By forming new memories, humans build relationships with each other, mature emotionally, and gain knowledge and wisdom. Without memories, ideas of selfhood and humanity become more difficult to define. But in Do Androids Dream, memory isn’t a reliable tool for humans looking to understand their environments. On the contrary, characters’ memories seem hazy, and on the rare occasions when characters do remember the past clearly, their memories often turn out to be artificially implanted. Then there are “collective” memories of an entire civilization; these kinds of memories, too, are hazy and unreliable. It’s worth understanding the novel’s interpretation of memory, and the ramifications for the characters, a little more closely.
To begin with, Do Androids Dream makes it clear that memory is extremely unreliable, and this gives the novel a disturbed, paranoid tone. In the future, scientists have learned how to implant characters in people’s brains. In this way, scientists can fool androids into believing that they’re human beings by giving them artificial memories of a childhood they never had. On multiple occasions, characters who believe that they’re human learn that they’re actually androids—their memories are just clever illusions. Even the characters in the novel who seem not to be androids, such as Rick Deckard, seem to have few, if any, memories of the past worth sharing. For this reason, it’s often unclear to readers how well Rick knows other characters in the book: we don’t necessarily know if he’s meeting someone for the second time or the 500th. Because he’s so familiar with the concept of artificial memory, Rick seems to live in a “perpetual present”—the only information he can trust is what he’s experiencing right now.
All of this points to the fact that memory is a (and maybe the) critical part of being human—androids realize that they’re not human in the same instant that they learn that their memories were implanted, and by the same token, Rick doubts his own humanity because he finds it hard to trust his memories of the past. Much the same could be said of humanity as a whole: people know that there was a great war in the recent past, World War Terminus, but they have no idea what exactly prompted this war, or how it ended. Because humanity’s memory of its collective past is cloudy and unreliable, life in the present becomes paranoid, unpredictable, and—it must be said—inhuman. Without a common heritage—a common memory, in other words—humans are alienated from one another, and find it impossible to move forward with their lives.
In the end, Dick isn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know about remembering. Memory, we can all agree, is inherently unreliable: the more time passes, the more our memories of the past distort. In this way Do Androids Dream takes the imperfection of memory to its logical extreme: a world in which almost all memory has disappeared, and the memories that remain are unreliable.
Memory Quotes in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
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.
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.
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.
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."
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before — "
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
"Based on what?"
"On imagination. A lot of times they turned out wrong. For example they wrote about Venus being a jungle paradise with huge monsters and women in breastplates that glistened." She eyed him. "Does that interest you? Big women with long braided blond hair and gleaming breastplates the size of melons?"
"No," he said.
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.
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.