Monday, 11 February 2013

‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ if they do, then what could be the consequences for human beings?

The key issue surrounding the notion of whether or not androids dream of electric sheep is the notion of reality. Whether or not the android is a living being, or as living a being as a human, would be a more appropriate way of looking at it. In order for an android to dream it would need to have an idea surrounding its identity in relation to other people, it would also need something to dream about, and that would suggest a goal or something that the android was aiming for. The question of emotion and empathy would also play a part. It is these issues I intend to look at in relation to the question of whether or not androids dream of electric sheep.
While the film tends to centre on the idea of identity, the book centres on the notion of empathy. Empathy is set up as a key feature through the use of the ‘Voigt-Kampff’ test to distinguish humans from replicants. What becomes of further importance as the text progresses is the idea that humans are gradually losing their empathy, something raised in chapter four and known as the ‘flattening effect’ this presents to us the fear that exists that the ‘Voigt-Kampff’ test, the test used to determine androids from humans, may soon become obsolete. “A small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale”

The implications of this shows to the reader that it is not only the replicants that are becoming more like humans, but also humans are becoming more like replicants. The fact shown is that humans and the replicants are becoming similar, and the impression given is that very soon, possibly the next model of nexus, would mean that replicants would be indistinguishable from their human counterparts. “And eventually the association has a type that can’t be distinguished”.So even if androids don’t dream of electric sheep eventually they would.

However, the similarities between the replicants and the humans are apparent even in there current form. For instance, the Rosen organisation programmes the replicants to be human. The humans however rely on a mood organ, and follow a set programme of emotions in their every day lives. This is very similar to being programmed just like the replicants. It also calls into question the idea of true human emotion as people rely on the mood organ so much it would appear feeling anything without it becomes increasingly difficult. “My schedule for today lists a self-accusatory depression,”

This brings up the idea that possibly, at some point in the near future, the replicants will actually feel more natural emotion than the human beings; if this were the case then I would assume that there would be every possibility that an android would be able to dream. However, maybe the android now feeling more emotion and empathy than the humans relying on the mood organ, would dream of real sheep. The humans having lost all empathy would dream of electric sheep, simply because they would be able to relate to the synthetic more than the real.

Another key factor within the text is the relation between humans and replicants with real and artificial animals. The main difference between humans and replicants seems to revolve around how animals are seen. Real animals are worshipped as the highest form of status symbol. The richer you are, the better live animal you have. Deckard’s main motivations to make money throughout the text are aimed towards being able to afford real animals. For instance, when he buys his goat it seems to be one of the major decisions of his life. He spends all the money he has earned on it, just so he can have something alive and different that not many other people have. “But I had to do it”

Furthermore, as the text progresses it becomes continually apparent that animals create more emotion from humans than other humans do. Even artificial animals appear to create more empathy and emotion than real people. This sets up a strange contradiction within the human society. Deckard for instance spends everyday hunting down replicants without thinking about it. However, the same artificial life in the form of a sheep, or at the end of the book, a toad means so much more than an artificial human. It could be due to the fact that replicants are regarded as criminals that creates this distinction. However, another argument I would put forward is that the reason replicant animals mean more than replicant humans is that actual humans don’t mean as much to other real people. There is little empathy towards humans throughout the text, but a lot of empathy towards animals. For instance, towards the end of the book Deckard calls Dave Holden at the hospital, not to check on his condition but to get vindication for his actions. “What would Dave Holden say about me now”

In contrast with the humans, the replicants do not appear to have any empathy with living creatures. I say living creatures because apart from the fake owl in the Rosen association the replicants do not come into contact with any replicated animals. The key part of the text which shows that the replicants both don’t care about and also don’t understand animals comes in J.R Isidore’s apartment in chapter eighteen. Isidore overjoyed at finding the live spider shows it to Pris and the others. The replicants don’t care about the spider; they are only interested in why it has so many legs. The confirmation that the replicants don’t understand what the spider means comes when Pris says “Is it worth something?” when Isidore doesn’t want her to hurt it.

The thought that Pris may be destroying the creature never seems to enter her mind as reason that Isidore doesn’t want the spider to be mutilated. This complete misunderstanding and inability to grasp the notion of an ‘animal’ would seem to suggest that it would be extremely improbable for androids to dream of electric sheep. As the whole concept of what a sheep, electric or otherwise actually is does not appear to be comprehended by the replicants. This does not mean of course that they would not be capable of dreaming.

Questions around the replicants identity are raised at certain points throughout the text. One instance is where Rachel reveals she is the same model of replicant as Pris. “Something like that . Identification; there goes I. My god; maybe that’s what’ll happen. In the confusion you’ll retire me, not her.” The chapter underlines that while the replicants may appear real to a point, they are all part of a line and far from individual.

Another moment where the question of identity is raised is when Deckard pretends to be Isidore to enter his apartment. We are given no indication that he has attempted to conceal or change his voice in any way, but the replicants cannot tell the difference between the two humans. If the replicants cannot identify one human from another, then it is fair to say that they cannot identify with humans either. Thus the question of ‘the self’ becomes problematic as the notion of ‘I’ is blurred because if the replicant can’t tell the difference between one human and another, “Roy Batty couldn’t tell me from you; it thought you were at the door” And earlier one model of replicant from another then maybe they cannot tell the difference between themselves ad somebody else. “There is no Pris only Rachel Rosen over and over again”

In which case the idea of dreaming- that being dreams formed from an individual mind also becomes problematic. If the replicants where to dream, they could quite conceivable all dream the same thing. Which would probable mean that it was not a dream at all rather just part of the programme they had been implanted with.

The film ‘Blade Runner the directors cut, Ridley Scott, 1982’ positions the androids differently than in the book. While the replicants in the book do not seem to have any real overall goal, and in fact almost appear to be lost in the situation they find themselves, the replicants in the film have a very clearly defined goal. We are shown very early on that the replicants are trying to find a way to get themselves more life. The fact that they are very apparently aware and even in fear of their own deaths puts them ahead of the replicants represented in the ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ This in turn focuses us on the main difference of the two texts. While in the book the message we seem to be shown is that humans and androids are becoming closer in terms that both appear to be losing their empathy with everything. In the film the message is changed slightly, so that it now showing us the notion that the androids are actually beginning to feel emotion, beginning to become self aware and independent, while the humans in the film continually fall into an emotionless routine which they cannot break away from.

This subtle change in what is being put across has implications for considering if indeed androids do dream of electric sheep. I would argue that while the replicants in the book are attempting simply to exist, the replicants in ‘Blade Runner’ are attempting to live. If an android could not dream I would suggest that it would not be able to understand the idea of living. There would be no reason for the replicants to carry on living if there was nothing that they were attempting to live for. There are several scenes in the film that drive the idea of the replicants as something more than just a ‘fake’ human. First of all It can be argued that Deckard actually falls in love with Rachel. In the book it is made very clear that the idea of genuine love between humans (at this point I’m assuming Deckard is a human) and replicants is impossible, as neither has the ability to truly feel for the other. “But if you think too much, if you reflect on what you’re doing-then you can’t go on”

This concept of real emotion being able to be exchanged between the humans and the replicants would heavily enforce the notion of androids being able to dream, because it would give a ‘need’ to something which is assumed to not want anything. Meaning that the replicant would have moved beyond its programming, so the idea that they would have developed the ability to dream in highly plausible. A further enforcement to the idea of the dreaming replicant comes in the form of Deckard, in scene thirteen of the directors cut, Deckard dreams of a unicorn. This is important as first of all if Deckard is indeed a replicant and he is dreaming of a unicorn then the idea he could dream of an electric sheep is equally plausible.

Furthermore, if Deckard is a replicant, and he doesn’t know it, and no one else knows it either, that could make him as human as any other ‘real’ human. In terms of what that could mean for the other human beings is something, which creates great anxiety. If Deckard is a replicant, then surely is raises the question of whether every other human is also or could also be a replicant? The idea that comes across from the film is that it would be quite possible that anyone or everyone could be a replicant as if they weren’t told then they would never be able to work it out. With that in consideration it would then feasibly be possible to switch the entire system round, how do we know for instance that the replicants are in fact not real humans, and the humans hunting them are not replicants. If everyone was a replicant but didn’t know it, it would be impossible to truly understand what was real and what was artificial.

Another point that comes out of ‘Blade Runner’ is that the replicants are aware of their own identity, especially in case of Roy Batty. Batty knows exactly what he needs to do in order to survive, then when he realises there is nothing that can be done to save him his attitude completely changes. At the end of the film for instance when it appears that Batty is about to allow Deckard to fall to his death, he grabs his hand and pulls him on to the roof top. He then says, “Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it’s like to be a slave” this statement makes us wonder whether Batty’s intention was just to show Deckard the fear that the replicants feel rather than wanting to take revenge on him.

The scene shows that Batty has found out how precious life is for it just to be extinguished so quickly. Batty seems to realise and understand what is lost if either a human or a replicant dies, something that the humans in the film fail to understand. This idea is supported by the speech that Batty makes on the rooftop at the end of the film. He starts by saying “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” and ends with the words “all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain, time to die” Batty is showing Deckard he has experienced more than any human could possibly understand or have ever seen, this suggests that Batty may actually be more alive than any of the ‘real’ humans, he just doesn’t live as long. This adds to the argument that the reason Batty is searching for more life, is simple to keep the experiences in his mind and allow himself to experience more things- maybe that he has only dreamed about.

To conclude, I would say the question of whether or not androids dream of electric sheep is complicated. In terms of the book, I would say the concept of dreaming, as a whole is problematic as there are no real emotions, except those put forward by the mood organ. In this case I would say that not only do the androids not dream of electric sheep, or anything else, but the humans do not dream either but both are placed in a sort of emotion and empathy free void, where neither can see anything more than they already experience. In terms of the film I would say that while androids seem capable of dreaming. That they do not dream of electric sheep, it seems far more likely that they dream of life and existing, merely so they can exist to dream of things far greater.


 Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

Blade Runner the directors cut (Scott, UK, 1982)

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