An unnatural self is someone who is forced out of their element and attempts to find the natural and normal in the unnatural the surrounds them. Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep is about those left on Earth after a devastating world war that has prompted most people to emigrate and live on other planets. It is about these people attempting to cope with what has now become their world, a subpar version of what they recall earth once being. The characters living in Philip K. Dick’s futuristic, alternate world all use technology as a means to achieve what they really want out of life, which is happiness achieved by companionship; but, the characters are all heavily reliant on their technological dependency, which, in turn, creates gaps in their lives.
The Penfield mood organ is just one example of the technological advances that have actually crippled those who use it. It is implied that the initial point of the mood organ was to help people schedule their emotions and, thereby, help their emotions have only positive effects on their day. However, what the mood organ is, essentially, is a box that gives of a “surge of electricity” (3) that “overcomes the threshold barring consciousness” (3) and forces the person involved to suffer from a disconnect between what they are “[hearing]… intellectually” (5) and what they are feeling. Iran, Rick Deckard’s wife, points out this disassociation and says that she “[realizes] how unhealthy it [is]” (5).
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She likens not feeling what you are hearing intellectually, for example the emptiness of an apartment building, to mental illness; saying that “sensing the absence of life…and not reacting…used to be considered a sign of mental illness” (5).
She says that the disconnect between intellectually sensing an emotion and actually feeling it shows an
“absence of appropriate affect” (5).
Iran, after her realization that using the mood organ is “the most alien drive [she] can imagine” (7), decides to schedule in the “setting for despair”(5) for “twice a month” (5-6) because she “[thinks] that that’s a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything” (6).
Rick Deckard immediately points out that that setting “[defeats] the whole purpose of the mood organ” (5), but, in fact, Iran realizes how alien and debilitating the use of the Penfield mood organ is.
The Penfield mood organ almost forces the person using it to continue to do so and, by controlling the emotions of the user, allows for gaps in that person’s life to emerge. Some gaps that the mood organ leaves its users are; the feeling of disconnect between what the person intellectually thinks that they should feel and what they are actually feeling and a complete dependency on the machine to create emotion. The mood organ can help the character feel anything from a “usual businesslike attitude” (6), “the desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it” (6), “pleased acknowledgment of husband’s superior wisdom in all matters”, “wanting to dial something important” (239) and “despair” (5).
While, at first glance, it does not seem as though using the mood organ would have long term negative affects, the ramifications of not allowing your intellect and your emotions to join and of using a machine to fabricate your emotions is the eventual loss of being able to be independent of the mood organ. The problem with the mood organ is that it is essentially “artificial brain simulation” (7) and it has become, as least for Rick and Iran Deckard, an “habitual, innate approach without resource” (7).
Electronic animals are another form of technology that the characters in Do
Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep have begun to heavily rely on. Due to World War Terminus the majority of animals have died and the majority of people have emigrated to other planets, namely Mars. The rarity of animals, and of other people, has made the ownership of an animal a symbol of social status. Rick Deckard spends the majority of the novel basically obsessing over the contents of his “creased, much studied copy of Sidney’s Animal and Fowl Catalogue” (10) in hopes that he will be able to afford a real animal, rather than an electric one. The importance placed on electric animals shows the constant charade that everyone puts on. By using their electric animals, the characters are trying to make everyone else believe that they have the financial resources to afford an animal, but they also want to prove to themselves that they have the capacity to care for a pet.
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The electric animals are an attempt to fill the void that the people left on earth have, which is realizing the loss of companionship and looking for something to fill that void. However, unfortunately, these electric animals create a false sense of companionship because they are not real animals and the humans still do not have many other humans to interact with. Rick Deckard says, in regards to the electric animals, that “owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one” (9).
When Rick Deckard finally does have the financial resources to purchase a “black Nubian goat” (191), Rachael Rosen kills it by pushing it off of the top of a building. This represents how, because of the state of the world, there is not any real reservoirs of hope for those left behind; their animals will die and their limited amount of human companionship will,
someday, also run out.
Buster Friendly is “earth’s most knee-slapping TV comic” (63) and dominates the radio and television. J.R. Isidore says that he “[watches Buster Friendly] every morning and then again at night… while [he is] eating dinner, and then his late late show until [J.R. Isidore goes] to bed” (63) and during the day he listens to Buster Friendly on the radio while he works (73), he even views Buster Friendly as being “the most important human being alive” (69).
Being that J.R. Isidore represents the vast majority of the population, people who cannot emigrate to another planet and people who are desperate for companionship, it can be concluded that the continual flow of Buster Friendly media is a constant in the vast majority of people’s lives. Rick and Iran Deckard also show the unvarying connection to Buster Friendly, Rick tells Iran to dial in the “desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it” (6) and in the first chapter, while they are arguing the presence of Buster Friendly is in the background. Even Pris Stratton and Roy and Irmgard Baty realize the importance of Buster Friendly in society and tell J.R. Isidore that they “need the TV” (203) in order to watch Buster Friendly.
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Buster Friendly is simply another ever present force, through the means of media, that attempts to offer companionship. Regrettably, it is simply false companionship as Buster Friendly is just a method of attempting to slowly tear down Mercerism. J.R. Isidore even says that he feels as though “Buster Friendly… is fighting for control of [his] psychic soul” (76).
The empathy box is another technology that the humans in Do Android’s Dream
of Electric Sheep are reliant on. The empathy box is a box that upon “grasping the twin handles” (21) allows the user to immediately fuse with the leader of the main religion, Mercer, and his other followers. Its purpose is to have each of the people using the box feel each other’s emotions and express empathy for each other. Rick Deckard’s neighbor, Barbour, says “you can follow the ascent in your individual life, and when you grasp the two handles of empathy, you approach honorably” (11).
What he means by this is that, in involving yourself with the empathy box, you are transferring your feelings to everyone else and they are transferring their feelings to you; while this is potentially a good idea in concept, the fact is that the emotions could be ranging from extreme happiness to despair. The positive effect is that for some, J.R. Isidore for example, the empathy box allows him to “[experience] himself as encompassing every other living thing” (25).
Basically, allowing him to feel companionship. He even says that it is “the way you stop being alone” (66).
Using the empathy box, however, has some serious ramifications. The lesser of these effects is the feeling of obligation to the Mercer and to other people using the empathy box. When Rick Deckard purchases a goat his wife, Iran, tells him that they must go and “give thanks to Mercer” (172) because “it would be immoral not to fuse with Mercer in gratitude” (173).
All of us have had compaction for one thing or another in our lives. Our sympathetic feelings toward something is empathy. It is a basic requirement for all human beings. It is natural for us to have an empathetic response towards things. Empathy is a very powerful tool towards our emotional distress. It is hard for us to resist the power of empathetic feelings. When we feel empathy we feel other ...
More serious effects include physical pain; J.R. Isidore, upon immersing himself in the empathy box world feels the pain of “a rock… [striking his arm” (23) and it succeeds in drawing blood and Rick Deckard has a “rock [strike] him on
the ear” (179) and “his head [aches] wildly from the blow” (179) and he bleeds. The most severe consequence of using the empathy box is dying while using it, J.R. Isidore even points out that “people, especially elderly ones, [have] died” (25).
Philip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep is about the fundamental need for human companionship and the dangers of becoming too heavily reliant on technological devices. It is a cautionary story warning people today about the potential ramifications of allowing a government to begin a World War Terminus and of allowing people to become to dependent on technology. Philip K. Dick is telling the reader about how the temporary feelings of companionship and connection that technology gives people is not necessarily something to depend on, but that the tangible feeling of companionship with other people is what needs to be focused on. It is the focus on the importance of technology and superiority that has the potential to lead the world into a similar state as the futuristic, alternate world in the novel. Philip K. Dick is stressing the importance of companionship because, without it, it is all too easy to “become an unnatural self” (230) that is void of natural emotion, human and animal companionship, and empathy.