Fond SciFi Memories: Are They Real?

David Belt Copyright 2013


I recall as young boy thumbing through the school library (SciFi section, of course), when I came across a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick. I simply had to read this book, because I thought it was the most brilliant title, ever. It turned out to be one of the most brilliant books, ever, with a following in the hundreds of millions.

Never heard of it?

I’m not surprised.

Perhaps your memories have been altered…

It is said that we humans are the sum of our experiences. So what if our experiences are fabricated? Do we become fabricated beings, androids? What if an android is given all of our memories, programmed to be us? Do they become us? If the line between human and android can become grayed through the fabrication of memories, then what does it mean to be human? This is the world of Phillip K. Dick.

Still don’t recall this novel of awesome ideas? Perhaps this will shock the nodes of those droids whose experiences were programmed at the cinema: In the early 1980’s, there was Harrison Ford flick about a bounty hunter who hunted down renegade androids, passing themselves off as humans. The theatrical adaptation of this book was called “Blade Runner.”

In the story, Rick Deckard (the bounty hunter) encounters a young woman so completely programmed that she doesn’t know she is an android, which leaves an eerie question that is presented in the book, but not so directly in the movie. Rick is the best bounty hunter there is. He never fails to spot an android. He always gets his man, err droid. Rick Deckard remembers taking the human/android psyche exam and passing as human, but can he trust those memories? Or is he actually an android programmed to be the perfect bounty hunter?

This play on the fallacy of human dependence on memory for self-identification continues in many of Phillip K. Dick’s other works, most notably We Can Remember It for You, Wholesale, which movie goers will totally recall as “Total Recall” and Minority Report (you’ll have to look up the movie title on your own). All three stories take place in the same universe created by Dick and were meant to be sequels of one another. Sadly, Phillip K. Dick died before the Blade Runner project was completed and the would-be sequels were not done for more than a decade later by other film makers.

René Descartes first penned the phrase “I think, therefore I am.” As our thoughts and memories change, we change. Will this translate to Artificial Intelligence? And what if that AI thinks it is human; does it become human? At what point can we no longer trust our memories to tell us who we are?

In fond memory of a brilliant author… I think.

2 thoughts on “Fond SciFi Memories: Are They Real?

  1. I too have always considered this one of the best novel titles ever. I watched Blade Runner when it first came out and have been a fan ever since. It was only a few years back that I decided to read the PKD novel. It was surprised by how much the movie left out (though I shouldn’t have been). There were layers to the novel that would not have worked well in the film but that fleshed out the story so much more. It is a fascinating read and I’m not surprised that Hollywood chose to give it the film treatment. This is one of those classics in the genre that I feel has to be read.

  2. This has been on my Must Read list for quite a while. I put it on my list along with I Am Legend and I, Robot. I read I am Legend which so totally put the Will Smith movie to utter, depressing shame. I got I, Robot on CD from my library but it was so scratched up, I had to give it back. I still haven’t gotten around to Electric Sheep. Although I’m very familiar with Blade Runner, I don’t know that I ever put the two together until I read “Among Others” by Jo Walton. The main character is obsessed with Science Fiction. I made a list of all the books the character read in the book and vowed I would read them myself some day. Electric Sheep was one of them.

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