Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K Dick seemed to think the answer is no. 

“All those legs.  Why does it need so many legs J.R.?”

“That’s the way spiders are,” Isidore said, his heart pounding; he had difficulty breathing.  “Eight legs.”

Rising to her feet, Pris said, “You know what I think, J.R.? I think it doesn’t need all those legs.”

“Eight?” Irmgard Baty said. “Why couldn’t it get by on four?  Cut four off and see.”  Impulsively opening her purse, she produced a pair of clean, sharp cuticle scissors, which she passed to Pris.

A weird terror struck at J.R. Isidore.

Carrying the medicine bottle into the kitchen, Pris seated herself at J.R. Isidore’s breakfast table.  She removed the lid from the bottle and dumped the spider out.  “It probably won’t be able to run as fast,” she said. “but there is nothing for it to catch around here anyhow.  It’ll die anyway.” She reached for the scissors.

“Please,” Isidore said.

Pris glanced up inquiringly.  “Is it worth something?”

“Don’t mutilate it,” he said wheezingly.  Imploringly.

With the scissors, Pris snipped off one of the spider’s legs.

There are chilling sequences- they reflect the potential horrors of a society devoid of empathy. But theirs is not an entirely unsympathetic portrait, as these androids are tantalizingly close to human.  They are self-aware; they are capable of abstract thinking and reasoning; they feel and they fear and they love, like humans.  They struggle against captivity.  They fight for their survival, which is to say they are alive, in their own way.   But they are definitively inhuman.  What separates them is something they cannot hope to understand, but they are individually haunted by it, nevertheless.

Tragically, and to demonstrate the proximity, there are androids who believe they are human, with programmed false memories of childhood. There are also humans who struggle to differentiate themselves from androids, with deficiencies in this or that area.

“Listen, Deckard,” he said suddenly.  “After we retire Luba Luft- I want you to-” His voice, husky and tormented, broke off.  “You know.  Give me the Boneli test or that empathy scale you have.  To see about me.”

“We can worry about that later,” Rick said evasively.

“You don’t want me to take it, do you?” Phil Resch glanced at him with acute comprehension.  “I guess you know what the results will be; Garland must have told you something.  Facts which I don’t know.”

Rick said,”It’s going to be hard even for the two of us to take out Luba Luft; she’s more than I could handle, anyhow.  Let’s keep our attention focused on that.”

“It’s not just false memory structures,” Phil Resch said.  “I own an animal; not a false one but the real thing.  A squirrel.  I love the squirrel, Deckard; every goddamn morning I feed it and change its papers- you know, clean up its cage- and then in the evening when I get off work I let it loose in my apt and it runs all over the place.  It has a wheel in its cage; ever seen a squirrel running inside a wheel?  It runs and runs, the wheel spins, but the squirrel stays in the same spot.  Buffy seems to like it, though.”

“I guess squirrels aren’t too bright,” Rick said.

They flew on, then, in silence.

The human bounty hunter’s struggle to destroy these androids is more than the goodness of the human and the cleverness of the androids.  The author, I believe, sought to show that this struggle is not a mere superficial crisis of naivety or misinformation but rather something that is fundamentally morally unresolvable, our system of morals being one based on empathy.  Nevertheless, he believes, it must be done.  It is clear that for the future of all life on earth humans must prevail over androids.

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5 thoughts on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  1. anonymous says:

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