Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Analysis

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Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon
Perception, Reality, and Power Theme Icon
Memory Theme Icon
Animals and the Environment Theme Icon
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Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Theme Icon

In 2007, the journalist Adam Gopnik wrote a long essay on Philip K. Dick in which he proposed that all of Dick’s novels are structured around the same question: “What is human?” Sure enough, this question hangs over every chapter of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In a way, the other four themes of the novel represent four different ways of answering this question (for example, humans are human because they’re capable of making memories; because they alter their environments; because they can buy and sell things, etc.).

Even though there are many ways to answer the question, “What makes us human?”, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is most interested in one potential answer—humans are human because they’re capable of feeling empathy. (The word “empathy” appears nearly 100 times in the book.) In the future, police officers distinguish between humans and androids by administering the Voigt-Kampff test, which is designed to measure one’s empathetic reaction to a series of emotional situations. Humans are supposed to respond by displaying empathy—i.e., they’re supposed to feel a sense of connection to the people or animals in the hypothetical situations—while androids are supposed to respond with a sense of coldness that borders on psychopathy.

The disturbing “joke” of Do Androids Dream is that, for all the talk about the importance of empathy, there doesn’t seem to be very much of it going around. The human characters in the novel are cold and short with one another, even when they’re friends or spouses. Rick Deckard, the novel’s protagonist, is distant with his wife, Iran, and on the one occasion that he shows romantic interest in another woman, Rachel Rosen, his interest is quickly replaced by disgust. Then there are other characters, such as Philip Resch, who are technically human, but are also cruel and totally lacking in empathy. On the flip side, the androids in the novel, such as Pris Stratton, show occasional signs of an emotional connection to other androids. After Pris learns that one of her friends has been “retired”—i.e., murdered by Rick Deckard—she’s devastated.

One of Dick’s most provocative points about empathy and human nature is that empathy isn’t an emotional reaction at all—rather, it’s a way of uniting humans together against some kind of “other.” In Dick’s vision of the future, millions of people subscribe to a mysterious religion called Mercerism, which requires its members to grip an “empathy box” that enables them to experience the sensations and feelings of their fellow human beings. As the android Irmgard Baty perceptively points out, the purpose of the empathy box isn’t to make human beings kinder or more sensitive—if it is, then the empathy box has clearly failed. Rather, the purpose of the box is to remind human beings that they have a common identity (even if this identity is an illusion) and that they are different from—and superior to—androids. This is a disturbing idea, because it suggests that humans can only respond to Dick’s question, “What is human?”, with a vague and incomplete answer: “Not an android.” It’s as if in the future—a world in which there’s scarcely any empathy left—humans have begun hunting and killing androids in a desperate attempt to remind themselves of their own humanity. The irony, in short, is that humans confirm their humanity—their empathy—by shooting androids, which is just about the most un-empathetic act imaginable.

This doesn’t necessarily prove that humans are incapable of empathy—only that there’s nothing automatically empathetic about being a human being. In the end, then, Dick simply doesn’t have a good answer to his own question. By the same token, the characters in his novel are all trying, in one way or another, to understand what it means to be human, and coming up short. But in Dick’s futuristic world—where humans are on the verge of extinction, and where an android can, for all intents and purposes, be human—it becomes increasingly important to try to understand what it means to be human.

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Humanity, Androids, and Empathy Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Below you will find the important quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? related to the theme of Humanity, Androids, and Empathy.
Chapter 1 Quotes

As he started toward his car Barbour called after him hurriedly, "Um, I won't say anything to anybody here in the building."
Pausing, Rick started to say thanks. But then something of the despair that Iran had been talking about tapped him on the shoulder and he said, "I don't know; maybe it doesn't make any difference."
"But they'll look down on you. Not all of them, but some. You know how people are about not taking care of an animal; they consider it immoral and anti-empathic. I mean, technically it's not a crime like it was right after WWT. But the feeling's still there."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Bill Barbour (speaker), Iran Deckard
Related Symbols: World War Terminus
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

In Rick's society, humans demonstrate their morality and empathy--essentially proving that they are human, and thereby different from androids--by taking care of animals. Pets of any kind are incredibly rare, due to the environmental devastation caused by WWT, a nuclear apocalypse that happened at some point in the recent past.

First, notice the subtle competition between Rick and his neighbor, Bill Barbour, in this passage. Bill lectures Rick about being a good pet-owner, but in reality, Bill is bragging to Rick about being able to afford an exotic pet. In other words, being a "good" person in Rick's society presupposes having the money needed to buy an animal.

Second, it's important to note that humans think of pet-care as an almost nostalgic act; a reminder of a time before WWT, when there were trees and animals in abundance. To own a pet is to gain access to humanity's vanished past. In general, then, animals exemplify many of the key themes of the novel: consumerism, memory, empathy, and the environment.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

He found himself, instead, as always before, entering into the landscape of drab hill, drab sky. And at the same time he no longer witnessed the climb of the elderly man. His own feet now scraped, sought purchase, among the familiar loose stones; he felt the same old painful, irregular roughness beneath his feet and once again smelled the acrid haze of the sky — not Earth's sky but that of some place alien, distant, and yet, by means of the empathy box, instantly available.

Related Characters: John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, John Isidore, a mentally challenged young man living by himself, participates in a strange religious event--albeit one that's mass-marketed in his society. John grips the sides of the empathy box, a strange, futuristic device that allows millions of people to feel the same sensations as the box's controller. In this case, the controller is Wilbur Mercer, a pseudo-religious figure who stands for the most popular religion of the future, Mercerism.

As should be clear from the passage, the tenets of Mercerism are vague, if existent at all. John senses that he's climbing a big hill along with Mercer, his leader--but why John, or Mercer, needs to climb the hill remains unclear. It's equally unclear how John's out-of-body experience qualifies as empathy (as the name of the device would suggest). It's often said that empathy is the ability to "put yourself in someone else's shoes," i.e., experience life from their point of view. In the future, however, technology allows people to interpret empathy in a hilariously literal way. Put another way, "empathy" has seemingly come to refer to the literal ability to experience someone else's senses, without any of the emotional or moral connotations of the word. At the same time, this mass-marketed empathy is the defining feature of Mercerism, and, as we later learn, is the defining trait that humans use to identify themselves as different from androids.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Empathy, he once had decided, must be limited to herbivores or anyhow omnivores who could depart from a meat diet. Because, ultimately, the emphatic gift blurred the boundaries between hunter and victim, between the successful and the defeated. As in the fusion withMercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed.
Evidently the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick contemplates empathy and its relationship with the ideology of Mercerism (the most popular religion in Dick's futuristic society). As Rick sees it, empathy is a survival mechanism and nothing more. The biology is simple: if life forms are "programmed" to feel empathy, then they have an automatic incentive to stick together and take care of each other. Over the millennia, humans have evolved to feel a strong sense of empathy for one another, simply because empathy is good for the species.

The problem with Rick's account of empathy, of course, is that it's incredibly cold and callous. For Rick, empathy doesn't have any relationship to morality or compassion--it's just another "tool" to help people survive. Put another way, Rick treats empathy as if it's a purely logical behavior--when in fact, feeling empathy is arguably one of the least logical behaviors of which humans are capable.

In spite of Rick's rather cynical account of empathy, it's clear that empathy has become more and more important to humanity precisely because it's grown scarcer and more commodified. Mercerism, the most popular religion, is based on one principle and one principle along: humans can feel empathy (and, by the same token, androids cannot--thus they are like "solitary predators"). Paradoxically, empathy seems to have become more important to civilization, and yet also cheaper. 

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.

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

Garland said, "That damn fool Resch."
"He actually doesn't know?"
"He doesn't know; he doesn't suspect; he doesn't have the slightest idea. Otherwise he couldn't live out a life as a bounty hunter, a human occupation — hardly an android occupation." Garland gestured toward Rick's briefcase. "Those other carbons, the other suspects you're supposed to test and retire. I know them all." He 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.
Or rather it was silent.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Garland (speaker), Phil Resch
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disorienting passage, Rick has been arrested by a group of supposed police officers and taken to a police station Rick has never seen before. In custody, Rick meets two officers, Garland and Resch. While Resch is out of the room, Garland reveals that they're both androids--but only he (Garland) knows this. As far as Resch is concerned, everyone in the station is a human being.

Coming on the heels of Rick's realization that he might be an android himself, Garland's revelation is especially surprising. There's no outward difference between Resch and Garland, and yet Resch is convinced that he's a human being, while Garland is sure that he's a robot. Dick implies a question--if an android acts like a human being and believes itself to be a human being, is it a human being? Dick strongly suggests that the answer should be yes--as even after Rick discovers that Garland is an android, he can't help but think of Garland as a "he," though he quickly corrects himself ("It was silent). This connects again to the shifting definitions of humanity within the novel, and how far empathy extends--whether it's enough to bridge the blurry divide between human and android.

"You androids," Rick said, "don't exactly cover for each other in times of stress."
Garland snapped, "I think you're right; it would seem we lack a specific talent you humans possess. I believe it's called empathy."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Garland (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Rick has been arrested and brought into a police station. There, one of the officers, Garland, reveals that he (Garland) is an android--along with everyone else in the station. Garland claims that he (or it) is incapable of feeling the emotion of empathy.

Garland's comments seemingly confirm the importance of empathy in humanity. Rick investigates potential androids by measuring their empathetic responses to emotional triggers. While it had previously seemed that Rick was wrong to reduce all of human nature to one numerically-measured emotion, Garland's comments would suggest that humanity really is a matter of experiencing empathy. And yet ironically, Garland's definition of empathy (a "talent" possessed by human beings) isn't any less clinical or cynical than humanity's definition of the word. If empathy is what distinguishes robots from humans, one would imagine that a human would be much better equipped than a robot to talk about empathy. And yet no human character in the novel embodies empathy--we hear a lot of lip-service paid to empathy, but witness no actual empathetic behavior. It's thus suggested that empathy has been arbitrarily defined as the quality that separates humans from androids--because humans needed some kind of divider to maintain their power and sense of identity.

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?

Chapter 12 Quotes

"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," he said, "I know what it is. You like to kill. All you need is a pretext. If you had a pretext you'd kill me. That's why you picked up on the possibility of Garland being an android; it made him available for being killed.”

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Phil Resch , Garland
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick--now teamed up with Resch--has just witnessed Resch killing Luba Luft, one of the robots on Rick's "kill list." Rick believes that he's determined that Resch is a human being, at least in the narrow, clinical sense of the term "human" covered by the results of a Voigt-Kampff test. And yet in spite of the fact that he's "passed" the test, Resch shows every operative sign of being an android: his behavior around others is unfeeling and even psychopathic, to the point where he feels no guilt or anxiety when firing a gun at Luba Luft.

To the extent that Resch does feel emotion, he paints a frightening picture of human nature. Resch derives genuine pleasure from killing Luft. Thus far, Dick has suggested that the difference between a robot and a human is emotion. But here, the emotion that defines humanity isn't empathy (as Rick believes) but cruelty. If humans are defined by their ability to enjoy hurting others, then maybe it's better to be an unfeeling robot.

"If it's love toward a woman or an android imitation, it's sex. Wake up and face yourself, Deckard. You wanted to go to bed with a female type of android — nothing more, nothing less. I felt that way, on one occasion. When I had just started bounty hunting. Don't let it get you down; you'll heal. What's happened is that you've got your order reversed. Don't kill her—or be present when she's killed — and then feel physically attracted. Do it the other way."

Related Characters: Phil Resch (speaker), Rick Deckard , Miss Luba Luft
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

After Resch kills an android named Luba Luft, he discusses Luft with the horrified Rick. Resch points out that Rick feels guilty about ending Luft's "life," but only because Rick was attracted to Luft. Resch gives Rick instructions on how to avoid the sense of guilt Rick is currently feeling: get the "physical attraction" out of his system and then kill, not the other way around.

Notice that Resch has no objection to feeling physically attracted to a robot--another reminder of the gray area that separates humans from androids. Furthermore, the fact that Resch has no qualms about ending Luft's life, in spite of the fact that he's been shown to be confused about the differences between a human and a robot, suggests that his cruelty to robots extends to people as well. Whether or not he's passed the Voigt-Kampff, Resch is still clearly a cruel, non-empathetic person.

Chapter 14 Quotes

"The chickenhead," Pris said, "likes me."
"Don't call him that, Pris," Irmgard said; she gave Isidore a look of compassion. "Think what he could call you."

Related Characters: Pris Stratton (speaker), Irmgard Baty (speaker), John Isidore
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

John Isidore has agreed to shelter two robots hiding out from Rick Deckard: Pris and Irmgard. Pris has previously been kind to John, but here she insults him, and Irmgard immediately defends John from Pris's bullying. Surprisingly, Irmgard defends John on the grounds that John could bully Pris just as badly.

In spite of the fact that Rick thinks that robot are incapable of feeling true emotion, Irmgard seems to exhibit signs of "compassion" and even empathy. Irmgard's advice to Pris is a variation on the "golden rule" ("Do unto others as you have them do to you"), often said to be the most basic moral principle of human society. In all, the passage suggests that robots are more capable of emotion and compassion than humans would like to believe.

Chapter 15 Quotes

"Maybe they did just what we're doing," Roy Baty said. "Confided in, trusted, one given human being who they believed was different. As you said, special."
"We don't know that," Irmgard said. "That's only a conjecture. I think they, they — " She gestured. "Walked around. Sang from a stage like Luba. We trust — I'll tell you what we trust that fouls us up, Roy; it's our goddamn superior intelligence!" She glared at her husband, her small, high breasts rising and falling rapidly. "We're so smart — Roy, you're doing it right now; goddamn you, you're doing it now!"

Related Characters: Roy Baty (speaker), Irmgard Baty (speaker), Miss Luba Luft
Page Number: 166-167
Explanation and Analysis:

Roy and Irmgard Baty, the two leaders of the escaped androids, try to decide what to do. They're aware that Rick Deckard is tracking them down and "retiring" their group, one by one. Roy proposes that the remaining androids take to the road in an attempt to avoid Rick; Irmgard disagrees and proposes that they continue staying with John, the simple-minded human who's offered them shelter so far. Roy is reluctant to trust another human being, but Irmgard insists that Roy is wrong to rely excessively on his own intelligence and abilities--in order to survive, they need to "lean on" others.

As before, Irmgard shows every sign of feeling human emotion--in a time of crisis, her instinct is to trust and cooperate with other people. Irmgard's explanation of why it's necessary to cooperate with John might be overly logical and rational, but no more so than the explanations offered by Rick Deckard or Phil Resch (whom we believe to be real human beings). In short, the androids show signs of becoming, or at least striving to become, human. 

Rick said, "I took a test, one question, and verified it; I've begun to empathize with androids, and look what that means. You said it this morning yourself. 'Those poor andys.' So you know what I'm talking about. That's why I bought the goat. I never felt like that before. Maybe it could be a depression, like you get. I can understand now how you suffer when you're depressed; I always thought you liked it and I thought you could have snapped yourself out any time, if not alone then by means of the mood organ. But when you get that depressed you don't care. Apathy, because you've lost a sense of worth. It doesn't matter whether you feel better because if you have no worth — "
"What about your job?" Her tone jabbed at him; he blinked. "Your job," Iran repeated. "What are the monthly payments on the goat?" She held out her hand; reflexively he got out the contract which he had signed, passed it to her.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mood Organ
Page Number: 174-175
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick Deckard admits to his wife, Iran, that he's begun to empathize with the androids whom he's been tasked with hunting down and "retiring." Up to this point in the novel, Rick has defined empathy as the ability to feel a bond with other human beings--here, though, he expands his definition of empathy to encompass a bond with androids and animals. As a way of staving off his guilt and anxiety (and showing off his new bounty hunting rewards), Rick has purchased an expensive pet. He continues to play by "society's rules"--when he's sad, he sees no solution other than shopping, just as his friends and neighbors do.

Rick's interaction with Iran in this passage is important because it brings up the idea of apathy in contrast to empathy. While the human characters in the novel define themselves according to their ability to empathize with others, they're more notable for their disillusionment with emotional connection of any kind whatsoever. Rick has previously felt disconnected from his depressed wife, and here, when he reaches out to her and opens up about his feelings, she interrupts him to discuss money. Both characters, struggling to feel an emotional bond with anyone or anything, can only attempt an apathetic, futile solution to their problems--shopping therapy.

Chapter 16 Quotes

In addition, this android stole, and experimented with, various mind-fusing drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in androids a group experience similar to that of Mercerism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids.
The account had a pathetic quality. A rough, cold android, hoping to undergo an experience from which, due to a deliberately built-in defect, it remained excluded. But he could not work up much concern for Roy Baty; he caught, from Dave's jottings, a repellent quality hanging about this particular android.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard , Roy Baty , Dave Holden
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick Deckard learns that one of his final android victims, Roy Baty, has previously experimented with drugs in an attempt to replicate a human experience. Roy claims that he's been trying to hallucinate in an attempt to feel a psychic bond with other beings--much like the bond experienced by humans when using the empathy box in Mercerism. In short, Roy has been trying to become human; taking his cues from Mercerism, he believes that humanity consists of the ability to "connect" with others.

Roy's attempts to become human are pathetic, but not for the reasons that Rick Deckard lists here. As far as Rick is concerned, Mercerism is a legitimate religion and "empathy" is a legitimate way to define human nature. The real tragedy of Roy's existence is that he's bought into society's shallow, nonsensical definition of what it means to be human, then "failed" to adhere to such a definition. (Note also that Rick seems utterly unconcerned with Roy's misery--for someone who deals in empathy every day, he's remarkably un-empathetic here.)

Chapter 17 Quotes

Putting his laser tube away Rick said, "I can't do what Phil Resch said." He snapped the motor back on, and a moment later they had taken off again.
"If you're ever going to do it," Rachael said, "do it now. Don't make me wait."

"I'm not going to kill you." He steered the car in the direction of downtown San Francisco once again. "Your car's at the St. Francis, isn't it? I'll let you off there and you can head for Seattle." That ended what he had to say; he drove in silence.
"Thanks for not killing me," Rachael said presently.
"Hell, as you said you've only got two years of life left, anyhow. And I've got fifty. I'll live twenty-five times as long as you."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Rachael Rosen (speaker), Phil Resch
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Rachael, an android, has just slept with Rick. Rachael then reveals that she chose to have sex with Rick in the hopes that Rick would become incapable of retiring any more androids--that the memory of his sexual experience would fill him with remorse every time he pointed a gun at another android.

Rick is furious with Rachael for conning him, but he's also too emotionally attached to her to retire her (hence Rachael's ironic statement, "Thanks for not killing me"). Angry but no longer capable of hurting an android, Rick lashes out at Rachael by bragging about his longer lifespan--Rachael, he reminds her, has less than 2 years to live.

The passage sums up the relationship between robots and humans--a relationship that illustrates the so-called "narcissism of petty differences." At the end of the day, there's no real difference between androids and humans: they're equally miserable, equally alienated, and equally frustrated with their mortality. But instead of recognizing their common nature, humans have chosen to wage war against androids as a way of distracting themselves from their own weaknesses ("I'll live 25 times as long as you"). In short, humans distance themselves from androids in an attempt to glorify their own human nature.

Chapter 18 Quotes

"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?"

Related Characters: Irmgard Baty (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Empathy Box
Page Number: 209-210
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Irmgard Baty sums up the complicated relationship between humans and androids. Irmgard is watching John Isidore, who's been sheltering her in his home, as he interacts with Wilbur Mercer via an empathy box. Irmgard, who knows very well that society defines androids by their inability to feel empathy, points out that the human race needs to persecute robots in order to feel more secure in its own identity. Humans define themselves according to their ability to feel empathy. And yet in the aftermath of a huge war, there doesn't seem to be very much genuine empathy going around. In a pathetic attempt to prove their own capacity for empathy, humans participate in religious ceremonies with Mercer. The problem is that Mercer's empathy box and the mood organ are commodified and mass-produced--and there's not much true compassion that comes from such devices.

Chapter 20 Quotes

"Rick," she said, "I have to tell you something. I'm sorry. The goat is dead."

For some reason it did not surprise him; it only made him feel worse, a quantitative addition to the weight shrinking him from every side. "I think there's a guarantee in the contract," he said. "If it gets sick within ninety days the dealer — "
"It didn't get sick. Someone" — Iran cleared her throat and went on huskily — "someone came here, got the goat out of its cage, and dragged it to the edge of the roof."
"And pushed it off?" he said.
"Yes." She nodded.
"Did you see who did it?"
"I saw her very clearly," Iran said. "Barbour was still up here fooling around; he came down to get me and we called the police, but by then the animal was dead and she had left. A small young-looking girl with dark hair and large black eyes, very thin. Wearing a long fishscale coat. She had a mail-pouch purse. And she made no effort to keep us from seeing her. As if she didn't care."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker), Rachael Rosen , Bill Barbour
Page Number: 226-227
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rick Deckard, who's just finished retiring the final androids on his list, returns to his home. There, his wife Iran gives him some bad news: his prized goat (which he's paid for using the bounty from retiring the androids) has been pushed off the roof. Based on Iran's description, we can tell that it was Rachael, furious with Deckard for killing more androids after her attempts to dissuade him from doing so, who killed the goat.

Rachael's behavior is petty, spiteful, furious--and, in short, eminently human. Throughout the novel, there have been many attempts to define human nature. While most of the characters in the book believe that to be human is to feel empathy, Dick suggests that being human is a much uglier, nastier business. Rachael's decision to kill the goat is arguably more recognizably human than any of the acts of empathy we witness in the novel.

Chapter 21 Quotes

It would have been rewarding to talk to Dave, he decided. Dave would have approved what I did. But also he would have understood the other part, which I don't think even Mercer comprehends. 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.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer , Dave Holden
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

Rick Deckard has successfully retired all the androids on his list. He wishes he could talk with Dave Holden, his colleague who was severely wounded while trying to retire the androids. Rick believes that Dave would be able to alleviate some of his guilt and anxiety at having killed beings that, at times, seemed totally human. And yet Dave is unavailable.

Strangely, Dave's absence--i.e., the absence of a benevolent authority willing to forgive Rick for everything he's done--prompts Rick to study his society more critically, and reach a surprising discovery. Forced to sit with his sins, Rick comes to realize the true corruption of Mercerism: Mercer forgives everything and approves of everything, no matter how evil it is. Mercerism is the appropriate religion for Rick's society--a society in which acts of cruelty and even murder are excused on the grounds that the victims weren't "truly" human. In Mercerism, everything is permitted, but nothing is "right."

It's important to note that Rick comes to such an epiphany when he's on his own, cut off from the rest of society. Throughout the novel, the characters have defined humanity as the ability to connect with other people, but by refusing to connect with others, Rick comes to a genuine moral insight.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I'm a special, he thought. Something has happened to me. Like the chickenhead Isidore and his spider; what happened to him is happening to me. Did Mercer arrange it? But I'm Mercer. I arranged it; I found the toad. Found it because I see through Mercer's eyes.

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Toad
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Rick goes into the desert, where he has a semi-religious experience. Like so many followers of Mercerism, Rick experiences the world through the eyes of Wilbur Mercer himself. While he's in the desert, Rick comes upon what he believes to be a monumental discovery: a "real" toad, an incredibly rare animal. Rick considers his discovery of the toad a miracle--proof that Mercerism might be a valid religion after all. Rick's renewed faith in Mercerism comes at an unusual time: Mercer has just been exposed as a fraud; a TV personality performing before a studio audience.

Rick seems to be approaching a counterintuitive conclusion: even "fake" objects and beings can produce a kind of emotional truth in their audiences. So even though Mercer himself might be a fraud, his pseudo-religion might be capable of producing genuine comfort (or even a genuine miracle, though the toad, as we'll see later, is "fake," too) in its followers. By the same token, a "fake" human being can experience and elicit a "real" emotional connection in another person; which is to say, Rick is capable of feeling genuine emotional bonds with other people, whether or not they (or he!) are androids.

"Do you want to use the mood organ? To feel better? You always have gotten a lot out of it, more than I ever have."
"I'll be okay." He shook his head, as if trying to clear it, still bewildered. "The spider Mercer gave the chickenhead, Isidore; it probably was artificial, too. But it doesn't matter. The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are."

Related Characters: Rick Deckard (speaker), Iran Deckard (speaker), John Isidore , Al Jarry / Wilbur Mercer
Related Symbols: The Mood Organ, The Toad
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

Back in his home, Rick Deckard is disappointed to discover that the "miraculous" toad he found in the middle of the desert is just an electronic toy, and therefore not very valuable at all. Rick is frustrated--he'd thought that his toad would bring him lots of money, and that its discovery was a kind of religious miracle.

Yet in spite of his frustration, Rick still seems to experience an epiphany in this passage. Rick has been trained to believe that things are "real" if and only if they pass a rigorous test: if they can be purchased for a high price in a store; if they pass a Voigt-Kampff test, etc. Here, however, Rick seems to change his mind. Even a fake spider has its own kind of life. Rick characterizes the life of a robotic spider as "paltry"--but of course, the life of a "real" animal (or a real human being!) is just as paltry in the grand scheme of things.

What Rick realizes about animals applies to robots and people, too. Even robots, it's implied, have lives, thoughts, and feelings. Dick subtly implies the shift in Rick's thinking by noting that Rick refuses to use the mood organ. Rick refuses to accept socially-approved definitions of emotion, humanity, or life. Instead, he chooses to feel his own emotions and construct his own definitions of life and human nature.