In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick explores a post-apocalyptic Earth through the two central characters of J. R. Isidore and Rick Deckard. The world in which the two men live is being threatened by not only the Dust, which will eventually kill off all living organisms from the Earth, but also the androids, or, "The Killers" (32). Deckard, who has one-on-one experience with androids, attempts to differentiate himself and all of mankind from the andys he is instructed to terminate. He attempts to create a standard idea in his head of what being a human entails, as opposed to being an android. Deckard's attempt to evaluate mankind as a whole against the androids is what Aldiss deems "the search for the definition of mankind" (Aldiss, 1).
Throughout the first half of the novel, we are introduced to different methods of technology that are designed to distinguish humans from androids, or, "andys" (4). Humans need to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the androids because they see the androids as monstrous, emotionless creatures who are a threat to their society. To detect androids, the police use the "Voigt-Kampff test" (53), which includes a serious of questions to which the suspect must respond involuntarily through specific physical reactions. Most of the questions are designed to elicit an emotional response from the suspect, so if he fails to show an empathetic response to a question, he is deemed an android. Essentially, when the police are looking for any sign of what they think of as humanity, and what they discuss several times throughout the book as empathy.
Dick defines mankind in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as an empathetic race. Dick writes, "[e]mpathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida" (30-31). He is revealing to us that empathy and intelligence are the two essential components to mankind, but intelligence is found in many other species. Therefore, the sole characteristic of man that distinguishes us from the rest of the beings in the universe, especially the androids, is empathy. Deckard finds that although the androids are intelligent enough to fake emotions, they do not truly sustain the same empathetic capabilities that are so essential to being a human. To further emphasize the empathy with which humans are gifted, Dick includes Deckard's rationalization of his job. This emphasizes the empathy of mankind first because the stereotypically merciless bounty hunter feels the need to justify killing his victims. Furthermore, when Deckard analyzes the androids he says they have, "no regard for animals...possess no ability to feel empathetic joy for another life form's success or grief at its defeat" (32). In short, Deckard is saying the androids are nearly void of emotion. He does not feel regret for killing a being that does not feel empathy.
It is important to note that the one android we formally meet in this half of the book, Rachael Rosen, seems to be as human as any of the characters we meet. When Deckard meets her, he even notes that there is, "a mid perfume about her, almost a warmth" (56). Typically, warmth is not a normal attribute to associate with androids. In fact, normally, humans sense the opposite. When Isidore encounters Rosen for the first time he notes, "something else began to emerge from her...[a] coldness" (67). It is interesting that the expert in detecting androids first associates an android with warmth while the inexperienced man with a low IQ sees her with a certain "coldness." Despite the best efforts of the largest humanoid-producing corporation on Earth, they failed. In the end, Rosen does not pass the Voigt-Kampff test due to her lack of empathy in response to Deckard's questions. By doing this, Dick is making the statement that even with all the resources, money, and intelligence in the world, true mankind empathy cannot be manufactured. It is something present only in humans.
In the final analysis, Dick's search for the definition of mankind is prevalent throughout the novel. Rcik Deckard's character and occupation truly personifies the search for mankind because of his attempts to rationalize the killing off of the andys as well as his attempts to distinguish the human race from androids as a whole. Therefore, Aldiss' analysis of science fiction stands strong when tried against Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.