Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Prompt 2 Androids as Metaphors

Androids as a Metaphor
By Carl Santavicca


            In the information age technology has advanced at an incredible rate as well as its integration into everyday human life. As Philip K. Dick presents a dystopic future world where humans and technology interact at almost every turn in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep we must look at the question posed by the creators  of the: “ ‘What were your instructions,’ Eldon Rosen asked. ‘if you wound up designating a human as an android (Dick 53)?’” This is a very valid question in a novel that blurs the lines between what is real and what is constructed, and how both humanity and technology can be exchangeable with one another. What does this alternation between humans and androids signify and how does it relate to the reality, or lack thereof, of Philip K. Dick and the period in which in which he was writing?
            First we must examine what makes an android an android and how they differ from humans, as they exist after World War Terminus. The Nexus 6 android, as it is presented physically, is indistinguishable from humans. These androids however, lack empathetic response that can be detected by the Voight-Kampff test: “ ‘This records fluctuations of tension within the eye muscles. Simultaneous with the blush phenomenon there generally can be found a small but detectable movement of’ ‘And these cant be found in androids’ Rachel said. ‘They’re not engendered by the stimuli question; no. Although biologically they exist potentially (Dick 46).’” This empathy, or lack of, is what separates humans from androids throughout the novel.     
            The human trait of empathy can be seen very evidently in the desire of humans to own and care for an animal; this is evident when Rick is talking to his neighbor about his horse and Rick’s desire to own a real animal (Dick8-10). Sometimes the humans can even be empathetic to those who cannot show empathy in return. Both Deckard and Isodore care for electric animals; they also show affection toward some androids they encounter, Rick toward Rachel and Isodore toward Pris.
            The humans in certain situations however, do not always convey empathy to one another; for example the interaction between Rick Deckard and his wife Iran is very programmed and non-empathetic. “If you dial,” Iran said, eyes open and watching, “for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. Ill dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up until now seem like nothing (Dick 4).” The entire interaction between Rick and Iran is saturated with irony, and symbolizes the robotic reaction they have toward one another despite the fact that they are supposed to love each other.  
            It’s as if the androids are a foreshadowing of what the humans could become if they lose their empathetic response. There are already ways in which the humans greatly resemble the androids in their day-to-day behavior. Take the mood organ and empathy box for example; they program moods and feelings into the humans as a computer programmer would program certain actions into an android. Also as an example upon meeting Phil Resch, Deckard questions Resch’s empathy as well as his own due in large part that they kill androids with little empathy toward the android itself.
            It should also be considered that this story was written in the 1960’s and greatly symbolizes how Philip K Dick viewed the world around him. First it should be noted that from a young age Dick was a diagnosed schizophrenia, and a drug addiction later followed that would often cause him to have issues differing reality from imagination (Prophets of Science Fiction, 2011). This can be seen in both the humans and androids from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Aside from the obvious difficulty differentiating android from human, Deckard struggles with his perception of what it is to be empathetic and is at one point doubtful whether he could pass the same test he administers to the androids. On the android end of the spectrum Rachel Rosen does not at first believe she is an android due to false memory programming. The concept of real vs. false is also symbolized in the ongoing battle between Buster Friendly and Mercer; this battle (between Buster and Mercer) is also symbolic of another battle ongoing at the time this book was written: the political struggle of liberalism and conservatism that was prevalent in 1960s. Mercer symbolizes the peace and love one with nature movement while Buster Friendly is more reminiscent of the commercialism of that time period.  Lastly this can also be read as warning against the dangers of technology. During his life Dick would have witnessed the TV become a popular fixture in American households, as well as the advent of the atomic bomb, lasers, and eventually computers. Dick touches on all of these, i.e. radioactive dust, laser tubes, mood organs, almost as if to say humans are becoming more and more reliant on these things and therefore ultimately becoming less human in the end (Prophets of Science Fiction, 2011).
            Overall Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep paints a bleak view of the future, where overstepping the boundaries of technology blurs the perception of what is real and what is not.  This coupled with dependence on technology can create generations of people that are truly disconnected with reality.

Works Cited:

Dick, P. K. (1968). Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep . Toronto, Ontario: Random House.

Prophets of Science Fiction. (2011). Science Fiction Channel.


Adam Lewis said...


I like where you are going with the comparison of androids to the technology driven lives of the Deckards and the research you did in comparing it to the world in which Dick lived. Wouldn't you say that the battle between liberal and conservative politics is still on going? I think it has become so much about liberal and conservative basis that no one thinks, they just compare issues to a baseline within the party and make their argument with few exceptions.

There are a few grammatical issues with your post. Without naming specifics, I suggest you impartially read through your blog for a few structures and sentences that may trip your audience up.

Finally, what exactly do you see the androids as a metaphor for? Maybe I missed it, but I'm finding myself inferring what you wanted to say. Like I said, I like the comparison between the androids and the forced life of humans, perhaps you could elaborate further. For example, I find it fascinating that there are more and more people who can go through their day without having a single human interaction. You wake up to an alarm clock or a detached radio broadcast. You drive to work or school listening to the same radio broadcast or music. You go to work and only interact with people via email while you work on a project with a virtual team interconnected across the globe via the internet. You leave work and stop at the grocery store, going through a self check out without talking to a single person. You go home and post on facebook or twitter and watch a movie online before going to bed. Absolutely no one on one human interaction but that is more and more normal. How is that any different than using the mood generator to force harmony, depression, or even arguments?

Adam said...

Your 1st sentence isn't a sentence at all. In general, your introduction seems to have no clear purpose. You're generating ideas - I can see that - but that's the kind of writing which is often best off being cut after you've written it, since you're just really using it to get yourself started.

What I like here over the next several paragraphs is that you do some critical analysis of the assumption that humans in the novel have empathy and androids don't. If you push this analysis farther, including the end of the novel, you'd probably also find that androids show some of the empathy which supposedly they don't have, while humans often (as you say) seem to lack the empathy that supposedly defines them.

Your initial discussion of the relationship between the themes of the novel and the life of PKD himself is fine, even good, but it's also only an early start. You're certainly right that the concerns of his life and those of the novel intersect, but to make that work in an essay, you need to not simply observe these connections but figure out what to do with them. If Buster Friendly represents commercialism and Mercerism represents hippies or whatever, what do we do with that? Why does it matter? It's a fine idea, but how do we use that observation to help us understand the novel (or, alternatively, understand some aspect of 60s culture and politics)?

This is a fine set of ideas, including a number of potential arguments, but there isn't a single *focused* argument yet.

To connect that with what Adam says - we need to *infer* your metaphor, as he says, because you are pushing in several different directions at once, rather than developing any single argument.