What Defines Human?

By Jens Brandt

What if a nuclear war made the world virtually uninhabitable? What if science produced a robot, physicaly indistinguishable from human beings? What if one was forced to unravel the difference between human and machine for the sole purpose of maintaining the belief that we are not all machines. The answer to especially the latter question can be found in another question; Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Big questions, like what the difference between man and mechanical things is, or what defines a human being, are what Philip K. Dick (PKD) is exploring in his 1968 science fiction novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DAD). This essay will try to discover what, if anything, according to PKD defines man and separates it from i.e. a biomechanical robot. This of course, requires an analysis of said book. The method of the analysis is borrowed from the great french philosopher Rene Descartes. Analythicaly, Descartes' method is roughly a total deconstruction down to the tiniest detail of a problem followed by a process of reconstruction. If done correctly one can in theory solve any rational problem. To clarify, it's better to examplify this method with mathematics which incidetaly was Descartes' modus operandi. If one for example looks at the equation 56 x 45, one can use an analysis of the problem by splitting it up into smaller factors: (8 x 7) x (9 x 5). By further analysis the problem can be reduced to: (2 x 2 x 2) x 7 x (3 x 3) x 5. Followed by a thorough synthesis one gets the solution: 56 x 45 = 2520, an answer that was far from apparent at the beginning of the equation.

As an introduction to the novel, I'll delve into the surface of the SF-genre and take a look at PDK's influence on this genre. Furthermore I'll try to explain the book's environment and also separate it into three parts to create an overview, after which I'll give an objective character analysis of the main characters, Deckard, Rachael, Isidore and Mercer. Next, I'll link DAD with Descartes' philosophy and from this make two interpretations of PKD's view on reality based on Descartes. Finally I will compare the novel with the film, Blade Runner, in which there will be a few more points added.

The Science Fiction Genre

Science fiction is a projection of the present in the future. It's through SF that authors and readers can predict what will happen if the current conditions are allowed to evolve into the future. The future is more than often projected as utopian or dystopian, and DAD is no exeption, operating in a dystopian society. A classic SF-environment.

The SF-genre can, depending on which definitions one chooses to follow, be said to have existed for over a decade, from the latterdays of the 19th century, where authors such as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne explored futurism. The term Science Fiction was first used in 1851 by the author William Willson, but only as a short remark before it is once again used i 1929. Science Fiction as we know it today is a difficult genre, as it at least until now has been impossible to categorize and properly defined.

Even though it is difficult to succumb to a rock hard definition of SF, there is little or no trouble in the wider aspect of putting a piece of litterature into the SF genre. A clue to recognize SF litterature is the fact that there's always is a novum present. This term was introduced by the Canadian critic and author Darko Suvin. He says: "A novum is a deliberatly introduced change made to the world as experienced by author and reader, but a change based upon scientific or other logic; it is such a significant part of SF that frequently the novum determines the subsequent narrative." The novum is in other words, the changed environment in which the story takes place and the way one often creates a novum is by asking "What if...?" A novum needs not, as one could be tempted to believe, happen in the future. An interesting novum could for example rise from the question of whether Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but instead was saved last minute from aliens. How would the world look today? Without answering this particular question one could say that such a question or for that matter, all other novums (nova is the correct latin plural, although a tad confusing because of its astronomical meaning), would result in a comprehensive rewrite of history. Suvins understanding of SF is that it's as much about history as fantastic and scientific inventions.

Though SF can be dated back to the end of the 19th century, it is the 1940s and '50s that are known as SFs classic period, wherein authors mostly consentrated on space travel, the exploration of other planets and such. The '60s became for SF, as for many other cultural genres, a period of revolution. Most older generation SF-writers were at this point pretty locked in the classic SF-style, but the youth rebelled against this with their New Wave-style; first i Britain - soon after in the US. The next generation SF-authors were of the opinion that classic SF had become too far fetched and was lacking a realistic foundation. Instead, they said, of concentrating on outer space, one should focus on inner space. One of these young writers, nameley J.G. Ballard, said: "SF should be a means to explore our own subjective perceptions of the universe and our fellow human beings." After slowly breaking through, the New Wave-authours began experimenting. In Britain, this experimentation with inward focus gradually got out of hand, and the books seemed to concentrate only on moral and political questions. At the end of the '60s and the beginning of the '70s, the SF-revolution had gone so far that some books neglected good plots in order to treat grand questions. This resulted in a drastic drop i populraity for SF-litterature i Britain. In the US, on the other hand, changes were minor. Many young talents gave birth to new ideas which gave SFs popularity a boom throughout the '60s. Another thing that helped push forward this boom and which influence cannot be ignored, is the TV-series Star Trek . Furthermore, the Apollo program forced people to think about what the future could bring and what science could do - SFs main area.

PKD was a part of the New Wave and his 1959 masterpiece, Time Out of Joint , is by Edward James characterized as one of the era's more important works. PKD also seems to have known what the future for New Wave was going to be, as DAD from '68 was written in tact with New Waves aftershocks.

Whilst New Wave in the USA evolved faster and faster and eventually became mainstream SF, spin-offs from the genre were bound to come. In the '70s, one of these were the feminine SF which erupted as a result of more and more female readers. The reason for the rise of feminine SF has been said to have been that "Girls are into relationships - not rocketships". Another side of SF was Fantasy which roughly can be described as fairytale-SF. In 1979, a new man entered the SF-scene. His name was Ridley Scott, and his approach to SF was the silver screen. Up until that point there had only been one piece of filmed SF that took advantage of its opportunities, namely Star Trek . The film in question was Alien , really a good old horror movie, but at the same time an expression of something new in SF. With Ridley Scott's Blade Runner from 1982, which is based upon PKDs DAD (though without being all true to the original book), another part of SF, Cyberpunk, came into existence. Cyberpunk was the offspring of that time's punk music and mentality. Mixed with the society presented in Blade Runner, we get a pretty clear view of what Cyberpunk represents.

PKD can in this respect be said to be a man inprinting his humongous footprints in the SF-genre. Not only by his lifetime achievement of some 40 novels and a vast amount of short-stories, but also by being a pioneer within the New Wave ghetto. New Wave with its focus on inner space was an important part of Science Fiction's development, even before DAD. Therefore the honor of, not excactly the father, but perhaps the grandfather of Cyberpunk go to PKD, as it was he that after all wrote DAD - the idea behind Blade Runner.

Novum and Structure

The scene is San Fransisco, once upon a time in the future. In the film, we are told that the year is 2019, but in the novel PKD is more vague. We never get to know the excact year, only some indication that it is sometime after 1991 (p26: We are told that in august '91, the specifications of the Nexus 6 were made public). Also, the action is limited to one day. DADs novum involves that there at one time has been a nuclear war, in the book christened "World War Terminus" or just WWT, and the few survivors are those inhabiting the Mars colonies. The relativeley few remaining on Earth, like those not permitted emigration because of low IQ, are fighting the radioactive dust that since WWT has been darkening the sky. The dust is a constant and unavoidable threath, and the government are thus encouraging all those who can travel to do so under the slogan "Emigrate or degenerate" (p11). To further press on emigration, all immigrants are offered their own personal, free android to help them with the process of moving. The demand for more androids results in a fast technological development, and with the new Nexus 6, a robot who is virtually undistinguishable from humans, great complications are looming in the horizon. Androids are banned from Earth, and if escaped from the colonies, are to be retrieved and retired as soon as possible. This job falls into the hands of the police, and the bounty hunters working there. Deckard is one of them.

The book is consists of 22 chapters of varying length, but as mentioned a rougher separation of the book into three parts makes things clearer. The first part, chapters 1-8 is a presentation of the story and its plot. The reason part one ends after chapter eight is that this is where everything starts going wrong. Up until this point, things have been peachy keen for both Deckard and Isidore. Deckard gets his long awaited promotion and an assignment to retire 7 androids, finally making him able to afford a real animal. Isidore is also doing quite well, having recieved a visitor and performed a successful telephone conversation without stuttering once as opposed to...well, always. The second part, chapters 9-12, is mainly about Deckard. As mentioned, things are beginning to go downhill. He messes up his retirement-job and gets arrested. He is taken to a mysterious, unknown police station, but escapes with the aid of another bounty hunter. The end of this part, where Deckard and Resch are about to retire Luba Luft, is a major turning point in which Deckard gets an epiphany, rendering him able to feel empathicaly for some of the androids. The final chapters, 13-22, or part three, is the build up of the climax, when Deckard shoots Pris. Deckard's seemingly permanent melting together with Mercer could actually have been given it's own part, but seeing as it probably isn't natural and that it's a perfectly fine conclusion to the build up mentioned earlier, I've let it hang around in part three.


The main character of the book is of course Rick Deckard. He is a bounty hunter for the SFPD and as we know, he has been given the task of retiring seven androids, which functions as a basic plot for the entire story. He is married to Iran and they live together in an appartment complex that seeing as it's relatively heavily populated, is middle class turf. The marriage though, is far from happy, though it has its good times. Deckards goal from the start on, is to retire the afformentioned androids, cash in his 1000$ a piece reward, and exchange his electric sheep up on the roof for a real animal. When he finally retires the three first androids, the first thing he does is to purchase a goat.

Throughout the book, Deckard experiences an emotional crisis, although he is first able to define it after Resch shoots Luba. His empathic feelings for certain androids forces him to take a good look at his own life, which is mostly built up around his work. How else will he be able to live with a job that requires him to kill things that he nurtures feelings for? At page 110 Deckard tries to express this unfortunate situation, (Resch has just shot Luba, whom Deckard had feelings for, and he realizes that he at that time could have killed Resch himself without feeling remorse):

"So much for the distinction between authentic living humans and humanoid constructs. In that elevator in the museum, he said to himself, I rode dow with two creatures, one human, the other an android... and my feelings were the reverse of those intended. Of those I'm accustomed to feel - am required to feel."

Recsh then suggests the feeling could come from Deckard beeing physicaly attracted to some of the androids; in this case Luba. Resch' cure for this is simple: Go to bed with one and kill it afterwards. Deckard tries this later on with Rachael, but after the first part, he can't kill her. Later he succeds at killing Pris, who is physicaly identical to Rachael; -but only after Mercer has explaied him that what is needed is to do what's wrong.

Rachael Rosen works for the Rosen enterprise, a company that makes androids for colonies. She is herself an android of the Nexus 6 class, and is in the novel (as opposite to the film) aware of this. She also has contact with the renegade androids on Earth, and part of her job descriprion is to convert bounty hunters. She does this by one way or the other sleeping with them, which isn't alway easy, as humans aren't allow sexual relations with androids. On page 149 she says about her profession: "No bounty hunter ever has gone on (...) after being with me", and later, on page 150, she continues: "This seems to work... for reasons we do not fully understand." She has failed before though, with Resch. Her welcomeness and helpfulness with Deckard is of course an excuse to get him to bed. When it later turns out that she's also failed in converting him by his killing of Pris, she reacts by killing his goat.

John R. Isidore is the main character in the parallell sub-plot which takes up almost 1/3 of the novel and happens simultanously with Deckards hunt for the renegade androids. Isidore is basicaly Deckards complete oposite. He lives all alone in a deserted block in the suburbs, obviously not an attractive area, and thus most likeley part of the bottom of society's hierearky. He is furthermore a special (a chicken brain, in so many words), and therefore lacks the opportunity to leave. Isidore has some qualities which, at least I think, makes him easy to sympathise with. He has the innocence of a child, making him appear as someone who just happens to be caught in the mess surrounding him. He is nevertheless concious of what's happening, and is often found walking around, philosophizing. One of these subjects is kippel, which can only be described as organic disorder, and something which Isidore fears will take over the world: "By then, naturally, he himself would be dead, another interesting event to anticipate as he stood here in his stricken living-room alone with the lungless, all-penetrating, masterful world-silence" Isidore's childishness functions as a sort of comic-relief in the novel by for example the interuption of his sombre, apocalyptic philosophizing in the following line: "Better, perhaps, to turn the TV back on". (p.20)

Besides all this, Isidore is one of the only persons on earth who is willing to aid the androids in hiding from the bounty hunters, even though he is aware of the fact that they are using him. Being a loner, company of any kind and the feeling that he is needed is enough for poor Isidore. This is one of the reasons he reacts so strongly when the two plots melt toghether in the end of the book and Deckard kills the androids in his appartment. To make things worse, he recieves the news of Mercer, his big idol, being a fraud just shortly of Deckards antics. Before this, Isidore has witnessed two androids torturing a real spider, a spider which he has found himself, a rare event indeed, and this torture seems to him confusing and totally incomprehensive. He finally cracks and goes into a violent fit, but is helped by a manifestation of Mercer, the would be fraud.

Wilbur Mercer, or rather Al Jarry, is the god-like person behind the entire movement/religion that in the novel is refered to as Mercersism. Mercersism is about worship around an empathy box which is supposed to melt people together with Mercer. Mercer himself is, in the melting process, always climbing a mountain. Beneath the mountain lies The Tomb World where everything is dying or dead. On the top there is a presence of absolute evil throwing rocks at the ascending Mercer, and when somebody becomes one with him they too can feel the pain of the rocks as well as get physically harmed. The idea behind this is to be able to share ones feelings with others connected to Mercer at the same time. Depression for example, may henceforth be treated with the possibility of taking part in the joy of others. Mercercism is later, as mentioned, exposed as a fraud by Mercers arch rival, the televison host who is on 23 hours a day, and who is also revealed to the readers, though not directly to the characters as an android; Buster Friendly.


To my big surprise I have yet to meet anybody who has noticed the link between both DAD, Bladerunner and Descartes' philosophy of simplicity. This is to me quite obvious, but perhaps it is due to that fact (simplicity) that noone has seen it. There are many things in both novel and film showing signs of PKD being inspired by the great french philosopher. The first and most apparent matter is the main character's name: Deckard/Descartes,- the similarity is striking. One of those actually having discovered PKDs use of Descartes is Ridley Scott. At one time he even lets the android (or replicant in the film), Pris, ironicaly enough, quote Descartes: "I think (Sebastian), therefore I am", or in latin: "Cogito ergo sum". Ironicaly because the cogito argument according to Descartes, is the basis for human self-realization. Even more arguments speak for the philosoper's influation on PKD, but to understand this demands a greater knowledge of Descartes' teachings.

Rene Descartes set out to find a method to solve all rational problems. He wanted to use this method on what he called "the grandest of all examples," namely the human self realization. True to his method, he starts by deconstucting this realization to find, if anything, something absolute certain to base everything on. To do this, he uses a tool called the methodical doubt which in simpler terms means doubting everything . The methodical doubt rests on two arguments of relevance to this essay: The dream argument and the argument of the great deciever. The dream argument refers to det great unsolvable question whether everything is a dream. When one dreams and thinks the dream lifelike, the dreamworld is understood as reality. How can one be certain that the reality one percieves now, when awake, is not a dream of which one any minute could awaken from? The other argument is an even more powerful one. As sure as life could be a dream, there could be a great, allmighty deciever who gives us these dreams, and who decieves our minds with regards to everything else. One must doubt ones feeling of existence, because this too could be an illusion. In the midst of this chaos, Descartes realizes one thing which seems to back up the theory of existence: To be able to doubt ones existence, there has to be an 'I' present. He uses other words to explain this in his first meditation: "I myself exsist since I persuaded myself of something". The fact that Descartes actually never personally used the phrase I think therefore I am, but rather the quotation above, is a rather interesting digression.

Another place in his Metaphysical Meditations , Descartes works with the dualism between body and soul. Although he is uncertain about the solution to this problem, he concludes that there must be a bridge between the two since one can go from the immaterial thought of raising ones arm, to the concrete action. This bridge, Descartes says, exsists in a small gland in the brain which he calls glandula pinealis, or the cone gland. This cone gland is logicaly nonsense seeing as something immaterial never could influence something material. Descartes was aware of this fact, but could not come up with a better solution.

The reason I mention Descartes' cone gland here, even though it basically is meaningless, is that PKD uses a similar analogy in his description of Mercer on page 23. Mercer has a small knot in his head which he apparently can use to ressurect animals. The fact that both Descartes and PKD talks about a small gland/knot in the brain with supernatural abilities, is a good indication of PKDs inspiration. Furthermore, the methodical doubt and its arguments funcions as an important basis for several themes in the novel. One could for example not have read the book without asking oneself wheter Deckard too is an android, being the subject of a great deciever's plot to rid him of his existence.

Interpretation Using Descartes

Somewhere in my material about the book, there is a small word of warning printed: "A word of warning: Dick's speciality is straight-faced satire. If parts of the book strikes you as absurd, they're supposed to." One of these absurdities is Deckard using his newly aquired $3000 on a goat with the only function of eating and bleating. PKD of course, has a meaning behind this kind of insanity, and he lets Deckard himself imply this: "We couldn't go on with the electric sheep any longer; it sapped my morale." (p129) After his meeting with Luba Luft and the entire polemics based around the pseudo-police in Mission-street, Deckard himself is forced to speculate the possibility that he himself could be an android. This is why he is willing to pay enormous amounts of money for a living, breathing animal. An android, as Deckard knows it, is not capable of having living creatures because they are incapable of understanding the animals most basic needs, such as food and air. By purchasing an animal he tries to convince himself that he is not an android. Thus the thought of an electric sheep destroying his morale.

Deckards big problem throughout the novel is as mentioned a couple of times already, his convincing himself of not being an android. By using a third person perspective, PKD leaves the reader with the same question. Other than buying the afformentioned goat, Deckard chooses to grant Luba Lufts final wish regarding a certain book, resulting in Lubas reaction, "There's something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that," which probably was the one Deckard was hoping for. The strange and touching thing about humans which Luba is referring to, is the same thing Deckard, in the book clings to, as a proof of him being human. I am of course talking about empathy. Empathy being the basis of the human religion mercersism, and of which the entire Voigt-Kampff test is built around. Empathy as one of the few things being certain in the defining of a human being, and by Deckard's behaviour, even though it is over an android, he prooves to himself that he is human. The android Buster Friendly's exposure of mercersism as fraudulent kinda destroys this though.

According to PKD, empathy then is the definition of man. A cheeky "...or what?", seems more or less appropriate after such a conclusion as the author so many times before has put the great deciever on display for both Deckard and the reader. The police on Mission Street, Buster Friendly, Rachael, the owl the Rosens try to bribe Deckard with, Isidore's cat, and lest not forget the ("tudsen" - hva i helvete?) Deckard finds in the end. All of these turn out to be fake, so in the best carthanian style we must, as with everything else, doubt the fact that empathy is the true definition of man. This is given more substance at p.139, in Roy's file: "In addition, this android stole, and experimented with, various mind-fusig drugs, claiming when caught that it hoped to promote in a group experience similar to that of Mercersism, which it pointed out remains unavailable to androids." This fact alone, that Roy has tried to produce psychofamaseutical drugs that were supposed to make androids empathic beings, makes one doubt that this "quality" is for man alone. By giving us this tiny information, PKD crushes our suspicions and beliefs with one stroke. Before, we were certain of Deckards empathic abilities would prove him to be human, but with the suggestion that androids can produce such abilities artificially, one cannot say for certain where man starts and android ends. Deckard has thus no guarantee of his claim to humanity.

Even though PKD does not say or even suggests a certain quality parting us humans from androids, we still have the feeling that there must be something drawing a line between the two. To show this we must once again turn to Descartes, this time towards his pine gland. I have earlier mentioned Mercer being in posession of a similar organ. In the end, Deckard realizes that he and Mercer are the same, and must thereby posess the same abilities, also the pine gland. The gland is as we remember the bridge between soul and body, and this raises another question which PKD has failed to bring into the story; the human soul. Without actually having any ground for it, my belief is that PKD does not directly mention the human soul because he has learned from Descartes. Descartes burnt his fingers when trying to define and categorize the incomprehensible term soul. PKD on the other hand, realizes that the term is way to difficult and thus hints towards it, for example through his use of Descartes. According to my own little brainstorm, PKD defines man as something unpercetptable spiritually moral which one can choose to call the human soul.

Interpretation Using Kim Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson has another way of interpreting the novel. Instead of using Descartes as done above, Kim Robinson consentrates on the contrast and lack of contrast between humans and androids. He starts with the argument that one in the novel from time to time is forced to view androids as either victims or threaths. Luba Luft is for example a victim: All she does is trying to be as human as possible and with her beautiful singing, she could have been a fine human being indeed. A threath is an android like Polokov. As opposed to Luba, he attacks humans as it is he who goes to see Deckard and not the other way around. Our perception of humans changes in the same way throughout the reading experience. Humans act sympatheticaly and evil and as an example, Robinson uses John Isidore who is first exploited by his boss Hannibal Sloat, and afterwards by the androids. He is indifferent to whether his tormentor is human or mechanical.

Based on this and the fact that humans are also capable of being inhuman so to speak, and vice versa, Robinson categorizes the beings in the novel into four different classes: 1. Human humans, of which Isidore could be an example. 2. Evil humans. Resch and Sloat are good examples of these. 3. Human androids, being Luba Luft, and 4. Evil androids, being Roy, Imgard and Pris. Robinson uses the confusion around definitions of man and android these classifications create to say: "The more contradictions there are in the androids, the more the novel has succeeded in unraveling our easy biological definition of humanity, and in replacing it with a difficult spiritual or moral definition." Kim Robinson then, views the definition of man as something which is very understandable spiritually, and not something which is measurable.

In my view, Robinsons further analysis is a bit shallow. He believes PKD sets up a contradiction of Human/Android and Human/Inhuman, and goes on to suggest that DAD's entire meaning lies in the humanity versus the inhumanity.

Philip K. Dick and Reality

PKD's relationship with reality can once again be seen in his use of Descartes. Whereas Descartes operates with a classic dualism in the shape of body and soul, PKD also uses a form of dualism between man and android. A way this dualism comes to our attention is through the existence of the police station on Mission Street. We get the impression that the entire police force at this station consists of androids whereof many could be unaware of their actually being androids. Characteristicaly, this pseudo-society, this isolated, little sanctuary in the midst of human society, stribes to become more like the latter. This of course, is a hopeless dream, as they despite their superior intelligence lack the all important, but indescribable "human factor". A parralell, albeit a very weak one, to the father of dualism, Plato and his World of the Aidees from the famous story of the cavern can be drawn out from this. The androids seek a higher level of existence; the human.

Another view on reality becomes clear when one instead of Descartes' dualism, study his dream argument. From this one could ask any person wheter or not they are able to prove that their actions or thoughts are not part of a dream, or for that matter ask Deckard to prove he's no android. Both questions would be impossible to answer; as mentioned, Deckard is human due to an undeterminable factor, but he is incapable of proving it. To determine that this is life, not dream, is only based on our intuition. PKD has forced upon us, a small existential crisis, and it is my opinion that this is 100% deliberate.

Blade Runner

When people ask me what my essay is about and I reply Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep ?, people rarely have any idea of what I'm talking about. I have to explain that it's the novel the film Bladerunner is based upon to recieve nods of recognition. The novel is a piece of genius, but would probably just be known as one of PKDs many books if not for Ridley Scott's adaption.

One of the curses of transfering a novel to the silver screen is that it's impossible to confine 200 pages of dialogue and action inside a 2 hour long flick. On the other hand, films have the advantage of being visual which if done right can give the story a whole new dimention. Ridley Scott was probably facing this excact problem when he was in the process of filming said book. He chose to solve it by rewriting the story completely. The most important difference between DAD and Blade Runner is the total lack of mercersism and empathy relations in the film. There is furthermore no mention of Deckard's wife ( except in the original's narrative, - translator's comment ), home or pets which makes the whole Deckard/Rachael sub-plot different. Most of the other characters have a part in the film, albeit with other names and other functions. The Rosen corporation is called and is being run by the business tycoon Tyrel, a confident and power hungry man as opposed to the novel's Rosen.

The owl has an interesting part in both novel and film. In DAD Rosen uses it to bribe Deckard, and we are furthermore told that owls were the first animals to become extinct due to the toxic dust from WWT. Owls are often a symbol of wisdom and sensibility, and the fact that they were the first ones to go is a symbol of the new world's lack of these qualities (there's no sense in paying several thousands of dollars for a goat for example). The owl of Bladerunner has an entirely different function: When Deckard arrives at Tyrel to perform the Voigt-Kampff test, he sees the owl and jests: "Is it artificial?", whereupon Rachael replies: "Of course it is". By once again viewing the owl as a symbol of intelligence, the film tells the audience that artificial intelligence is a natural thing in the future society of Bladerunner.

Another thing that has changed in the conversion is the character JR Isidore who is called JF Sebastian in the film. Even though JR/JF carries a sub plot on screen as well as on paper, the main difference is him going from "stupid" to a genetic engineer at Tyrel. Also, JRs bond with the replicants, the risc of failing the empathy test, becomes JFs problems with ageing. JF has a disorder which traps his actual 25 years of age inside the body of a 65 year old man, and the androids are constructed to stop working after four years.

Despite these differences there are two big similarities between the novel and the film. First, the question of Deckard's predicament (human/android?), is still one of the most important ones in Bladerunner, and second, the thoughts of Descartes play a central role in the film. The first similarity is probably most interesting judging by the multitude of discussions regarding this on the internet. The problem with participating in one of these is is their low level resulting in useless arguments. One of the most frequent and thought provoking arguments found on the world wide web is that Deckard is a replicant because Gaff knows his thoughts and dreams. Gaff is another bladerunner who only appears in the film and who has a habit of making small origami figures in relation with the story. When Deckard refuses to take over Holdens mission of retiring the last four replicants, Gaff produces a small chicken as a symbol of Deckards fear. Shortly after Deck's first meeting with Rachael, Gaff makes a small matchman with a big erection to show Deckard's attraction to her. These two figures could have been made by simple observation, but at one point later in the film, Gaff makes a unicorn after Deckard has envisioned a unicorn in a dream. How could Gaff know Deckard's dreams unless he knew his thoughts, and how could he know his thoughts unless they were implants? Implants like Rachael's private memory of the spider eating her children which Deckard reveals his knowledge of during the Voigt Kampff test. To further prove him being a replicant, we told that six replicants have escaped the colonies, but only five of them are retired, the sixth one is never seen. Unless it's Deckard?

Nevertheless, it's an interesting point that Ridley Scott had to cut out the 12 second long unicorn scene because the producer thought it "(...) too arty". The unicorn appears not until the Director's Cut release in 1992. This version of the film also drops the voice-over from the original '82 film which the producers meant was nescesary if the audience were supposed to understand the story. The original then, is a film made for the broader part of the public, and according to the producers this audience needed a hero they could identify themselves with. So the '82 crowd didn't get the arty-farty unicorn, but a happy ending where Deckard and Rachael drives away ( a leftover shot from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, by the way - translator's comment ). The Director's Cut is the film Scott originally inteded it to be - a more complicated story and no annoying voice-over to ruin the brilliant photograpy, and of course, the open ending.

If there should be any doubt that the filmatic Deckard is a replicant, one person should be able to answer this question. The magazine "The Blade Cut" did excactly this when they interviewed Ridley Scott. In this interview, Scott confirms that it was the intention from the beginning that Deckard should be portrayed as a replicant. It took him ten years to show the audience this.


There are now three criteria to conclude from. First, the interpretation using Descartes' techniques, of which I may take credit for. Second, Kim Robinson's view. Robinson and I operate from different platforms, but we still reached somewhat the same conclusion: According to PKD, there is no way we can use an empirical method of categorizing being as a term for humans or non-humans (androids). However, there could be a spiritual distinction between the two, or in other words: What defines human beings is its soul. These interpretations do have their advantages and disadvantages. Generaly, I could say I used Descartes, but without the Isidore sub-plot, while Robinson used Isidore and completely ignored Descartes. If I had to choose from the two I would of course, use my own interpretation. Ridley Scott's film, portraying Deckard as a replicant is another interpretation. Personally, I think Scott did this to give the audience a good old mystery, not because of thorough philosophical research and interpretation of PKD like myself. This is not to say the film is bad. It is one of SFs finest moments, confronting the audience with philosophical thoughts - a rare thing in such films indeed. The fact that it's so brilliant in every visual way makes it an even greater experience

The writing was not entirely without problems. A while in the essay, I realized that if every little, and sometimes big detail should be in here, it would have been far too long. I had not anticipated this before writing, resulting in my having to leave out themes like mercersism as a critique of television, and a more in-depth conclusion of Deckard's meltdown with Mercer. Also, I had trouble fitting in an exploration of PKD's writing techniques, like his foreshadowing. Still, I'm pretty satisfied with the final result.

Post script: I stumbled upon, during my writing, an article in the danish newspaper Politiken, regarding advancments in the research of artificial intelligence. I did not think this had much relevance for the essay, but the fact that a computerized brain is already produced is nevertheless facinating. With such advancements in computer technology, who knows what things will be like in the year 2019?



Dick, Philip K. - Do androids dream of electric sheep? - Voyager, paperback 1997


Dalsgård-Hansen, Povl - Descartes - Berlingske, 1966

James, Edward - Science Fiction in the 20th Century - Oxford, 1994

Jones, W. T. - Hobbes to Hume - HBJ, 1969

Robinson, Kim Stanley - The novels of Philip K. Dick - UMI, 1984

Politikens Filosofileksikon - Politikens, 1983

From the Internet:

Deckard IS a replicant - http://www.br-insight.com

Deckard IS NOT a replicant - http://www.br-insight.com

Study Guide for Philip K Dick - http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/science_fiction/bladerunner.html

What is the Significance of the Unicorn? http://www.bit.net.au/~muzze/bladerunner/unicorn.html

And all the images in the essay were found on the Internet.

The original essay was written in Danish. The Blade Runner Insight version has been translated to english by Asle Sætre.

Written by Jens Brandt

Copyright Jens Brandt, 2000.

Image artwork by keapt