Monday, May 5, 2014

Are humans less human than androids?

What does it mean to be human? 
In Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Rick, an android bounty hunter, measures humanness by using the Voigt-Kampff scale – a tool that determines if someone is human or android by his or her ability to feel empathy. At the onset of the novel it appears that the capacity to experience this emotion is a trait exclusive to humankind. 
In addition, humans in the novel are expected to exhibit their humanity by tending to an animal.  Rick, in defense of hiding that his animal is manufactured and artificial, says, “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” (13).  In his community, humanness is qualified by the range of emotions exemplified by a human's ability to have compassion for other creatures.

So what happens when humans ironically lose this quality to the one thing they distinguish themselves from – androids?  Rick’s wife Iran accuses him of being a murderer.  He defends his line of work by arguing that he doesn’t kill humans.  How he differentiates the two species when they seem to share so many qualities is beyond me.  It is still killing or destroying another creature, an act so contradictory to what the humans supposedly stand for.  The humans are assumed to be compassionate to other creatures, like their animals and one another, yet they can’t seem to understand and co-exist with the androids.  They seek to destroy androids because of their lack of human emotions, but in doing this the humans lose the empathy that they are so proud to possess. 


Let’s think about other popular media that hold this same message of eradicating the “other” - the thing less human than ourselves.  Think vampire and zombie shows.  Both are creatures that in some way resemble humans, but are not human because they lack certain qualities: the emotional gamut, and in some cases, the ability to rationalize.  We look down at these others, and in most popular fiction (True Blood, The Walking Dead) the humans, at best, try to separate themselves from the others, and at worst, try to kill these others.  These supposedly emotionless creatures are always considered a threat to humanity. 
Even Vampire Bill is capable of love

So what, then, does this imply about humanity and being human?  Does this mean that mentally challenged people, or those with mental disorders like schizophrenia, or sociopaths are not really people?  If we were to be guided by these implications, would it make it moral to kill these people for their inability to display “human” enough emotions?    

As the novel shows, things aren’t always what they seem.  Androids may be capable of simulating feelings and humans can easily lose the emotions and the empathy that they hold so dearly.  If humans don’t lose their empathy they still have the tendency to be discriminatory in regards to who will receive it.

Before I wrap things up, check out "The Science of Smiling" .

Which one is fake?*

Perhaps humans and their “human” traits are far more terrifying than anti-empathic androids because they have the ability to fake a smile, to mask emotions, and to deny certain creatures of our "compassion."

*The right picture is the real smile.
 image sources:,,,,

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