Philip K. Dick is viewed by many as the father of modern science fiction. His book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is one of the reasons for that title. Originally published in 1968, the story follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who is charged by the police to eliminate rogue androids. However, this story focuses less on the chase and more on the differences between man and machine. This subject has always been a topic of concern and interest, as seen in the many movies that reflect machines turning on humans, or being unable to tell a machine/alien apart from humans, including the film Bladerunner, which was based directly off of Dick’s book.
Dick outlines a dying world within his novel, one where many people have to turn to machines to grant them artificial emotions. They seem to have lost them, much like the animals of the planet, which are now almost extinct. Real animals are now a commodity, highly prized and incredibly expensive. Rick Deckard finds his job more and more difficult as he finds it harder and harder to distinguish between humans and the Nexus-6 androids he has to retire (kill).
How does Rick determine the difference? He uses what is called the Voigt-Kampff test, which measures the emphatic nature of the subject’s responses. The androids were unable to “feel” in the same way that humans were. This is Dick’s opinion of the line between man and machine. It is the ability to feel, rather than to simply acknowledge terms, etc. Dick writes, “At this point he could not discern her degree of seriousness. A topic of world-shaking importance, yet dealt with facetiously; an android trait, possibly, he thought. No emotional awareness, no feeling-sense of the actual meaning of what she said. Only the hollow, formal, intellectual definitions of the separate terms (pg. 190).”
The other man that the story follows is John Isidore, who is shunned by society for having a lower than standard mental capacity. However, he does something very interesting, which is use what is known as an empathy box. This box presents Dick’s concept of empathy. Once using the box, a person enters a journey with a man named Mercer. Everyone connected to one of these boxes makes the journey up the hill with him, and is pelted with stones, just as he is. They make this journey over and over again, knowing that the end of the journey brings only death. However, during it, they are able to share their experiences with others. Andorids are incapable of using the empathy box effectively.
Dick presents an idea that empathy is the what separates man from the machines he creates. He then goes on to describe empathy as what humans can feel. How they can put themselves in another person’s shoes and share experiences with others. Empathy is what links humans together, what brings about love, and all of the other emotions. It is the way to create those emotions naturally, rather than artificially.
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