I once tried to watch the film but it was too dark for my stomach, too violent. But recently—with AI so much in the air—I picked up the sci-fi novel that the movie was made from. Published in 1968, it’s called “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”(The current publisher has changed the book’s title to be the film’s, “Blade Runner.” Money talks, no?)
It is an interesting book that I reckon would make an interesting seminar. What do androids dream of? Do they dream at all? What goes on in an android’s mind—if that question even makes sense.
The book opens in San Francisco on Jan. 3, 2021—the action occurs entirely on that day and the next. A bounty hunter, who works for the government, is assigned to find and kill six androids of a new type. They had killed humans on Mars, have escaped to earth, and are almost indistinguishable from real humans.
What remains different about androids is their inability to empathize. In one scene, a “simple” (a human with too low an IQ to emigrate off the post-apocalyptic radioactive Earth) finds himself with the remaining three of that group (although he doesn't know they are androids). He has empathy for them which enables him to help them—and to stick with them, even when he learns they are androids. In turn, some of them seem capable of demonstrating empathy for him, although the reader keeps wondering if they are merely very clever machines figuring out how best to get what they want.
The question hanging over the whole story is, as androids develop greater skills, are they becoming more human, or merely increasingly plausible imitations? Do they have subjectivity, an inwardness, a soul?
One also wonders if it is empathy—or let’s use the real word, “love”—that distinguishes humans? Or is it something like an individual, God-created soul? If you have two androids that are, mechanically speaking, exactly the same, are they individuals or merely types?
For the “simple,” there was a gut-wrenching moment. He had found a live spider. On Earth after World War Terminus, anything that is alive is precious and rare. He shows the spider to the androids. They start cutting off its legs, one by one, saying nothing needs eight legs. Watching this puts incredible stress upon the simple, but the androids seem to have no way of understanding it.
The theology (which I have not mentioned) is wacko—but the questions are very much with us still.
Out & About. This weekend, Oct. 28/29, I will be preaching at All Souls’ in Oklahoma City: 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and 8 and 10 a.m. on Sunday. I will also be teaching, from Mon., Oct. 30, through Wed., Nov. 1. There will be a class at noon on each of those weekdays on “Three Big Stories in Saint John's Gospel” (the woman at the well, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus). Also, at 6 p.m. each of those weekdays there will be another class series on “Assisted Suicide and Living Forever.” Visitors are welcome to drop in on any or all of these. All Souls’ Episcopal Church is at the intersection of N.W. 63rd St. and Penn. Ave.
The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be on Shakespeare's King Lear on Sunday, November 26, at 5 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. Anyone who reads (or watches) the play is welcome to join the conversation.