a peace officer,” Rick said. “I’m a bounty hunter.” From his opened briefcase he fished out the Voigt-Kampff apparatus, seated himself at a nearby rosewood coffee table, and began to assemble the rather simple polygraphic instruments. “You may send the first testee in,” he informed Eldon Rosen, who now looked more haggard than ever
——“I’d like to watch,” Rachael said, also seating herself. “I’ve never seen an empathy test being administered. What do those things you have there measure?”
—–Rick said, “This” – he held up the flat adhesive disk with its trailing wires – “measures capillary dilation in the facial area. We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so – called ‘shame’ or ‘blushing’ reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can’t be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate.” He showed her the other instrument, a pencil-beam light. “This records fluctuations of tension within the eye muscles. Simultaneous with the blush phenomenon there generally can be found a small but detectable movement of – ”
——“And these can’t be found in androids,” Rachael said.
——“They’re not engendered by the stimuli-questions; no. Although biologically they exist. Potentially.”
——Rachael said, “Give me the test.”
——“Why?” Rick said, puzzled.
——Speaking up, Eldon Rosen said hoarsely, “We selected her as your first subject. She may be an android. We’re hoping you can tell.” He seated himself in a series of clumsy motions, got out a cigarette, lit it and fixedly watched.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  (p.29-30)

——He had wondered as had most people at one time or another precisely why an android bounced helplessly about when confronted by an empathy-measuring test.  Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. For one thing, the empathic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it; in fact it would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive. It would make him conscious of the desire to live on the part of his prey. Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals such as cats, would starve.
——Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the empathic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion with Mercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed.
——Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator.
——Rick liked to think of them that way; it made his job palatable. In retiring — i.e. killing — an andy he did not violate the rule of life laid down by Mercer. You shall kill only the killers, Mercer had told them the year empathy boxes first appeared on Earth. And in Mercerism, as it evolved into a full theology, the concept of The Killers had grown insidiously. In Mercerism, an absolute evil plucked at the threadbare cloak of the tottering, ascending old man, but it was never clear who or what this evil presence was. A Mercerite sensed evil without understanding it. Put another way, a Mercerite was free to locate the nebulous presence of The Killers wherever he saw fit. For Rick Deckard an escaped humanoid robot, which had killed its master, which had  been equipped with an intelligence greater than that of many human beings, which had no regard for animals, which possessed no ability to feel empathic joy for another life form’s success or grief at its defeat — that, for him, epitomized The Killers.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p.24-25)

Deckard’s faith in human empathy is shaken by his encounter with the bounty hunter Paul Resch:

——“Do you have your ideology framed?” Phil Resch asked. “That would explain me as part of the human race?”
——Rick said, “There is a defect in your empathic, role-taking ability. One which we don’t test for. Your feelings toward androids.”
——“Of course we don’t test for that.”
——“Maybe we should.” He had never thought of it before, had never felt any empathy on his own part toward the androids he killed. Always fie had assumed that throughout his psyche he experienced the android as a clever machine – as in his conscious view. And yet, in contrast to Phil Resch, a difference had manifested itself. And he felt instinctively that he was right. Empathy toward an artificial construct? he asked himself. Something that only pretends to be alive? But Luba Luft had seemed genuinely alive; it had not worn the aspect of a simulation.
——“You realize,” Phil Resch said quietly, “what this would do. If we included androids in our range of empathic identification, as we do animals.”
——“We couldn’t protect ourselves.”
——“Absolutely. These Nexus-6 types . . . they’d roll all over us and mash us flat. You and I, all the bounty hunters – we stand between the Nexus-6 and mankind, a barrier which keeps the two distinct. Furthermore – ” He ceased, noticing that Rick was once again hauling out his test gear. “I thought the test was over.”
——“I want to ask myself a question,” Rick said. “And I want you to tell me what the needles register. Just give me the calibration; I can compute it.” He plastered the adhesive disk against his cheek, arranged the beam of light until it fed directly into his eye. “Are you ready? Watch the dials. We’ll exclude time lapse in this; I just want magnitude.”
——“Sure, Rick,” Phil Resch said obligingly.
——Aloud, Rick said, “I’m going down by elevator with an android I’ve captured. And suddenly someone kills it, without warning.”
——“No particular response,” Phil Resch said.
——“What’d the needles hit?”
——“The left one 2.8. The right one 3.3”
——Rick said, “A female android.”
——“Now they’re up to 4.0 and 6. respectively.”
——“That’s high enough,” Rick said; he removed the wired adhesive disk from his cheek and shut off the beam of light. “That’s an emphatically empathic response,” he said. “About what a human subject shows for most questions. Except for the extreme ones, such as those dealing with human pelts used decoratively . . . the truly pathological ones.”
——Rick said, “I’m capable of feeling empathy for at least specific, certain androids. Not for all of them but – one or two.” For Luba Luft, as an example, he said to himself. So I was wrong. There’s nothing unnatural or unhuman about Phil Resch’s reactions; it’s me.
——I wonder, he wondered, if any human has ever felt this way before about an android.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p.)

Mercerism & the Cult of Empathy

Most of the human population follow a State-sponsored religion based on the shared sensory experience with the messianic Wilbur Mercer. Fusion with other followers is achieved by gripping the handles of an ”empathy box” which transfers the worshiper’s consciousness to the virtual reality of Mercer’s ”tomb world”:

—–When he turned it on the usual faint smell of negative ions surged from the power supply; he breathed in eagerly, already buoyed up. Then the cathode-ray tube glowed like an imitation, feeble TV image; a collage formed, made of apparently random colors, trails, and configurations which, until the handles were grasped, amounted to nothing. So, taking a deep breath to steady himself, he grasped the twin handles.
—–The visual image congealed; he saw at once a famous landscape, the old, brown, barren ascent, with tufts of dried-out bonelike weeds poking slantedly into a dim and sunless sky. One single figure, more or less human in form, toiled its way up the hillside: an elderly man wearing a dull, featureless robe, covering as meager as if it had been snatched from the hostile emptiness of the sky. The man, Wilbur Mercer, plodded ahead, and, as he clutched the handles, John Isidore gradually experienced a waning of the living room in which he stood; the dilapidated furniture and walls ebbed out and he ceased to experience them at all. He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky – not Earth’s sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available.
—–He had crossed over in the usual perplexing fashion; physical merging – accompanied by mental and spiritual identification – with Wilbur Mercer had reoccurred. As it did for everyone who at this moment clutched the handles, either here on Earth or on one of the colony planets. He experienced them, the others, incorporated the babble of their thoughts, heard in his own brain the noise of their many individual existences. They – and he – cared about one thing; this fusion of their mentalities oriented their attention on the hill, the climb, the need to ascend. Step by step it evolved, so slowly as to be nearly imperceptible. But it was there. Higher, he thought as stones rattled downward under his feet. Today we are higher than yesterday, and tomorrow – he, the compound figure of Wilbur Mercer, glanced up to view the ascent ahead. Impossible to make out the end. Too far. But it would come.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p.16-17)

Going over to the empathy box she quickly seated herself and once more gripped the twin handles. She became involved almost at once. Rick stood holding the phone receiver, conscious of her mental departure. Conscious of his own aloneness.

—– Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (p.)

The Penfield mood organ is named after a Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (1891-1976):

I wonder if you recall the so-called “brain mapping” developed by Penfield recently; he was able to locate the exact centers in the brain from which each sensation, emotion, and response came. By stimulating one minute area with an electrode, a laboratory rat was transfigured into a state of perpetual bliss. “They’ll be doing that to all of us, too, soon,” a pessimistic friend said to me, regarding that. “Once the electrodes have been implanted, They can get us to feel, think, do anything They want.” Well, to do this, the government would have to let out a contract for the manufacture of a billion sets of electrodes, and, in their customary way, they would award the contract to the lowest bidder, who would build substandard electrodes out of secondhand parts… the technicians implanting the electrodes in the brains of millions upon millions of people would become bored and careless, and, when the switch would be pressed for the total population to feel profound grief at the death of some government official — probably the minister of the interior, in charge of the slave labor rehabilitation camps — it would all get fouled up, and the population, like that laboratory rat, would go into collective seizures of merriment. Or the substandard wiring connecting the brains of the population with the Washington D.C. Thought Control Center would overload, and a surge of electricity would roll backward over the lines and set fire to the White House.

Or is this just wishful thinking on my part? A little fantasy about a future society we should really feel apprehensive toward?

—— Philip K. Dick, ”The Android and the Human

  • Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

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