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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

by on October 16, 2012

Recently, I’ve been reading the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Not only is it the basis for the film Blade Runner (1982), but it’s a really interesting companion to our course in terms of the questions it raises regarding the divisions between human beings and androids. Our protagonist is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter tasked by the San Francisco police department to track down and “retire” (destroy) androids that have escaped bondage on mars and come to earth. At this point in the future androids have become so sophisticated that the only way to tell them apart from human beings is to test their ability for empathy. This line drawn in the sand between the religious, emotional humans and the reason driven androids becomes blurred for Deckard as he begins to empathise with the androids he has been tasked to retire. Mankind’s veneration for empathy becomes hollow in his eyes as these very same people can destroy androids without a second thought. Schizophrenics aside, it is revealed that those who are technically human are failing to meet this criteria for idealised humanity. All the while, androids are engaging in such human delights as art in the case of one android opera singer (eat your heart out shitting duck). I can’t answer at this stage what it means to be human but I look forward to interrogating this question over the course of the module or maybe even in the essay. What do you guys think it means to be human?

 

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know the final message of it yet but when I do I’ll be sure to post about it. 

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2 Comments
  1. Hello, Jasmine here. I can’t seem to be able to make my own post at the moment, or log back in to my account, so I’m just going to do it here for now, then maybe cut&paste it into one at a later date.

    I was reminded of a beautiful steampunk short film I found on youtube roughly a year ago called “Invention of Love”. I highly reccomend you watch it here before reading on. It will take up less than ten minutes of your precious studying time. I promise.

    “Invention of Love” tells the story of a man and a woman who fall in love with a steampunk backdrop. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term “steampunk”, its basically a slang term which relates to a fantastical idea of there being great technology during the Victorian era. For example, a steampunk laptop would most likely be gold and brass in colour, have lots of cogs and leather and most likely run on steam power. In fact, don’t rely on my description alone, I’ve just found a picture of one someone has made…)

    And here… Have some more, it’s a very enjoyable style.






    Back to the point, we see in “Invention of Love” a young woman from a rural background getting caught up in the romance of machinery and industry. She goes to the city to live with her new husband, a machinist, and soon feels the need to find some organic life. Apart from the occasional other human, she finds none. The trees are metal and the butterflies are clockwork. She breaks down as she finds that this mechanical park is merely a mimesis of her home.

    Meanwhile, her new husband finds that the potted rose she brought with her is dying, so disposes of it and replaces it with a mechanical flower. When she returns home to find her rose replaced by a mimetic one, she races to the dumps below to find her dying flower. She tries to remind herself of life, by reminding herself of death. Perhaps it was fumes below that killed her, perhaps she needed to embrace death to feel the comfort of mortal life again.

    Her husband copes with her death by creating an automaton resembling her. It seems to bring him some kind of peace, but no kind of happiness. He is left staring at the simulation of his wife, dangling in a state of non-life, perhaps comforted by her simultaneous state of non-death.

    The automaton grasps the air blindly, holding no sense of the world. It’s creator sees that he could never find the deep complexities of his wife in cogs and steam. He even tried to pay special attention to the mechanics of her heart.

    Perhaps, by creating a poor replica, he is punishing himself for losing something so precious, so fragile, so complicated and so real as the woman he loved.

    By the looks of the city itself, it is understandable for him to have been raised in a life where death is swept away. We are reminded of death, and the finality of things, every day – when we step over crunchy autumn leaves, when we see a bird with a worm in its beak, when we see a child picking flowers. In this city, all life is replaced by immortal machines and automata. By fearing death and purging their lifestyle of anything finite, they deny it any real life.

    Moving on, I can’t help but see our female character as a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with industry. We also have rural roots, but saw beauty and magic in machinery and performing automata. We got caught up in the excitement of industry; a million things becoming possible at once! Eventually we began to notice the artificiality and soullessness of it all. The romantic poets felt sadness and anger towards the industrial revolution, and found comfort with mother nature. For those who lost their patch of real, organic life, they became a part of the mechanisms of the industrial world itself.

    To conclude, my personal philosophy on this subject is this: Life without death is not life at all. They are one and the same. To cheat an existence of death is to deprive it of life.

  2. whoops. err, please ignore the youtube link i gave in my post… it’s very wrong. still enjoyable, but not at all relevant to my material.

    here’s the real link. please excuse that other video…

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