Monday, February 24, 2014

Real Cat or Fake Cat

Phillip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" is about conflict between humans and androids after World War Terminus. WWT forced most humans to leave Earth and live on Mars. The few that remain on Earth are mostly "specials", infected by the radioactive dust that flies around such as John Isidore. Some of them are normal humans too, as in the case of Rick Deckard, a cop who hunts down rogue androids. In the novel there seems to be some confusion blooming regarding the distinction between android and human: they are becoming more and more similar, harder to tell the difference between them. This is an example of Baudrillard's second order of simulacra, the idea that the simulated and the real come closer together and the differences between them begin to blur.

<-- this cat         vs       this cat -->

(The difference between these two cats is easier to tell than the ones in the book, I imagine, but I think you get the idea.)

One such example in the novel (I'm only about 100 pages in so I'm sure there are more to come) is when John Isidore collects a dead cat from someones home. His job is to collect the malfunctioning electronic animals and bring them back to the repair shop so they can be fixed. The owner of the cat believes the animal is fake and gives it to John. Even John thinks it's electronic as he searches for the wiring and control panel that should be in it's back. He's rather confused when he can't find it, concluding that it must be a really good copy: "Damn expert workmanship; so absolutely perfect in imitation" (Dick 72). Rather than bring the animal to a vet, he brings it back to the shop where his boss tells him that the animal is indeed real: "the fakes are beginning to be darn near real" (Dick 78). Using Baudrillard's order of simulacra, it's clear that the second order is present here: the fake, electronic copy of the cat is confusingly similar to the actual, real live cat. It's "absolutely perfect in imitation", no wonder why John and the owner got confused (though, you'd think the owner would remember buying an electronic cat!).

The next logical question, then, is how does this relate to the rest of the story? It appears that the androids are also having a similar issue: they're too much like humans. Rick Deckard has to test a piece of equipment that measures someones empathy levels (akin, I'm guessing, to a lie detector) but the results are including some humans who have low empathy levels with the android levels. This means, that Rick and other bounty hunters might be killing innocent humans as well as androids! This is clearly an issue for the human race that has already lost so many people during WWT and is continually losing people to the radioactive dust.

1 comment:

  1. I really like that part with Horace. When Mrs. Pilsen decides to get the electronic version of her dead cat, she does it because of her husband's human bond with the organic animal. I like that it's the human element that propels her into the anima-droid world. Would you get an android version of your deceased loved one if it would be exactly like the real version....just not human/alive? Ooo. Tough one.


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