[Philip K. Dick] Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  • Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  • Author: Philip K. Dick
  • Published: 1968
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN: 978-0-345-40447-3

Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there’s twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.

I’d like to see you move up to the goat class, where I think you belong.

Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community.

from the book

You must be more familiar with the story through the movie “Blade Runner” than Philip K. Dick’s original novel. The set is another apocalyptic post-atomic world war Earth, where most life forms are extinct, and most humans are migrated to other planets. The film focuses more on the existential question – the living vs. the machine and the life vs. mere automata. In contrast, the book follows two axes; the meaning of being alive – humans vs. androids – and the obsession of living creatures as the symbol of social status.

It is not uncommon that people are obsessed with some objects or symbols beyond their use-values, such as luxury goods, houses, cars, or even the title of occupations. Once an object becomes a symbol of your social status or cultural taste, it starts to have use-values of a different type, especially from the psychological perspective. The life goal of Rick Deckard, the protagonist, seems to own a real live animal rather than a fake electric one. He needs an assurance of being somebody or being a part of society by owning and showing the common symbolic object of the society.

The main theme of the story, more in the movie adaptation, is the meaning of being alive. In an extreme materialist view, a human being is the collection of all chemicals. What if we can make androids that can think and act just like humans? Do we, human beings, possess souls or divine seeds that make our existence unique in the universe? We have asked and tried to answer these existential questions, and they turned into moral questions. We are not seeking simple answers. Rather, under rapid technological progress, we are in the process of expanding or reconstructing our conceptual boundaries. This philosophical and intellectual capacity might distinguish human beings from other life forms.

The keyword is empathy, which distinguishes human beings from androids. Only increased empathy and live pets can fill the existential void. Ironically, people need to use the empathy box, which links them to the virtual reality of collective suffering, to boost empathy to prove their existence.

It is interesting to notice that I am writing this article in 2021, in which all the actions take place in the book. We are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we experience the conceptional shift of what is more important and what is essential for us.

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