Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Versions of Reality

By Philip K. Dick

Versions of Reality

Chapter 2

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?

Chapter 3

"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.

Chapter 7

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?)

Chapter 11

[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…?

Chapter 13

"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.)

Chapter 18

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?)

Chapter 20

"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?

Chapter 21
Rick Deckard

"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.

Chapter 22
Iran Deckard

"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!)