What Defines Human? : Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

[(Essay dated 9 June 2010) In this essay, C.S. delves into the philosophical question of what it is to be human, as prompted by Philip K. Dicks, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? . The basic goal is to gather an understanding of Dicks vision of what it means to be human, and how the definition of human is blurred. As in this case with the usage of Androids, the human-resembling machines,which for the most part demonstrate human properties. ]


Cogito Ergo Sum: I think therefore I am , now there's a bold statement. However, is thought really the defining characteristic of humanity? In, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the androids, which can be defined as human-resembling machines, that are capable of thought, yet they are not 'human'. This is a fact that Rick Deckard, the novels protagonist has a hard time coming to terms with.

Rick Deckard, is essentially a bounty hunter, whom is hired to hunt down rogue androids and "retire" them. Although the androids don't consider it being retired, as shown by Pris,the android's statement: "A bounty hunter is a professional murderer who's given a list of people he's supposed to kill." ( Dick 145) Can you really murder a machine, or kill them for that matter? The fact that the "machine" is able to conceive death, and believes it is murder when an android is killed, clearly characterizes it in a way that would be human.

As Rick pursues the androids, he struggles with the morality of his actions. As time progress's, he is no longer 'retiring' them but killing them.A fact that Deckard is forced to reflect on later: "Something went wrong today; something about retiring them.It wouldn't have been possible for me to go on..."(169)

His complicated relationship with the androids can best be seen in Rachael Rosen, whom is an android. At first Deckard is unable to distinguish if she is an android or not, but then she takes the Voigt-Kampff Test, and he learns she is an android, something that she is unaware of. Rachael truly believed that she was a human until she learned the truth, she was completely unaware of the reality of her existence. Her existence was a lie. This revelation, is a startling one for Deckard, whom had heard of androids with false-memories before but never really dealt with one, but the fact that something could be ignorant to the truth about its existence is astounding. Eventually, Rick and Rachael engage in a romance of sorts which is completely ironic because a married man who kills androids for a living is "making love" to a "machine" instead of his own wife. In reality though, who was more the machine...Rachael or Iran (his wife)? When Rachael and Deckard "get together" , Rachael tells Deckard "I love you", love being arguably the most complex human emotion, there is. While on the other hand Ricks relationship with his wife is best characterized by the description of her "gray, unmarry eyes"(1) when she wakes up, followed by her bold statement " I don't want to be awake."(1). In reality Rachael is capable of more emotion than Iran which truly shows that although androids may not be human in the tradition sense, they still are capable of showing more emotion than even some humans.So in reality here Rick is hunting the very thing he has the most in common with. Rachael's statement "We're not born ; we don't grow up; instead of dying from illness or old age, we wear out like ants. Ants again; that's what we are." (191) , further demonstrates the complex thoughts that androids are capable of, as well as the bitter ,yet passionate sentiment that she creates about her feelings about life and death. Aside from her matter-of-fact and pessimistic tone, the comparison to ants is incredibly ironic, because one of the chief defining characteristics between androids and humans is the lack of empathy towards animals, and the comparison of her life to one of the lowest lifeforms is a statement in itself, yet her comparison to an animal could mean that when she 'fades from existence', no one will be empathetic, or care, just like if an android steps on an ant - with no empathy.

At times Rick is even forced to question his own identity, and humanity. When an android asks him if he himself has taken the test to prove his humanity, which he says he has, but what if it is a false memory like those of Rachael? The ambiguity on the matter is really what shows the struggle between what is human and not. When one is unsure of their own identity,it shows that they have the mental capacity to question their own existence, and in so doing according to many philosophical ideologies proves their own existence, but if that proves your humanity then the androids are also human ,which is not necessarily true in this case. This ambiguity is the philosophical point of which Dick is likely trying to demonstrate, because who are people to judge others of who they are, when we may not even truly know ourselves.

The relationship between man and the man-made machine can really be demonstrated best, between the contrasting ideas between, Mercerism, a pseudo-religion ideology, and the followers of Buster Friendly. Mercer is essentially the god type figure in Dick's future society, and is the representation of the humans hopes and passions. On the other hand the followers of Buster, whom is (unknown to most people) an android, do not believe in the teachings of Mercer. Instead they eventually gather evidence disproving the existence of Mercer, and showing it on television. This relationship could be interpreted in that god created man, and man created machine, but then the machines have destroyed god. The fact that androids are the creation of man, and yet they are capable of the complex thoughts and for the most part demonstrate some emotional capabilities could be an ironic statement about the advancement of technology, to the point where it is out of control.

In essence, the line between the living and the "artificial" is extremely blurred, and this is clearly demonstrated by Rick Deckards inner turmoil about the subject. Perhaps it would be best not to think necessarily of the androids as humans, or non-human but in their own category of the intelligent artificial; thus things would be classified as human, non-human and android. Furthermore, the relationships between the androids and the humans is symbolic of the relationship many people have with their-selves, in that they struggle to find meaning and identity in a world that as lost site of what it means to act and be human. This is seen in the character of Rick, whom although he is confronted with the situations with the androids, the experiences and philosophical questions asked by himself as a result of his journey, lead him to a better understanding of his own humanity, in that he could finally find a bit peace of mind and understanding in a future world, where many of the inhabitants had forgotten what it means to be human.

C.S. 2010





Self-Identity In : A Scanner Darkly

[(Essay dated 10 June 2010) In this essay, C.S. analyzes the loss of identity in Philip K. Dick's, A Scanner Darkly, and how with all the pressures of a society divided in two by the drug wars of the near future, can lead to the loss of your own identity, when you can no longer distinguish who you are and what your role is in society. Also, how the dangerous effects of drugs on the main protagonist creates a anti-drug theme, built around his identity loss.]

A Scanner Darkly, taking place in the near future state of California, deals with the loss of identity in a profound way. First of all, the society is divided into two main groups of people: the (drug)users and the non-users(the 'straights').Both groups cannot stand the other,and with a great number of the population addicted to substance D, a deadly new drug, many 'straights' prefer to just stay in their own secluded areas.

Just as society is divided by it's two opposite groups so is Bob Arctor, the main protagonist. Bob Arctor is a drug dealer, whom is hunted by the narcotics agent Fred. Unfortunately for Bob, he and Fred are the same person. Due to the secrecy of the undercover operation, Fred, the alias given to Bob when undercover, must hide his identity, even from those around him using a scramble suit.The scramble suit is symbolic of the conflict over his identity because the scramble suit works by constantly displaying images of other peoples faces and making your appearance have ever changing combinations, which is a statement about the ever changing identities of Bob Arctor and Fred, because he does not even know which is the "true him" .Meanwhile while he is 'Narcing' on himself , his identity of Bob is dealing drugs.

Although he is in fact doing his job, as an undercover he actually enjoys the drugs, and has become addicted to the brain altering substance D. Which essentially turns the brain to "mush". The way that it destroys the brain is also symbolic of the loss of identity, because it essentially divides the brain into two different sections, (which is crucial later on in the book), and just as his brain is being divided, he himself is being divided between the drug dealing Bob Arctor and the 'Straight'-employed Fred.

The paranoid and 'identity crisis' themes can be demonstrated through the following lines which characterize Bob Arctor. "Fred, Robert Arctor, whatever"(Dick 26) is constantly repeated through the narration, as is "Arctor-Fred-Whatever-Godknew"(29) which literally shows the confusion of identity experienced by the protagonist. He even personally questions his identity blatantly with "What is identity? he asked himself. Where does the act end? Nobody knows"(29). Furthermore, it is demonstrated in " To himself, Bob Arctor thought, How many Bob Arctors are there? Two that I can think of , he thought. The one called Fred, who will be watching the other one, called Bob. The same person. Or is it? is Fred actually the same as Bob? Does anybody know? I would know , if anyone did, because I'm the only person in the world that knows that Fred is Bob Arctor. But he thought, who am I? which of them is me?"(96)

Fred is spying on himself through the usage of Scanners, which are hidden around Bobs apartment, and record information about him for people to analyze later on to attempt to "bust" Bob. Fred and Bob's duality eventually results in Bob's realization about the Scanners, and thus himself, which is best described by the following quote of which the books title is likely derived: " What does a scanner see? he asked himself. I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner like they used to use or a cube-type holo-scanner like they use these days, the latest thing, see into me - into us - clearly or darkly? I hope it does, he thought, see clearly, because I can't any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone's sake, the scanners do better. Because, he thought, if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we'll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too." This line really shows the struggle Bob Arctor faces in realizing his own identity, his own identity, has become "murk[y]" and he cannot see clearly, just as he cannot clearly determine his true identity, but he hopes that someone out there can. From the title, Dick is likely trying to state that a 'scanner' cannot tell us who we are, that is up for us to decide, and how others view us will be "murk[y]"if that is how we view ourselves, because only if we know who we really are - and that is how we portray ourselves, is how we will be perceived.

Through this identity loss Philip K. Dick is actually able to make(among other things) a powerful anti-drug statement, in which the effects of abuse of substances, both real and fictional such as substance D can cause the loss of identity in yourself and extreme paranoia. After-all , whats the point if one can't even identity ones-self? At the conclusion of the novel, Arctor is admitted to a 'rehab clinic' after his brain has been basically reduced to mush, where he is renamed Bruce, just another identity in his vast repertoire. Where he finds a flower growing in the field, in a turn of events, the rehab clinic was the manufacturer of the lethal substance D all along(pretty ironic), and it was them that had turned him into the paranoid wreck of a man and destroyed his identity. So it is in this way and various others that Dick, is able to make a statement against the usage of drugs, using the character of Arctor and his identity loss to characterize his slow descent into self-induced death , because he was slowly being whittled away by the harmful effects of drugs,in particular substance D. After all, D does stand for death.

C.S. 2010