Ian "Marvin" Graye's Reviews > Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
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Feb 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: my-sci-fanta-side, dick, re-read, reviews, read-2014, reviews-5-stars
Read from February 19 to 22, 2014

In Which the Emphasis is on Androids Who Grasp the Twin Handles of Empathy

"Deus sive substantia sive natura": Spinoza


Just as in the animal kingdom there is a continuum between humans and animals, there is a continuum in this novel that incorporates humans, androids and electric animals, the main difference being that the latter two are artificial or human constructs.

Here, the androids are organic and sentient. They are not purely electrical or mechanical robots infused with artificial intelligence. They are technically alive, and closer to humans than to electric sheep.

The proximity to humans means that a test is required to differentiate them. The test that emerges is based on the capacity for empathy. Predatory animals have no empathy, because they would not eat, if they were concerned about the feelings of their prey. Thus, Dick posits that real humans must either be herbivores, or omnivores who can regulate or turn off their appetite for meat.

Because the Nexus 6 androids are manufactured by a commercial entity, the aim is for their product to satisfy the test for human qualities. The more precise the tests become, the more sophisticated and human the androids become. What Nexus 6 cannot achieve, Nexus 7 will.

The problem is that the androids can still be permitted or programmed to be predatory. The more they can escape detection, the greater the threat to mankind.

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who is one of the few safeguards between humanity and predatory androids. His function is to identify and kill androids who have returned to Earth from Mars (because they have been deemed to be predatory). To perform his function, he has to overcome his own empathy, which he does on the basis that you can kill something that would be your killer, more or less out of actual or anticipatory self-defence.

It becomes more problematical when the android has breasts, even if they are small, she is 18, the rest of her body is relatively childlike and she is seductive in her own right.

The challenge for Deckard is whether to terminate or fornicate and, if both, in which order. Needless to say, he adopts a typical curious, but practical, male approach to his predicament.

At first, Rachael doesn’t know she is an android, then, when detected by Deckard, like most cyber- or fantasy-women, she denies that she is either alive or human. Hence, like most cyber-relationships, the concern of the novel is to determine the point at which the inorganic becomes organic, and the intelligent becomes human.

The novel’s drama lies in the grey area in the middle of the continuum. Despite the fact that they have sex, the question for Deckard is whether, in the absence of sufficient empathy, he must kill his sexual partner.

This question arises on most weekend mornings around the world, usually in the mind of the woman (who as at the date of this review is rarely an android). Fortunately for guys, they are able to escape before the female fires a shot from her laser gun. It’s just that here, in the novel, the question is reversed, which means that a common or garden variety of male might procrastinate on the termination option in case he does not have evidence that would stand up to judicial scrutiny.

Some reviews of the novel suggest that there is a flaw in the plot, in that Rachael appears to have empathy, even though she has learned that she is an android.

My reading is that she is the first of a breed of android who is empathetic. She says she loves Deckard and, when he returns to his wife after killing all of her android friends, she kills his goat (in the absence of a rabbit). This is the vengeful act of a human, not an un-empathetic android.

Hence, human constructs have reached the point where, if not “human”, they deserve to be treated as human, the test being whether a male would fornicate with them (although as at the date of this review, this test needs to be fine-tuned in some cities and rural environs).

Dick is a profoundly philosophical writer whose novel cautions men to love their woman more than their goat and, if they don’t have a goat, to love them more than their sheep. If your lover is an android and you do the right thing by her, then hopefully she won’t dream of electric sheep (because this would be non-aspirational).

Dick is equally concerned with the public and private aspects of modern life.

Here, as in the case of Chandler and Hammett, the world of the private Dick is so imaginatively drawn that a film-maker of the profile of Ridley Scott would have enough content with which to imagine a totally different plot that could take place in the same world with the same characters (whether or not he had read the book or the treatment).

There is very little resemblance between the novel and the film “Blade Runner”, which is one of my top five favourite films and, on a good day, could knock “Casablanca” from its #1 perch.

No matter how much you might enjoy the director’s cut, the author’s cut is superlative, if not necessarily inferior or superior. The progeny of this novel is worth consuming in any and all of their manifestations.


SOUNDTRACK:


Vangelis - "Blade Runner" (Movie Theme)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VgNoK...

Vangelis - "Memories of Green"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBkMVe...

"She's a Replicant"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWPyRS...

"Tears in the Rain"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU7Ga7...

Rutger Hauer Discusses "Blade Runner"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7KYsE...

Brian Eno & David Byrne - "Quran"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUh8Ck...

White Zombie - "More Human Than Human"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0E0yn...

Fear Factory - "Replica"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RJsRQ...

"Moments Lost" - Music & Art inspired by "Blade Runner"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFCnJ-...

http://www.theverge.com/2013/11/6/507...

www.indiegogo.com/projects/moments-lost
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02/19/2014 marked as: currently-reading
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Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by sologdin (last edited Feb 22, 2014 05:46AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

sologdin question arises on most weekend mornings around the world, usually in the mind of the woman

aussie singles scene is brutal, eh?


s.penkevich Awesome. I need to read more PKD. And rewatch this movie again. I do so every couple years. GREAT review!


howl of minerva No view on whether Deckard's a replicant?


message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye sologdin wrote: " question arises on most weekend mornings around the world, usually in the mind of the woman

aussie singles scene is brutal, eh?"


The current weapon of choice is a balcony:

http://au.news.yahoo.com/nsw/a/213944...


message 5: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye s.penkevich wrote: "Awesome. I need to read more PKD. And rewatch this movie again. I do so every couple years. GREAT review!"

Thanks, spenke. It's a long time since I'd first read DADOES and I was expecting a few stylistic flaws, but it was excellent. I don't know how consistent his other books are though.


message 6: by Ian (last edited Feb 22, 2014 01:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye howl of minerva wrote: "No view on whether Deckard's a replicant?"

In the film, he is. In the book, it's toyed with a few times in terms of whether he will do another test.

(view spoiler)

What do you think? Anybody else?


howl of minerva In the film think it's strongly implied, depending on which of the 27 versions. In the book I think it was deliberately ambiguous to leave you with a lingering paranoia but it's been a long time since I read it.


Stuart So you've encountered some android women in your time, have you? Even if you suppressed the homicidal urge that Decker did (though the other detective was quick to kill without empathy), does that mean you are human for suppressing it, or an android for not succumbing to human emotion? In either case, you've touched on a part of the book not often brought up, and certainly rich in moral ambivalence.


message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Stuart. As your question implies, humans and androids come at the issue from opposite directions, but converge in the middle, which was probably what made me use the word continuum.The empathy level of a Nexus 6 might have ended up more like a "normal" human than even a "schizophrenic". By being more empathetic than a schizophrenic, they had compromised the reliability of the test. However, given that both beings were organic, ultimately androids had become human enough to be treated "as if" they were humans. It didn't matter whether they were a human descending or an android ascending. They had met in the middle. They were also going from solitary to social. The social presumably suppresses the Killer in us, unless society is threatened. Phil Resch was trapped in authorised Killer mode and felt no empathy for the androids. Mind you, (view spoiler)

As for close encounters with androids, the advantage of cyberspace is that nobody knows you're an android. Still, I've never killed anybody I've slept with, or slept with anybody I've killed.


message 10: by Riku (last edited Feb 22, 2014 09:56PM) (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian, where do you think PKD's depiction diverges from Asimov's many attempts at mapping the gap between sentience and empathy?

Great review, of course!

(I have only seen the movie - pls excuse if my question is stupid - I blame your review!)


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Riku. I wish I could answer your question, but I haven't read Asimov since my early teens and couldn't make a comparative judgement. The Nexus 6's were probably all breaking the three laws of Robotics, though not out of empathy. I guess there must have been an intermediate stage of sentience where they had free will, which might have given them the ability to do both good and bad. Sentience doesn't necessarily imply empathy. Empathy as a human trait might create an ability to transcend evil and killing (subject to self-defence). Empathy and one-ness were elevated to a theology in the form of Mercerism, which I would like to have written about, but it would have made for a much longer and disparate review. At one point, Deckard asks whether androids have souls. I guess if they have empathy, that must be the next logical/spiritual step/question.

Sorry if this was a stupid answer. Happy to respond to a recast question if I missed the point.


message 12: by Riku (last edited Feb 22, 2014 10:50PM) (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "The Nexus 6's were probably all breaking the three laws of Robotics, though not out of empathy."

Thanks for the detailed answer, but if you will excuse me, I will again pick a single point to discuss.

In Asimov, the robots transcend their programmed laws out of empathy. And to take the 'Selfish Gene' example, we could say that humans transcend their programmed laws out of empathy?

Then, what do you mean when you say that 'The Nexus 6's were probably all breaking the three laws of Robotics, though not out of empathy.'?

Why would they break any programmed laws (assuming there were some)? What motivates them?


PS. To anticipate, the 'empathy' of Asimov's robots is an outgrowth of their last law - we could argue the same for humans, again. I think Asimov was pretty rich, psychologically. I think I should write an Asimov review on this theme... hmm


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye I'll need you to explain what you mean when you say: "In Asimov, the robots transcend their programmed laws out of empathy."

I'm not sure to what extent the androids were programmed to obey the three laws.

I'd have to check to see what motivates them. However, in general, I think they had developed free will, so they were experiencing freedom.

The Nexus 6 androids killed their masters on Mars and returned to earth illegally. They had broken Asimov's laws. I meant that they hadn't broken the laws motivated by any sense of empathy with anybody.They had not developed empathy with humans, although it's arguable that they developed empathy with each other. They acted as a team and described each other as friends. Rachael was slightly different and had developed empathy that extended to at least Deckard.


message 14: by Riku (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "I'll need you to explain what you mean when you say: "In Asimov, the robots transcend their programmed laws out of empathy." "

Well, in my understanding they were able to overcome the three laws by invoking a judgment call based on the zeroth law: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

That vagueness allows empathy to arise. Could it be that flexibility in laws is required for empathy is what I was curious about - wanted to know what explanation PKD gives for 'developing' it - in Asimov, the explanation is the 0th law - an out for the 'programming' to start reasoning with itself.

How are we to understand the 'developing' of empathy with each other/with one human in PKD? And is it right to call it empathy, if they are being selfish (as it sounds like)...?


message 15: by Ian (last edited Feb 22, 2014 11:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Dick explains empathy almost historically or in terms of evolution.

The starting point is a type of selfishness that is an extension of a survival technique. If we are carnivores, we must catch and kill. (We don't care about what our prey thinks about this. Witness wildlife documentaries.) While we are solitary, we also engage a self-defence mechanism. However, we tend to switch it off as we form groupings or society. Society then allows us to develop empathy and switch off or tone down the killing instinct.

The Martian-based androids who have returned to earth are empathetic with each other, but not with humans. They are selfish and free, and thus become a threat to mankind.

Rachael has remained on earth, is still a Nexus 6, but is part of a program to develop a Nexus 7 that will reveal empathy in tests to differentiate humans and androids. Thus, the goal of her manufacturer is to make a human construct that cannot be differentiated from a human (in the film, they describe this as "more human than human").

The androids are organic, but with some programming. However, there is free will and, in some cases, an empathy that is supposedly more than simulated.

In a way, the programming is not like a 100% determinative programming as in software, but a framework within which to set free will, like DNA.


message 16: by Riku (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "Dick explains empathy almost historically or in terms of evolution. The starting point is a type of selfishness that is an extension of a survival technique. If we are carnivores, we must catch and..."

I think I get it now. But I still don't get why the programmers left the option open... (especially for the N6s)


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Riku wrote: "I still don't get why the programmers left the option open... (especially for the N6s)"

I think the best explanation is that they are organic, not purely electrical or electronic. They are a quantum leap above electric sheep. Programming isn't the only input into the outcome.

The step from Nexus 6 to Nexus 7 will involve "modifications of its zygote-bath DNS factors".


message 18: by Riku (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "Riku wrote: "I still don't get why the programmers left the option open... (especially for the N6s)"

I think the best explanation is that they are organic, not purely electrical or electronic. The..."


So the 'organic component' is the out. cool. That is what I was curious about. I want to see someone really reaching empathy without an 'out' inbuilt. :(


message 19: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye The novel is based on heirarchies. Humans dream of/aspire to own actual animals. The title asks the question whether the androids dream of electric sheep. We make pets of the next step down in the "animal kingdom". Programming might be more definitive at a lower level of human construct, whereas further up the chain the organic and free will aspects play a greater role. The idea of an "out" mightn't recognise this intermediate level of organic human constructs? They have come so close to being human that they are almost indistinguishable from humans. Which is their manufacturer's goal.


message 20: by Riku (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "The novel is based on heirarchies. Humans dream of/aspire to own actual animals. The title asks the question whether the androids dream of electric sheep. We make pets of the next step down in the ..."

Wonderfully put, Ian. I need to read the book. Because, I keep coming back to the question, how does it matter what the manufacturer's goal was if the result was random... The movie didn't address any of these complexities. have you seen it??


Michael Love your review, Ian, and dig the discussion with Riku. What a team you guys make.

The book should get a prize for most evocative title. (It kind of goes with Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" and Murikami's "The Wild Sheep Chase").


message 22: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Michael wrote: "Love your review, Ian, and dig the discussion with Riku. What a team you guys make.

The book should get a prize for most evocative title. (It kind of goes with Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" and ..."


Thanks, Michael. Why isn't there more fiction about sheep? This reading finally allowed me to get some understanding of the meaning of the title.


message 23: by Ian (last edited Feb 23, 2014 11:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Riku wrote: " I keep coming back to the question, how does it matter what the manufacturer's goal was if the result was random... The movie didn't address any of these complexities. have you seen it??."

The outcome wasn't totally random. In the novel, it was part of the manufacturer's quest. Maybe how they achieved it involved a bit of of experimentation.

In the film, I agree there is a greater level of randomness, because it presumably triggers the return to earth in order to confront Tyrell. However, the film is a totally different beast to the book. Even the name of the manufacturer has been changed.

By the way, in the film, Rachel is sent out of the room when Deckard tells Tyrell that she is a replicant. In the novel, she remains present in a strange three way discussion. "Does she know?"

I stopped counting the number of times I'd seen the film at about 20.

The first time was when it had first come out. It was a Sunday afternoon. I came home to iron a shirt for the following day, turned off the iron, and went back into the city to see it again. I wasn't ready for real life yet.


message 24: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Riku wrote: "I need to read the book."

Please do, so we can discuss Mercerism!


message 25: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Also, stay tuned for news about Blade Runner 2:

http://www.empireonline.com/news/stor...

Note the mention that Ridley Scott was not keen on the possibility that Deckard might be a replicant. I thought this was resolved?


Matthias Great review Ian! I agree on this novel being profoundly philosophical, who could it not be when it deals with men having created life.
I've just started thinking about this while reading your review, but the absence of nature is an absence worth mentioning I think. The few real animals that are still around are coveted by all and paid for dearly. It seems that after having lost nature, people have lost their original reference point, and their own nature in a way. Their own moods are controlled by machines, their feelings channeled through their ascent on the virtual mountain with Mercer. Instead of being part of a system, they are now on top of a system that they have created. Both Mercer and their need for owning animals show people's desire to find their own true nature again, before they themselves become more and more like the androids they created. That's why I think their convergence works both ways: Tyrell Coorporation produces ever more human androids, and humans become ever more android-like. It's not a pretty picture, but PKD paints it very well.


message 27: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye Thanks, Matthias. I think you're right about nature.


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