City Tech, Fall 2016

What’s The Difference?

Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep introduces us to some emotionless things. The line between living creatures and androids is blurred. Why blur the line? It can be inferred from the first few chapters that nothing is genuine, not even people, especially the people.

Iran awakes in a separate bed, hollow and distant.  She is aware something is not right. She is objectively aware, her mind is receiving information, but no response is being elicited from her. Dick writes “At that moment,’ Iran said, ‘when I had the TV sound off, I was in a 382 mood; I had just dialed it. So although I heard the emptiness intellectually, I didn’t feel it. “ (5) If Rachel had faltered for a millisecond in responding to an emotional eliciting question, what kind of condemnation is this for Iran?  Either the determinants for humanity are faulty, or the range for humanity’s emotion or lack thereof is boundless.

If empathy is indeed a determinant for humanity, there are seemingly few humans left. In John’s apartment, a TV belies humanity’s facetious empathetic nature. “The TV shouted, ‘- duplicates the halcyon days of the pre-Civil War Southern states!” (17) An announcer uses some perverse nostalgia of slavery to sell androids. There is no empathy for the slaves, history and the pain that time period had caused. Human life is just stock. Empathy is only ever shown towards animals and babies. Its bunk, a practiced premeditated emotion needed for survival.

Deckard second guesses Rachel, he’s a classic gumshoe. The final question reveals that Rachel is indeed a Nexus-6 Android. “The reaction had come, but too late. He knew the reaction period down to a fraction of a second, the correct reaction period; there should have been none.” (59) Rachel is ousted as an android, despite her being unaware. As a reader however, the test is negligible. Rachel has a striking personality, she wears perfume and recoils to touch. She is shocked, frightened perhaps, to find out she is an android. Iran on the other hand doesn’t respond to her vacuous mental state. It is either high praise for the android or condemnation for humanity. Perhaps Rachel is what we humanity should be, the idealized self in Dick’s post fallout world.

There is a paradox I’ve was reminded of recently, “The Ship of Theseus.” If a boat has every single one of its parts replaced and retains its image, is it still the same boat? If we create something precisely in our image, down to our essence, is it human? Dick’s novel shows that creating a definitive definition of humanity may cause for some of us to be excluded.


  1. Sky Captaina - Alex S

    That is a every interesting idea about “If a boat has every single one of its parts replaced and retains its image, is it still the same boat?”. on the one hand you can same it is the same model but everything about it is not the same as the old one. Sailors would say without a doubt that it is not the same ship particularly if they have severed on it before. now if you change half of it then them may still say that is the same in sprite but not in form. so long as a part remains true to what it was when they were on it, it will remain the same ship. but to an outside eye it will be the same, it will not know of that scratch from that one time some fell or that hole from a shell that hit the deck. to know if something is real is to see it before and after something, only then will you know if it is still the same.

  2. Jill Belli

    Great response Johnny! I’ve chosen this a as “featured post” 🙂

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