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).

Don’t shoot! I’m no Andy… i think

I know I’m late with the post but I still want to share what I thought of the first five chapters. First of all the introduction of the book gave me a good understanding of what to expect from Philip K. Dick’s characters. (Page viii) “These characters are often victims, prisoners, manipulated men and women.” Well these characters are victims, victims to the technology, surroundings, and themselves. So much of this can be discovered even on the opening of chapter 1-page 3, where it seems that every human  owns a technology called the mood organ. This mood organ is what makes people feel a certain way just by dialing in a specific number. No longer is mood something a human can naturally experience. They can adjust their mood organ and schedule to be in a certain mood, even dial in a mood to feel in the mood to dial in on their mood organ (refer to page 6, bottom of the page) “I can’t dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial!”. I can relate the world in this book to our own world in real life, advanced technology that can do almost everything for you…need to find the latest movie out in theaters right now? There’s an app for that, or just ask Siri. Need to arm your home security system but no where near your home, there’s an app for that too. Yea, sure, it’s not as extreme as a mood organ but you get the point. throughout these five chapters there are some themes constantly brought up throughout the story. First, the word empty and all of its variations is constantly brought up in the story. To describe how empty, abandoned, and alienated post World War terminus earth is and all non-emigrant citizens , regulars and specials. I had fun trying to figure out the difference between the regulars and specials. The regulars are made to seem to be better than the specials, having a superior social status when they’re just as flawed and stuck in a dystopian earth living off its remains. Specials like John Isidore face alienation from the rest of humanity, the regulars, feeling the emptiness and abandonment of this post WWT earth he “Wasn’t wanted” (page 21) “They informed him in a countless procession of ways that he, a special, wasn’t wanted. He had no use.” With Rick I find ironic being the bounty Hunter he is of androids, robots, the artificial intelligence that they are…yet we find him owning an artificial sheep. Not only that he searches for a new animal but ends up thinking of settling for another ersatz sheep (Page 34 paragraph 3). All these artificial things even ersatz substitutes of food (page 26) and the artificial eyelashes he sees on Racheal Rosen mentioned in the top of page 40 . I feel there is some deep secrets within the Rosen Association connecting them with the 8 rogue nexus 6 androids. Why else go else go to such lengths to basically trick Rick into falsely accusing Racheal of being an android and then trying to blackmail him, even though she actually is an android.

Maybe I’ll set my mood organ to relax.

This was an amazing read. I did not think I would enjoy reading this book after such a bleak and grim introduction to this universe. After telling us that this world has no hope and so much destruction that created it. Somehow, it is still habitable. People still going about their daily lives and having adventures. But what is making the story interesting is the bleak introduction I disliked.

While someone with much more experience than me can go and write a theses on why setting is so important, I’m just going to talk about how the setting of the story impacted me. We are first introduced to Deckard as he normally wakes up to go to work. But that’s not the important part. What is, is the mood organ we are introduced. It gives us the notion that in the world emotions is something that can change at the press of a button. From fits of rage (pg.4) to even controlling your wife (pg. 7). Can I just take a pause to mention that in this world, domestic violence does not seem apparent? Even though it’s a pretty bad way of controlling it, but what if the same setting existed for men also. This can also be the cause on why there seems to be no human on human violence in this world. There is a reason I mentioned humans specifically. 

Another way he sets up this world that caught my attention is the TV set. Somehow Dick kept mentioning it. The first time we were introduced to it I paid no mind to it. Now a days the TV is part of our daily lives so it has become the norm. But what stroke me as odd was that in the mood organ there is a specific settings that give you the urge to want to watch it (pg. 6). It seems like in this world they want you to watch the television set. On page 26 Mercer mentions he hears a TV 2-3 levels away, muffled but still audible. Now picture in a building where all the apartments are occupied. Don’t you think it would be possible that you can easily hear the television set in the next apartment? So even if you are not watching TV, you are still exposed to the sounds of it. The idea that in this world there is no escape from something so simple. 

Lastly I would like to mention the reason this world has turned to the gutter. W.W.T, World War Terminus. This essentially created the bow in which the gift of this world is placed on. Turns out that earth is not “habitable” any more. The huge portion avian race has been eliminated (pg.16). Then later we find out that most small animals like foxes and badgers became either extinct or endangered (pg. 43). Most human life emigrated to mars either to start a new life, or it could be that you get your own robot butler (pg. 18). Those that stayed either descend into madness, or just live a boring mundane life. 

So far all in all, this has been a really good read. Really was not interested until the real story picked up. Really enjoyed chapter 5. Normally I would be “Screw the Rosen Corporation!”, but in this world, you would have to look out for yourself. So I do not really blame them. This is kind of why establishing a setting can be crucial in a story.



DO androids dream about electric sheep Review

In “Do androids dream of Electric Sheep” Phillip K. Dick paints a grim vision of future in which AI (Artificial intelligence) is almost indistinguishable from living things. AI resides in robots called “andys” short for androids. Their form, looks, behavior is just like human. Most can blend in perfectly among humans. Very advanced types of androids are the hardest to identify as superficial entities as they appear completely human like. Only the hardest test on empathy can truly identify an android. Empathy, apparently is the hardest thing for Artificial Intelligence to emulate.

The setting of this book is in the near future on planet Earth. The main hero – Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, and his enemies are sophisticated androids who reside on Earth. Until 2021 nuclear warfare rages on the planet earth therefore most of living creatures are annihilated due to radiation from fallout and general destructive nature of war. In this post-apocalyptic world most animals are dead and people are willing to pay huge amounts of money for exotic pets. The role of domesticated home pets is filled by animal looking androids produced by Nexus Corporation. Funny and odd thing it’s that it’s a taboo to ask owners if their animals are real. The world is a chaotic place where TV is propagandized by government, elites leave earth for mars while androids want independence from humans.

Philip K Dick invokes a feeling of dread in his descriptions of destroyed Earth. People live kind of lives which are detached from reality. There are mood adjusters which dumb down normal human responses and people freely use them. The dystopic nature of future and in uncertainty about what I real and living vs what is dead and plastic is the main theme of first 5 chapters.

What Is this!?!!?!

-Karl Jagdipsingh

So first off as I began this reading I got lost in the idea of being able to choose ones mood using a machine. These “Mood Consoles” required codes to set moods that one would feel. I began to ask myself; “do they know all the codes by heart” which I felt was answered (P.2) when Iran was about to explain code “A 481” to Rick who interjected know the code already from frequent use. I noticed talks about buying real sheep rather than the use of electrical ones which i didn’t quite understand until (P.4-5) Rick talk with his neighbor about animals where he was trying to buy the fawn of his neighbors pregnant horse….. which was impregnated with plasma. The neighbor began to talk about how some people have from 1 to 5 pets which I felt was a representation of some form of class system as the person who owned five was the owner of an Algae processing plant. I also noticed when the explain how if a mechanical pet was malfunctioning they would call a repair shop who would masquerade as a pet clinic. This shows that society in itself is quite secretive about what people have…It made me feel like one guy had Ebola and they sent of a normal hospital car as not to cause mass hysteria.

As I read The story I notice “Mercerism” as a recurring thing which they explained as a new form of religion carried out through a Empathy box Connecting the minds and passing the teaching Of Mercer to others. (P.12) “You shall Kill only the Killers” a quote that Rick sits upon helps to show that Religion is not as straight forwardly kinds as Something such as Christianity or Catholicism but a trial of the mind. Rick Sees androids as a greater evil capable of exceeding their master and must be killed.

I personally dint understand Rick Character completely, he states that He wouldn’t really care if other found out he had an electrical animal but still He pushes the fact off attempting to buy a live one and even takes the time to check out the comparison prices of Electrical animals too their live counterpart. It seems that hes mentally stuck on the fact that society expects him to have one while hes slowly losing his want for it. I also didn’t understand emotions he felt towards losing his sheep because they were not presented,. As he saw the Owl and animal believe to be extinct he was quick to ask the owner price which at first was denied to him. Although later he offered the owl in a life Threatening situation (P.23) where if he were to die the owl would return to the owner ( he believes they will try to murder him) which he declines showing that although he seems desperate for an animal its not worth his life.

Around the End of the story we Find out The owl is fake and also the cleverness of Rick as a simple question about his suitcase reveals An android in front of his face. But as the last Sentences (P.24) “Assuming he made it through alive” shows a sense of worry about how his future with dealing with the Human like Androids will be.


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.

Do we need to empathy? v1

There were other worthwhile topics just in these five chapters that I could write papers about. Among them are: the utility and ethics of directly controlling one’s emotions via device, the need to follow status quo as seen by the care taking of animals, mercism, world wars – their causes and consequences, corporate duality, and so on. I feel instead the topic of empathy, how it is used in the story and in our own reality, is a more imperative subject.

Empathy is the catalyst of much of the plot in these first five chapters. It is both a curse and impetus for our character. Iran (pg4 line4) had accused her husband of being a murderer, can be viewed as evidence of guilt. However Iran’s emotions were affected by her ‘mood organ’, which she had purposefully set to make her feel loathsome. This is strange any way you view it, that is until you read the bottom of page 5. Iran explains that she had programmed her machine to induce a severe depression, to harmonize how she views her environment logically with a state of emotion. The emptiness of the apartments and the solitude the Deckards experience day in and day out, seem to have a huge psychological impact on them. Its seems as if that rather than the environment, the fallout, and the sunless sky, what really affects them is the emptiness and solitude of living on earth.

This solitude and ‘silence’ is given a name in chapter two; the void (20:20). Isidore a special or ‘chickenhead’, is a genetic reject by all of humanity. He cannot leave earth due to his mental decline and genetic mutation, and he is shunned by normal humans still living on earth for the same reasons. His state is a sorry one as although he fears the silence, as it reminds him of his forced solitude, he cannot turn on his television; the only ‘noises’ it would produce would be reminders of his rejection. It seems apparent that the concept of the ‘void’ is a type of mental disorder caused by the absence of human interaction. In Isidore’s severe case, his mind visualizes the ‘silence’ with all his senses (20:1-18).

As a side note chapters three to five were very interesting chapters; with way more content than I express in some 500 odd words. In the near future I plan to write more posts on those topics.

Chapter three is more of Rick’s reflection on work. Learning of his superior’s injury at the hands of a new model of androids, he takes it upon himself to familiarize himself with the Nexus-6; in the process reflecting on his outlook on androids. There was a quite few lines in chapter three by Rick that really caught my eye (30:26 -31:23). Rick rationalizes that empathy is a ‘double-edged sword’ that is wielded by groups non-carnivorous entities. In Rick’s point of view is afforded by humans because our sense of empathy allows us a certain connectedness with each other, enhancing our survivability.

The sense of needing to connect and needing to belong is heavily emphasized in these first five chapters. The lack of connectedness leads to apathy. It’s absence apparently leads to a sort of dementia.

This is where Rick’s rational bears some merit; as the ability to empathize elevates peoples emotions it can in turn collectively reduce them.

Passing the Voight-Kampff test

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The question itself sounds almost absurd, but as I read more of the novel, it starts to resemble a genuine question, and although I have a vague idea of where the plot is heading with the title alone, I don’t want to jump to conclusions before reading the rest of it.

These first five chapters have been an interesting read, although I do gt the feeling that there are some elements that have not been completely fleshed out so far, one of them being the setting. We know the exact year, and based on our discussion of ‘The Machine Stops’ in the last class, I try to imagine the “future 2021” that a person from 1968 (the year DADOES was published) would. I guess this is somewhat challenging as opposed to envisioning 2021 as we do today. The world I am building in my head while reading is a sort of retro-future, if that’s the correct term.

Parts of the story that have stood out to me so far are:

– Rick and Iran’s (and presumably anyone else that owns one) dependency on the ‘Penifold Mood Organ’ in order to start the day, by artificially administering hormones/chemicals into their body/brain. Although not fully explored, I have a feeling the Mood Organ, or the dependency thereof, will play an important part in the plot at some point. The mood machine and the way it operates might be symbolizing a chemical dependency of some sort.

– A post-apocalyptic Earth, where human reproduction is controlled by the government. The concept of “specials” as individuals carrying distorted genes due to radioactive toxic dust, and the measures men must take in order to protect their… seed.

– A strange religion, or belief system, called Mercerism, based on the possession of live animals and the ability to empathize with other living beings, and the “fusion” with the televised image of Wilbur Mercer, where the individual visualizes or hallucinates a connection to every other individual on Earth, with the hallucination having actual physical effects.

– The concept of  “emphatically underdeveloped” individuals, people who do not demonstrate the expected reactions to the Voight-Kampff test for discerning androids from humans, which (SPOILER ALERT) Rachael is described as before being revealed as an Android. The test itself seems to be about detecting slight physical reactions to verbal cues describing cruel or harmful situations toward animals (and a baby).This makes me wonder how much of the test is based on actual [in-universe] science, and how much of it revolves around Mercerism. Regardless of its basis, if there really is a small subset of humans that can fail the test and be falsely identified as a rouge andy, bounty hunters such as Deckard run the risk of “retiring” an actual person. I have a feeling this will become an important plot point as the story approaches its climax.

The conflict between man, machine, and emotions

The conflict between man, machine, and emotions

Through the first five chapters of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” I get a continual sense of despair and depression in this world. The humans that have survived this nuclear disaster that is called World War Terminus have conflicting values when it comes to emotions. It seems that the world they now live in has deprived them of all the feelings and emotions they used to have. The bleakness of their world is described as “morning air, spilling over with radioactive motes, gray and sun-beclouding, belched about him, haunting his nose; fie sniffed involuntarily the taint of death.” Rick Deckard, the bounty hunter who makes a living on killing androids, uses empathy as a way to tell the difference between machine and man. However, as we see in the first chapter, Rick and his wife Iran rely on technology to provide for them emotions and different ways to feel.

Another major conflict that arises is the battle between androids and humans. Apparently, one can hardly tell the difference between a Nexus-6 android and a human being. All the properties are the same, and almost all human emotions are replicated, except for empathy. Empathy, as we learn, is the reason why humans do not eat animals anymore. It’s the reason Rick Deckard desperately wants a real animal as opposed to his electric sheep. When Rick shows his neighbor Bill the control panel for his sheep, he replies, “Poor guy, has it always been this way?” This is why is frowned upon to question the validity of animals, it is described as much worse than inquiring about the validity of “a citizens teeth, hair, or internal organs.”

Animals are a reoccurring theme throughout the first five chapters of this novel. In the second chapter, a man by the name of John Isodore, who in a past life was a gifted child that had the ability to heal animals and bring them back from the dead. The police found out he was doing this and contaminated him with radiation to take this ability away. This has left him “chickenheaded,” and he uses an empathy box to escape his present reality and infuses his consciousness with that of Wilbur Mercer, an important figure who created Murcerism

Animals are also important to Rick when determining who is an android and who is a human. This test uses the Voigt-Kampff scale, which uses a series of questions related mostly to animals. The test has now come under question, and Rick believes the test does indeed work, but will do some further testing. After the death Dave Holden, a police officer, who was killed by an android, the Nexus-6 androids are becoming a danger to humans. When Rick starts to interrogate Rachel Rosen at the Rosen Associations (the place where they make the Nexus-6 Androids) he talks about various scenarios involving animals and she passes all questions. However, Rick determines that Rosen is indeed an android, but she doesn’t know it.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Louis Rosario
So far the book is a little slow, we have a character (Rick Deckard) that is longing to have a real animal of his own but can’t afford the animal he truly wants. He has a depressing life and a wife who can’t live without dialing a schedule to control her mood swings in order to survive a single day. He gives into her wishes, I guess to appease her. They live in a world that is described as a world of utter bleakness with fallout that is reported on just like the daily weather is on our television set by the local weather man today. They rely on a machine (I am guessing a computer called a Penfield) on which they dial certain numbers to give them false satisfactions or content to life. Again, I believe the story is slow; there are too many loose ends that I hope will come together during the next few chapters. I have to admit even though the story is slow I still find myself interested in the story line, but first I am going to reread the first five chapters again.