Thursday, February 14, 2008

Graded Blog Option 1

Throughout Phillip Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, engineering principles of problem solving can be seen in the actions of the characters. When I began engineering school here at the University of Pittsburgh, it was explained to the class that we were taking all of these introductory math and science courses, as well as learning how to effectively use the library, to learn the basics to allow us to be efficient problem solvers in the future. When I see the term ‘engineering narrative’, I think of a book whose characters display organized ways of solving a variety of problems. This can be shown at various points of the novel by the main protagonist Rick Deckard. When first finding out about the Nexus-6 androids the book reads “From the drawer he produced an ancient, creased manila envelope. Leaning back, tilting his important-style chair, he rummaged among the contents of the envelope until he came across what he wanted: the collected, extant data on the Nexus-6.” (Dick 27-8). This shows that Rick follows the first thing that any engineer would do before attempting to solve a problem, research. Before Rick plans his attack on any android he makes sure he is familiar with the problem, in which he wants to retire. When examining the first and only sample given to him by the Rosen organization. When questioning Rachael Rosen it seems that Rick runs into a road block until he states, “’I want’, he said opening his briefcase, ‘to ask you one more question from the Voight-Kampff scale. Sit down again.’.” (Dick 56). At this point Rick shows his intuition during the questioning. Intuition from the very basic of training is the most important thing an engineer can have. It seemed that he failed when a ‘light bulb’ went off in his brain and he was able to correctly out Rachael as a android. Without his previous training allowing him to tell the very slight difference in reaction times between an android and a human he would have never been able to pick this out. The systematic way in which Rick goes about solving his problems is quite comparable to an engineering way of accomplishing the task, by a set system and the remembrance of previous training.

Not only does Rick show this engineering mentality but the other ‘main character’ in this text, John Isidore, does as well. John may be a ‘special’ but in his work he acts as someone would who works under an engineer. At his work as a ‘vet’ for android animals, he picks up a cat which is actually a real cat. Even though this is case he still follows the exact protocol that he is given for his ‘animal’ repairs. “This had always amazed him, these ‘disease’ circuits built into false animals; the construct which he now held on his lap had been put together in such a fashion that when a primary component misfired, the whole thing appeared – not broken – but organically ill.” (Dick 69). John was just a product of the engineering ideas of his superior. Even though the cat he picked up was a real cat he was trained to follow the protocol that he was trained to follow. He searched for his battery but when he came up empty he assumed it was a high tech device like one he was shown in the lab. As a technician, all he had to go on was the information that he was given at his work. This information was a well defined protocol to do immediate damage control for these devices. This kind of protocol is quite reminiscent of one given by an engineer. He was to check the battery and recharge it and if it was not possible he was to wait until it was returned to the shop where a skilled person could work on it. This precise, methodical procedure is an example of engineering reasoning. From the two main characters, it is easy to see that engineering principles are clearly expressed in this novel. This is why Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? is a clear example of an engineering narrative.

Dick, Phillip K., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?. Doubleday and Co. Inc., 1968.


Adam Johns said...

I like the analysis (which I've never thought of, so good for you) and the approach. That being said, I think something obvious is missing.

Deckard, as engineer, is both intuitive and successful.

Isidore, as engineer (although also as special) isn't successful: his engineering approach doesn't work.

Is there anything you can do with this disjunction? I'd argue, based on your earlier focus on intuition, that Deckard is more intuitive, or maybe trusts his intuition more. I wonder what you think.

Tony said...

What I tried to show is that Rick is doing his own engineering work and John is following protocol in which an engineer has developed. John does not look at the situation of the cat as Rick would. John see's a broken piece of equipment and follows the protocol and allows the cats 'battery' to die so it can be fixed at the 'hospital'. I think a person like Rick in the same situation would be able to step back and analyze what happened more fully and may have seen it to be a real cat. It's a classic engineer vs. technition debate.

Adam Johns said...

I get it now. That's kind of what I was thinking, but I didn't get all of that just from reading through it.