Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Do Emoji People Emote?

By Bernie Bell

I saw the film ‘Blade Runner’ when it first came out in 1982, and have seen it – I don’t know how many times, since.  I’ve not seen the recent  sequel (2017), and I’m not sure if I want to.  It could be one of those things, where I’ve liked something a lot, and a disappointing sequel could be very disappointing.  If/when it turns up on the telly, I’ll probably be tempted, and watch it. Until then, I’m happy to watch the original, time after time, and still notice nuances, details, and implications which I’d missed before.

A sign of a well put together film, book, painting, piece of music….

I knew that the book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K. Dick, was the source of ‘Blade Runner’, but, for some reason, hadn’t got round to reading it – maybe because I didn’t want to risk it damaging my impression of the film.  Books and films of the same story,  can be very, very different things.  But then, the book turned up in a charity shop – so much good stuff does turn up in charity shops!  And, if you don’t like the book, or you think you’re not likely to read it again, it can go back to the shop, and everyone benefits.

And so, I started to read ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’.  It’s plain to see where ‘Blade Runner ‘ came from.  Many parallels, some differences.

I have a tendency to get ‘down’ – often triggered by humanity and what we do, as individuals, to each other – sometimes on a wider scale – the world, and what we’re doing to it, on it, and in it.

A couple of instances of the self-centredness of people I know, had set me of into a bit of a ‘down’, and so, maybe this wasn’t the best time to embark on reading this particular book!  But, as I said to a friend, there is hope, there is always hope.

What’s the story about? I suppose it’s about – reality.  The difference between ‘real’ people and androids.  The idea is that, however convincing an ‘andy’ may be to look at, they can’t empathize – only humans can do that – and the ‘andy’s’ give themselves away by their lack of …caring, empathy.  And yet, in the story, Pris is delighted, genuinely delighted, to see her ‘friends’, the Baty’s.

Through the book, the ‘andy’s‘ sometimes actually show feeling, whereas the ’real’ humans, often don’t.

Big question – if a person, can look at what looks and sounds exactly like another human being, and still, coldly, kill ( or ‘retire’) them – does that person qualify as a human? Plenty of humans do just that – and not always in war situations, either.

And, when the android, Pris, snips the leg off a trapped,  living spider – well, people do things like that, to each other, and to other forms of life.  And, as is the case with Pris, even when they are trapped, themselves.

Where is the empathy? Where is the ’do as you would be done by’?  Pris was delighted to see her friends, yet can coldly mutilate a spider.  Connection with one form of life, but not another? No awareness of the concept that all are one? 

There are many examples and situations, throughout the story, where there is a pronounced blurring between what is perceived as being ‘human‘ behaviour, and – artificial intelligence, taking human form.

The action of the book takes place after a war which has left the whole world in a mess, and the after-effects have made changes in some people – some ‘real’ people – humans – which means that they are considered to be  – sub-human.  No quite human – known  insultingly, as ‘chicken-heads’.  And yet, the main ‘chicken-head’ character exhibits more feeling, is a more kindly, softer-hearted person, than the bounty-hunter Deckard. ( Is Deckard an ‘andy’ , and doesn’t know it?  I’m not even going to go there!).

So, what is ’human’ behaviour?  What is meant by us ‘feeling for fellow creatures’?  If an advanced android can feel an attachment, even just to another android, is that – being – creature – more  ’human’ than a biologically ‘real’ human, who is lacking in feeling?

And there is yet another level – the ’andy’s’ look down on the ‘chicken-heads’, as they are usually considered to be – lacking – a bit stupid, whilst the androids – well it has to be said, are more intelligent, or should I say, use their intelligence more selectively and carefully than the humans.  Is being too selective and too careful, not quite human?  The ‘andy’s’ are, at least, ‘real’.

And this all got me thinking, and comparing the world in the story with today’s world of emoji’s and ‘so sad’ and smiley, scowly faces, as a way of expressing feeling. It’s not just present in the world of Social Media, I believe that it’s creeping into ‘real’ life, too.

We have seen so many horrors, on screen, some real, some fictional – I believe that boundaries are becoming blurred, and folk, people, humans, actually aren’t responding and reacting to ‘real’ events, as they should as feeling, empathic humans.

Television programs are being made which are dramatizations of events such as  murders – recent events, where people associated with or even related to the victims, are still alive.

I genuinely find it hard to credit that this is considered to be acceptable. Once again, does this help to blur the reality, for the viewer, between real, horrific events, and well-made fiction?  I believe that this distinction is being blurred, and that people, all unawares, are becoming less empathic, less real, less human in their consideration of and behaviour towards others, and the world around them.

I suppose there have always been sociopaths, and just plain old BAD people, who have behaved in appalling ways towards others – either human, or other forms of life.  Maybe we just didn’t hear about them as much as we do now, as information and ideas weren’t spread as far and wide and easily.

In the past there were crime ‘broadsides’ – often featuring hangings – over which people could pore pruriently, but, it was more limited.  Now, people, humans, if they choose, can be constantly bombarded by horrors – or even if they don’t so choose – how many time have I tried to find somewhere to sit, in a public place, where I won’t have to see or hear a television – set to a news channel?

If you haven’t seen Blade Runner, I recommend it . ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’ goes deeper and stronger into the questions raised in Blade Runner.  The film, softens it.  The book is well written, almost could be said to be too well written, as I got deeply involved in the ideas, which, as I mentioned, might not have been good timing for my brain!

As in the film, in the book there is hope, in the real connections made between some of the characters, in the ideas which Philip K. Dick presents about how much does it matter what is doing the feeling, as long as there is feeling, and connection, and thought for others.  Is that what matters, not so much what is caring, as long as  caring, connection, happens?

How does the book end?  With The Pit and The Wasteland, and keeping going.

Mercerism vs, Buster Friendly. Religion vs. The Media.  The Media, becoming Religion? Don’t say your prayers, check your Smartphone. There’s an App for everything.

But, whatever form belief, or expression of belief, might take – there is still feeling, and there is the true humanity of some folks actions.

Blade Runner

Along something like similar lines is the film A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, which is extra-ordinarily and exceptionally disturbing about  artificial life, and how we, real people, could end up behaving towards it.  I watched it once, recommend it highly, but, for the sake of my poor, tired, fragile, worried mind, I won’t watch it again – ever.


And then there’s Ted 2 .  I love the film Ted – irreverent, funny, clever bear.  I was cautious of seeing the sequel, for the reason previously mentioned re. sequels.  BUT – Ted 2 is just as funny, and clever. It poses the question – is Ted, the teddy bear, a possession, or a person?

I can think of many, many folk I’d be far less inclined to want to spend time with, than Ted!

If you don’t like swearing and general rudeness, you won’t like either Ted or Ted 2, but swearing and rudeness, are very …human.

Ted 2

And finally, two poems, one by me and one by that wonderfully, delightfully un-usual human – Bjork

Life Lived As An Emoji


“How Sad”

“How Sweet”

“Sad Face”

“Happy Face”

“I’m sorry to hear that…….”



All easy to say.

How much thought is there?


Fact is…..

If you don’t lift the drain cover –

You don’t see what’s in the sewer.



It’s now leaking out into ‘Real Life’ TM.


How sad. 

Bernie Bell

Human Behaviour

if you ever get close to a human

and human behaviour

be ready to get confused.


there’s definitely no logic

to human behaviour

but yet so irresistible


there’s no map

to human behaviour


they’re terribly moody

then all of a sudden turn happy

but, oh, to get involved in the exchange

of human emotions is ever so satisfying


there’s no map

and a compass

wouldn’t help at all


human behaviour


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5 replies »

  1. When I typed…….

    “ The ‘andy’s’ are, at least, ‘real’.”

    I meant to type….

    “the chicken-heads are, at least, ‘real’.

    Just call me a chicken-head!

  2. Howie (Firth) emailed me his response, which I thought was very relevant to the situation in the book – I asked could I quote him – he said yes…..

    “I completely and totally agree with the dangers of all the images of violence and crime and horror that are shown in film, on TV and online. I think they do harm, as they create an environment in which violence is prominent, and quite often in the form of revenge and legitimised violence. When this is put to the filmmakers they tell us that millions of people see the images and they don’t all respond violently. That argument misses out the fact that the effect on certain people is to enhance their attitudes towards violence. Similarly it is true that if we were all exposed to one small piece of radiation it probably wouldn’t harm us, but if we are persistently exposed, week in and week out, then there would be an effect.

    It is strange that political parties compete with each other to call for more police to be put on the streets to protect us against crime, but none of them comment on the amount of films that seem to normalise crime or legitimise violence.”

  3. Yesterday evening, on the television, I saw an item about a tour by Whitney Houston, which has just started. Whitney Houston is dead. She died in 2012.
    This tour is of a hologram of the singer, Whitney Houston. There were images of packed auditoriums, with the fans going mad – loving it.
    A ‘tour’ of a hologram, of a dead singer – and the fans are loving it.

    Where are we going?
    What’s next? A hologram tour featuring a singer who is still alive? Why bother with real people, at all?

  4. It’s been more than two years since you posted this, have you seen Blade Runner 2049 yet? If not, I’ll encourage you to watch it. It’s not as good as the original but it’s good enough not to be disappointing.

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