Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Memory & the Past

By Philip K. Dick

Memory & the Past

Chapter 2

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.

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 9

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.

Chapter 11

"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.

Chapter 13

"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?

Chapter 18
John Isidore

"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.

Chapter 19

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.

Chapter 20

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.)

Rick Deckard

"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.