Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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The Voigt-Kampff Test Symbol Analysis

The Voigt-Kampff Test Symbol Icon

One of Dick’s most famous ideas in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the Voigt-Kampff test, designed to root out closeted androids by testing their innate sense of empathy. The test presupposes that all human beings have an innate sense of empathy, and androids don’t. Again and again, Dick shows this assumption to be incorrect. In a way, the Voigt-Kampf test is another symbol of a futuristic society’s struggle to control and classify human nature—a struggle made easier by mechanization and technology. Like the empathy box or the mood organ, the Voigt-Kampff test is designed to celebrate and protect human nature, but it ends up just revealing the feebleness of any rigid definition of what is “human.”

The Voigt-Kampff Test Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Voigt-Kampff Test. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Ballantine Books edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? published in 1996.
Chapter 5 Quotes

"Babyhide," Rick said. He stroked the black leather surface of the briefcase. "One hundred percent genuine human babyhide." He saw the two dial indicators gyrate frantically. But only after a pause. The reaction had come, but too late. He knew the reaction period down to a fraction of a second, the correct reaction period; there should have been none.
"Thanks, Miss Rosen," he said, and gathered together the equipment again; he had concluded his retesting. "That's all."
"You're leaving?" Rachael asked.
"Yes," he said. "I'm satisfied."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Rachael Rosen (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick conducts a Voigt-Kampff test upon Rachael Rosen. The Voigt-Kampff, we're told, is one of several tests used to determine whether the test subject is a human or an android. Supposedly, the test is capable of measuring empathy (the emotion that distinguishes humans from non-humans). A skilled technician like Rick can interpret his subjects' heart-rate, pupil dilation, etc., to determine their humanity. Here, we see, Rick determines (or believes that he determines) that Rachael is a robot, because she reacts to his emotional provocations a split-second too late.

The conceit of the Voigt-Kampff test is especially bizarre because--at least by readers' standards--empathy cannot be measured or rationalized. In other words, it seems somehow insufficient to measure a person's empathy by studying facts and figures (such as heart-rate). And yet because Rick--and, it would seem, everyone else in his society--understands empathy in the narrowest, most clinical sense, he believes that empathy really can be measured numerically. Taken to its extremes, this test essentially gives bounty hunters like Rick the power to decide whether someone is human or not.

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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.
Eldon Rosen said, "No. We programmed her completely.”
“But I think toward the end she suspected." To the girl he said, "You guessed when he asked for one more try."
Pale, Rachael nodded fixedly.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Eldon Rosen (speaker), Rachael Rosen
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:

Rick Deckard has just administered a Voigt-Kampff test for Rachael Rosen, and concluded that Rachael is an android. Surreally, Eldon Rosen, the president of the powerful Rosen Corporation, then chats with Rick about Rachael's identity as a robot--in front of Rachael herself.

In a split second, Eldon and Rick go from treating Rachel like an equal to suddenly treating her like an obedient pet. Discovering that you're an android, one would think, is just about the most traumatic event imaginable, and yet because she's not fully human, Rick and Eldon feel comfortable talking about her calmly and briskly, seemingly unconcerned with hurting her feelings. Their behavior, we should note, is alarmingly un-empathetic--despite the fact that Rick's only reason for deciding that Rachael is an android is her lack of empathy. Rick entirely alters the way he treats Rachael--he goes from being respectful to being cruel and dismissive--simply because of her score on a test.

Chapter 9 Quotes

"An android," he said, "doesn't care what happens to any other 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.
"A bounty hunter," Rick said. "But I'm not an android."
"This test you want to give me." Her voice, now, had begun to return. "Have you taken it?"

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Miss Luba Luft
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick is in the process of hunting down and killing a suspected android named Miss Luba Luft. To Rick's great surprise, Miss Luft asks him what seems like a fairly obvious question--has Rick taken his own test? In other words, couldn't Rick be an android, too?

Miss Luft's question is important, because it tells us a lot about the structures of power and control in Rick's society, and about the nature of identity and humanity in Dick's vision of the world. It's suggested that Rick avoids considering the possibility that he's an android--despite the fact that he's frequently interacting with androids who think they're human. One could argue that Rick's refusal, thus far, to consider his own humanity suggests that he really is an android--he's been programmed to never think about his own nature.

There's also a second, more interesting possibility. Perhaps the reason Rick doesn't need to take the Voigt-Kampff Test is because he's in a position of power. Although the supposed definition of an android is a being that's incapable of feeling empathy, we've already seen that this definition is virtually nonsensical. The true, implicit definition of an android is a being who lacks power in society--a being who cannot defend himself when the authorities accuse him of being inhuman. Regardless of whether or not he's made of metal and plastic, Rick cannot be an android because he is a powerful person--the rules of Voigt-Kampff simply don't apply to him.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Preoccupied, Phil Resch drove by reflex; his progressively more gloomy train of thought continued to dominate his attention. "Listen, Deckard," he said suddenly. "After we retire Luba Luft — I want you to — " His voice, husky and tormented,broke off. "You know. Give me the Boneli test or that empathy scale you have. To see about me."
"We can worry about that later," Rick said evasively. "You don't want me to take it, do you?" Phil Resch glanced at him with acute comprehension. "I guess you know what the results will be; Garland must have told you something. Facts which I don't know."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Phil Resch (speaker), Garland
Related Symbols: The Voigt-Kampff Test
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Resch and Rick have escaped from the police station where Rick was being held captive. Resch claims to be a human being, despite the fact that Rick has been informed that Resch is really an android. As Resch drives Rick away from the station, he asks Rick to test his humanity later on. Resch shows every sign of believing himself to be a human being and yet suspecting that he's really an android--he can tell from Rick's face that Rick knows the truth (although it turns out that he's wrong).

Throughout the chapter, Dick challenges our understanding of whether or not Resch (and, for that matter, Rick!) is an android. Dick illustrates the futility of any formal "definition" of humanity--there simply isn't a reliable test, let alone a reliable authority figure--that can weigh in on who is and isn't human. Resch is an interesting figure, because he is ultimately found to be technically human, but also a sadistic person without empathy or compassion--so what, then, is the definition of humanity?

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The Voigt-Kampff Test Symbol Timeline in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Voigt-Kampff Test appears in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
...at all—for all intents and purposes, they’re human beings. However, there is one test, the Voigt-Kampff Empathy Test, that’s designed to root out Nexus-Sixes. Because these robots are designed for intelligence,... (full context)
Chapter 4
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Bryant and Rick discuss the Voigt-Kampff test. It’s true, Bryant admits, that a few real human beings can’t pass this test.... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
...the Rosens into their building, where he explains that he’ll be running a series of Voigt-Kampff tests on Rosen employees to root out potential androids. Rachael asks Rick to give her... (full context)
Chapter 5
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Rick proceeds with his Voigt-Kampff test for Rachael Rosen. He shines a bright light into her eye to measure pupil... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...into revealing the inconclusiveness of his own test—by testing Rachael, Rick has proved that the Voigt-Kampff is invalid. (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...will help the Rosen corporation hunt down the Nexus-Six androids. Rachael assures Rick that the Voigt-Kampff test will be sufficient for testing Nexus-Six robots. Rick agrees to these terms—he’ll hunt down... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Rick then has a suspicion, and tells Rachael he wants to ask her one more Voigt-Kampff test question. He tells Rachael that his suitcase is made from “human babyhide.” He notices... (full context)
Chapter 9
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Rick proceeds with the Voigt-Kampff test, and Miss Luft reluctantly listens to his questions. She goes off on long tangents... (full context)
Chapter 10
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
...he’s found a body in Rick’s hovercar. A senior police officer asks Rick about the Voigt-Kampff equipment he’s carrying around, and tells Rick that he gets one phone call. (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Commodification and Consumerism Theme Icon
...of this police agency in his life. He claims that he’s never heard of the Voigt-Kampff test, and that Rick has probably been killing innocent human beings, not androids. Resch suggests... (full context)
Chapter 11
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Rick proceeds with his Voigt-Kampff test, applying it to Phil Resch, another bounty-hunter. Resch nods and goes to get his... (full context)
Chapter 12
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
...for Luft, as Resch looks on, perplexed. Rick tells Resch that he’ll give Resch the Voigt-Kampff test soon, and Resch will see that he’s an android. Because Resch came to Earth... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
...and Rick climb into the hovercar. Inside the car, Rick takes out some of the Voigt-Kampff equipment that he carries in his briefcase. He attaches adhesive pads to Resch’s cheeks and... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
...Garland: Garland was trying to split up Rick and Resch. Rick wonders aloud why the Voigt-Kampff test doesn’t measure humans’ empathy to androids. Previously, Rick had believed that empathy toward robots... (full context)
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Rick tells Resch that he wants Resch to administer the Voigt-Kampff test on him. Rick points the machines at his own eyes, and then says, “I’m... (full context)
Chapter 19
Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
...an easier time retiring them, since he’s no longer legally required to give them a Voigt-Kampff test first. (full context)