More useless info to file under the “Things About my Eddie” folder:
I have that annoyingly almost exclusively Latino habit of pointing with my lips – especially when referencing an inside joke. I also wink as a form of greeting. This gets misinterpreted a lot especially in the work environment. Women mistake it for flirtation and it causes men to become anxious about their homophobia.
It’s Philosophy Wednesday…
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Philip K. Dick
“Few are those who can see with their own eyes and hear with their own hearts.”
— Albert Einstein
Most people see philosophy as something pointed-headed nerds do in academia – as something totally divorced from reality of anything practical. However, the fact is that we’re all philosophers at some level. We all have assumptions that guide our perception of reality. The difference I guess is that some people have never questioned the assumptions they inherited from their family of origin or culture. Others are cynical, choosing to shrug their shoulders as if saying it doesn’t matter. Still others, the more skeptical among us, have questioned their assumptions and come away with a clearer, more conscious, sense of direction. Whatever the case may be, the basic definition of a philosopher is a lover of knowledge. And almost everything you do or use today has as its origin a philosophical assumption.
Everything we do is a response to a question. The difference between those that sleep walk through life and those that are awake is that former have lost sight of the questions while the latter not only are conscious of the questions, but are asking newer ones.
You probably know the work of Philip K. Dick through the various films that have been adapted from his science fiction novels, including Total Recall and Minority Report. One of the best-known (and best made), Blade Runner, was based on his novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? As is most often true with literary works, the movie, while being one of the better adaptations, does not do justice to the strange but subtle thinking that drives the novel.
So why am I writing about a science fiction writer if I’m discussing philosophy? Well, while Dick wouldn’t be considered a philosopher in the strict sense of the word, but the philosophical questions he treats in his novels cut to the heart of philosophy and it shows that philosophy is not just merely academic papers and theory. Many writers of fiction — especially science fiction – address profound philosophical ideas.
Dick was a prolific writer who initially set out to become a “serious novelist” but because he first found success within science fiction, he became pigeon-holed in that genre. He was clearly fascinated the early pre-Socratic philosophers who claimed that all reality is in constant flux.
His books, often featuring spaceships, aliens, and possible futures, are vehicles where he explores questions such as whether or not we can know that the world we live in is real, what would happen if time ran backwards, the nature of alternate realities, and the roots of our self identities. He creates societies where humanity is organized into tribes according to their mental state, or where each character is forced to experience the world through the consciousness of others, or which all the characters are dead, but haven’t realized this (I know people like that! LOL!). The really fascinating thing about Dick’s novels is that he rarely answers the philosophical questions he poses, allowing instead the absurdities of those questions create and play out through his plot. It also forces us, the readers, to attempt to think about these questions for ourselves.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? asks a simple but deceptive question: what makes us human? In the novel, Dick imagines a future society in which organic androids, so advanced that they are indistinguishable from humans, are used a laborers and slaves for “real” humans. He makes us question whether we can tell the difference between androids and people, and more radically, if there is a real difference. To make matters more interesting, this debate takes place against a background of a radioactive future world, where humans who stay on earth can at any time be downgraded to the non-person status of “specials” if they become too contaminated. One of the main relationships in the novel is between an android and a special, two very different types of “non-person.”
The idea of a soul is central to religious philosophy and the British philosopher coined the term the “ghost in the machine” to argue against Descartes’ contention that the soul is something non-physical. The idea that we have no soul, that everything can be reduced to physical explanations is extremely threatening
The work directly addresses some of the most fundamental questions of philosophy. What is a person? Do humans have souls? As imagined by Dick, an android ahs the same physical make-up as a person, made up of artificial flesh and blood, with an artificial brain. So does this make them “human” or not? The hero of the novel, Deckard, has the job of hunting down and killing runaway androids. Humans have developed increasingly more complex methods to identify androids as they evolve and become more sophisticated. The idea being that while an artificial intelligence might eventually give the impression of being human, if put to the test, emotions such as empathy would be missing.
Eventually, Deckhard himself questions whether a bounty hunter like him can really be human since he feels no empathy for the androids he kills. He is also challenged whether he could pass an empathy test himself, when an android asks him to take one, although he ends up realizing that he actually does feel empathy for androids, if only for the pretty female ones. LOL
All these questions are never fully resolved creating an intense and dark meditation of the nature of identity and the soul. the fact that all this takes place in a genre, sci-fi, that was considered lowly, should not detract from the fact that Dick was one of the most thought-provoking writers of the last century.