Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: do androids dream of electric sheep

The Empathy Box

What’s on the menu today? Something delicious. I finished reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick this morning and I am aching to tell you about it. But how do I do so without spoiling it for you? Hmm…

I’ll start by saying that I loved this book more than I thought I would. I LIKE science-fiction, but I’m not a die-hard fan (not the movie, the adjective). I am starting to get a good picture of what kind of sci-fi I enjoy most, the kind that deals with people and what they will do with technology in the future. Sci-fi that is more focused on technological advances, getting deep into what things will look like and how it might change how we live, isn’t my thing. I get bored.

In fact, I get bored with technology today. People and how they interact is where my interest lies. I’m starting to see a pattern in my reading…cool.

And that’s exactly what this book was about, what it means to be human. That doesn’t change over time, not really. What we define as human may change. I mean, we used to think anyone that lives outside our borders, people that don’t live the way we do or look like us, weren’t actually human in the same way were. That has evolved quite a bit and continues to do so.

The way we treat animals has also changed and will probably keep changing. But what about our machines? Interesting idea, isn’t it?

In the interest of not giving too much of the story away, I’ll leave you with one quote and a few thoughts about it as it relates to today.

This book was set in 2021 and written in 1968, and the internet and social media were not invented yet. It’s always fun to read science fiction set in our own time. Where is my flying car?!

“But an empathy box,” he said, stammering in his excitement, “is the most personal possession you have! It’s an extension of your body; it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone.”

And then again later in the book, “It would be immoral not to fuse with Mercer in gratitude,” Iran said. “I had hold of the handles of the box today and it overcame my depression a little – just a little, not like this.” “You hardly ever undergo fusion; I want you to transmit the mood you’re in now to everyone else; you owe it to them. It would be immoral to keep it to ourselves.”

The empathy box sounds like social media, doesn’t it? When you put your hands on it, you’re connected to all other humans. You feel what they feel and a sense of connection with others lifts your spirits, supposedly. In the story, it’s not always true, but they think it is and keep going back to it. It’s a religious experience. What’s really going on, I’m not sure. It’s part of the story that left me a little confused.

But relating it to now and my own life, I see social media in the same way. I’m in a bad mood, so I share my sadness, hoping another human will reach out and soothe my heart. Something wonderful has happened, so I share that in the hopes that someone out there will be lifted in my joy. See? We’re all connected. Isn’t this great?

Sometimes. My mind keeps going back to something that happened earlier this week. I went hiking with my sons and it was outrageously fun and the scenery…wow. I never imagined that I lived in such a beautiful place. We came around a corner and the valley below, the cliffs ahead, the clouds hiding the tops of the mountains spread out before us. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

And I didn’t stop, breathless, and stare. I didn’t take it all in and feel it. I took a picture and moved on. I had to have that to share with those who can’t make this trip, those that can’t walk or climb, those that are busy with their own lives in their own towns.

Empathy. See? I want to share my joy so that others may have some. Connection, with practical strangers. But at what cost?

Taking a picture to remember the spot isn’t the problem, neither is wanting to put it in my virtual scrapbook. It’s that I was more preoccupied with making sure I had something to share with others than taking the whole moment in and actually being there.

Something needs to change. The empathy box isn’t making me feel connected, it’s taking me away from now. I’m missing the whole thing and I have been for a long time.

I took it, I may as well share it, right?
Near Lake Jennings in San Diego, California.

You guys! Guess what! It’s April and that means I have written and posted something every day for three whole months! Milestones, man…they’re important!

Where am I going? I have no idea, but I’m enjoying the ride. Are you?

A Humanity Test: One of Us

A “humanity” test? There’s something to think about. What makes something “human?” Is it empathy or something else?

In 2022, most of us have thought about androids, machines that look and act as humans, maybe not in our daily lives, but frequently. Some of our favorite characters are androids. Data, in Star Trek Next Generation, for instance. We’ve explored his humanity quite a bit. I know there are many others, but this one is the one I like best.

Could you kill Data? Could you say he’s not human, or even really alive, and end him? Turn him off? I couldn’t. I have a hard time killing off anything on purpose, though, even plants I don’t want in my yard. I’m an odd ball. I know that. Weeds are different though. They are in my way and causing problems, so out they go. No problem.

This book was written in 1968, and the idea of androids was fairly new. Machines, created to serve mankind (not for dinner, DAD!) in much the same way as our dishwasher or vehicle, become sentient. They want their own lives, apart from serving humans, and escape back to earth, where humans can’t survive due to radiation.

The whole story (so far, I’m only halfway through) is about that. My questions: Why are we hunting them? What did they do? Humans can’t live on earth long anyway, why not let them have it? How can you kill something that looks at you and says, “Please don’t!”

Oh, yes. If we’re protecting ourselves, we can justify it. We can’t have a “species” living out its life nearby. What if they decide to invade us, take our things, rule over us? Does this sound familiar?

“What if machines became sentient?” is a great question. But what if another animal on our planet could communicate in a way that led us to believe it was also sentient? And then, my rolls around to, “What if people in other countries, other races, on other continents…?”

Yeah, get it? Humanity rules over other species, and our own. It is our nature to make our way, stake a claim, and defend it. All animals do. We just do it in more creative and efficient ways. The only way to stop us from destroying each other is for humanity to recognize others as our own.

I can’t say much more about the story (don’t want to ruin it) but now I’m thinking…

What if we created a test to show us whether or not another being is “one of us?”

Go back to my first post about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick for more.

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