(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

One of Philip K. Dick’s recurring themes figures prominently in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? This theme is identified in Dick’s 1978 lecture, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later,” collected in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings (1995), edited by Lawrence Sutin. In that lecture, Dick observes that throughout his career he has been preoccupied with the question, “What constitutes the authentic human being?” Dick often explores this question in novels and stories featuring androids or other constructs closely resembling human beings. These include the novels The Simulacra (1964) and We Can Build You (1972) and stories such as “The Electric Ant” (1969).

In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick imagines a near future in which successive generations of androids become ever more sophisticated in their mimicry of humans. The model that Deckard must retire, the Nexus-6, is the most advanced yet. There remains one crucial difference between humans and androids: empathy. Androids can learn to mimic human concern, but they do not genuinely feel empathy for other creatures. Deckard employs a psychological/physiological test, the Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale, that detects the absence of empathy in the microseconds before it can be faked.

This emphasis on empathy as the defining human characteristic runs...

(The entire section is 551 words.)