Does it make sense to be underwhelmed?

As I said in class when asked how I felt about the novel; I’m a little disappointed. That mostly stems from the speed at which everything was ‘resolved’; in other words it felt really rushed. We go from the St. Francis Hotel, to Isidore’s apartment, to Rick’s apartment, then to some where up north of San Fran for some reason, then back to Rick’s apartment.

In regards to the androids, why develop characters only to give them such an unfulfilling and mundane end. The confrontation between Roy Baty and Rick was most underwhelming, especially due to to how fearful Rick made Baty out to be [chp(16):paragraph(3)]. Priss Stratton went to meet met her demise in half a page, even though she had a chapter or so dedicated to developing her [chp 6,7,18]. I suppose you could argue that the author was trying to paint them to ‘ultimately be a machine’. I just feel unfulfilled as these characters probably had more to offer, and should have put up more of a fight.

You might be saying that I’m glazing over very interesting details. That may be true, but in this case I’m viewing the narrative in macroscopic perspective. Take for example a forest. The insects, or the decay a fallen of a fallen tree, the activity going on in a small river, or the many other small elements that contribute to what we call a ‘forest’ may seem interesting. However its the culmination of all those parts together and seeing to where every ends up is what matters to me at the end of a plot. Which ultimately seems to be just Rick having a reconnect with his wife [chp 22:pp241-244].

Another gripe of mine of this story is Mercerism. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how this element is able to exist. As I understand it some old retired drunk somewhere in Indiana, communicates to everyone in the solar system through ’empathy’ boxes. What are empathy boxes? Who distributed them? Is this Wilber Mercer character some kind of powerful psionic? If so there’s no mention of it. How did he communicate with Rick [220:p4] without an empathy box? Whats with the barren terrain and the hill Wilbur is always trying to climb? I can see what it could mean, but what does it actually mean. All these questions seem to go unanswered, at least to me.

It seems all androids in the narrative have some sort of connection with each other. Almost as if they are working together to further their own cause. At the end of chapter 17, it seems as though Rachel knew what buster’s special was going to be about. On pages 208 and 209, the three androids also seemed to know what Buster was going to announce. When it was later revealed that Buster was an android it really cemented the idea in my head that they, all the androids, might be working with each other. In chapter 17, Rachel seems to allude to the fact that the Rosen Association had purposefully sent her to intervene in Rick’s hunt for the androids. If this is the case then we can assume that the Association is playing a large part in helping preserve renegade androids. If so, why?

Lastly my answer to the questions, “What does it mean to be human?” or “Is there a difference between humans and androids?” would simply be: does it really matter? One of the main plot points is that these androids are so advanced that the only way to determine their ‘race’ is if they have a certain amount of empathy. At that point is it really relevant to test them? They feel and cooperate with one another, and have the ability to want higher statuses for themselves. Aren’t humans just organic machines anyway?

“The electric things have their lives too.”

As the novel comes to an end, one of the biggest things I took away from the final chapters was Rick’s transformation and emersion into Wilbur Mercer. In addition to this, we also understand that “Mercerism” is said to be a false religion by Buster Friendly. However, Deckard claims it is real. It’s as real as you make it to be. In chapter 21 Rick tells his secretary “Mercer isn’t a fake,” he said. “Unless reality is a fake.” Throughout the novel, especially within these last couple of chapters, we as readers are constantly question one thing against the other. What makes humans different than androids, electric animals versus real animals, and reality versus virtual reality? I believe it’s P.K.D’s way of saying that it really doesn’t matter. In my opinion, Iran had it right all along when she felt bad for those “andy’s” in the beginning. You see toward the end of the novel that they themselves show levels of emotion and empathy, especially when Rick shoots Mrs. Baty. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Baty,” Rick said, and shot her. Roy Baty, in the other room, let out a cry of anguish. “Okay, you loved her,” Rick said. “And I loved Rachael. And the special loved the other Rachael.” (pg. 112 PDF version). Here the android showed their sign of emotion and empathy, crying in pain as his loved one died. Again, this is P.K.D’s way of challenging us to question what it is that makes us human, and whether or not androids are really that much different.

Another interesting way P.K.D. uses challenging themes is when determining what is real versus what is fake. This ties directly with the question of human versus non-human or “humanoid.” Humans are perceived to be the “real” ones while andy’s are the “fake” ones. But it gets blurred, as we see Rick falling in love with Rachel and John falling in love with Pris Stratton. However, we also see this when trying to determine the difference between real and fake in terms of our own consciousness. Wilbur Mercer begins to appear outside of the empathy box to Rick and John. Objects that hit Rick and John manifest themselves as real wounds when they are no longer in the empathy box. In addition, we see that Phil Resch is indeed a human, but you’d never know by the way he acts and his lack of empathy. It is this constant question of what is real versus what is not.

All in all I think the novel was a great way to make us evaluate ourselves as human beings. All of us are equal, despite any differences we may have. Rick begins to realize this as he questions the morality of killing androids. Toward the end, he asks Mercer and his wife if what he is doing is wrong, which he did not do before. He says to his wife “You were right this morning when you said I’m nothing but a crude cop with crude cop hands.” (chpt. 21 pg.121 pdf). Rick begins to have empathy with electric things, and is symbolically represented through the toad, which he now views through Wilbur’s point of view. It isn’t fake unless reality is fake.

More Feels. More to consider.

It’s challenging to not encompass the rest of the novel in my post. After reading the whole thing I feel the need to talk about all of it, especially my thoughts about the story’s conclusion. Regardless of that, there is no shortage of things to talk about in the span of ten chapters. If I do however mention some things that go past chapter fifteen, then I do apologize in advance.

Unlike the previous chapters, these following ones seem to pick up the pace. The setting has already been described; less focus is dedicated to giving the reader a visualization of the world. Deckard the main protagonist has a clear objective, and the route to that objective is clearly defined. The objective being the elimination of the remaining six androids. In retrospect its easy to remember the course of events as each chapter is either Deckard working towards that final objective, or an aside third perspective on Isidore’s interactions with androids. More on Isidore below. As his pertinence to the story, among other characters, is something I questioned my entire read.

Such a simple and clear cut plot on the surface can ,and is , literally summed up on the back of the book; Joe-Shmo hunts rouge androids in a futuristic society. The real treat here is the interactions Deckard and Isidore makes with the androids. How through the course of the narrative, they are ultimately changed in some significant way, at it’s conclusion.

Deckard at the end of chapter Fifteen had to buy a goat to alleviate the stress incurred from his latest android ‘retired’, and his wounded ego from his experience with Phil Resch (p.170). I find two things interesting with this development. First is that he had ‘acquired’ an animal in exchange for the money he made killing a sentient being. Especially after killing Luba Luft, I’m sure Deckard had some internal conflict about buying that goat. Secondly, the repeated use of the term ‘retire’ in reference to ‘killing’ an android, seems a bit forced as to dehumanize androids. I think it would be kind of funny had the author used ‘end’ instead of ‘retire’, especially by today’s connotations of the phrase ‘end you’. We can clearly see where Deckard’s ’empathy’ for androids of the fairer sex is leading him(p183). I’m sure Resch had a hand in this respect (p143), however Deckard already admitted to having an attraction to female androids before his encounter with Resch(p95).

Isidore’s journey through the novel is some what of an enigma to me. I’m unsure of his importance, if any, in this story. My main understanding of Isidore is that he is the author’s tool to convey certain ideas. What those ideas are, can be up to debate. From my perspective, Isidore embodies the prospect of accepting androids as equals. This can be evidenced in that Isidore considers androids, humans, and animals equally alive and deserving of some measure of respect (p72,77). His character’s social standing in the story, mirrors societies perspective on androids. I find it intriguing that the author chose to embody such a concept, in a mentally deficient mutant.

However a lofty of a position in the narrative that may be, the execution of his tale is a lot less poignant. Most of his scenes with the exception for his introductory chapter, is him interacting or reflecting on artificial life.

I’d like to think that I was pretty spot on in my assumption that empathy, or at least the concept of it, is the central topic trying to be conveyed in this novel. When I say empathy I’m condensing the questions I’ve asked or implied in my previous post: What is it? What is it to Humans vs. Androids? What are the advantages and disadvantages of having it?

These are the questions I’ve gleaned from the story; as trying to either answer or bring it to peoples attention. In terms of what it is? I think the widely accepted definition of “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” explains it adequately enough. However, in this story you are constantly asking: “can a machine do this”?

If empathy as Deckard explains it in chapter three, boils down to a mechanism for beings of higher intelligence to better cooperate with one another. How does that explain the situation of the three remaining Androids? Actually, the original eight from Mars, since they had to band together to carryout their plan of escape. I constantly asked whether they felt camaraderie and ’empathy’ towards one another, in the latter chapters. Their bond could be described as something derived from a need to survive or better their situation in life. However, that line of thinking conflicts with the actions of Garland, Luba Luft, and Pokolov who chose to integrate themselves into Human society. Especially in the case of Luba Luft, who appreciated human art and music. She also showed a deep understanding of human vs. android psychology, stating “there is something very strange and touching about humans” (133).

In closing I’d like to leave everyone with some extra food for thought:

In regards to empathy, could we reference pack mentality viewed in animals? When I mention pack mentality, naturally many people would think of wolves or other predatory animals. However in many cases, especially with herbivores and omnivores, animals tend to gravitate to creating groups. Why? I’d suspect for an increased survivability, but is there something more at work? I’d like to pose that perhaps the P.K. Dick specifically killed off animal populations in this narrative to symbolize the death of the ‘natural’ empathy animals display towards one another.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking that interaction between humans over the internet, and there interactions between androids and humans in the story bear some resemblance. Over the internet it can be observed that people communicating through text show a large gap in terms of accountability. What I mean is that people act differently when interacting over a great distance rather than face to face. Often times that leads to a lack of ’empathy’ towards others over the internet. Text language is very neutral, almost devoid of emotion. This makes it hard to decipher the intentions of the other party. Can this lack of accountability be seen in the androids of the story? Perhaps the androids are considered to have no accountability for the emotions of others, android or human.

If androids really did dream, they probably dream about becoming human

This book, THIS BOOK! Its a great read so far, and it took me by the collar and forced me to read it, that’s how into the book I am, however, I felt, like many have said before me, this book was ahead of its time but also stayed in the past, almost like a “history repeats itself” scenario.

So the book takes place in a post apocalyptic, nuclear war torn future, in witch civilization is on the brink of collapse within the remnants of the populous on earth, and on the other end of this civilized society are the “smarter” half that migrated off world to live in colonies on other planets such as mars. Now when i mention that civilized society is on the brink of collapse i mean that on earth, everything’s messed up, there’s people divided based on basic human tendencies, for example intelligence, empathetic prowess and of course social stature, which brings me to my first point, my favorite messed up character, John Isidore. The introduction to this character perfectly blends imagery, setting and character, in that Philip K. Dick, (the author, but you knew that already :)) makes this character, like his surroundings, a dark, depressed shell of a person, who is, and here is where the “history repeats itself” comes into play, viewed as a lesser human being in the eyes of those around him. meaning that due to the radioactive fallout from what was called the Terminus World War, the “dust” as they so call it, is deteriorating the land, slowly and surely killing all of human life on Earth, but those who are greater affected are now called “special” which really is a derogatory term aimed at those who are dying faster than everyone else, or another commonly use term “chickenhead”, or the calling out of ones diminished intellectual ability due to the rapid decay of their cells via “dust”. The point that I’m trying to get across to you is that while I read John Isidores exploits, a sense of racism loomed in the air, or in my head, and as I stated “history repeats itself” the feeling of superiority over a specific people regardless of the circumstances, is always and always has been a constant factor in human physiology, the concept that being better than someone or being different than someone, whether it be through physical health, or the color of ones skin. A feeling of entitlement oozes from those that talk down to poor old John Isidore, which I thought was messed up, because in a society in which all life on earth is inevitably OVER, you would think that an advanced society in the year 2020 would look past such superficial aspects of another and instead learn to help and love one another, but that’s just my opinion.

Now to get into the part about the society in it of itself, its all messed up. due to the impact of the war, and the advancement of technology in this story, the government ordered the migration of all those who; were up to physical standards, could afford it, was deemed intellectually fit, and were willing, to other colonies off world on other planets. Now when I say “willing” I mean Bribed. Due to the advanced tech they had been developing, the government was able to offer all of those who left Earth to live in the colonies a personalized android FOR FREE, and no one says no to free stuff, no matter what. The android was customized and tailored to those it would belong to, it would obey and perform any and all acts that its master wished, and who wouldn’t want that? right? Well everyone wanted that, and everyone got what they wanted. Which brings me to my initial title sentence. Okay so because the advancement in tech, obviously there’s gonna be advanced versions,newer versions, of the androids that were given out for FREE to all the colonists. these androids became so advanced that they sort of have achieved sentience, by which i mean they can think, act and (sorta) feel, for themselves, so much so that a hand full of them actually kill their masters in the colonies and try there very hardest to get to earth, where they are illegal and prohibited from entering because of reasons. now to my title sentence, I’m not gonna lie to you there’s a lot that happens with these androids, like a lot, but what if that’s not the point? What if these androids mean something else? They have the advancements that allow them to think freely and do as they please, for example kill someone, but what if that means something more than what were labeling as machine rising up against us? What if the machine itself, strives to be human? What if it wants to learn empathy (a huge element in the story that serves allegorically and physically in the plot) and all the stuff that makes us human? In chapter 5 this thought came to me, “Does she know? Sometimes they didn’t; false memories had been tried various times, generally in the mistaken idea that through them, reactions to testing would be altered. No. We programmed her completely. But i think toward the end she suspected.” (p. 59) I don’t know about you, but when I read on after that I was like (bloosh) mind blown, because when you think about it, these androids aren’t killing willy nilly, there doing so to get away from something, or to experience something new. They have a synthesized version of the human mind, and the human  mind craves new experiences, maybe that’s what these androids are in fact trying to achieve, but since society deems them as property, or machine they cant, and just as i stated before, the scent of racism and segregation lingered. Since man created machine, man owns it, and if man creates machine with the mind of man, it makes no difference. that’s just wrong. its just a great big tease, why give them such advanced neural circuitry in the first place? But that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, cant wait to talk about in class 😀