Crowdsourcing what constitutes the “human” and the “authentic”

As part of our reading of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, we are exploring what it means to be human, in a world where both people and animals have their fake/electric/mechanical/non-living counterparts.

We are also exploring what authenticity means in a world where everything, including emotions (think the Penfield Mood organ), empathy (Mercerism), beings, products, etc. can be simulated. You might consider the andys, the Penfield Mood Organ, notions of empathy,  the implantation of false memories, the Voight-Kampff test, (etc.), as well as the following questions:

  • What defines a “human” or “humanity”?
  • What distinguishes the real/genuine/authentic from the fake/simulated/ersatz? What is missing/lost/sacrificed (if anything) in these replicas?

(You can think about all of these questions, but especially the first two, above, in relation to the article, “Japanese professor creates uncanny, human-like robots, exhibit website, Android: What is Human? that we’re looking at for this coming week)


  • Who/what serves who/what? Who are the masters and who are the slave? Who are the superiors and the inferiors?
  • What are the relationships (colleagues, friendship, sexual, love, etc.) between different types of beings?
  • What is a real “emotion” if it can be simulated on a Penfield mood organ and what is real empathy if it can be simulated through Mercerism (and tested, perhaps, by the Voight-Kampff)?
  • What about fertility/reproduction (with Deckard’s neighbor’s horse, with the regulars/specials, with Mercer bringing dead things back to life, with having to deal with a post-apocalyptic world that is mostly dead)?
  • What kinds of competing sets of values are at play?
  • What are central conflicts of the novel?

I am also particularly interested in us tracing how, through their interaction with andys (and their particular positions in the world: Bounty Hunter and special/chickenhead, respectively), Rick Deckard and John Isidore D-503 move from merely embodying values/norms of their society that they have have already internalized, to developing individual, (perhaps rebellious?), free-thinking understanding about the world and their places in it, and the hierarchy of beings (living and otherwise).

[The Logistics]

Just a reminder that you should make your at least one comment (just hit “reply,” either to my original post or to another comment on it) by Sunday (3/1). Then go back/read through all comments and extend the conversation by making at least two more comments (of course, more are always welcome!) in response by Tuesday 3/3. 

Your comment (reply) can be just a few sentences: provide the quote/citation and a quick explanation of how/why it functions in the context of some larger issue/question (or you can raise questions, complicate issues, extend discussions, analyze a character, or setting, etc. &/or discuss central conflicts/values/themes through the use of your evidence/analysis). Feel free to post multiple comments, and also to respond to others. If you’ve already discussed some of these instances in your previous blogs or in class, you should feel free to draw on that material.The goal is to have some good virtual discussions here to help you think critically about important themes/questions raised by this complex novel, and to find/analyze/synthesize various pieces of evidence in support of claim.

The goal in all cases is to provide specific examples from the text (quotes/citation) with discussion/analysis and some connection to a larger claim/argument. You must cite currently in MLA format (in-text citation).

23 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing what constitutes the “human” and the “authentic”

  1. In the book real emotion is something that a lot of people don’t really use and you see in the beginning how the mood organ takes away from real emotion. Iran talks about setting her mood organ for the day and says ” My schedule for the today lists a six hour self-accusatory depression”.(4) The mood organ can’t give that feel of raw emotion what ever it may be happiness, sadness, fear or strength. One time in the book I feel like Rick actually experiences real emotion is when he realizes Polokov is the Russian officer he says ” You’re not Polokov, you’re Kadalyi” (92). This shows that he was startled or scared so much that he mixed up the people and there names in his head. Real emotion makes you have a a real reaction to something.

    • I agree with you and I don’t agree with you at the same time. I feel like the humans overall show very little emotion, but it is, however, still present throughout. Keeping that in mind, the andys tend to show more overall emotion, which plays into the question: how do you define what is real and fake? Additionally, the mood organ is only mentioned sparingly, which makes me think that i’s purpose wan’t to emphasize emotions. Instead, the mood organ is used to compare the humans to andys. B

    • I forgot to mention this in class but it could be possible that the mood organ or even to an extent the fusion device is just the placebo effect. Deckard on his own feels the same emotion without the need of the mood organ and even fused with mercer without the fusion device.

      • There’s all of this technology in this book to simulate human emotions like empathy box or mood organ and the humans use this and yet androids are programmed to simulate a human life as well as emotions, except empathy, but the androids are valued less than a human and viewed as cold lifeless shells but I see humans in post World War Terminus as the lifeless shells that used to be human and live off simulating basic human emotions

    • Feeling an emotion and emulating one are two totally different things. In the novel, androids have the ability to simulate human beings and their reactions to events. To them, that’s all emotions are; reactions. To us, this phenomenon is something more. We can feel the surge of emotions roaming from our thoughts, throughout our body. This is something a machine would never be able to emulate. Unless you’re a cylon; but that’s a whole other story.

  2. This can be pulled back to what is the definition of human. Homosapiens(humans) and gorillas or not that far off in the gene pool. So what separates us from them? Is it culture or is it the evolution of our mind. One would think we humans are smarter than chimpanzees, but studies show they also have intellect. Did you know you can open a bananas from the black bottom part? Chimpanzees use this because it works regardless of how ripe the banana is. The same concepts can be implemented to figure out what differs from us “Humans” and androids.

  3. What does it mean to be human? I think watching/reading the progression of John shows how backwards the idea of humanity really is. Of all the characters, he shows the most empathy towards life. From trying to revive the cat, to helping Pris and the rest of the Andy’s he is one of the only characters to actually care for others. Even when they start treating him like a slave (204), he still tried to be helpful. Its interesting as they treated him the way they were treated on Mars. Only after seeing how cruel they could truly be does he stop helping them. (211) After their retirement, he feels sad, even with how they treated him.

    • I think he might have more control of his emotions because he seems to use the empathy box a lot because he is alone and there is no real mention I can recall of him using or even having a mood organ. Maybe not having one taught him how to control and use emotions in a better way.

      • That’s an interesting point. I would counter that Iris used the mood organ just as much, if not more, but then again, she wasn’t a special, so you definitely bring up a good point!

    • Isidore is probably more in tune with his emotions than other characters we encounter because he basically lives alone in an abandoned building and only really interacts on a daily basis with his boss and the other worker at his job. Living such a solitary life, he most likely doesn’t take for granted the few human interactions that he has, which is clear when he becomes excited at the prospect of there being someone else in his building when he meets Pris for the first time. When the other androids appear he is just so happy to have company, regardless of them being andys. And as you say, he felt sad at the end, he actually started crying when he saw Pris’ retired body. He’s definitely the most “human” character in the novel. “Human” by our standards anyway.

      • Keeping the idea of what a human is in on our standards is definitely something to keep in the back of your mind because the standard is completely different in that society so that is a really good point to mention.

  4. What does it mean to be human? Well, Dick has a lot of theories, but it seems that his two major points are: empathy and instinct. In the last class, the general consensus seemed to be that everyone wanted a more climactic death for the androids, as the one in the book was to quick. It was, however, a great scene. It seems that everyone is glossing over the presence of the spider, not realizing how important it actually was; the death of the andys is actually related to the spider. But Surge how is that possible, surely the spider was just a product of Dick being completely stoned when he wrote this. No sir, it was indeed intentional. Let me break it down: “For one thing, the empathetic faculty probably required an unimpaired group instinct; a solitary organism, such as a spider, would have no use for it; infact it would tend to abort a spider’s ability to survive. It would make him concious of the desire to live on the part of his prey. Hence all predators, even highly developed mammals such as cats, would starve(31).” Long quote, I know, but it is important. When the Roy and Imgard kicked the bucket, Dickard simply said “I’m sorry” to Imgard before he shot her and one more sentence to Roy before he killed him (223). How does this relate to the spider? Well, Deckard expressed his belief that the andys are like spiders, because they are both solitary organisms that have no use for empathy as it would get in the way of their predatory instincts of survival(31). But isn’t that what Deckard di? See, Deckard had gaine empathy for the female androids Rachael and Luft; he began to see the andys as more than just andys. But when he killed Imgard he abandoned his empathy as it interfered with his predatory instinct. Additionally, he makes a living by killing andys, so having empathy for them would interfere with his ability to survive. The spider works as a two way street as well. It serves to prove that Deckard lacks a sense of humanity while the andys are more human than our protagonist. Roy baty was built up as a behemoth, Deckard feard facing him, but when he died his empathy prevented him from being able to survive; instead of focusing on Deckard he was too busy being devastated by the death of Imgard, giving Deckard the opportunity to deliver the finishing blow(223). In the end Deckard proved that it was he who was most similar to the spider due to his solidarity throughout the book and survival instinct, compared to the andys empathy for each other seen through their group instinct. Dick is clearly stating that humanity is defined by empathy for another living thing; just being a human being is not enough to make one HUMAN. The grand message of Dick’s book is that anybody who robs someone of their rights because of slight aesthetic differences lacks humanity. Specifically htis applies to race, as this was written during the civil right movement, and the andys have many comparisons to the atrocities that black people suffered in past generations.

    • See, i kind of see the Spider as a representation of John more than Rick. Like the spider, he was mistreated by the Andy’s, with them willing to sacrifice him as a 1st line of defense against Deckard. When Roy sets up the field to disorient humans, he shows no regard for Isidore, just like how Pris was with the spider. When he gets a second chance with his new healed spider from Mercer, its like his second chance at living after Rick retires the Andy’s.

      • That’s actually an interesting point. I would like to believe the spider serves two masters considering my point has just as much evidence. They both embody two different aspects of the spider. The predatory instinct for rick and pain and suffering for isidore.

        • I definitely think that RIck and John are like Yin and Yang, or 2 sides of the same coin, or any other reference like that. I brought that up in class kinda. They each represent Mercers original powers, one for life and one for death. Like Professor Belli said, there is no right or wrong answer when interpreting the meaning of the text.

  5. I think that what constitutes the “human” in the novel, other than just empathy, is the ability humans have to think outside the box. Most of the decisions we see the androids make are based on logic, breaking down every statement and situation to its basics and coming up with all the different scenarios that can take place. We see this when Isidore meets Pris for the first time, where she says “You can call me Pris”, then after a few seconds she says, “No, call me Miss Stratton, because we don’t know each other” (68). Androids tend to think about everything too logically, explaining why they needed to find out why a spider needed 8 legs when it could presumably do fine with 4. In the end, this very logical way of thinking is what led to their demise, as they took Rick’s imitation of Isidore speaking to be real, making them open the door to him. On the other hand, when put under certain situations, a human would be able to “wing it”, to come up with a solution that is not always the most logical, such as Rick impersonating Isidore.

    • Your last words there ‘Rick impersonating Isidore’ such a deep detail into what is authentic and what isn’t, the androids are impersonators themselves living fake lives to blend in to be human and Rick is doing what androids do to survive and that is impersonate and imitate life, it’s Ironic I feel

  6. According to the story, empathy is the one thing that separated the andy’s from the authentic. “An android, no matter how gifted as to pure intellectual capacity, could make no sense out of the fusion which took place routinely among the followers of Mercerism–an experience which he, and virtually everyone else, including subnormal chickenheads, managed with no difficulty” (30). But they are also so calculated in their actions that it makes it difficult to distinguish if they are andy’s or just sociopaths. Even though Rachael was an android she made a good point in how a bounty hunter could make a bad judgement in identifying an andy when it may not be one. “In a police dragnet I would have been killed” (53). All of the judgement in identification relies on a test that is only accurate in the eyes of the bounty hunter.

    • You know, now that you mention it, I find the whole VK test weird. How does asking questions and testing the “emotional” reactions from someone pass as a viable means of detecting androids? Why don’t they just do a blood test? Or does the Rosen Corporation actually put human blood in their creations? Man, that would friggin’ crazy. But anyways, there must be a simpler way.

      • The point is that there isn’t a simple way. They are just like humans in every way except for empathy. Dick intended the reader to find the persecution of the andys pointless and stupid, just like the way different races are persecuted for small differences such as skin color.

  7. I’d like to go back and reference something Iran had said in the first chapter of the novel. She had discovered an odd sensation while switching between channels on the television and dialing a mood. She had described it as hearing the emptiness intellectually, but not actually feeling it. Upon reflecting it further she mentions that such a thing used to be known as ‘absence of appropriate affect'(6). I’m not sure why most of you dislike Iran, she actually says some pretty interesting and layered things.

    Anyway I go on to look up if there is such a mental illness and lo and behold I found it. Refereed to as a blunted affect; it’s a clinical term to define a lack of emotional reactivity in an individual. What Iran seems to be saying is that she recognized the ’empty apartments’ as something to evoke emotion, but didn’t due to dialing a mood. This seems pretty analogous to what the androids seem to experience. They can register that humans would respond a certain way to certain stimuli, don’t actually ‘feel’ that way themselves, but are still able to form judgments and courses of action.

    If I want to find the differences between humans and androids, aside from their physical traits, I don’t really see much of a difference. At least in respect to the novel, androids exhibit personality attributes akin to humans. Androids have a sense of self preservation, as shown by Luft Luft spinning out of the way of Resch’s laser(130) or that the three androids prepared to ambush Rick in Isidore’s apartment. Androids show a sense of advancing their lot in life, evidenced by the eight androids escaping from Mars. Androids display a willingness to integrate and live with humans, as shown by Garland and Luba Luft living and working in plain sight. Androids are also able to form close bonds with one another, indicated when Rachel confesses that she had been close friends with Luba(199). The list goes on and on. At this point it wouldn’t be a question of what separates humans from androids, because the little differences that do separate them are already explicit.

    Arguing that because androids are programmed, that makes them ersatz is a bit disparaging. If right now I could write a program that acted, thought, and behaved exactly like me, yes, that would not be me. Why? Because the way it interfaces with the world is different from me. Now If I built a machine that could ‘sense’ the world as I sense it and programed it to act, think, and behaved exactly like me. If I also gave said machine my exact memories, then yes, I think that would be me. What else is there? In my case, evolution and circumstance are my programmer. In the hypothetical android’s case, the programmer is me. I’m not seeing much difference.

    I’ll end it here, and leave everyone with some interesting tid bits about androids:

    Kara from Quantic Dream’s PS3 tech demo, analyzed:

    David-8 from Prometheus (2012) analyzed in response to Kara:

    The above two articles give an interesting take on gender roles in media and in technology.

    Phenomenon exhibited by a good number of people in respect to artificial humanoid constructs:

  8. For the me the biggest thing that really caught my attention was the “mood organ”. For me the the mood organ is very important it’s the first thing that is mention to us. It’s how the novel starts we got these two “human” arguing about it, one has set it to be on full blown depression due to her lack of her surroundings always feeling lonely, which can also be consider lack of emotions in my opinion. While the other just wants to go according to his daily schedule. The mood organ is a device that allows you to feel certain emotions at the moment of now, for me it sounds like a quick drug that it’s immediate reaction is the emotion. The next time we meet our “mood organ” rick’s wife discovers how to use her own emotions without the device and we see a dramatic change in her attitude and character. And we see it again at the end of the day when Rick gets home and oddly goes to sleep on his own without using the “mood organ” to make him feel tired and sleepy. So is one of the lesson here that these two human manage to surpass the “mood organ” and learned how to produce their own emotions? I think so.

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