The alleged sheep contained an oat-tropic circuit; at the sight of such cereals it would scramble up convincingly and amble over. (1.34)
So the electric sheep is not a real sheep on account that it was born on a factory assembly line. But … isn't an oat-tropic circuit kind of the same thing as a hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls hunger? Both send signals to the body at the sight of food that say, "Baa-ba-baa" (Sheepy translation: Eat up).
At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument). (1.10)
Ten paragraphs in, and the novel is already letting us know that humans are not separate but a part of the natural world. A couple chemicals here, a dash of stimulant here, and presto: Rick's entire mental state changes.
Perhaps, deformed as it was, Earth remained familiar, to be clung to. Or possibly the non-emigrant imagined that the tent of dust would deplete itself finally. In any case thousands of individuals remained, most of them constellated in urban areas where they could physically see one another, take heart at their mutual presence. (2.5)
Mankind is a social animal because the conditions on Earth made it advantageous for us. Consider: Without eyes in the back of our heads, it's nice to have someone with us to say, "Dude, is that a lion following us?" With that kind of legacy, it's only natural that future us would want to stick together even in a future of space colonies and nuclear dust storms.
"We know this to be a primary autonomic response, the so-called 'shame' or 'blushing' reaction to a morally shocking stimulus. It can't be controlled voluntarily, as can skin conductivity, respiration, and cardiac rate." (4.75)
Here is another reminder that humans are not separate from the natural world: all those emotions and thoughts floating about in our heads, seemingly disconnected from the world outside our minds, have physical properties in the real world. (Does that mean we can imagine a chocolate cake into physical form?)
[H]e remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the 'papes had reported it each day—foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits. (4.49)
The Sixties saw the beginning of a new form of environmentalism. It was called New Environmentalism because historians are really, really bad at naming things. Do Androids Dream? takes the environmental concerns of the era and creates a world where they actually happen. And it's bleak, bleak stuff.
Deftly, [Isidore] ran his fingers along the pseudo bony spine. The cables should be about here. Damn expert workmanship; so absolutely perfect an imitation. (7.12)
When the novel was written, it was probably a crazy idea that you could create a cat that looked, walked, meowed, and all-around acted like a real cat. Today, we might not be at that level of sophisticated robo-tech, but we're getting pretty good and fixing up reality nonetheless.
"We came back," Pris said, "because nobody should have to live there. It wasn't conceived for habitation, at least not within the last billion years. It's so old. You feel it in the stones, the terrible old age." (13.43)
The Earth isn't going to spin around the Sun forever, and it's going to stop supporting life a long time before then. But the sci-fi dream of space colonization looks pretty grim to Dick and his merry band of androids. The colonial planets are too old and too dead to be livable. Oh, sure, you could probably survive—for a while, at least. But maybe human life is too Earth-bound to thrive outside the atmosphere.
"That's not true. Even animals—even eels and gophers and snakes and spiders—are sacred." Pris, still regarding him fixedly, said, "So it can't be, can it? As you say, even animals are protected by law. All life. Everything organic that wriggles or squirms or burrows or flies or swarms or lays eggs or—" (14.63-64)
Minus the whole near-destruction of the Earth part, this future is an environmentalist's dream. All animals are sacred, and it is people's moral duty to keep them safe—even the electric ones.
Yet, the dark fire waned; the life force oozed out of [Rachael], as [Rick] had so often witnessed before with other androids. The classic resignation. Mechanical, intellectual acceptance of that which a genuine organism—with two billion years of the pressure to live and evolve hagriding it—could never have reconciled itself to. (17.55)
The novel often muddies up the distinction between "real" and "android" life, but here the difference is made very clear. Real people have an intense survival instinct—fight or flight, but make sure you survive. But the androids just give up and accept death. Maybe they can come up with a test for that?
Here there existed no one to record his or anyone else's degradation, and any courage or pride which might manifest itself here at the end would go unmarked: the dead stones, the dust-stricken weeds dry and dying, perceived nothing, recollected nothing, about him or themselves. (21.16)
Humans might spend a lot of their energy messing up the natural world, but they also recorded it. Without cave paintings, Walden, and Instagram sunsets, can we really be sure that the world exists?
Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one. And yet from a social standpoint it had to be done, given the absence of the real article. (1.36)
In the future, society identifies people by the animals they keep. Cricket-owners are pathetic, cat-owners are nice try but can't you give it a little more effort, and horse-owners are living large with their equine entourage. As for electric animal owners, well, they're really just not our kind of people, if you know what we mean.
He had been a special now for over a year, and not merely in regard to the distorted genes which he carried. Worse still, he had failed to pass the minimum mental faculties test, which made him in popular parlance a chickenhead. (2.13)
Poor Isidore. It's not his fault that radioactive dust has gone Donkey Kong all over his genetic material and that he's saddled with the identity of "chickenhead," rather than the more accurate one of "super cool guy with a heart of 24k unradiated gold."
"The Leningrad psychiatrists," Bryant broke in brusquely, "think that a small class of human beings could not pass the Voigt-Kampff scale. If you tested them in line with police work, you'd assess them as humanoid robots. You'd be wrong, but by then they'd be dead." He was silent, now, waiting for Rick's answer. (4.22)
What does it mean to be human? Talk about a major question of identity. In the future, the novel identifies humans as uniquely capable of feeling empathy, but what if a human is born or raised, so he or she lacks the capacity for that emotion? What do we consider that person? An organic android? A psychopath? A Vulcan?
And Eldon and Rachael Rosen consisted as spokesmen for that corporate entity. His mistake, evidently, had been in viewing them as individuals. It was a mistake he would not make again. (5.51)
Eldon and Rachael live their lives entirely for the benefit of their company. Rick has to remember to identify them with the Eldon Association rather than look at them as, you know, them. Think about that next time you put on your Nike t-shirt.
"An android," he said, "doesn't care what happens to another android. That's one of the indications we look for."
"Then," Miss Luft said, "you must be an android."
That stopped him; he stared at her.
"Because," she continued, "your job is to kill them, isn't it? You're what they call—" She tried to remember. (9.24-27)
Although we know Rick isn't an android, Luba Luft's argument makes sense in a syllogistic kind of way. All androids don't care what happens to other androids; Rick doesn't care what happens to androids; therefore, Rick is an android. Boom! Use with caution, people.
"I really don't like androids. Ever since I got here from Mars my life has consisted of imitating the human, doing what she would do, acting as if I had the thoughts and impulses a human would have. Imitating, as far as I'm concerned, a superior life-form." (12.30)
Even androids can code switch. She's android born, erm, built, but she wants to inhibit human traits, so she can actually be human. Maybe it's just our reading, but she seems to have gotten caught in the middle along the way.
"That's right, Mr. Baty," Isidore said. "But what does it matter to me? I mean, I'm a special; they don't treat me very well either, like for instance I can't emigrate." He found himself yabbering away like a folletto. "You can't come here; I can't—" He calmed himself. (14.78)
As a "chickenhead," Isidore has been isolated from human society. As androids, his new roomies have been isolated from human society as well. This means Isidore just might have more in common with androids then he does with his own species—at least until a certain spider puts that idea to the test.
The old man said, "You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe." (15.112)
Mercer sure isn't one for uplifting speeches, is he? The curse of life is that it's impossible to live without doing violence to another creature. Mercer identifies this with violating one's own identity, as though doing violence to another is doing violence to the self. Hm. Veganism is starting to look really good right about now. Now, where'd we put that seitan?
"For what we've meant to each other," the android said as it approached him, its arms reaching as if to clutch at him. The clothes, he thought, are wrong. But the eyes, the same eyes. And there are more like this; there can be a legion of her, each with its own name, but all Rachael Rosen—Rachael, the prototype, used by the manufacturer to protect the others. (19.32)
It must be a real head trip to be an android—to know that you are yourself but also one among a host of other identical yous, sort of like being a boy in salmon shorts.
For Mercer everything is easy, he thought, because Mercer accepts everything. Nothing is alien to him. But what I've done, he thought; that's become alien to me. In fact everything about me has become unnatural; I've become an unnatural self. (21.14)
Rick's in a weird place at the end of the novel. He just can't with his former self, but he's still finding out who his new self should be. And where does that leave him? Without an identity, unable to follow Mercer's example and accept himself. (It gets better, Rick.) Does he ever figure it out? You'll have to think that one through on your own.
The legacy of World War Terminus had diminished in potency; those who could not survive the dust had passed into oblivion years ago, and the dust, weaker now and confronting the strong survivors, only deranged minds and genetic properties. Despite his lead codpiece, the dust—undoubtedly—filtered in and at him, brought him daily, so long as he failed to emigrate, its little load of befouling filth. (1.31)
In this future society, even waking up in the morning and heading to work is an act of perseverance. We have a hard enough time getting up in the morning when the sun is shining, and the birds are singing as they help us dress.
However, just for the heck of it, [Rick] wiggled his bent Sidney's out of his coat pocket, thumbed to ostrich comma male-female, old-young, sick-well, mint-used, and inspected the prices. (3.30)
The desire to keep objects from the past alive and vital, rather than let them decay into oblivion, is a pretty fundamental human trait, at least in modern civilization. It's why the Smithsonian exists, and why pawn shop owners prefer to deal in authentic, mint-condition items. The future deals with animals in pawn shop-type businesses, demonstrating this fact in a seriously surreal way.
The chairs, the carpet, the tables—all had rotted away; they sagged in mutual ruin, victims of the despotic force of time. And of abandonment. No one had lived in this apartment for years; the ruin had become almost complete. (6.17)
The world at large may be decaying, but smaller portions of it—like the home—are a mess, too. Hey, it could be worse. Not even the ravages of time can compete with our freshman dorm rooms.
(Isidore) and the thousands of other specials throughout Terra, all of them moving toward the ash heap. Turning into living kipple. (7.15)
What, did you think human beings were perhaps magically immune from the rot that will overcome everything? Because the answer is no. No, they are not. After that depressing thought, here's some videos featuring adorable kittens.
"But someone has to do this," Phil Resch pointed out.
"They can use androids. Much better if andys do it. I can't anymore; I've had enough. She was a wonderful singer. The planet could have used her. This is insane." (12.50)
Rich finally has an epiphany: he realizes that Luba Luft could have helped humanity persevere in the face of degeneration because her beautiful voice would keep works of art such as Mozart's The Magic Flute alive. Hm. Maybe Rick isn't just a law-abiding citizen hoping to make a few bucks—maybe he's actually an agent of decay and disorder.
"How can I save you," the old man said, "if I can't save myself?" He smiled. "Don't you see? There is no salvation."
"Then what's this for?" Rick demanded. "What are you for?"
"To show you," Wilbur Mercer said, "that you aren't alone. I am here with you and always will be. Go and do your task, even though you know it's wrong." (15.108-110)
Most deities are all about salvation but not Mercer. He treads his own holy path. In connecting other people, Mercer helps give them the strength to persevere even though there's no salvation. It's not exactly "God's son died for your sins," but it's something.
And [the androids], the outstanding members of the illegal group, were also doomed, since if [Rick] failed to get them, someone else would. Time and tide, he thought. The cycle of life. Ending in this, the last twilight. Before the silence of death. He perceived in this a micro-universe, complete. (16.3)
Just in case you forgot how similar android and human life are, here's a quote to remind you. The androids are persevering against "time and tide," just like Rick and the other human characters. Unfortunately, the androids' "twilight"—a.k.a. death—comes in the shape of a name, badge, and laser gun.
Rachael said, "Do you know what the lifespan of a humanoid robot such as myself is? I've been in existence two years. How long do you calculate I have?"
After a hesitation [Rick] said, "About two more years."
"They never could solve that problem. I mean cell replacement. Perpetual or anyhow semi-perpetual renewal. Well, so it goes." (17.8-10)
Unlike Isaac Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man" robots, Dick's androids only live for 4-5 years. That's the same shelf life as Spam. Doesn't this make Rick's job … a little pointless? If Luba Luft would live for only a few years, then why not let her persevere and fill those years singing that sweet, sweet music?
Once, [Rick] fell; clouds of dust obscured everything, and he ran from the dust—he hurried faster, sliding and tumbling on the loose pebbles. Ahead he saw his parked car. I'm back down, he said to himself. I'm off the hill. (21.20)
The mountain sounds a lot like a landscape torn from the underworld. In fact, it reminds us very much of the Sisyphus myth. We're thinking that this scene depicts Rick's perseverance to live, both metaphorically and literally.
"It's the curse on us," Iran said. "That Mercer talks about."
"The dust?" [Rick] asked.
"The killers that found Mercer in his sixteenth year, when they told him he couldn't reverse time and bring things back to life again. So now all he can do is move along with life, going where it goes, to death. […]" (22.41-43)
Life leads to death. That's just the way it goes. The circle of life has been explored in myth, song, and, of course, science fiction novels. But here's Mercer claiming that he could reverse the decay process, and people told him to cease and desist. Who does that?
The TV set shouted, "—duplicates the halcyon days of the pre-Civil War Southern states! Either as body servants or tireless field hands, the custom-tailored humanoid robot—designed specifically for YOUR UNIQUE NEEDS, FOR YOU AND YOU ALONE—given to you on your arrival absolutely free […]." (2.8)
Have you've heard of selective memory, the ability to basically select what you do or do not remember? Here's a whole bunch of social-selective memory on display. Sure, the pre-Civil War South could be described as "halcyon" for some people—hoop-skirt-wearing, plantation-owning people. But this future society seems to have selectively forgotten the many people who didn't find slavery such a great thing. Like the slaves.
In addition, no one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won. The dust which had contaminated most of the planet's surface had originated in no country, and no one, even the wartime enemy, had planned on it. (2.3)
At first, you might read this quote and think, "Isn't who won a world war kind of an important detail to remember?" But here, memory isn't so much faulty as it is chosen. Who won isn't as important a detail for these future citizens as the condition of the world.
To Eldon Rosen, who slumped morosely by the door of the room, he said, "Does she know?" Sometimes they didn't; false memories had been tried various times, generally in the mistaken idea that through them, reactions to testing would be altered. (5.89)
Most faulty memory in Do Androids Dream? comes from people being perfectly human, by which we mean imperfect. Here, faulty memory comes directly from people trying to alter memory to their advantage. Look out for men wearing dark sunglasses and holding shiny objects, is all we're saying.
This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name "Mozart" will vanish, the dust will have won. (9.4)
Okay, sure, the accomplishments of even Mozart will one day fade to dust, but that doesn't mean people won't stop trying to preserve the memory of the great composer through audio recordings, live performances, and YouTube.
"Only androids show up with false memory systems; it's been found ineffective in humans." (11.46)
Like empathy, false memories help distinguish a human from an android. As usual, Phil Resch has to make things more complicated. Resch never had his mind physically tampered with, but one could argue that Garland's power of suggestion altered his memories of being human all the same.
"You're out at night bumbling across the open space, and all of a sudden you see a flare, and there's a rocket, cracked open, with old pre-colonial fiction magazines spilling out everywhere. A fortune. But of course you read them before you sell them." (13.57)
On the alien colonies, humans seem to want to keep the memories from earth alive for posterity, so they've created an underground market for Earth antiques like tattered copies of Self and Reader's Digest. Awesome. But if these magazines are cluttering up the Mars antique market, how are people on Earth revisiting their history?
"Maybe this was the last spider," [Isidore] said. "The last living spider on Earth." He reflected. "In that case it's all over for spiders, too." (18.72)
Just imagine a world with no spiders, one where no one even remembers what a spider is. It's really kind of tragic—unless you're an arachnophobe.
I could go back and get that spider, [Rick] reflected. I've never found a live, wild animal. It must be a fantastic experience to look down and see something living scuttling along. Maybe it'll happen someday to me like it did him. (19.24)
Rick has never experienced seeing an animal living in the wild, but he's heard about it. Collective memory tells him it must be a great experience, just like we've heard it must be great to graduate college with no student loan debt and great job prospects. Sob.
Once, he thought, I would have seen the stars. Years ago. But now it's only the dust; no one has seen a star in years, at least not on Earth. (20.25)
How cool is this: We see the same constellations as the ancient Greeks who created them thousands of years ago. But not future-us: in the future, people only see a gray dark sky with no constellations. In other words, the future world is so disconnected from its past that it can't even see the stars of yesterday. (Did you try checking Hollywood boulevard? Womp womp.)
"God, what a marathon assignment," Rick said. "Once I began on it there wasn't any way for me to stop; it kept carrying me along, until finally I got to the Batys, and then suddenly I didn't have anything to do. And that—" He hesitated, evidently amazed at what he had begun to say. "That was the worst," he said.
Rick's experience with the Batys became the worst once it's in the past. Once it's done, it becomes permanent and can't be undone. Luckily, this is a Philip K. Dick novel: nothing, not even the past, is all that permanent.
[…]; it had been a costly war despite the valiant predictions of the Pentagon and its smug scientific vassal, the Rand Corporation—which had, in fact, existed not far from this spot. Like the apartment owners, the corporation had departed, evidently for good. No one missed it. (2.2)
"Ennobled violence" is the belief that violence, such as war, will solve the world's problems—that dropping an a-bomb will end violence with extreme prejudice. This quotation lets us take a good guess at how well that turned out for the world in this novel.
In retiring—i.e., killing—an andy, he did not violate the rule of life laid down by Mercer. You shall kill only the killers, Mercer had told them the year empathy boxes first appeared on Earth. (3.19).
Check out the language Rick uses to consider his violence acts toward androids. The word "retiring" gives him a mental work around to the fact that he's doing violence that is against Mercerism. That's some classic doublespeak right there—and it also makes us think about retirement parties in a new light, know what we mean?
[…]; the .38 magnum slug struck the android in the head and its brain box burst. The Nexus-6 unit which operated it blew into pieces, a raging, mad wind which carried throughout the car. Bits of it, like the radioactive dust itself, whirled down on Rick. (8.78)
This description of Polokov's death hints at how Rick views violence toward androids at this point in the novel. On the one hand, the language of the bullet shredding through Polokov's head is ultra violent. On the other hand, words like "Nexus-6 unit" and "brain box" are weirdly sterile. We're so confused. How are we supposed to feel? Someone hold us.
[…]; even without the Penfield mood organ at hand his spirits brightened into optimism. And into hungry, gleeful anticipation. (8.92)
Look at that word "hungry." It's as if Rick is a predator, prowling for his next meal, and in a way he is. If he doesn't retire those andys, he doesn't get paid—and you can buy your weekly supply of Hot Pockets without cold, hard cash.
"And she made no effort to keep us from seeing her. As if she didn't care."
"No, she didn't care," he said. "Rachael wouldn't give a damn if you saw her; she probably wanted you to, so I'd know who had done it." (20.17-18)
Rachael wants to hurt Rick for what's he's done—violently. Sounds like Dick agrees with Martin Luther King Jr., who said that violence begets violence (source).
Resch, you're an android, he thought to himself. You got me out of this place and here's your reward; you're everything we jointly abominate. The essence of what we're committed to destroy. (11.41)
Could this be change in Rick's relationship with the violence he does to androids? It sure looks like yes. Yes, he'll probably give Resch the old laser tube should the Voigt-Kampff confirm that he's an andy, but Rick isn't as hungry for the hunt as he was in the last passage.
"I see a pattern. The way you killed Garland and then the way you killed Luba. You don't kill the way I do; you don't try to—Hell," [Rick] said. "I know what it is. You like to kill. All you need is a pretext." (12.62)
Rick doesn't like the way Resch retired Luba Luft, and it shows. Notice how he said Resch killed Garland and Luba, not retired. At this point, Rick is riding the crest of the character arc right at enlightenment.
Pris had now cut three legs from the spider, which crept about miserably on the kitchen table, seeking a way out, a path to freedom. It found none. (18.45)
The novel takes a common form of violence (well, we hope not that common… ) and makes it horrifying. Reading about Pris torturing the poor spider is really terrible. Yet violence to creatures as small as spiders, bugs, and ants is commonplace in our world, so much so we rarely pay attention to it. (Although, seriously, if you're going to kill a bug, just do it quickly and get it over with. No need to torture it.)
[Rick] shot Roy Baty; the big man's corpse lashed about, toppled like an overstacked collection of separate, brittle entities; it smashed into the kitchen table and carried dishes and flatware down with it. Reflex circuits in the corpse made it twitch and flutter, but it had died; […]. (19.44)
Rick guns down Roy Baty, but his view of this android's death is a little more vivid, a little more detailed than Polokov's. Instead of "brain box"—the way he describes the first android he kills—Rick sees the 'droid as a "corpse." And that's a pretty human word.
At that moment the first rock—and it was not rubber or soft foam plastic—struck him in the inguinal region. And the pain, the first knowledge of absolute isolation and suffering, touched him throughout in its undisguised actual form. (21.17)
Violence actually teaches Rick to see how isolated he is. Violence isolated Rick from those he loved, and all alone on the mountain, violence is being done to him.
[Isidore] wondered, then, if the others who had remained on Earth experienced the void this way. Or was it peculiar to his peculiar biological identity, a freak generated by his inept sensory apparatus? (2.17)
Isidore is so isolated that he doesn't even know if his isolation is unusual. (We think he'd be a lot less concerned about inhabiting an entire apartment building if he'd ever had to deal with upstairs neighbors having elephant dance parties at two in the morning.)
Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator. (3.18)
Isolation might go against human nature, but it's the go-to state for androids. They're isolationist by their very nature, like some species of snakes or sharks—or Reddit users. (We kid, we kid.)
"But an empathy box," he said, stammering in his excitement, "is the most personal possession you have! It's an extension of your body; it's the way you touch other humans, it's the way you stop being alone." (6.35)
The empathy boxes are like the smartphones of the future. They help people connect to one another over great distances and keep isolation at bay. Even better, the battery never runs down!
No support, [Rick] informed himself. Most androids I've known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife. She has nothing to give me. (8.89)
Rick feels isolation creeping into his life as he begins to disconnect from his wife. You could argue that Rick's true antagonist is not Roy or Rachael but his own feeling of isolation from others. In other words, himself. (Hint: try thinking about your wife in terms of what she needs and what you can give her—that might be a start.)
"All our vidphone lines here are trapped. They recirculate the call to other offices within the building. This is a homeostatic enterprise we're operating here, Deckard. We're a closed loop, cut off from the rest of San Francisco. We know about them but they don't know about us." (11.20)
How isolated is the future city of San Francisco? It's isolated enough for an entire android police station to operate without ever coming into contact with the real San Francisco Police Department. Honestly, you'd think they'd accidently get the other's mail or something.
The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by—or despite—its outcry.
"He did a woodcut of this," Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting.
"I think," Phil Resch said, "that this is how an andy must feel." (12.10-12)
The novel uses Edvard Munch's The Scream as a visual representation for isolation. And check it out—Phil Resch is actually imagining how an andy might feel. Maybe that's the function of art: to help us empathize.
"It's not in accord with present-day Mercerian ethics," [Isidore] pointed out. "All life is one; 'no man is an island,' as Shakespeare said in olden times."
"John Donne." (13.22-23)
John Donne made history—or at least a couple of quotes on Goodreads—with his famous Meditation XVII. Interestingly, Do Androids Dream? seems to be reconsidering Donne's famous words. The novel's equivalent would likely read, "No man should be an island." Or an android.
"I wish," Rachael said, "that I had known that before I came. I never would have flown down here. I think you're asking too much. You know what I have? Toward this Pris android?"
"Empathy," [Rick] said.
"Something like that. Identification; there goes I. My god, maybe that's what'll happen." (16.27-29)
Here, Rachael has a real chance to connect with another android—which shouldn't be too hard considering they've got a lot in common—but she can only see Pris as an extension of herself. In Rachael's world there is only "I." That makes for some serious I-solation. (Sorry, couldn't help ourselves.)
You have to be with other people, [Isidore] thought. In order to live at all. I mean, before they came here I could stand it, being along in the building. But now it's changed. You can't go back, he thought. You can't go from people to nonpeople. In panic he thought, I'm dependent on them. Thank god they stayed. (18.8)
Thanks, Isidore, for basically summing up the theme of isolation: it's unnatural. We need each other to survive. As Aristotle said, a person who doesn't need others is either a beast or a god, but definitely not human.
Who threw the stone at me? he asked himself. No one. But why does it bother me? I've undergone it before, during fusion. While using my empathy box, like everyone else. This isn't new. But it was. Because, he thought, I did it alone. (21.20)
Even getting stoned is better when you have a friend. Rick faces the same violence and difficulties on that hill as he does in the empathy box, but now he has no one to help him along. The task of climbing that hill alone was so difficult it almost killed him. (Just try climbing Everest without a whole support team.)
Releasing the handles, he examined his arm, then made his way unsteadily to the bathroom of his apartment to wash the cut off. This was not the first wound he had received while in fusion with Mercer, and it probably would not be the last. (2.30)
Here's another longstanding Dick motif. Once a character passes through the boundary between the two worlds, the realities blend together and even interact with one another. But isn't it weird that the characters in the novel are so laid back about it? Like, "A rock from another dimension struck me in the arm this morning; boy do I hate Mondays."
John Isidore gradually experienced a waning of the living room in which he stood; the dilapidated furniture and walls ebbed out and he ceased to experience them at all. He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. (2.21)
Philip K. Dick's stories often contain a device that allows characters to enter a hallucinatory or alternative version of reality. In Do Androids Dream?, this machine is the empathy box, which lets people experience Mercer's reality as if it were their own. How weird. Wonder what it would be like to have a box in our living rooms that gave us the impression of seeing other people's realities, although it really all takes place on a soundstage and … oh. Where'd we put that remote?
"This is Deckard. How much is an electric ostrich?"
"Oh, I'd say we could fix you up for less than eight hundred dollars. How soon did you want delivery? We would have to make it up for you; there's not that much call for—" (3.40)
Before you stick up your nose at Dick's characters plugging into the empathy box, think about this: we create different versions of reality in our everyday lives. In economics, we assign value to objects (or ostriches) based on demand for the item. The value has nothing to do with the ostrich's intrinsic worth or its role in nature. In a way, saying the ostrich is worth $800 is one way of creating a version of reality called economics. Mind blown.
Their remarks, always witty, always new, weren't rehearsed. Amanda's hair glowed, her eyes glinted, her teeth shone; she never ran down, never became tired, never found herself at a loss as to a clever retort to Buster's bang-bang string of quips, jokes, and sharp observations. (7.21)
Looks like the empathy box isn't the only jab Dick makes at TV. Television is basically a box we put in our living room that pumps in different realities once every hour. Even our so-called reality TV is fabricated to the point that we can safely call it a different reality all together. (Unless you're prone to being locked in a house/ on an island/ in a singing competition with ten other people between the ages of 18 and 24 who all have visible abs and perfect teeth. Call us?)
[Garland] paused, then said, "We all came here together on the same ship from Mars. Not Resch; he stayed behind another week, receiving the synthetic memory system." He was silent then. (11.11)
Imagine living in a world where you could never tell if your memories were real or implanted, if your reality was real or not. Then again, if your memories are tampered with, would you still be you? Or would you be the you that is not, in fact, you? Huh…?
"Anyhow, there's a fortune to be made in smuggling pre-colonial fiction, the old magazines and books and films, to Mars. Nothing is as exciting. To read about cities and huge industrial enterprises, and really successful colonization. You can imagine what it might have been like. What Mars ought to be like. Canals." (13.51)
We love an author who can poke a little fun at his genre. On the one hand, science fiction has become reality as citizens now live on extraterrestrial planets. On the other, those science fiction stories are still way better than the way things turned out. No matter how far we advance, science fiction is still fiction. (Although, we're pretty sure smartphones are more awesome than anyone could possibly have imagined.)
The TV set continued, "The 'moon' is painted; in the enlargements, one of which you see now on your screen, brush strokes show. And there is even some evidence that the scraggly weeds and dismal, sterile soil—perhaps even the stones hurled at Mercer by unseen alleged parties—are equally faked. It is quite possible in fact that the 'stones' are made of soft plastic, causing no authentic wounds." (18.41)
Mercerism is a video camera, a painted soundstage, and some future-magic technology. But people still experience it, so doesn't that make it real? What does it mean to be "real" anyway? What if nothing's real? (And what are all of you doing in our dorm room?)
"Where are you going? Won't you come downstairs and—be with me? There was the most shocking news on TV; Buster Friendly claims that Mercer is a fake. What do you think about that, Rick? Do you think it could be true?"
"Everything is true," [Rick} said. "Everything anybody has ever thought." (20.21-22)
Whoa, Rick is getting deep here. On the one hand, our thoughts do exist in reality since they occur in our brains, which last time we check were in reality. On the other hand, perhaps thoughts are too immaterial to count. What do you think, Shmoopers?
"It's strange," Rick said. "I had the absolute, utter, completely real illusion that I had become Mercer and people were lobbing rocks at me. But not the way you experience it when you hold the handles of an empathy box. When you use an empathy box you feel you're with Mercer. The difference is I wasn't with anyone; I was alone."
"They're saying now that Mercer is a fake."
"Mercer isn't a fake," he said. "Unless reality is a fake." (21.48-50)
Even things that are made-up become a part of reality in their own way. We haven't ever met a Frodo Baggins, but we bet you know who we're talking about. Mercer may not have had been an actual person, but his effect on reality has been, you know, real.
"Fine," Iran said. "I want [the toad] to work perfectly. My husband is devoted to it." (22.59)
An electric toad may not be a "real" toad—as in an organic critter that was born as a tadpole and that tastes like chicken, or so we're told. But it is still real in its own, unique way. It's still a part of reality same as an organic toad. (Now with 25% more GMOs!)
Long ago [Isidore] had lost sight of them. He found himself evidently climbing alone. But they were there. They still accompanied him; he felt them, strangely, inside him.
Isidore stood holding the two handles, experiencing himself as encompassing every other living thing, and then, reluctantly, he let go. (2.29)
You know what really helps us figure out symbols? When the concept is right there on the label. Thanks, Dick! The empathy box turns the abstract concept of empathy physical, making it really, really easy to understand. No, really, Dick: we get it.
Empathy, evidently, existed only within the human community, whereas intelligence to some degree could be found throughout every phylum and order including the arachnida. (3.16)
Turn off Threes and pay attention, Shmoopers: this is one of the most important quotes in the novel. If empathy exists only in humans, then you could argue that empathy is the defining feature of humanity. That is, you have to have empathy to be human. But if it were that easy, this wouldn't be great literature.
[Eldon's] voice had become hard and bitingly penetrating. "Your police department—others as well—may have retired, very probably have retired, authentic humans with underdeveloped empathic ability, such as my innocent niece here. Your position, Mr. Deckard, is extremely bad morally. Ours isn't." (5.48)
Didn't take long for use to see how not easy empathy is, did it? While Rachael turns out to be an android—not a human with underdeveloped empathetic ability—Eldon's question echoes throughout the novel. Is killing something for a lack of empathy morally wrong? Is it, in fact, not empathetic?
And the American and Soviet police had publicly stated that Mercerism reduced crime by making citizens more concerned about the plight of their neighbors. Mankind needs more empathy. (7.24)
Turns out, it actually is hard to stab and rob someone when you stop to think about how much it hurts to be stabbed. (That's it: we're officially declaring all stabbers to be androids.)
"It's not just false memory structures," Phil Resch said. "I own an animal; not a false one but the real thing. A squirrel. I love that squirrel, Deckard; […]." (11.52)
Resch's argument for his humanity is that he loves his squirrel, and only a human could have that kind of feeling for a non-human. But we're calling him out here. Everyone loves squirrels. Fact!
Rick said, "There is a defect in your empathic, role-taking ability. One which we don't test for. Your feelings toward androids."
"Of course we don't test for that."
"Maybe we should." He had never thought of it before, had never felt any empathy on his own part toward the androids he killed. (12.95-97)
Here, Rick begins to question how to define true empathy, and this doubt drives his actions for the rest of the novel. Can it really be considered empathy if you can pick and choose what you feel empathy for? Or is empathy an all or nothing proposition? It's kind of like that O-Town song in that it's nothing like that O-Town song.
[Iran] held up her wrist; on it he made out a small dark bruise. "And I remember thinking how much better we are, how much better off, when we're with Mercer. Despite the pain. Physical pain but spiritually together; I felt everyone else, all over the world, all who had fused at the same time." (15.60)
The rocks in the empathy box are a reminder that empathy has physical consequence despite being an abstract concept. If you cried at the beginning of Up or cringed when that guy was kicked to death during the elevator scene in Drive, then you know empathy can be a very physical sensation indeed. Actually, bring on the rocks; just don't make us watch the beginning of Up again. So sad.
"No, it's that empathy," Irmgard said vigorously. Fists clenched, she roved into the kitchen, up to Isidore. "Isn't it a way of proving that humans can do something we can't do? Because without the Mercer experience we just have your word that you feel this empathy business, this shared, group thing. How's the spider?" (18.59)
"If you kill them you won't be able to fuse with Mercer again," Isidore said.
"You won't take me up there? Show me which floor? Just tell me the floor. I'll figure out which apartment on the floor it is."
"No," Isidore said. (19.20-22)
Isidore is the poster boy for empathy. His empathic ability is off the charts, and ever after watching the androids torture the spider, he still can't help Rick kill them. Come on, Isidore! Spiders are a crucial link in the food web. What have androids done for you lately?
So this is what Mercer sees, [Rick] thought as he painstakingly tied the cardboard box shut—tied it again and again. Life which we can no longer distinguish; life carefully buried up to its forehead in the carcass of a dead world. In every cinder of the universe Mercer probably perceives inconspicuous life. Now I know, he thought. And once having seen through Mercer's eyes, I probably will never stop. (22.9)
This is a toughy, so you might want to read it more than once. Go on, we'll wait.
Back? Okay. This quote is all about the importance of empathy. When Dick in the voice of Rick describes reality as "the carcass of a dead world," his point is that we have to nurture that "inconspicuous life" to prevent things from getting worse. Empathy is the key to beginning and sustaining that nurturing attitude. And, as Rick notes, once you start seeing life empathetically, good luck unseeing it.