The Psychopath Test; ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick

Occasionally, but not often, I become concerned I am either too desensitised, or alternatively, a horrific human being. I find it easier to emotionally connect to a book, TV or a film than events in my own life; the greater the distance to my own existence the more inclined my brain is to induce an emotional reaction. I have never cried at a funeral or wedding, and I have never been elated either. I stand or sit in a an uneasy haze of discomfort until I get to leave. This social discomfort, for the most part, does not interfere with my life, but it does leave me concerned for my emotional well being.

Fear, guilt and worry are the three reasons I know, to the best of my knowledge, that I am not a psychopath. I have been informed (thank you Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test) that worrying you might be a psychopath means you probably are not one. I have almost no knowledge of psychology, thus I have no authority to go any deeper into the mechanics of this and hope to make any sense, so I wont. It pleased me however, that when reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick I was reminded of Jon Ronson (and psychopaths) which gave a nice edge to my understanding of the book, and allowed me to revisit the question of what makes us human.

The year is 1992 World War Terminus, an apocalyptic war, has killed millions. With many animal and plant species extinct from the subsequent radioactivity, surviving humans are encouraged to emigrate to colonies on Mars. In the now underpopulated cities animal ownership is a sign of status and wealth, with the remaining humans split into regulars or specials – ‘chicken heads’ deemed to stupid and banned from reproduction or emigrating due to their radioactive exposure. Androids, ‘andys’, have been perfected as servants to the emigrating humans but are so well crafted their difference to humanity is minimal. Many escape the servitude of Mars to try and live secretly on earth, however, with the inability to empathise they are constantly at risk. Rick Deckard, owner of an electric sheep and reluctant bounty hunter, works little if at all; along with his wife Iran he is a slave to their empathy machine, connecting all to Mercer. When a superior bounty hunter is taken out of action he is instructed to ‘retire’ six rogue Nexus 6 andys who have escaped to earth; with this offering the chance to get a new and better animal, or even emigrate, Deckard reluctantly jumps into action.Synopsis crafted by myself

Many philosophers have/are discussing what defines us as humans, what makes us different from other species. A sense of self? Empathy? While I have not picked up a philosophy book since University, the theories go over my head without in-depth study, it is still a fascinating subject to discuss. Philip K. Dick’s andys are so closely modelled on humans only a bone marrow test can accurately identify them; the only other identification being an andys lack of empathy. Methods, such as the Voigt-Kampff test, exist to root out runaway androids, however, none are 100% accurate.

Deckard’s questioning of morality and empathy was the most interesting part of the novel. He becomes more disillusioned with his task as he continues, encountering andys and other bounty hunters in unusual situations. Until Deckard concludes he was merely a sadistic human enjoying his employment, I was certain Phil Resch, another bounty hunter, was an android. Androids cannot empathise in any way, not even for members of their own race; Resch’s identification seemed certain. He lacked empathy for andys, where as Deckard does not; this was why Resch was the only bounty hunter Rachel was unable to stop. As I read I could not help but liken this to the discussion on what makes a psychopath, empathy, or lack there of, being a significant factor in their discovery.

Philip K. Dick magnificently utilises humanities questioning of how we are human, what is morality, or what makes us different from other species; it even draws into question how humans treat each other, in terms or race, gender and sexuality. Who is to say who or what is superior? J. R. Isidore was brilliant inclusion, his chickenhead status rendered him wonderfully comical and sympathetic. My heart broke as he struggled with wanting to make friends, to be accepted. He is as rejected as the androids; even they look down on him.

I am often sceptical of reading aged science fiction novels, due to the speed in which we develop technologically they often feel dated. Philip K. Dick appears to have avoided this hazard, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is as poignant today as I can only imagine it was when first published. It has raised questions about issues society is still grappling with today. Once again I have experienced a diverting read which will take a while to process; I am still discussing the issues it raised now, so I polity ask someone please read this novel so I can begin talking to someone other than myself!

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