Can a machine have a soul?

The title of the book, “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” is sure to catch the attention of some passerby, but it brings up the question, can a machine have a soul?

The world of this book takes place after a terrible war has wrecked planet Earth. A war that cut down the population of humans and changed the way everyone lived. It is an interesting premise for a science fiction story, especially since its set place on the damaged planet rather than one of the many alien worlds. The androids of this world are also another interesting component, especially the ones that murder their masters and run off. It brings the question, why? Did the android get tired of having no purpose of its own? or did it feel superior to its master? I am sure that their reasons will be given later in the book, but comparisons can be made to slavery. These androids look as human as an actual human being, and are capable of being much smarter than the average human being. They are chained to the will of their masters, and their only reason for existence is to serve the will of their owner, as a workhand or a servant. On page 17, there is even a reference to slavery, “-duplicates the halcyon days of the pre-Civil War southern States!”. That’s how they are marketed, as your personal slave. They are just machines so it does not matter! A feeling I’m sure the androids don’t agree with.

Another major component that I have noticed is the importance placed on animals. The character Rick Deckard, who I believe is the protagonist, is consistently thinking about animals. He owns an electric sheep, basically an android version of a sheep, but desperately wants to own a live animal. His constant inquiries into the purchases of animals and his possession of a catalog which he carries with him all the time and uses all the time speaks volumes to the importance of animals in this world. It is not clear why that is, but by inductive reasoning, it can be assumed that after the war wiped out many of Earth’s creatures, there was a large effort placed into keeping these animals alive. Perhaps it is a way for humanity to atone for their sins? To correct the damage done to the planet? It is unclear where the importance of animals came into the world, but they are used as a way to prove that the owner of the animal has some empathy.

Empathy is important part of these people lives. It is practiced through the care of the animals, as well as through the use of a device called the empathy box. It seems the empathy box allows people from all over the galaxy to join together in the struggle of a single man  on his difficult journey. Together they experience his hardship. Somehow this helps people become more empathetic, a feeling that is greatly valued. Again like the animals, it is a mystery as to why that is. Did the war cause so much horror people needed a way to retain their humanity? I have no idea, but I hope the book can provide an answer.

A theme I have noticed throughout the book is silence. Several times silence, or emptiness, is described as an actual thing, rather than just being the absence of noise. On page 20, a description is given as to how silence moves in after the television set has been shut off. It is also mentioned with all the empty houses that exist in this desolate world, as well as loneliness.

The ideas of empathy and emptiness point to an idea that the Author is trying to convey. This combined with androids, machines who are unable to empathize, and the question as to whether a machine is capable of having a soul has caught my interest into the story that Philip Dick is trying to tell.

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